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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Allen Lane – the founder of Penguin Books

Three Monkeys Online has a piece from Horatio Morpurgo, about the editorial style and personal life of his grandfather, Allen Lane. As well as founding Penguin Books, Lane was responsible for the first English publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses and DH Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover:

To summarise you might say that Penguin was fathered by Inspired Accident upon a Beleaguered Democracy. Marx argued that in a Capitalist state ‘culture’ belongs to the super-structure. It is there to legitimise the interests of the governing class. You would expect this to hold especially true in times of economic crisis, when ‘culture’ thus understood would tend to come even lower down the working man’s list of priorities. Allen was well-placed temperamentally and professionally to anticipate it, but this massive popular demand for serious literature broke all the rules. The appeal of these paperbacks cut across all class distinctions. I wonder what a Marxist analysis of this would look like.

Certainly, any attempt to cast Allen Lane as a crusading ideologue is doomed from the outset. He was not the stuff that pious memories are made of. He was above all an intuitive, an adventurer. And once his company was afloat he was in it above all for the fun. He was constantly restless for new ideas and quickly bored by them once they came. He had an uncanny, almost trickster-ish talent for spotting a bestseller or the right kind of editorial staff.

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