Monthly Archives: June 2017

Albatross and the Third Reich. A Strange Bird, but a wonderful book.

‘Strange Bird’ is a wonderful new book by Michele Troy, subtitled ‘The Albatross Press and the Third Reich’.  It vividly recounts the difficulties of a business publishing modernist British and American literature in 1930s Germany under the Nazis, and the lives of the key people involved as they cope with the sometimes brutal consequences.

Strange Bird

Michele Troy is Professor of English at Hillyer College at the University of Hartford in Connecticut.  On one level her book is a meticulously researched academic study, where every assertion is backed by detailed research referenced in copious footnotes.   But on another level it’s more like a novel, following the lives of a whole cast of characters, but particularly the three main founders of Albatross – John Holroyd-Reece, Max Christian Wegner and Kurt Enoch.

Kurt Enoch (right) with novelist Erskine Caldwell, in the US after the war

The book is beautifully written, again more like a novel in places, but the story the author has uncovered is almost too implausible for the plot of a novel.  There are twists and turns as the business has to adapt to Nazi control and suspicion, and the team is then split apart by restrictions on Jewish ownership of property in Germany.   I won’t include too many spoilers, but the story reaches a climax with the German occupation of Paris in 1940.  The contrasts in the experiences of the main participants at that point are almost heartbreaking, but there is far more to come.  Triumph turns to disaster and disaster turns to recovery in very personal terms as well as in political, military and business terms.

Max Christian Wegner

Max Christian Wegner, after the war

Holroyd-Reece, Wegner and Enoch all had very successful publishing careers separately from Albatross, both before and after the war, and they worked together for only a few years.  I’ve long believed that in that short period they were able to create something really special, and that the Albatross series was a remarkable achievement in both literary and business terms.  But I had little idea before picking up this book of quite how remarkable it really was.  It needs the context of time and place, of everything that was going on in 1930s Germany, followed by the war and the post-war chaos, to understand the extent of their achievement.  ‘Strange Bird’ brings together the context and the achievement and ties it together with the intertwining personal life stories of three remarkable men.

Holroyd Reece Christmas Card 8 and 9

John Holroyd Reece in his Paris office, drawn by Gunter Böhmer for a 1938 Christmas Card

All three died many years ago, but as well as researching many archives, Michele Troy has tracked down relatives and uncovered personal reminiscences that transform the book from a dusty academic work to a spellbinding thriller.  Above all it’s the stories of the people that you come away with from this book.  They’re engaging stories and engaging people, for the most part sympathetically drawn characters, despite all their faults.

The book is part history, part biography, part novel, part academic treatise, part detective story, part bibliographical research, but above all it’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.   I hope many more people will read it.

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Aldous Huxley in Tauchnitz and Albatross – Part 2

For Part 1, follow this link.

In 1934 Tauchnitz was on the point of collapse.   Its brash new rival, Albatross, had succeeded far beyond its expectations and had stripped Tauchnitz of its sales, its authors and its prestige.   Tauchnitz was ready to admit defeat and to agree to being bought by Albatross, but one thing stood in the way.  The National Socialists, the Nazis,  had just come to power in Germany, and Albatross was a company with multiple Jewish connections.    In the political climate of the time, such a transaction was impossible.

Instead a complicated arrangement was put in place where Tauchnitz was bought by Brandstetter, the German printing firm that printed Albatross books.  Brandstetter passed editorial control to Albatross, but kept the printing work for itself.   From 1934, editorial control of both series was handled from Paris by Albatross.

Aldous Huxley smoking, circa 1946

Aldous Huxley

With Huxley and various other writers though, they had a problem.  Their books were being burned by the Nazis and were appearing on various lists of banned books.   Albatross / Tauchnitz had to tread carefully along a narrow line if they were to survive at all in Germany.   They had to exercise some self-censorship not only in terms of what they published, but how they published it and where they sold it.  The story is told in some detail and in very entertaining form in Michele Troy’s new book ‘Strange Bird.  The Albatross Press and the Third Reich’.

