Exploring late Victorian (co-)authorship:
two models of popular literary collaboration
The lively and competitive popular literary market of the late Victorian era provided fertile ground for the development of an unprecedented number of alliances between authors. Literary collaboration triggered writers and readers alike, and in the 1880s and 1890s it became a fashionable practice of popular literature. Two writing partnerships stood out: the English friends Walter Besant and James Rice, and the Anglo-Irish cousins Edith Somerville and Violet (Martin) Ross. Apparently similar, these partnerships do indeed share some points, but they were based on completely different understandings of what literary collaboration was and how it should be handled: Besant and Rice’s alliance was based on a clear, almost mechanical division of tasks, with one partner being the literary ‘genius’ and the other working as his assistant and manager – but still to be considered an author; Somerville and Ross’s collaboration was grounded on an intertwining of their selves during the creative process thanks to a conversational method – as they called it – which they described as the mixing of primary colours to create secondary ones. Drawing on a vast range of metadiscourses by these collaborators themselves, the present study compares the two ways of collaborating and reconstructs the authors’ perspective on their own activity, shedding light on how literary collaboration was defined and understood in the late Victorian era. This will also help to understand why such a widespread practice swiftly declined and why its products have since then sunk into oblivion.
Walter Besant; James Rice; Edith Œnone Somerville; Martin Ross; literary collaboration; co-authorship; co-authored novels; popular collaborators; late Victorian popular literature.
Date of Acceptance: 5 July 2021
Date of Publication: 8 July 2021
Double Blind Peer Reviewed
Cozzi, Annachiara. 2021. “Exploring late Victorian (Co-)Authorship: Two Models of Popular Literary Collaboration,” Victorian Popular Fictions 3.1 (Spring 2021): 33-54.