Pocket Literature for Hasty Travelers

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In the mid-1920s, a coat-pocket reprint of a classic novel could cost you a dollar but come fit for adventure. London-based publisher Jonathan Cape introduced Traveler’s Library editions to be “designed for the pocket” of a wayfaring reader. Each smaller than 5-by-7 inches, the books were bound in baby blue and gold-stamped cloth. An advertisement states how “a semiflexible form of binding has been adopted, as a safeguard against the damage inevitably associated with hasty packing.”

The collection brimmed with books that traveled to foreign lands not only in the pockets’ of their readers but within the pages of each story. Alongside novels such as James Joyce’s Dubliners (1926) and Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights (1927) were countless tales of faraway adventures and exoticism, from Edith Wharton’s In Morocco (1919), to D.H. Lawrence’s Twilight in Italy (1916), W. H. Davies’ Autobiography of a Super-Tramp (1923), and Somerset Maugham’s On a Chinese Screen (1922).

In his essay “Travel and Literary Imagination,” Paul Fussell writes of the books’ role in an early-20th century imagining of self and destination. “We must suppose that reading about someone else’s travel while traveling oneself was an action widely practiced,” he writes. “It was assumed, indeed, to constitute a large part of what traveling was, which is to say that traveling was considered to be, ipso facto, literary traveling.”

With over 180 titles — and print runs of between 2,000 and 5,000 each — the Traveler’s Library editions sold successfully throughout the 1920s, although attempts to revive the editions following World War II failed.

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