The History of the Society of Authors, 1884–1914

Walter Besant cartoon

The Incorporated Society of Authors, founded in 1884 by the novelist Walter Besant (and continuing in existence to this day), occupied a prominent place in late-nineteenth and early-twentieth century literary culture, attracting widespread attention for its campaigns in defence of ‘literary property’. This database is the output of a collaborative, four-year project (2020–2024), funded by a Leverhulme Trust Research Project Grant, which examines the early history of the Society of Authors from its formation in the 1880s through to the beginning of WW1. The project has three main research questions:

  1. How did the Society of Authors operate, and in what ways was it conceived, as a professional association?
  2. How did the Society affect change within the literary profession through its campaigns to reform copyright legislation and contractual relationships between authors and publishers?
  3. How did the Society provide practical assistance to individual members, and in what ways did it shape the careers of late-Victorian and Edwardian authors?

The database is still in development, and will contain digitised archival and published documents relating to the history of the Society, as well as social network visualisations of its membership.

Users can: