Rediscovering neglected texts and muted voices

Charlotte Riddell’s ‘A Struggle For Fame’ is first in new ‘Recovered Voices’ series

Tramp Press is named after John Millington Synge’s “tramp” figure, a proxy for the artist, the bold outsider, who arrives unannounced to shake up a stale patriarchy. The idea also refers to the authors we discover, or rediscover, and the characters they create.

There is a matryoshka doll of bold outsiders in the first book in our Recovered Voices series, Charlotte Riddell's A Struggle for Fame. Riddell worked hard to get published in a time when marriage would have been a far more acceptable method of acquiring social and financial security. Riddell wanted to work for her living, to make her own way in the world.

Like many other female Victorian writers, she used a pseudonym to help protect her own name, and to allow readers to believe that she was male. Her protagonist, Glen Westley, does the same, and succeeds like Riddell in becoming a sought-after, prolific, best-selling author. Riddell was also the first to receive a pension from the Society of Authors.

However, Riddell's three-volume novels fell out of fashion when the industry retired the practice of serialising long works, and after her death in 1906 her notoriety faded. Her caustic, funny semi-autobiographical masterpiece, A Struggle for Fame, went out of print.

It is worth asking ourselves why some books are canon and others vanish. Sometimes it’s simply because no one puts forward the money for a reprint while copyright is held; by the time the work is in the public domain, often many decades later, the work may be all but forgotten. This is understandable, but it has in this case led to the neglect of an important Irish writer.

Riddell’s absence from our cultural and literary history has meant there has been less work with valuable contemporary insight about class, gender and the complexity of Irish identity in Victorian times. Riddell is certainly not the only writer that has been put aside and forgotten. New contexts can revive old plays; why can’t we do the same with books?

Tramp Press wants to find great new writing, and to support authors who might be left out in the cold by publishers because of wrong-headed ideas about trends, commerciality, and changing markets. We believe there’s always a place for brilliant literature, and that the burden is on us as publishers to find great works, and to put them in the hands of the people who will love them.

We live in Ireland so we’re ahead of the game on both counts: there’s loads of literary talent out there, and half the country is waiting for the next great read. It is our lovely job to find incredibly talented writers, and to make sure that it gets out there into the public eye.

But we have found that we can’t talk about our ambitions to find and publish great works of literature without discussing those authors who have been neglected and forgotten. It’s important to us to be smart and bold in publishing brilliant writing, wherever we happen to find the talent.

We'll work to find just such a piece of literature - lost, forgotten, put aside - annually, to help connect readers to our fading heritage. We'll commission introductions by leading contemporary academics to help contextualise each work. In this case, Emma Dale leads the charge with her brilliant essay on Riddell's work, Irish Stories are Quite Gone Out.

Synge was also a good one for reanimation; when his supposed corpses stand up and chaos ensues, those scenes usually represent a new start for someone and a shift in the story. We can recover neglected texts, neglected histories, and muted voices through revivals, through reissuing of old texts and by publishing new texts that offer new perspectives and give voice to different experiences. We can give old voices new breath.

A Struggle for Fame by Charlotte Riddell, the first in the Recovered Voices series edited by Lisa Coen and Sarah Davis-Goff, is published by Tramp Press.

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