British academy

BA PDF Symposium 2005

26 April 2005


Dr Jonathan Wild

John O'London's Weekly and the New Reading Public

This paper examines the growth of the autodidact reader in Britain during the inter-war period through an examination of the popular literary periodical John O'London's Weekly. Founded in April 1919, a few months after the end of the Great War, JOLW was intended to appeal to a society radically transformed by conflict. Wilfred Whitten (John O'London), the paper's founding editor, had already gained vast experience in popular literary journalism, having worked on The Academy in the 1890s and having edited T.P'S Weekly during the Edwardian period. This knowledge of the field allowed Whitten to tailor his periodical in order to attract a new class of enthusiastic and ambitious readers who generally lacked a formal education in English literature. With the backing of the distribution networks of the publisher George Newnes, JOLW was able to reach a considerable readership (with 100,000 copies a week sold during the 1930s). This widespread reading community – potentially in excess of half a million people – suggests the scale of demand for literary criticism and instruction among readers in the inter-war period. Although John O'London's Weekly was summarily dismissed by Q.D. Leavis in Fiction and the Reading Public as 'a résumé of publishers' advertisements [and] literary gossip', we can now recognise the importance of the paper and its significance in British cultural history.

Dr Jonathan Wild is a British Academy Postdoctoral Fellow at the University of Edinburgh's Centre for the History of the Book. He took up this position after completing a doctoral thesis at the University of Kent which examined the rise of the new readers and writers in Britain from 1880 to 1939. This project forms the basis for his forthcoming monograph entitled The Rise of the Office Clerk in British Literary Culture which will be published by Palgrave in 2005. Wild's postdoctoral project is focused upon British middlebrow literature in the inter-war period.