The Typewriter Century: A Cultural History of Writing Practices
Published: February 2021© 2021
276 Pages, 6.00 x 9.00 x 0.75 in, 13 b&w illustrations
This book captures the intensity of the relationship between writers and their typewriters from the 1880s, when the machine was first commercialized, to the 1980s, when word-processing superseded it. Drawing on examples from the United States, Britain, Europe, and Australia, The Typewriter Century focuses on "celebrity writers," including Henry James, Jack Kerouac, Agatha Christie, Georges Simenon, and Erle Stanley Gardner, who wrote prolifically and mechanically, developing routines in which typing, handwriting, and dictation were each allotted important functions.
The typewriter de-personalized the text; the office typewriter bureaucratized it. At the same time, some authors found a new and disturbing distance between themselves and their compositions while others believed the typewriter facilitated spontaneous and automatic typing. The Typewriter Century provides a cultural history of the typewriter, outlining the ways in which it can be considered an agent of change as well as demonstrating how it influenced all writers, canonical and otherwise.
List of Illustrations
1. Introduction: The Typewriter as an Agent of Change?
2. The Birth of the Typosphere
3. Modernity and the Typewriter Girl
4. The Modernist Typewriter
5. The Distancing Effect: The Hand, the Eye, the Voice
6. The Romantic Typewriter
7. Manuscript and Typescript
8. Georges Simenon: The Man in the Glass Cage
9. Erle Stanley Gardner: The Fiction Factory
10. Domesticating the Typewriter
11. The End of the Typewriter Century and Post-Digital Nostalgia
"Well written and really entertaining, with numerous interesting individual findings, Martyn Lyons' book provides a useful introduction to a complex field of research."Kim Christian Priemal, University of Oslo, H-Soz-Kult
"This is a useful study of the complex impacts of the typewriter on the practices of different writers in the twentieth century. It contextualizes existing research approaches to this set of questions effectively and offers original insights into the history of the typewriter as a technology and its interactions with the social position of writers and the market for published literary works."Morag Shiach, Queen Mary University of London, Journal of British Studies
"With so many technological changes in our lives, the typewriter has become a clear symbol of the transformation from manual to digital technology. In The Typewriter Century, Martyn Lyons plays homage to this once cherished tool of authors, tracing its history from an eighteenth-century ‘writing machine’ to the post-digital age. Along the way, he recounts how famous authors felt about their typewriters, and how changes in the typewriter also changed the writing process itself, not always for the better."Gretchen Webster, Publishing Research Quarterly
"The Typewriter Century is clearly the result of extensive research but that does not inhibit the prose, which is very engaging. This book will interest scholars concerned with the means of production, and it will also appeal to general readers who are curious about the history of technology and writing."Alice Grundy, Australian National University, SHARP News
“This book will be of interest to historians of typewriters and office work and a wider audience curious about the writing practices of some of the most legendary authors since the 1880s.” James Inglis, Technology and Culture
"The Typewriter Century convincingly brings together currently segregated strands of research on print technology, modernist style in terms of formalist literary criticism, and authorship informed by the rise of cultural studies. Martyn Lyons has a longstanding reputation in the history of reading and writing practices, and his case studies are supported with meticulous archival research."Shafquat Towheed, The Open University
"One has to admit that the typewriter can be traced in every single country with different sources everywhere. Provoking the reader’s mindset, this book is informative, well written, and original. Students in literature, communication studies, media studies, and book studies will appreciate this book a lot – for the typewriter is an anomaly to them."Lisa Kuitert, University of Amsterdam
- Short-listed - DeLong Book History Prize
Society for the History of Authorship, Reading, and Publishing (SHARP)
- Winner - 2022 Outstanding Acedemic Title awarded by Choice
The Typewriter Century Podcast
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Martyn Lyons shares what a day in the life of a researcher looks like as he discusses some of the meticulous archival research that went his new book, The Typewriter Century: A Cultural History of Writing Practices.