Every book is for the future in some way . . .
Books connect us: writers, readers, booksellers, publishers. When a reader picks up a book, they don’t necessarily think of what it took to get the book to the shop and into their hands. What matters is the story. Everything else is invisible. Yet, this journey of a book from writer to publisher, bookseller to reader was not always so straightforward and was often fraught with risk and danger.
Privilege is a picaresque story, filled with adventure and mishap. The novel takes you to the heart of book publishing and censorship in pre-revolutionary France, when a book required royal privilege before it could be published. This privilege required the sanction of the King, enforced by the Chief Censor and a network of spies. Books that fell foul of this system were censored or banned; others were published outside of France and smuggled back at great risk.
When we think of the Enlightenment, we think mostly of works by men. Privilege takes that story and turns it on its head, to reveal a very different book culture that was struggling into existence at the time. The novel carries you headlong into a world both familiar and strange: of fountains and gilded porcelain, literary salons and spies. It tells the story of Delphine Vimond, cast out from her family home after her father is disgraced. Into her life tumbles Chancery Smith, apprentice printer from London, sent to discover the mysterious author of a bundle of papers marked only D. In a battle of wits with the French censor, Henri Gilbert, Delphine and Chancery set off in a frantic search for D’s author. But will they catch up with D before Gilbert catches up with them?
The novel explores the difficulty and enormous risks associated with bringing work into the public domain at the time. The novel is therefore not only a story of the eighteenth century, but is also a story of now, and a defence of writing at a time of rising populism and the assault on reason. Above all, it is a call for tolerance, understanding, empathy; for us to find common cause in the face of far bigger threats, in a world that fast seems to be splintering apart.
I wrote Privilege, pell-mell, through 2020, as a way to bring myself out of the bleak lockdown corner I was in. The novel was just a file on my laptop at that point, but it felt hopeful, a way to look ahead. Every book is for the future in some way. Thousands turned to books during lockdown as a means of escape. In a difficult year, there was something incredibly heartening about that – about seeing books find a place in so many people’s lives.
This is my third novel. As a woman, with working-class roots in the north of England, the privilege of being published is not lost on me. I hope my novel not only leaves readers thinking about how books were published in the past, but also about the wider question of who is published today and why; about marginalised voices that still struggle to be heard or are suppressed.
Although privilege is no longer granted by kings, it is an issue that goes to the heart of publishing today.
Early praise for the novel:
‘Set in eighteenth century France, Privilege takes us into the vividly dramatic world of Delphine, self-taught and rebellious, who is effectively orphaned by her father’s arrest. In Paris she meets Chancery, a naive Scottish printer’s apprentice who is miles out of his depth in this country where freedom of the press – for both readers and writers – is literally a burning issue. Feminism and censorship are just two of the themes that make this novel very timely in 2022. Tightly plotted and hugely readable.’
Jane Rogers, author of Mr Wroe’s Virgins and The Voyage Home.
‘A wonderfully engaging novel which reminds us why the freedom to write without fear of persecution remains a privilege which we must always defend.’
Alice Jolly, English novelist, playwright and memoirist.
‘. . . it’s the story of us all and our attitude to our own kind. If only we could accept others as we do ourselves; if only tolerance, care and love were our watchwords; if only we could look at a single word and realise its universe, how content we would be . . . this is an adventure of all of us and it’s up to us to see that it ends in success in the next generation and far, far beyond.’
Bookseller, Topping’s, Ely.
Available to ore-order here: https://www.hachette.co.uk/titles/guinevere-glasfurd/privilege/9781529342901/