Faber and Faber is one of the last of the great independent publishing houses in London. The firm was established in 1929 by Geoffrey Faber, and one of his first successes was to bring in none other than T. S. Eliot to act as a ‘literary adviser’. 80 years on, Faber is particularly well-known for its unrivalled list of modern poets and playwrights, as well as for publishing writers of prize-winning fiction and general non-fiction, including eleven Nobel laureates and six Booker Prize-winners.
Faber and Faber began as a firm in 1929, but its roots go back further – to ‘The Scientific Press’, founded in the early years of the twentieth century, which was owned by Sir Maurice and Lady Gwyer and which derived much of its income from the weekly magazine ‘The Nursing Mirror’. The Gwyers’ desire to expand into trade publishing led them to Geoffrey Faber, a fellow of All Souls College, Oxford, and ‘Faber and Gwyer’ was founded in 1925. Four years later, ‘The Nursing Mirror’ was sold and Geoffrey Faber and the Gwyers agreed to go their separate ways. Searching for a name with a ring of respectability, Geoffrey hit upon the name ‘Faber and Faber’, although there was only ever one of him.
In the meantime, the firm had prospered. T. S. Eliot, who had been recommended to Faber by a colleague at All Souls, had left Lloyds Bank in London to join him as a literary adviser and in the first season the firm issued his ‘Poems 1909-1925’. Also appearing in the catalogues from the early years were books by Ezra Pound, Jean Cocteau, Herbert Read, Max Eastman, George Rylands, John Dover Wilson, Geoffrey Keynes, Forrest Reid and Vita Sackville-West.
In 1928 the anonymous ‘Memoirs of a Fox-hunting Man’ appeared, proving so popular that over the next six months it was reprinted eight times. Siegfried Sassoon’s name was added to the title page for the second impression as the book became Faber’s first commercial success, and an enduring literary classic.
Poetry was always to be a prime element in the Faber list and under Eliot’s aegis W. H. Auden, Stephen Spender and Louis MacNeice soon joined Pound, Marianne Moore, Wyndham Lewis, John Gould Fletcher, Roy Campbell, James Joyce and Walter de la Mare.
Under Geoffrey Faber’s chairmanship the board in 1929 included Eliot, Richard de la Mare, Charles Stewart and Frank Morley. This young and highly intelligent team built up a comprehensive and profitable catalogue which always had a distinctive physical identity and much of which is still in print. Biographies, memoirs, fiction, poetry, political and religious essays, art and architecture monographs, children’s books, and a pioneering ecology list years ahead of its time, gave an unmistakable character to the productions of 24 Russell Square, the firm’s Georgian offices in Bloomsbury. It also produced Eliot’s literary review ‘The Criterion’.
During the Second World War, paper shortages meant profits were large, but almost all went in taxes and subsequent years were difficult. However, with recovery a new generation joined Faber, bringing in writers such as William Golding, Lawrence Durrell, Robert Lowell, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, W. S. Graham, Philip Larkin, P. D. James, Tom Stoppard and John Osborne. These last two, first published in the 1960s, represented the firm’s growing commitment to modern drama, reflected in a pre-eminence that remains to the present day.
Faber and Faber remains one of the last of the great independent publishing houses in London. With the great depth of its backlist, featuring books by no fewer than eleven Nobel Laureates and six Booker Prize-winners, a thriving frontlist, and new ventures including the Faber Finds imprint and the Faber Academy writing courses, the company continues to go from strength to strength.