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Big prizes and small presses: literary prizes, independent publishers and modernism in the public sphere

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posted on 21.05.2021, 09:25 by Bret Johnson
'Big Prizes and Small Presses' is a study of the relationship between literary prizes, independent publishing, and Modernism in the public sphere between 1900 and 2020. It uses four case studies from different periods to compare the growth of literary prizes, the changes in the publishing industry, and how this affected Modernist literature. The three components of this study each have unique relationships with the public sphere which are revealed when juxtaposed next to one another: publishers inherently engage with the public sphere; Modernists have a reputation of rejecting the public sphere and participating in a separate bespoke sphere; and literary prizes have had fluctuating levels of engagement with the public sphere, though have been shown to be influential institutions which disseminate literary culture to the public sphere when designed as such. The difference is most poignant when Modernist authors win literary prizes, and their publishers respond to the publicity. Each chapter is comprised of a study of an author, a literary prize they have won, and their publisher. The chapters are ordered chronologically to show the development of this relationship. This is the first study which explicitly addresses the relationship between these three and draws attention to the significant impact that literary prizes had, and continues to have, on publishers and Modernism. I argue that literary prizes are public-oriented events that have evolved into institutions of the public sphere which affect the literary market and publishing industry. I dispel the perception that Modernism is inherently hostile to the mass market and instead argue that this is an image which is perpetuated to the benefit of authors who accrue cultural capital through their association with an experimental, intellectual, and difficult brand. This study argues that Modernism is more akin to a system of marketing techniques; it is not bound to any singular time period, and is thus can be applied to contemporary fiction.


Loughborough University (doctoral stipend)



  • Social Sciences and Humanities


  • English


Loughborough University

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© Bret Johnson

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A thesis submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements for the award of the degree of Doctor of Philosophy of Loughborough University.




Lise Jaillant ; Nigel Wood ; Nick Freeman ; Kerry Featherstone

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