Jonathan Cape Ltd.

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Herbert Jonathan Cape (1879-1960) was the son of a builder who started as an apprentice in the bookselling trade. By 1919 he was in a position to start his own small publishing firm, Jonathan Page and Company (Page being his mother's maiden name). In 1920 he took on George Wren Howard as junior partner, and the firm of Jonathan Cape was launched in January 1921, with the publication of a new edition of Charles Montagu Doughty's Travels in Arabia Deserta, with an introduction by T.E. Lawrence. Edward Garnett was employed as chief literary adviser. In May 1921 Cape acquired the A.C. Fifield list, and added authors such as H.G. Wells, Laurence Houseman and Samuel Butler to his list, which already included an impressive array of American authors. As capital was badly needed during these early years, the firm was incorporated as Jonathan Cape Limited in 1924.

During the 1920s Cape had some notable successes, including work by H.E. Bates and Ernest Hemingway, T.E. Lawrence's Revolt in the Desert and Mary Webb's Precious Bane . The firm was also involved in the scandal surrounding Radclyffe Hall's lesbian novel The Well of Loneliness . At the same time, Cape was involved in an independent American company, first set up in partnership with Harrison Smith in 1929 and later with Robert Ballou. However, the American venture was hit by the Depression and in 1932 Cape filed for bankruptcy.

The general recovery of the publishing industry in the early 1930s enabled the survival of the British firm, buoyed from 1935 by the posthumous success of Lawrence's Seven Pillars of Wisdom . Rupert Hart-Davis was taken on as a director in 1933, and appointed William Plomer as the replacement for Edward Garnett on the latter's death in 1937. During World War II Cape joined other publishers in trying to find ways of selling off its back-list stock before it was destroyed in bombing raids. Record sales were achieved in 1944 but at the expense of exhausting supplies of old stock.

After the war Cape took a while to share in the growth in the publishing industry, but in the early 1950s began to recover, with bestsellers such as Han Suyin's A Many-Splendoured Thing and Hemingway's The Old Man and the Sea . In 1953 the first James Bond novel, Casino Royale was published, and by the time of Ian Fleming's death in 1964 Bond novels accounted for most of Cape's profit margin. The 1950s were also a time of change within the company. Michael Howard, the son of George Wren Howard, was appointed to the board in 1950 and began to press for a more aggressive marketing strategy and for the selection of more modern and innovative authors. In 1960, after the death of Jonathan Cape, Tom Maschler became senior editor, at the age of twenty-six. Maschler was responsible for the appointment as director in 1962 of Graham Carlton Greene, nephew of the novelist. Wren Howard retired, and handed the direction of the company to his son. During the 1960s and 1970s Cape had a string of successes, including Joseph Heller's Catch-22, Len Deighton thrillers, John Lennon's In His Own Write, Desmond Morris's The Naked Ape, John Fowles's The French Lieutenant's Woman and Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five .

In 1969 Jonathan Cape merged with Chatto & Windus, in an effort by both firms to protect themselves against takeover by a corporate conglomerate. The Bodley Head joined in 1973 and Virago Press in 1982. The four companies retained editorial control. Cape continued to publish both critical and financial successes, including work by Anita Brookner, Margaret Atwood, Julian Barnes, Salman Rushdie and Isaac Bashevis Singer. The group was purchased by Random House UK in May 1987.

From the guide to the Archives of Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1914-1995, (Reading University: Special Collections Services)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf Fowles, John, 1926-2005. Papers, 1926-1992 (bulk 1953-1991). Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Kenneth Patchen papers, 1929-1989, (bulk 1929-1972) University of California, Santa Cruz. . University Library Special Collections and Archives
referencedIn T. E. Lawrence Collection Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Archives of Jonathan Cape Ltd, 1914-1995 Reading University : Special Collections Services
creatorOf Howard, Elizabeth Jane. Papers of Elizabeth Jane Howard, 1933-2009. Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn Wright, B. mss. Lilly Library (Indiana University, Bloomington)
referencedIn T. E. Lawrence papers, 1910-1961. Houghton Library
referencedIn Papers of Robert Graves: Correspondence (arranged by correspondent), c1909 to 2004 St John's College, Oxford
creatorOf Arthur H. Clark Company. Trade catalogs of booksellers, 1884-1968. University of California, Santa Barbara, UCSB Library
referencedIn John Fowles Papers TXRC93-A76., ca. 1926-1992 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf Bowen, Elizabeth, 1899-1973. Papers of Elizabeth Bowen, 1934-1946 (bulk 1944-1946). Huntington Library, Art Collections & Botanical Gardens
referencedIn James B. Pinker letters concerning the James family, 1900-1934 and undated. Houghton Library
referencedIn Jody Jones Hunter Collection of Works by William Styron, 1831-2001 David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library
referencedIn Victoria Ocampo papers, 1908-1979. Houghton Library
creatorOf Jonathan Cape, Ltd. Letters : London, to Laurence Housman, Street, Somerset, 1946-1953. Bryn Mawr College, Mariam Coffin Canaday Library
creatorOf Ward, Lynd, 1905-1985. Madman's drum:a novel in woodcuts, Woodcuts, 1930. Temple University Libraries, Paley Library
creatorOf Lawrence, T. E. (Thomas Edward), 1888-1935. T.E. Lawrence Collection, 1912-1966. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Bowen, Elizabeth, 1899-1973. person
associatedWith Cape, Herbert Jonathan, 1879-1960. person
associatedWith Fowles, John, 1926-2005 person
associatedWith Graves, Robert Windham, 1858-1934 person
associatedWith Housman, A. E. 1859-1936. person
associatedWith Housman, Clemence. person
associatedWith Housman, Laurence, 1865-1959. person
associatedWith Howard, Elizabeth Jane. person
associatedWith Howard, Michael Spencer, 1923- person
associatedWith Hunter, Jody Jones person
associatedWith Jonathan Cape (Firm) corporateBody
associatedWith Lawrence, T. E. (Thomas Edward), 1888-1935 person
correspondedWith Ocampo, Victoria, 1891- person
associatedWith Patchen, Kenneth Papers. person
associatedWith Pinker, James B., recipient. person
associatedWith Ward, Lynd, 1905-1985. person
correspondedWith Wright, Barbara, 1915-2009 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Publishers and publishing
Authors and publishers

Corporate Body

Active 1933

Active 2009



Ark ID: w6nh05g7

SNAC ID: 76092796