The prevention of war books?

In her 1937 autobiography, Three Ways Home, Sheila Kaye-Smith considers the commercial failure of her wartime novel Little England:

The explanation […] does not lie entirely in the book itself, but also in the time of its appearance. that must share the responsibility for the small impression that it made. It was a war book, and when it had been out only a short time the war ended; and the war was no sooner ended than desperate efforts were made to forget it. War books were swept off the library shelves, and the rumour went round that publishers were inserting clauses in their contracts to prevent them being written; certainly none of any importance appeared for several years. The general and natural desire was to get back to normal life – to dig a deep grave for the past, build a comfortable house for the present, and blow an idealistic bubble for the future.


I’d dispute, of course, the suggestion that ‘none of any importance appeared for several years’. (What about The Secret Battle, or Way of Revelation, or Parade’s End?) But she was writing after war-books had flooded the market in the late twenties, which must have made the early-twenties trickle seem insignificant.
What I’d really like to know is about those publishers’ contracts. Was it just a rumour? Did certain publishers explicitly banned the War? Were there others who did so less obviously, by hinting to writers that there was no market for war stuff? Were writers who had established themselves during wartime as authors of military fiction (‘Sapper’, for example) warned off it? I’d like to know more.

One Comment

  1. Posted April 22, 2014 at 10:09 am | Permalink

    I went to a conference at Reading a few years with a paper on this subject. Just looked it up – it was Vincent Trott (Open), ‘“The market is flooded with
    them”: Richard Aldington’s
    Death of a Hero
    and the War Books Boom
    There was definitely stuff from publisher’s archives, but perhaps this was publishers protesting against more war books after the boom had happened.


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