Faber & Faber: The Untold Story

Faber & Faber: The Untold Story is a fascinating history of the publishing house, told by Toby Faber through a series of extracts from letters, press releases, and internal memos. Faber & Faber was set up by Geoffrey Faber, Toby’s grandfather, in 1929, after the dissolution of his original company Faber & Gwyer Ltd. Despite the double Faber in the company’s name, there wasn’t a second Faber, and Faber & Faber were jokingly known as the ‘Russell Square Twins’. T.S. Eliot is an important figure as one of the directors, and the book provides some interesting context on his work. Geoffrey writes to Eliot about The Wasteland, ‘I wonder if you realise how difficult you are? And alternatively I wonder if I am specially stupid’ (11). Amongst Eliot’s many editorial successes is one notable failure – his rejection of George Orwell’s Animal Farm, which effectively meant the company lost the future chance to publish Nineteen Eighty-Four.

In 1953, a new editor arrived at Faber and Faber: Charles Monteith. In one of his commentary notes, Toby Faber writes that within a few weeks of his career, Monteith ‘grabbed’ a manuscript from the slush pile, to have something to read on the train. That manuscript was called Strangers From Within, later to be called Lord of the Flies. Faber includes both the text and image of Golding’s original submission, with the first reader’s comments: ‘Rubbish & dull. Pointless’ (225) with an ‘R’ signalling reject. Monteith was engrossed in the manuscript after the first chapter, and wrote to Golding ‘we are interested in it, but have not yet reached any decision about it’ (226). Monteith and Golding met to discuss Monteith’s ideas for narrative changes and the next letters excerpted show how the book developed, and how the name Lord of the Flies was chosen.

Lord of the Flies was one of only twelve Faber & Faber novels which they published in paperback themselves (most books were published in paperback both other publishers), and the image of the Lord of the Flies cover is included in full. It is a beautiful cover (although sadly reproduced in black and white) with the famous ‘Faber typeface’, and evocative drawing.

Such is the nature of Faber and Faber’s extraordinary successes with so many writers that William Golding barely appears in the rest of the book, although his Nobel Prize in 1983 is mentioned by Toby, and a photograph included. Faber & Faber: The Untold Story is really quite addictive reading, with letters to and about writers like Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Kazuo Ishiguro, Milan Kundera, P.D. James, and Seamus Heaney, among many others. The cover wonderfully imagines an editorial meeting with Golding, Plath, Hughes, Samuel Beckett, Heaney, Ishiguro, Eliot and Geoffrey Faber, along with cat Morgan, who inspired some of Eliot’s poems. Now, that would be an awesome meeting.

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