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Pat Rogers discusses the reissuing of three of his books

Grub Street

With three of his titles about to be reissued through the Routledge Revials program, Pat Rogers discusses how times have changed since their first publication.

Hearing that some of your earliest books are to appear in the Routledge Revivals series is a bit like discovering you’ve been forcibly recruited to the undead. Still, it’s mostly a pleasant experience. Any author is glad to know there is some life yet in his or her old dogs. She or he will feel flattered by continuing interest, and glad that works that went out of print a long time ago are again accessible; a small reward for the sweat and toil that went into them.

The three books now reissued were written in a pocket of pretechnology. All were drafted on a typewriter with copies made on carbon paper (British universities then didn’t generally have photocopiers available). Nothing was online and no large databases existed to open up at the touch of a button. To do serious literary research you had to go to the major copyright libraries to dig out older volumes, and to get hold of manuscript sources would involve trekking out to distant repositories for laborious transcriptions by hand. For young people today the conditions in which we did our work must seem almost medieval.

Along with positive feelings, the author will have some conflicted emotions. It is natural to wish that you could do it all again, in the light of the growth of knowledge generally and the increase in your own understanding of the issues. But that isn’t usually possible. We can’t all spend our later years like Henry James, revising every line of early books to supply posterity with an improved version. And, as with James, it may be a futile exercise – the revised books might be better intrinsically than those composed at a younger age, but they will have been artificially plucked from their roots.

This applies particularly to Grub Street: Studies in a Subculture (1972). It came out when few literary scholars paid much attention to the sociology of authorship, or cared about popular culture. Here is one small measure of the distance we have travelled since then – the experienced editor at Methuen advised me to drop references to the “ecology” of the dunces, so words like “milieu” were duly substituted. No one, he explained, would know what ecology meant. This work has had quite a strong afterlife, especially since Methuen put out a paperback abridgment as Hacks and Dunces: Pope, Swift and Grub Streets in 1980. But the original book naturally had a wider frame of reference, and I think a more coherent set of ideas concerning the fate of authorship in the eighteenth century as a whole.

An Introduction to Pope (1975) remains a favorite among my books, as I was closer to realizing my intentions than generally happens. It pays quite a lot of attention to the texture of the poetry, in terms of versification, syntax and sound, aspects of Pope that today are paid less attention than they should. Reviewers sometimes give more credit to a 300-page monograph on fish imagery in Gerald Manley Hopkins than to a basic 100-page introduction to George Eliot. But the latter is of course a far more challenging task, making greater demands in compression, summary, selection and organization

As for Robinson Crusoe (1979), this was the first attempt to bring together all the basic facts about the novel, in terms of its publication, themes, structure, methods and afterlife. A vast amount has been written in the intervening years about these matters (though too little on Defoe’s use of language), and Crusoe has been thrust into every fashionable ideological discourse from the Enlightenment to the present, not least arguments about colonialism. But it is comforting to reflect that (most) facts and dates remain unalterable, and what was then true and relevant still is. Despite all the swerves with regard to interpretation and approach, some things are timeless.

Related Products

  1. An Introduction to Pope (Routledge Revivals)

    By Pat Rogers

    Series: Routledge Revivals

    In this concise introduction to Pope’s life and work, first published in 1975, the poet’s highly successful career as a man of letters is seen against the background of the Augustan age as a whole. Pat Rogers begins by examining the relationship of the eighteenth-century writer to his audience, and...

    Published January 27th 2014 by Routledge

  2. Robinson Crusoe (Routledge Revivals)

    By Pat Rogers

    Series: Routledge Revivals

    First published in 1979, this title presents the basic facts and the background information needed by a modern reader of Robinson Crusoe, as well as a careful exploration of the structure and style of the work itself. Pat Rogers pays particular attention to the book’s composition and publishing...

    Published January 23rd 2014 by Routledge

  3. Grub Street (Routledge Revivals)

    Studies in a Subculture

    By Pat Rogers

    Series: Routledge Revivals

    First published in 1972, this is the first detailed study of the milieu of the eighteenth-century literary hack and its significance in Augustan literature. Although the modern term ‘Grub Street’ has declined into vague metaphor, for the Augustan satirists it embodied not only an actual place but...

    Published January 22nd 2014 by Routledge