H is for …

The Hogarth Press

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Photo: Courtesy of Pixabay (CCO Public Domain)

Virginia and Leonard were married in 1912. After their honeymoon, Virginia had another breakdown which resulted in her taking an overdose and nearly losing her life. When she had recovered sufficiently the couple moved to a new house, Hogarth House in Richmond, but she had a relapse and didn’t really recover fully until 1916.

Leonard thought that Virginia needed a hobby and distraction from her writing to aid her recovery so in 1917 they were both excited to buy a hand press and all the materials to start a printing venture to provide an non-writing interest and therapy for Virginia. The press would have cost them about £1,000 today. They were at the start of their business of printing books and named their enterprise the Hogarth Press.

What began as a hand printing hobby with amateurish results, quickly turned into a professional publishing business. The Woolfs started using a commercial printer and published Virginia’s work as well as works by fellow Bloomsberries. Other writers that were published by The Hogarth Press include Katherine Mansfield and Vita Sackville West. The press also published works on psychoanalysis and translated many foreign texts, particularly Russian works.

The original process of hand setting the type was slow and needed much patience and dexterity. Leonard suffered from shaking hands so it was largely Virginia who did the setting. It was time consuming and painstaking work and Virginia sometimes got her ‘n’s mixed up with ‘h’s. The first, less than professional results, included spelling mistakes and uneven ink but the Woolfs were not to be discouraged. They had invested in a very satisfying and soothing hobby that became a successful business.

Virginia loved the process of arranging the letters, the blank spaces and the punctuation to make a perfect composition. I am reminded of my degree days when I too loved what I called,

The art of arranging words on a page.

I wasn’t happy with any essay until every comma, every apostrophe and every word was what I thought to be perfect. I would have reprinted a twenty page document for the sake of one comma, if necessary! I can certainly relate to Virginia’s ‘visual literacy’.

Furthermore, publishing her own books, gave Virginia a freedom from the censorship of (male) editors. She had to answer to no one and was free to write as she wished. Neither Virginia nor Leonard were particularly interested in making money at all costs. They would refuse to publish books merely for profit; they had to really think the books were worth publishing.

Over a period of thirty years, the Hogarth Press printed over 500 books.

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