The forthright saga

Bernhard Tauchnitz prided himself on the relationships that he had with many of the leading British authors of his time.  His relationship with Charles Dickens for instance was based on friendship, trust and loyalty, and almost all of Dickens’ works were published by the firm.  Other authors may not have been quite so loyal, and many were tempted away to one or other of the competitors that sprung up from time to time in the European market.   As most of  these competitors were relatively short-lived, the authors often returned later to Tauchnitz, perhaps a little shame-facedly.

The First World War however brought a new situation, with Tauchnitz unable to publish new works by British authors and two major new series starting up in Paris.   The authors who submitted their latest works to either the Nelson’s Continental Library or The Standard Collection from Louis Conard, could hardly be accused of lack of loyalty in wartime, although it’s interesting to note that George Bernard Shaw was not among them, and was back with Tauchnitz by 1919.  Amongst the authors though who did jump ship was John Galsworthy and it’s worth looking at his behaviour in the light of his later role in changes that had a significant effect on Tauchnitz.

John Galsworthy
John Galsworthy

At the peak of his fame, John Galsworthy was a literary giant.  He had honorary degrees from a string of universities, was awarded the Order of Merit in 1929, after earlier turning down a knighthood, and won the Nobel Prize for literature in 1932.  He was known for his plays as well as his novels and both enjoyed enormous commercial as well as critical success.   The critical reputation has not really survived and I’ve never seen any of his plays being revived, but his novels in ‘The Forsyte Saga’ are still popular, at least amongst television producers.   So it’s no surprise to see him with a long list of publications in Tauchnitz.

It took a while for Tauchnitz to identify him as an author deserving a place in their series.  He already had several successful works to his name before he got his first Tauchnitz publication with ‘Man of Property’ in 1909.  After that though they came rapidly, and by the time war broke out in 1914, there would have been a row of 12 Tauchnitz Galsworthys on his shelf.   He was then quick to seek alternative publishers and his novel ‘The Freelands’ was in the first batch of titles issued in the Nelsons Continental Library in 1915, before he moved again to have ‘The little man’ published in Conard’s ‘Standard Collection’ in 1916.

This was followed by four other volumes in this series, but in 1920 he offered a new collection of plays first to Conard, and only later to Tauchnitz, who published it as ‘A bit o’love and other plays’.   Todd & Bowden seem to suggest that the prior offer to Conard was because of contractual obligations, which he was then able to free himself from, in order to return to Tauchnitz.  I’m not sure how this fits though with his subsequent decision to withhold from Tauchnitz the next two volumes of the Forsyte saga.  ‘In chancery’ and ‘To let’ were published instead in the Standard Collection in 1921 and 1922, now run by Collins rather than Conard.   By 1923 this series had ended and he was back again with Tauchnitz.

From then on Galsworthy stayed with Tauchnitz and the number of titles continued to grow, although he never seemed to be quite comfortable with them.  Corresponding through his literary agent, he was always forthright.  By March 1926, perhaps regretting his decision to publish elsewhere, he was pushing Tauchnitz to issue a combined edition of The Forsyte Saga, which they did in volumes 4733 to 4735.   ‘In chancery’ and ‘To let’ were new to Tauchnitz, but ‘A man of property’ was already in the series and I can’t think of any other instance where the same book on its own was republished in the series under a different number.

At the same time he was pushing Tauchnitz for higher payments, with some success, and complaining that in his foreign travels, he had not seen enough of his books on the shelf.   By September though a more significant issue was being raised.  After his agent had already sent the text of ‘The silver spoon’ to  Tauchnitz for publication, Galsworthy intervened to insist on a year’s delay before the book was issued.  He was concerned to allow sufficient time for his British publishers to sell their higher-priced hardback edition in Europe before permitting a paperback edition.  The same proposal was then raised with the Society of Authors, who agreed that the year’s delay should apply to all works.  This significantly undermined the position of Tauchnitz, who saw near simultaneous publication as essential to their success.   It was one of many factors that weakened the firm throughout the 1920s, although it should be said that it was later no barrier to the success of Albatross.

By the time of his death in 1933, Galsworthy had some 28 volumes to his name in the main Tauchnitz series, and extracts from them had also been published in the Tauchnitz Pocket Library and the Students Series.   Further volumes were published throughout the 1930s including ‘The Freelands’, the first novel he had taken elsewhere, so that by the time the series ended, it featured almost all of Galsworthy’s works, even those he had originally withheld from Tauchnitz.  Maybe Tauchnitz had the last laugh after all.

Posted on September 29, 2014, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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