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Landmarks of British Literary Publishing on Display at Alfred University
1/13/17

Hogarth Press display through February at Alfred University’s Herrick Library.

Hogarth Press display through February at Alfred University’s Herrick Library.

 Examples of books published by Britain’s historic Hogarth Press, founded 100 years ago by two of the  dominant literary figures of the early 20th century, Virginia and Leonard Woolf, are on view through February in the main reading room of Alfred University’s Herrick Memorial Library.  The display is open to visitors weekdays during normal business hours and on weekend afternoons.

   The exhibit’s centerpiece is a slim volume known to bibliophiles as the Woolfs’ debut publishing venture.  Dated 1917 and titled “Two Stories”—one by each—the book was part of a run of 150 copies printed on the couple’s dining room table using a hand-cranked letterpress.   Virginia Woolf set the type herself as therapy for recurring bouts of mental illness.   

   By the 1930s, the Hogarth Press had grown from a cottage industry into a mainstream—although still small and independent—London publishing house.   Operating today as Hogarth Books, the Woolfs’ original enterprise is an imprint of Crown Publishing Group, a subsidiary of Penguin Random House, the global media conglomerate.

   Accompanying the Alfred display is a 1931 handwritten letter by Virginia Woolf complaining of a headache that often signaled the onset of what now would be called an episode of manic-depressive psychosis.  The severity of her illness led eventually to the writer’s suicide by drowning, in 1941.  She was 59.  Leonard Woolf died in 1969.  He was 89.

   The books and letter currently on view are part of the extensive holdings of the university’s Openhym Collection of Modern British Literature and Social History, housed at Herrick Library.  The acquisition of this scholarly resource of some 9,000 volumes and 500 letters and manuscripts had been the life’s work of the late Evelyn Openhym of Wellsville, an Alfred alumna and trustee.  She donated her collection to the university in 1978.