Bodley Head

Other names: 

John Lane

Date ended: 
01 Jan 1990

The Bodley Head is a publishing firm founded by Charles Elkin Mathews and John Lane. It originally started as an antiquarian bookshop. It was named after Sir Thomas Bodley, founder of the Bodleian Library at Oxford, and the firm used the head of Bodley as its insignia. In the early 1890s, the Bodley Head embodied the spirit and aestheticism of the period by specializing in stylishly decorated limited editions of belle-lettres, and by publishing representative works of the English fin-de-siécle, such as Oscar Wilde’s plays and Aubrey Beardsley’s controversial periodical The Yellow Book. It took on many young poets, notably those of ‘The Rhymers’ Club’, a group of London-based poets which included W. B. Yeats, Arthur Symons and Ernest Rhys. After the partnership between Mathews and Lane ended in September 1894, Lane, who retained the firm’s insignia, continued to expand the Bodley Head. Lane died in 1925, and his nephew, Allen Lane, took over the business.

From 1932 to 1935, V. K. Krishna Menon was an editor at the Bodley Head. He launched a series called the Twentieth Century Library, which included Art by Eric Gill, Democracy by J. A. Hobson, Design by Noel Carrington, The Jews by Norman Bentwich, Broadcasting by Raymond W. Postgate, The Home by Naomi Mitchison, Property by H. L. Beales, The Black Races by J. H. Drieberg, The Theatre by Theodore Komisarjevsky, The Town by David Glass, Money by M. A. Abrahams, Communism by Ralph Fox and Women by Winifred Holtby. Menon was Jawaharlal Nehru’s literary agent in London, and the Bodley Head published Nehru’s Autobiography in 1936. In 1936, Bodley Head went into liquidation, and the following year it was bought by a consortium of the publishers George Allen & Unwin Ltd, Jonathan Cape, and J. M. Dent. Lane left the Bodley Head in 1936 to set up Penguin Books, and appointed Menon as the editor of Pelican in 1937.

In 1957 the firm was bought by Max Reinhardt, who successfully expanded the business, publishing authors such as George Bernard Shaw, Charles Chaplin, G. V. Desani, William Trevor, Maurice Sendak, Muriel Spark, Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Sam Haskins and Alistair Cooke. Graham Greene, one of the firm’s authors, became its director. In the 1970s, the Bodley Head joined Jonathan Cape and Chatto & Windus. In 1987, it was sold to Random House, which continues to publish children’s books under the Bodley Head imprint. It was relaunched by Random House as a non-fiction imprint in April 2008.

Key Individuals' Details: 

Editors: Grahame Greene, John Lane, Charles Elkin Mathews, V. K. Krishna Menon, Max Reinhardt.


Grant Allen, Aubrey Beardsley, Max Beerbohm, Arnold Bennett, Walter Blaikie, Robert Bridges, Agatha Christie, G. V. Desani, Ernest Dowson, Florence Farr, Richard Le Gallienne, Kenneth Grahame, J. A. Hobson, Lionel Johnson, James Joyce, Allen Lane, Wyndham Lewis, Naomi Mitchison, Vladimir Nabokov, Jawaharlal Nehru, Gertrude Stein, George Bernard Shaw, The Sitwells, Arthur Symons, Ezra Pound, Rex Warner, H. G. Wells, Oscar Wilde, W. B. Yeats.

Published works: 

Desani, G. V., All About H. Hatterr (1970)

Joyce, James, Ulysses (1936)

Nehru, Jawaharlal, Jawaharlal Nehru: An Autobiography with Musings on Recent Events in India (1936)

Secondary works: 

Brown, R. D., ‘The Bodley Head Press: Some Bibliographical Extrapolations’, Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America 61 (1967), pp. 39-50

Lambert, J. W. and Ratcliffe, Michael, The Bodley Head 1887-1987 (London: The Bodley Head, 1987)

May, J. Lewis, John Lane and the Nineties (London: The Bodley Head, 1936)

Nelson, James Graham, The Early Nineties: A View from the Bodley Head (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press; London: Distributed by Oxford University Press, 1971)

Nelson, James Graham, Elkin Mathews: Publisher to Yeats, Joyce, Pound (Madison, Wis.: University of Wisconsin Press, 1989)

Stetz, Margaret D., England in the 1890s: Literary Publishing at the Bodley Head (Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press, 1990)

Stetz, Margaret D.,  ‘Sex, Lies, and Printed Cloth’, Victorian Studies 35 (Autumn 1991), pp. 71-86


Extract from an advertisement for the Twentieth Century Library series, New Stateman and Nation (5 May 1934), p. 167


The Twentieth Century Library is a new series of books on problems of to-day viewed in the light of the changing ideas and events of modern times. Life in all its varieties of expression is essentially dynamic: the economic structure, by which current forms of cultural manifestations are conditioned, is in a constant state of flux and must inevitably change however drastically certain sections of society may try to prevent it from doing so. The books in this series, each of which is written by a well-known author with expert knowledge of his subject, are intended to explain for the information of the intelligent man or woman the effect of modern thought of the metamorphosis which is affecting every aspect of our civilisation to-day. A 16-page prospectus is available explaining the purpose and scope of the Library and giving a detailed description of each volume.


This extract, which outlines the aim and scope of the Twentieth Century Library series, was published alongside the announcement of the publication of the first two volumes of the series, Democracy by J. A. Hobson and The Jews by Norman Bentwich. The logo of the series was a version of Laocoon, symbolizing Man ‘fighting with the twin snakes of War and Usury’, and was designed by Eric Gill, who wrote Art for the series. Each volume was sold at 2s 6d.

Archive source: 

GB 6 RUL MS 2606, Archives of The Bodley Head Ltd, Special Collections Services, University of Reading