The old saw goes something like this: History is written by the victors. And if that isn't precisely correct, history, as written, is at least shaped by various prejudices. This is particularly true of literary history, and a newly published example is Faber & Faber: The Untold Story by Toby Fisher.
This book purports to tell the story of Faber & Faber from its founding in 1924 as Faber & Gwyer (it became Faber & Faber in 1929) to 1990. It is basically an anthology of extracts from the publisher's (private) archive, compiled by Toby Faber, the grandson of the founder, Geoffrey Faber. In one sense it does just that, but it tells a very slanted tale, highlighting Toby Faber's view of Faber as "the home of literary Modernism" (104). So if you're interested in T. S. Eliot, James Joyce, W.H. Auden, etc., you'll find much of great interest in this book. If you are interested in the dynamics of literary publishing in the 1920s onward (the coverage of the early years through the Second World War is especially good), ditto. And it's nice to recall the days (now extinct) when an editor had the autonomy to publish almost anything, whereas nowadays everything is overseen by timorous editorial boards which are in turn dominated by the number-crunchers and marketing zealots obsessed only with immediate enlargements of the bottom line.
But if you are interested in the eclectic books that Faber published over the decades you won't find much here to satisfy your appetite. Fantasy and supernatural literature, and science fiction, are given short-shrift. If Faber's early fantasy novel Elnovia (1925) hadn't been written by founder Geoffrey Faber himself, I doubt it would even have been mentioned. (I reviewed Elnovia in my "Late Reviews" column in Wormwood no. 15, Autumn, 2010; my review is reprinted in my 2018 collection Late Reviews.) Despite Richard de la Mare's central involvement with the firm for over four decades, the numerous Faber & Faber publications by his father, Walter de la Mare, are barely mentioned. (There is no mention at all of his brother Colin's single book, They Walk Again (1931), the anthology of weird stories that re-introduced William Hope Hodgson to the reading public.)
From scanning my own shelves for Faber titles I would have loved to read more about in this book, I find most aren't even mentioned at all. There is a sort of shadow history of Faber & Faber that is completely neglected. For example, I'd love to know more about the publication of Kenneth Morris's signal collection, The Secret Mountain and Other Tales (1926), beautifully illustrated in an art-deco style by K. Romney Towndrow. Or of the publication of E.R. Eddison's Mistress of Mistresses (1935), of Donald Macpherson's two intriguing novels (see here), or of the last two novels of Charles Williams.
There is virtually nothing about science fiction in this book, though Faber & Faber had a long history of publishing good science fiction since the 1950s. None of the many such writers they published are covered: Brian Aldiss, James Blish, Robert Holdstock, Gary Kilworth, or Christopher Priest, not to mention anthologists like Basil Davenport or Edmund Crispin.
So what we are left with in Faber & Faber: The Untold Story is a perfectly readable but heavily slanted and partisan book. Intriguing in some ways, yet disappointing in other ways.
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