Exploring the Blackwell Collections (publishing and bookselling archives), Rita Ricketts discovered diverse characters associated with this world-famous company, between 1830 and 1940. There is a tailor's son saving souls, a reluctant radical, a hammerman poet, a spellbound princess, pauper apprentices, pioneering women, profligate printers and patriots publishing in protest against the authorities who sent so many to `certain death' in the First World War. Some became famous: J.R.R. Tolkien, Wilfred Owen, John Betjeman, Dorothy L. Sayers, Vera Brittain, Edith Sitwell and Laurence Binyon, whose name is recollected wherever For the Fallen is read. Most were obscure, yet their memoirs, letters and journals, often disregarded in recorded history, are preserved here. This is what makes the collections a rarity and so appealing.
Family memories of the first B.H. Blackwell and the diaries of his son and first apprentices document everyday life against the backdrop of the book trade, and also present a tableau of nineteenth and twentieth-century history ranging far beyond Oxford. The third B.H. Blackwell (Sir Basil) collected their stories, singling out Rex King whose diaries, 1918-1940, contain an astonishing reading list and a mordant dissection of the texts amounting to a critique of early twentieth-century English culture; rich fodder for any book or cultural historian.
Rex King, like all the characters in this book, wrote for posterity. And Rita Ricketts, a consummate storyteller, has ensured that they will be read by a new generation.