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Vizetelly & Company as (ex)change agent: Towards the modernization of the British publishing industry

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Abstract

This chapter sets out to examine the role of the publishing house Vizetelly & Company, its founder Henry Vizetelly and his son Ernest, as agents of change who contributed to the modernization of the publishing industry in late-Victorian Britain. This case study will show that these agents were loosely affiliated with progressive social movements that were resisting the confines of rigid Victorian class structure and public morality. Vizetelly & Company’s innovations consisted in publishing foreign works in translation, especially realist and naturalist fiction, as well as Anglo-Irish fiction (e.g., George Moore’s novels), in cheap editions destined for a new reading market, the product of the 1870 Elementary Education Act (The Forster Act). By contrast to many periods when it is easier to publish translated works than indigenous ones, it was the opposite in Victorian Britain and being associated with progressive, socially disruptive thought and movements made the task that much more risky. Censorial mechanisms came into play in reaction to Vizetelly & Company’s translation and publishing projects, to which Henry Vizetelly devoted the better part of the 1880s. His career ended on a bitter note: his firm went bankrupt, and he spent three months in prison in 1889 for having published what was labeled by the courts to be “obscene” literature in translation. Yet, he is credited with having contributed to successfully undermining the monopoly of the circulating libraries and introducing to the British publishing marketplace inexpensive editions in a single volume through his translation and publishing activities. The paper concludes that these innovative agents were agents of metamorphosis. Living abroad had changed the worldview of Henry and Ernest Vizetelly. As a result, they operated from within a changed universe that was no longer late Victorian. This case study could prove useful to understanding the dynamics at play in intercultural relations and the role of the translator as intercultural agent.

References

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