Strange Bird

On the face of it, it made little difference whether books were published by Albatross or by Tauchnitz.  Editorial control of both series was from the same office in Paris, the books of both series were printed at the same printer in Leipzig, and they were distributed by the same distributor in Hamburg.  But the evidence of the books suggests a different story.  Tauchnitz after all was a German firm, with a higher proportion of its sales in Germany, and had to be extremely careful about publishing writers that were not approved of by the German government.  Albatross, although coming under considerable German control, seemed to be allowed a little more freedom.   Its books, printed in Germany, but sold across Europe, earned valuable foreign currency for Germany and the Nazis were prepared to be a bit more tolerant.

But it seems clear that Huxley was no longer to be tolerated as a Tauchnitz author.   He had moved to Albatross anyway for new publications, but even works for which Tauchnitz already had the rights were not reprinted.   The Tauchnitz bibliography records reprint dates for the six Huxley volumes in Tauchnitz editions.  Each was reprinted several times, but none of them after the end of 1934.   A similar pattern exists for D.H. Lawrence and other writers not approved of by the Nazis.

Instead Huxley’s books were transferred across to the Albatross series.  The two volumes of short stories, ‘Two or three graces’ and ‘Brief candles’ were reprinted in 1935 as Albatross volumes 246 and 247, followed shortly afterwards by ‘Music at night and other essays’ as volume 260.  ‘Point Counter Point’ appeared in April 1937 as volumes 331 and 332.

Two volume, or even three volume novels had been a long tradition for Tauchnitz, although gradually dropping out of favour by the 1930s.  For Albatross, they were almost unheard of.  Longer novels appeared, not in two volumes, but in a larger ‘extra volume’ sold at a higher price.  Presumably they could have done that with ‘Point Counter Point’, but, perhaps for contractual reasons, they chose to retain the Tauchnitz two volume format.  Unlike Tauchnitz though, they offered the two volumes for sale together in a slipcase.

Point counter point with slipcase

This transfer of Huxley’s books across to Albatross was probably made necessary by implicit censorship, but it made some sense anyway for editorial reasons.  Albatross had been the more modern, edgier series, and Tauchnitz the more traditional, conservative one, even before the takeover.   With new books still being added to both series, there had to be some basis for deciding which books appeared in which series and Huxley fitted better into Albatross.  The opportunity to develop a ‘collected edition’ of Huxley’s works in Albatross may have been too good to miss.

Huxley Collected Edition ad

On the other hand, shifting books from one series to the other could also have a financial impact.  The two firms had different ownership structures, so profits from the books could end up in a different place.  The Tauchnitz bibliographers, Todd & Bowden, accused the Albatross managers, particularly John Holroyd-Reece, of systematically transferring profits away from Tauchnitz, to the detriment of the new owners, Brandstetter.

This is probably unfair, and seems to take no account of the difficult circumstances in Germany at the time.  Whether the various dealings were fair to Brandstetter or not, depends upon the basis on which they went into the arrangement, what the ongoing financial arrangements were, and also on what was politically possible in 1930s Germany.   They did after all buy Tauchnitz at a time when, without the support of Albatross, it had little future or value at all.  It is likely that Brandstetter’s financial interest came more from printing the books of both firms than from the profits of publishing.  But the details of the arrangements were to be of vital importance later when war came to separate the firms.

Albatross 269 Beyond the Mexique Bay

There was still the question of  whether any further new works of Huxley’s could be published.  ‘Beyond the Mexique Bay’, appeared in Britain in 1934, nominally a record of Huxley’s travels in Mexico and Central America, but also including long sections that were critical of fascism and offensive to the German government.   It could not appear in translation in Germany but it might be more tolerated in English.  It did appear in 1935, as Albatross volume 269, but only after considerable self-censorship by the Albatross editors – “die Schere im Kopf”, or the scissors in your own head, as described by Michele Troy’s book.  Even then it’s an open question as to how openly it could be sold in Germany as opposed to other European countries.

It was followed by ‘The olive tree and other essays’ in August 1937 (volume 336) and then by ‘Eyeless in Gaza’ in January 1938 as volume 358.  Finally in July 1939, only a few weeks before the outbreak of war, came ‘Along the Road’, another collection of essays, originally published in Britain as early as 1925, so another example of catching up with Huxley’s earlier works.

In total then, 14 Huxley volumes in Albatross, five of them transferred across from Tauchnitz (and one more that never transferred), covering almost all his pre-war novels and short stories, as well as a representative selection of his essays and travel writing.   In the end only D.H. Lawrence accounted for more volumes in the series, although Agatha Christie was level on fourteen.  For a series that was printed in Germany in the 1930s and a writer whose books were burned and appeared on banned lists, that was quite an achievement.

