Accidental Authors? Soldiers' Tales of the Peninsular War and the Secrets of the Publishing Process

TitleAccidental Authors? Soldiers' Tales of the Peninsular War and the Secrets of the Publishing Process
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2018
AuthorsGreig, Matilda
JournalHistory Workshop Journal
Date Published10/2018

This article explores the concept of soldiers as professional authors, confronting the enduring myth of 'accidental' military autobiography. To do so it concentrates on case studies of British veterans from the Peninsular War (1808–14), who wrote and published military memoirs in their hundreds, contributing to the creation of an influential and commercially successful genre. In their prefaces, these old soldiers frequently confessed their astonishment at having produced long narrative accounts, professing not to have the slightest literary talent nor education, nor the least authorial ambition – claims which have largely been taken at face value by historians. Drawing upon evidence from publishers' archives, however, this article reveals the immense and sometimes frenzied editing, publishing and marketing activity which in fact usually underlay the facade of the simple soldier's tale. Considering these memoir-writers as authors in their own right, the article showcases veterans from a wide variety of backgrounds who were actively involved in the publication of their books, knowledgeable about the industry, and eager for success in the literary rather than military world. More broadly, it challenges ideas about how the memory of war was constructed in practice, and to what extent soldiers themselves participated in this process.

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