Monthly Archives: February 2015
At the end of the Second World War it was unclear exactly what remained of the combined Tauchnitz and Albatross publishing business that had been so successful before the war. Albatross had been owned by Sir Edmund Davis, who had died in 1939, and Tauchnitz had been owned by the printers Oscar Brandstetter, whose premises in Leipzig had been destroyed in an Allied bombing raid in 1943. The editorial office in Paris of the combined business had been taken over by the Nazis during the war, and although it continued to sell existing stock for a surprisingly long time, as well as launching a number of other ventures, the business had effectively disappeared by the end of the war.
What did remain though were the rights to a backlist of almost 6000 volumes, containing the cream of English literature from the past century. For anyone who could establish their rights to this backlist, and to the goodwill and brand recognition that went with it, there was the possibility of re-creating a significant business. At least two men – Max Christian Wegner and John Holroyd-Reece – were interested in doing so. They had both worked for Albatross before the war, although relationships between the two seem to have been difficult at times.
Holroyd-Reece chose to re-launch using the Albatross brand and series with the backing of Collins in the UK, and using the previous Albatross office in Paris, while Wegner attempted to revive Tauchnitz from Hamburg. It is unclear whether either of them could genuinely claim rights to the brand name or the Tauchnitz backlist, but in the chaos of post-war Europe, with uncertain property rights in Germany, that was perhaps not totally untypical.
Wegner started with a short series of 18 books, published between 1946 and 1949, all of them previously published by Tauchnitz. From 1948 to 1950 he added a Students’ Series of a further 12 titles, again drawn from the Tauchnitz backlist, and probably largely aimed at schools in Germany.
Early post-war Tauchnitz editions from the main series and the Students’ Series
Holroyd-Reece had rather larger ambitions, resuming the Albatross series with new titles as well as re-issuing pre-war titles. More controversially, he also re-issued books previously issued by Tauchnitz, in Albatross branding and format, but with their original Tauchnitz numbering. Some of these books were, at much the same time, being re-issued by Wegner in his Tauchnitz series. So for instance Hemingway’s ‘A farewell to arms’, originally issued by Tauchnitz in 1930 as volume 4935, also exists as Albatross volume 4935, issued in 1947, and then as volume 9 of the new Tauchnitz series, published in Hamburg in 1948.
Wegner took steps to legitimise his claims to the Tauchnitz brand in 1948, by appointing Wolfgang Brandstetter, the owner of Tauchnitz, as joint chief executive. Holroyd-Reece on the other hand could claim that when Brandstetter had bought Tauchnitz in 1934, it had ceded editorial control to Albatross. Indeed the evidence suggests that the purchase by Brandstetter may have been little more than a political fig-leaf to cover the embarrassment of a German firm being acquired by a Jewish-owned business, shortly after the Nazis came to power. Brandstetter at the start probably had no interest in running a publishing firm, or ability to do so. However it’s doubtful that an agreement entered into in 1934 in Germany, was still valid in 1947, with all that had happened in the meantime. Even if it was, some payment would presumably have been due to Brandstetter.
Of the two rival ventures, Albatross seems to have been the more adventurous and probably the more successful, launching a number of partnerships with other publishers. These led for instance to local language series under the Albatross brand in Sweden, Spain, Portugal and Germany. By 1950 though, both businesses were in terminal decline. Tauchnitz was sold and enjoyed a brief final resurgence in the 1950s, but in the end they were not really in competition with each other, they were both in competition with Penguin and the other new paperback publishers in Britain. The world of paperback publishing had changed for ever by the end of the Second World War and the conditions in which Tauchnitz and Albatross had flourished would never return.
‘Arcadia’ by Tom Stoppard is billed as a comedy, and there are certainly some very funny lines, but it’s also a drama that’s about as serious as it gets. It helps to have a reasonable understanding of the implications of chaos theory and the second law of thermodynamics, not to mention garden design history, the life of Byron and mathematical iteration. I’m not a specialist in any of those, so it’s a challenging play that makes you think a lot.
The structure of the play is well worked, going back and forth between scenes in the early nineteenth century and the late twentieth century, interweaving the past and the present in a way that reminded me strongly of ‘Possession’ by A.S. Byatt, one of my favourite books. Since ‘Possession’ appeared in 1990 and this play in 1993, it’s hard to believe that Stoppard wasn’t influenced by the novel. Like Byatt he throws in a fair bit of satire on modern academics, but he has larger scientific themes as well. Thomasina, a girl in the 19th century, presumed to be talking before the second law of thermodynamics had been formulated, illustrates the principle by discussing how jam can be stirred into a rice pudding, but can’t then be unstirred. Meanwhile the 20th century academics, trying to recreate what happened in the past, seem engaged in trying (unsuccessfully) to put the rice pudding back together.
We saw the play in Bath in a production by the English Touring Theatre. It worked well enough, and gave us a very stimulating night in the theatre, but I wasn’t entirely convinced by some of the acting and particularly the delivery of some of the lines. When you’ve got lines to deliver that can be difficult to understand, the director and the actors need to help the audience by varying the pace, the emphasis, the timing, the gestures, to bring out as much meaning as possible. This is what the RSC is often superb at doing. They take words written 400 years ago and bring out the meaning, or often bring out new meaning, by the way they deliver the lines, so that it sounds much more up to date. Here we had up to date words, that were at times made to sound as if they were written 400 years ago, so little did the delivery aid understanding.
Having said that, there were some good performances, and I thought one of the best came from Ed MacArthur, playing Valentine Coverley in his professional stage debut. His conversations with Flora Montgomery as Hannah Jarvis, worked well, but I was less convinced by Wilf Scolding’s portrayal of Septimus Hodge. We had to imagine he was not only a tutor coping with the tricky questions of a precocious student, but also a friend of Byron’s and a habitual seducer as well, which for me required too much suspension of disbelief. He threw his lines off too glibly as though he was Oscar Wilde delivering aphorisms, and it was difficult to take his relationship with Ezra Chater at all seriously. I suppose we’re not meant to do so, if Chater is just a comic character, but that requires a tricky balance between the serious and the comic to pull off, and for me it just didn’t work.