"No Compromise with the Public Taste"?: Women, Publishing, and the Cultivation of Transatlantic Modernism

Date of Completion

January 2011


Literature, Modern|Biography|Women's Studies|Literature, American|Literature, English|Mass Communications




This dissertation interrogates the roles played by women editors, publishers, and patrons, and the media they controlled (little magazines and presses), in the cultivation of avant-garde and modernist audiences and appreciation. Drawing on queer and gender theory, as well as bibliographic and paratextual research, this project recovers the careers of five women editors and publishers—Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap (The Little Review); Bryher, née Annie Winifred Ellerman (Contact Editions, Close Up, Life and Letters To-Day, and Brendin Press); Jessie Redmon Fauset (The Crisis and The Brownies' Book), and Harriet Shaw Weaver (The Egoist and Egoist Press)—who deliberately cultivated and educated readers for modern artists through their publishing concerns, and their own critical writings. ^ Focusing on the publishing histories and personal correspondence of these women, as well as the marginal aspects of publication—advertisements, publication notices, letters sections, advice columns, and review departments—this dissertation shows how such women worked to move modernist literary authors such as James Joyce, Langston Hughes, and H. D., from the realm of the elite into a more mainstream culture. Often understood as "midwives" in service to male artists, Anderson and Heap, Fauset, Bryher, and Weaver instead were central agents of artistic development. They deliberately transgressed the traditional artist/editor paradigm in multiple, necessary ways: triangulating the relationship between editor, artist, and audience; blurring the boundaries between intimate and public interactions; taking on the "husband" role of financial and editorial support; and writing in ungendered or transgendered voices. In the process, they created networks of readers, advertisers, artists, and patrons that came to define transatlantic modernist cultural production. Rather than "serving" established artists, these strategies represent a deliberate effort to influence the reception of modern writers in the United States and abroad in ways that have ramifications for any study of 20th century literary production. This project argues for a concept of modernism that accounts for how such women gave voice to the avant-garde and to New Negro poets and writers, and bridged the gap between high modernism and the general reader, moving modernism into the mainstream literary consciousness. ^