Background and early life
Duckworth was a son of Herbert Duckworth, a London barrister, by his wife Julia Jackson. His middle name, de l'Etang, was the surname of one of his mother's ancestors, Antoine de l'Etang, a page to Queen Marie Antoinette. His mother was a niece of Julia Margaret Cameron, the photographer, after whom she was named.
Duckworth's father died before his birth, and when he was eight his mother married the author Leslie Stephen, and had four more children: Virginia Stephen, later the author Virginia Woolf, the painter Vanessa Bell, and two sons, Thoby and Adrian Stephen. Woolf eventually accused Gerald and his elder brother, George, of having sexually abused her and Vanessa when they were children and teenagers. Woolf published her first two novels with her brother's help before forming the Hogarth Press.
In 1898, Duckworth founded the publishing company which bears his name, Gerald Duckworth and Company Ltd, in Henrietta Street, Covent Garden. In his first year, 1898–99, he published Henry James's In the Cage; Leslie Stephen's English Literature and Society in the Eighteenth Century; Jocelyn by John Sinjohn, a nom-de-plume of John Galsworthy; a translation of August Strindberg's Der Vater; and Mother Goose in Prose, the first children's book by L. Frank Baum, and the first book illustrated by Maxfield Parrish. (Baum's most famous work, The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, was published in Chicago just a year later.)
Edward Garnett (whose son David would marry Duckworth's niece Angelica Bell) was Duckworth's reader for nearly twenty years. The firm published W. H. Hudson, Charles M. Doughty, D. H. Lawrence, Evelyn Waugh, Virginia Woolf, and most of the work of Edith Sitwell, Osbert Sitwell, and Sacheverell Sitwell. It published all of John Galsworthy's plays between 1909 and 1929.
In 1929, Galsworthy was shocked that Duckworth required him to sign all 1,250 copies of a limited edition of his collected plays. But when told he would get a royalty of 15s. 9d. per copy, he set up his watch and said: "Let's see how long it takes me to earn £984 7s. 6d."
Anthony Powell became Duckworth's literary editor in 1926, and the publishers Judkins & Judkins in his novel What's become of Waring? (1939) are modelled on Duckworth's.
Duckworth died in Milan, Italy, in 1937, but the firm continued to thrive. It marked its centenary in 1998, but ran into financial troubles in 2003. It was then bought out by Peter Mayer, though it continues to publish under the name of Duckworth.
Three portraits of Duckworth are held by the National Portrait Gallery.
On 2 March 1921, Duckworth married Cecil Alice Scott-Chad (born 1891), the daughter of Charles Scott-Chad, a barrister. They had no children.
Duckworth's older brother Sir George Herbert Duckworth (1868–1934) was private secretary to Austen Chamberlain and was the grandfather of Anthony Duckworth-Chad. His sister Stella (1869–1897) married John Waller Hills, but died three months later.
- Virginia Woolf, 'A Sketch of the Past', in Moments of Being (London: Hogarth Press), p. 69
- Roger Poole, The Unknown Virginia Woolf (Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp. 27-34
- "Duckworth, Gerald de l'Étang (DKWT889GD)". A Cambridge Alumni Database. University of Cambridge.
- Gerald L'Étang Duckworth, (1870–1937), publisher by Geraldine Beare in Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2004)
- Gerald Duckworth at DNB online