Pressure from Publishers

In a comment on my Realities of War post, Dan Todman (of Trench Fever) said “what we need is rejection letters from publishers in the 1920s!”

I’m not sure where we’d find many of those, but I do know a source which shows the pressure that a publisher could put on an author to tone down a war book.

Hugh Cecil, in his excellent The Flower of Battle, quotes a correspondence between Ralph Hodder-Williams, of Hodder and Stoughton, and Richard Blaker, about the latter’s Medal Without Bar. H and S was a company that had been active in support of the war effort, and had produced more “Wellington House” editions than any other. Since the war it had maintained a reputation for tough manly fiction, by Sapper, Buchan and others.

The first thing H-W wanted Blaker to tone down was the language, cutting the “bloodys” and changing “arse from his elbow” to “ears from his elbow.” Cecil tells us that  “he also persuaded Blaker to remove a contemptuous reference to ‘Sapper’” – an author very valuable to H and S.

He wanted Blaker to cut the anti-staff comments, complaining that Blaker “seemed to show personal ill-feeling to anyone who was not in the firing line.” He raised doubts about the presentation of an alcoholic officer – “Can you indicate by a parenthesis of some kind that this sort of drunken swine was really extraordinarily rare….? You have no idea what terrible offence Journey’s End has given – and terrible pain too, which is a great deal more important – I think you will agree that the chronic alcoholic was extraordinarily rare.”

Finally he was very upset by the book’s suggestion that in 1918 some majors and captains who had not engaged in wartime service began to show themselves at the end of the war to be “in at the death.”

Blaker’s book was clearly intended for his fellow-soldiers, and H-W suggested that a different approach would have reached a larger slice of the reading public – including females.

This shows the ways in which a mainstream publisher could put pressure on an author. Other houses might not have shared all Hodder and Stoughton’s attitudes, though. I imagine that the priorities of Chatto and Windus (who published C.E.Montague’s books and R.H.Mottram’s Spanish Farm) would have been different.


  1. Andy Frayn
    Posted July 31, 2006 at 4:34 pm | Permalink

    Chatto also of course published Aldington’s ‘Death of a Hero’, possibly the angriest of these books, and also one of the biggest-selling and enduringly popular of the war novels of the time – until his run-in with the Lawrence (T.E) gang, anyway.

    I’m off to have a look at the archives for all of these in Reading in the not so distant future, so will let you know if anything interesting comes up!

  2. Posted October 11, 2007 at 5:22 pm | Permalink

    On the subject of confusion of ears and elbow – this news report seems to show life imitating art:

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