The Commercialisation of Literature

The awful ignorance of the middle-class re-acts on Society at large, yet the ignorance is not due to lack of information but incapacity of thought. This observation was forced upon me the other day as I was reading in The Guardian an article entitled “The Next Literary Epoch.” Miss G. Hill, the writer, began by showing how books are now treated as manufactured articles, and are “advertised and sold much as a new line in dress material.” This is due to the gradual disappearance of the personal relation between publisher and author. Huge amalgamations have made the link solely a monetary one. The manager of the company dares not deal with ought but “certainties.” The literary element in the governance of publishing is diminishing since the directors had no more knowledge of literature than the directors of a chemical company have of chemistry. Science has also created a thirst for facts; literature, as a mental refreshment and enjoyment, has ceased to be sought after.


Miss Hill continues: “We must take into account the fact that literature is chiefly in the hands of the middle classes, and will therefore be modified by the conditions of life and habits of thought prevailing among these classes. It is they who furnish the bulk of both writers and readers. The democracy, as a rule, use their leisure for the study of science. It might be supposed that what the upper classes lack in point of numbers they would make up in point of opinion; but they are not originators; they do not create new movements of thought or control the stream of intellectual tendency.” Further the writer of this interesting article show that specialising has become a rule, but that it is useless if the basis of education is not broad enough to specialise upon. People are acquiring knowledge without thereby acquiring “power.” The facts obtained sufficed without deductions being made from these facts. “This is the way to train up learners but not thinkers.”


S. J. C. Russell