From 1842 Mudie had run a very successful book lending business at the cut-throat price of a guinea a year (later increased to two guineas) which was far below the prices charged by rival libraries. At the same time his range was wider - poetry, history, travel, science, biography, adventure, religion and fiction, including all the latest fiction (providing it was respectable) in vast numbers from his premises in Southampton Row. The Library, which had footmen in waiting, was declared to be 'the literary shrine of fashion'.13

At this time novels were issued in three volumes at half-a-guinea a volume. A guinea and a half for a novel was more than a working man's weekly wage, so the subscription to Mudie's Library was a bargain. Soon he was dealing in huge quantities - 3100 copies of Silas Marner, 2000 copies of King Solomon's Mines, and 2500 copies of Macaulay's History of England - which amounted to eight tons of paper, so overwhelming the publisher's hand-barrow that Mudie had to collect it in his own horse-drawn vans. Cecil Rhodes ordered 15,000 in one lot for the Kimberly Free Library, in South Africa .

Only when the demand for a book through the lending library had fallen, was it issued by the publishers in a single volume at six shillings and later at two shillings and sixpence. By that time Mudie had already taken his profit, for anyone who wanted to keep up with the latest novels and could not afford to buy them outright, had to borrow from Mudie's. Then, when the demand slackened, he sold his stock of old titles cheaply to a willing public. 'Those once trimphant three-deckers were to be had for almost the price of waste paper't3, and people like Gladstone flocked to buy.

But they were selected novels. Mudie advertised his library as a 'Select Library', which was a polite way of saying that he censored the type of book which he lent ruthlessly. In doing this, lie shaped the nature of the Victorian novel and emasculated it.

In 1883, Mudie banned George Moore's novel 'A Modern Lover' from his list because two ladies wrote to him from the country objecting to the scene where a girl sat to an artist as a model for Venus. Only two years later Mudie harmed 'The Mummer's Wife' and provoked a violent reaction from Moore, who never forgave him. Moore wrote:-

'At the head, therefore, of English literature sits a tradesman who considers himself qualified to decide the most delicate artistic question that may be raised, and who crushes out of sight any artistic aspiration he may deem pernicious. And yet with this vulture gnawing at their hearts writers gravely discuss the means of producing good work: let them break their bonds first.'


Munde'e book distribution office.

 

143

Page 142
Page 144