Paper or softback
David Finkelstein
Published 12 Oct 2012
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The House of Blackwood is one of the best studies of a publishing house to be produced since book history was reinvented a couple of decades ago. Perceptively applying theory to archives, Finkelstein’s study illuminates the publisher’s relations to authors, and much more—it shows how successive generations of Blackwoods responded to familial, economic, trade, workshop, and political pressures, the changing demographics of readers, and the altered conditions of publishing in Edwardian Britain. It is a pleasure to read and a model for future work in the field.”

—Robert L. Patten, Rice University

The House of Blackwood offers as much meat for the nineteenth-century historian, the student of business history—even present-day publishing executives!—as it does for the literary critic.”

—Julie Dawson, ForeWord Reviews

“[The book’s] examination of balance-sheets, together with the close reading of correspondence and memoirs, makes an engaging as well as important contribution to our knowledge of the Victorian culture of the book.”

—Leslie Howsam, The Library

“This monograph is a further important addition to [Penn State Press’s] significant series on the history of the book.”

—William Baker, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America

“I should finally mention that this is an exceptionally well documented study.”

—Alan Boehm, Libraries and Culture

The House of Blackwood is an engaging and extremely valuable piece of research that will benefit literary scholars and publishing historians for years to come.”

—Karen Carney, Sharp News

“Elegantly designed and illustrated, beautifully written, and full of fresh material presented in a lively manner, The House of Blackwood is a notable addition to Victorian publishing history.”

—Solveig C. Robinson, Victorian Periodicals Review

The Scottish publishing firm of William Blackwood & Sons, founded in 1804, was a major force in nineteenth- and early twentieth-century British literary history, publishing a diverse group of important authors—including George Eliot, John Galt, Thomas de Quincey, Margaret Oliphant, Anthony Trollope, Joseph Conrad, and John Buchan, among many others—in book form and in its monthly Blackwood’s Magazine. In The House of Blackwood, David Finkelstein exposes for the first time the successes and failures of this onetime publishing powerhouse.

Finkelstein begins with a general history of the Blackwood firm from 1804 to 1920, attending to family dynamics over several generations, to their molding of a particular political and national culture, to the shaping of a Blackwood’s audience, and to the multiple causes for the firm’s decline in the decades before World War I. He then uses six case studies of authors—Conrad, Oliphant, John Hanning Speke, George Tompkyns Chesney, Charles Reade, and E. M. Forster—and their relationships with the publishing house. He mines the voluminous correspondence of the firm with its authors and, eventually, with the authors’ agents. The value of the archive Finkelstein studies is its completeness, the depth of the ledger material (particularly interesting given that the Blackwoods did much of their own printing), and the extraordinary longevity of the firm. A key value of Finkelstein’s account is his attention to the author/publisher/reader circuit that Robert Darnton emphasizes as the central focus of book history.


List of Illustrations


1. Setting the Scene

2. Finding Success: Blackwood’s, 1860–1879

3. Africa Rewritten: The Case of John Hanning Speke

4. Reade Revised: A Woman Hater and the Women’s Medical Movement

5. Shifting Ground: Blackwood’s, 1880–1912

6. Creating House Identities: Nineteenth-Century Publishing

Memoirs and the Annals of a Publishing House

7. “A Grocer’s Business”: William Blackwood III

and the Literary Agents


Appendices 1-3: Introduction

Appendix 1. Blackwood & Sons Publishing Statistics, 1860–1910

Appendix 2. Blackwood’s Magazine Sales, 1856–1915

Appendix 3. Margaret Oliphant Sales, 1860–1897




David Finkelstein is Dean of the School of Humanities at the University of Dundee. He is editor of An Index to "Blackwood's Magazine," 1901–1980 (1995) and coeditor of four recent books, including The Book History Reader (2001) and Nineteenth-Century Media and the Construction of Identities (2000). He has spent the last few years investigating the Blackwood papers for the National Library of Scotland, which has enabled him to exploit business documents ignored by or unknown to previous researchers.