Yesterday evening’s rather good Radio 3 talk on Rose Macaulay’s 1916 novel Non-Combatants and Others is available online at http://bbc.in/1sExkNU
It is by Sarah Le Fanu, Macaulay’s biographer, and gives a clear picture of the novel, which I seriously recommend to anyone interested in fiction of the War.
A subject that Ms le Fanu didn’t deal with was the book’s publishing and reception history, though this is interesting because it shows that a book questioning war enthusiasm could find both a commercial publisher and an audience in 1916s.
Surprisingly, this novel was published by Hodder and Stoughton, although Macaulay was by no means a typical Hodder author. In the decades before the First World War, Hodder had expanded from its origins as primarily a publisher of religious books to develop a list of popular fiction. Between 1914 and 1918 its greatest best-seller was Buchan’s Greenmantle. The firm strongly supported the War effort, and published 134 books and pamphlets that were sponsored by Wellington House, the largest number of any publisher.
Macaulay’s earliest novels had been published by John Murray, and she was with Hodder because she had won their £600 competition with The Lee Shore in 1912 (This is a sad book about someone who forever finds it difficult to fit in – a characteristic Macaulay theme). According to Hodder’s ledgers, 9,000 copies of The Lee Shore were printed, of which 7,873 were sold before the end of the financial year ending March 31st, 1913.2 The book kept selling modestly through the War years, and there was a new edition in 1921 (10,000 printed) that did well during the twenties, presumably helped by the success of Macaulay’s post-war novels.
We don’t know what the reaction at Hodder was to Macaulay’s manuscript of Non-Combatants and Others, but they clearly decided that although her politics were out of step with those of most of the firm’s productions, she was one of their authors, and they published her book. Non-Combatants and Others was published in 1916 at 5/- a copy. Hodder printed 3,000 copies, indicating that their hopes for the book were moderate. Of these, 2,586 had sold by March 31st, 1917. It seems to have earned Macaulay no more than £62/6/- (no generous advance this time) while the publishers made a modest profit of £48/19/2. the book was supported by at least some advertising. This is how it featured in the H & S fiction ad in the Manchester Guardian, July 1916:
The book’s reviews were half-hearted at best. The Times Literary Supplement felt that ‘impossible as it is to exaggerate the misery and horror of these times, we feel that her note is, somehow, forced, and that her very style, with its careful elimination of sentimentality, contributes towards a general effect of exaggeration.’
Over the next six years the edition gradually sold out. Hodder did not reprint it, probably because it was so much a novel of the War years. The figures show, though, that Macaulay’s book managed to reach a respectable audience, despite its pacifist message and lukewarm reviews. (The readership was larger than the raw sales figures might suggest, because many sales would have been to libraries). They also show the publisher in an interesting light. Hodder and Stoughton, despite their commitment to the War and their involvement with Wellington House, did not stand in the way of an author who wished to express dissident opinions (and a disturbing view of the effects of the War on soldiers). As a writer with some reputation and an established readership, Macaulay was able to find a publisher and an audience for a novel that challenged the consensus of war enthusiasm.