Albatross Spines Aldous Huxley no slipcase

Aldous Huxley in Tauchnitz and Albatross – Part 1

By 1928, when Aldous Huxley’s work first appeared in the Tauchnitz series, he was already a well-established writer.   Tauchnitz was still the dominant English language publisher in Continental Europe, but it had struggled during the First World War and the difficulties that followed in Germany.  It was no longer quite at the cutting edge of English literature, where it had been for most of its long existence, and British publishers were becoming reluctant to allow continental reprints as soon after UK publication as they previously had.  Still, to join the near-5000-volume-strong Tauchnitz series was recognition that you had reached a certain level in your profession.  The honour was as much to Huxley as it was to Tauchnitz.

‘Two or three graces’, a collection of Huxley’s short stories appeared in early 1928 (or possibly late 1927) as volume 4810, and the satirical novel ‘Those barren leaves’ followed shortly after as volume 4816.   Although both volumes are dated 1928 on the title page, the first printing of volume 4810 is dated December 1927 at the top of the back wrapper, while volume 4816 is dated January 1928.  There are multiple reprints of both books, identifiable by later dates on the back wrapper.

 Tauchnitz 4810 Two or three graces  Tauchnitz 4810 Two or three graces rear wrapper

 Tauchnitz 4816 Those Barren Leaves  Tauchnitz 4816 Those Barren Leaves rear wrapper

Sales must have gone well, and having identified Huxley as a promising young writer, Tauchnitz were keen to extend the relationship.  The following year they published his new novel ‘Point Counter Point’, a longer work that stretched over two volumes, numbered 4872 and 4873, and dated March 1929 in the first printing.  That was followed up by ‘Brief candles’, another collection of short stories, (volume 4958, dated October 1930) and by ‘Music at Night and other essays’ (volume 5017, dated October 1931).  Both works appeared in Tauchnitz very shortly after first UK publication.

  Tauchnitz 4872 Point Counter Point Vol 1  Tauchnitz 4873 Point Counter Point Vol 2

 Tauchnitz 4958 Brief Candles  Tauchnitz 5017 Music at Night

Tauchnitz though, by this time, was in turmoil.  Hans Christian Wegner had been appointed to manage the firm in late 1929, after the death of Curt Otto, and was keen to modernise the series, encouraging writers such as Huxley, D.H. Lawrence and James Joyce.   But his ideas were too radical for the Tauchnitz board and he left in 1931, becoming one of the key founders of the rival firm Albatross.  At last, Tauchnitz had a serious competitor.

Wegner would have had a relationship with Huxley’s agent and UK publisher and been well aware of which works had already been published by Tauchnitz.  He wanted Huxley for his new Albatross series, and saw an opportunity to win him over by publishing some of the earlier works that had been ignored by Tauchnitz

‘The Gioconda Smile and other stories’ appeared as volume 2 of the Albatross series in 1932.  It brought together most of Huxley’s short stories from the two collections published in the UK as ‘Mortal Coils’ (1922) and ‘Little Mexican’ (1924).  ‘Antic Hay’, another early work from 1923, followed as volume 24, with ‘Crome Yellow’, his first novel from 1921, published as volume 64 in 1933.  Inbetween though came the real prize.  Having won Huxley over and published his early work in far more attractive editions than the drab Tauchnitz volumes, Albatross was rewarded with his latest new work, ‘Brave new World’ published early in 1933 as volume 47 of the series.

     

A further volume of short stories appeared  under the title ‘Uncle Spencer and other stories’ later in 1933, as volume 87.  It combined the two remaining stories from ‘Little Mexican’, with five stories that had appeared in Huxley’s first collection ‘Limbo’ in 1921.  So in the first 100 volumes and the first two years of Albatross, five Huxley volumes had been published.  The tally at that point stood at six Huxley volumes in Tauchnitz and five in Albatross.  Not bad for a writer who was still in his thirties.

Huxley in Tauchnitz and Albatross to 1934

But then two other events intervened that were to have significant effects on Huxley’s continental publishing history.  The first was the near collapse of Tauchnitz, unable to compete with its much more modern rival, and the second was the rise to power in Germany of the Nazi party.  I’ll come back to the effects of those two events in my next post.  (See part 2)