Monthly Archives: April 2020
Elinor Glyn was not a typical Tauchnitz author. Her work had few literary pretensions. and she wrote light frothy romantic fiction. But what she did have was sex. Not of course anything very explicit – this was in the early twentieth century when Victorian attitudes still prevailed, but even underlying hints of sexual activity could be enough to excite readers in those times.
Her first work published in Tauchnitz created something of a literary sensation, becoming the sixth bestselling novel of 1901. ‘The visits of Elizabeth’ recorded the letters home of a naive young lady on a series of visits around the homes of relatives and friends. She sees a lot of goings-on, to which she is happy in her charming way, to assign the most innocent of explanations. The work appeared as volume 3504 of the Tauchnitz series and the first printing was dated June 1901 on the wrappers. For bound editions, the first printing should show no other titles by the same author on the back of the half-title.
So successful was it that it attracted imitators. Just four months later, as volume 3528, dated October 1901, Tauchnitz published ‘The letters of her mother to Elizabeth’. The book was published anonymously, but was by W.R.H. Trowbridge (a pseudonym for William Rutherford Hayes) and filled in the letters in the other direction that came between Elizabeth’s letters.
Not surprisingly, Elinor Glyn was less than impressed by this. In her next work to appear in the series, ‘The reflections of Ambrosine’ (vol. 3636), she is at pains to emphasis that she had not written either the Trowbridge book or another anonymous work. She was right to be concerned about this. Even today, over a hundred years later, various internet sources cite Elinor Glyn as the author of ‘The letters of her mother to Elizabeth’.
‘The reflections of Ambrosine’ is not written in letters, but is a similar style of first person narrative from a young woman, relating the goings-on in high society. The first printing in Tauchnitz is dated February 1903 on paperback copies, or on bound copies, should list just the one previous title by Glyn on the back of the half-title. It was followed by ‘The vicissitudes of Evangeline’ (vol. 3805, dated April 1905 and listing the two previous works on the back of the half-title) and by ‘Beyond the Rocks’ (vol. 3892, dated June 1906 and listing three previous works).
The next to come was ‘Three weeks’, published in July 1907 as volume 3978, and perhaps the work that more than any other, established Glyn’s name and reputation. It told the story of a three week affair between a young British aristocrat and a much older woman who turns out to be a mysterious foreign Queen. Their romps on a tiger skin led to the popular doggerel “Would you like to sin, with Elinor Glyn, on a tiger skin. Or would you prefer, to err with her, on some other fur’.
Suggestions that the book was based on an affair that Glyn herself had with a much younger man (Lord Alistair Innes Ker, brother of the Duxe of Roxburghe), would have done nothing to harm the sales of it. And it does seem to have sold well, with regular reprints and a continuing demand for new works.
Glyn was happy to oblige, coming back next to her first character, Elizabeth, and the same format of letters written home to her mother. ‘Elizabeth visits America’ (vol. 4124, dated June 1909 and listing five previous works) is much the same kind of thing, although Elizabeth is now older, married and a little less naive.
In the meantime, Glyn was herself pursuing another affair, with Lord Curzon, the former Viceroy of India and then Chancellor of Oxford University. To maintain this affair, cover her husband’s debts and keep up her standard of living, she had to keep writing. Five more works followed in the years running up to the first World War – ‘His hour’ (vol. 4230, December 1910), ‘The reason why’ (vol. 4305, January 1912), ‘Halcyone’ (vol. 4367, October 1912), ‘The Contrast (vol. 4427, July 1913) and ‘Guinevere’s Lover’ (vol. 4500, July 1914).
The war years of course interrupted any further publications in Tauchnitz and even afterwards it took several years for the firm to recover anything like its previous position. Elinor Glyn seems to have written less in this period anyway, but her career was starting to move in other directions. In 1914 a silent movie was made of ‘Three weeks’ and in 1920 she herself moved to Hollywood to become a scriptwriter. ‘Beyond the rocks’ was filmed in 1922, starring Rudolph Valentino and Gloria Swanson and although Glyn did not write the screenplay for this, she was involved in the production and worked with Swanson on other films. Two years later she did write the screenplay for a remake of ‘Three weeks’, from which she allegedly made $65,000 as a 40% share of the profits.
As Tauchnitz recovered in the 1920s, it was still keen to publish any new novels by Glyn. ‘Man and Maid’ appeared as volume 4577 in May 1922, followed by ‘Six Days’ (vol. 4631, March 1924), ‘The great moment (vol. 4678, March 1925) and ‘Love’s blindness’ (vol. 4732, May 1926), all appearing relatively quickly after UK publication. Then in 1927 came ‘”It” and other stories’ (vol. 4807, November 1927). By the time it appeared in Tauchnitz, “It” had been made into a silent film earlier in 1927, making a major star of its leading lady, Clara Bow, who became the first ‘It’ girl.
But the era of silent movies was coming to an end, and with it Elinor Glyn’s particular brand of slightly risqué eroticism. She returned to England from Hollywood in 1929, and later attempts at both screenplay writing and film directing were not successful. She continued to write, but her moment had passed. The 1930s were a different era and Tauchnitz with other problems of its own, had had enough of Elinor Glyn. Reprints certainly continued into the early thirties, but there were no more new publications after “It”, so she finished on a total of 16 volumes spread over more than 25 years.
I’ve looked in previous posts at the development of Penguin Books in the US, first from 1942 to 1945 and then from 1945 to 1948, a period that led up to the final rift with the UK business and the creation of the New American Library. That rift was probably as much as anything to do with the use of illustrated covers in the American market, although Allen Lane seems to have seen it as a much wider difference of opinion over the direction of the business. His perception was that the business was going too far downmarket, publishing too many books of dubious morality.
That perception is challenged by the development of Pelican Books in the US. Victor Weybright, who had taken charge of the US Penguin business alongside Kurt Enoch, after Ian Ballantine’s departure, had been seriously impressed by Pelican Books in the UK. He saw a gap in the US market for a non-fiction paperback series and was convinced that Penguin could fill it with an American version of Pelicans.
The US Pelican series launched at the end of 1945 or the start of 1946 with a mixture of books sourced from Penguin in the UK, and others sourced from American publishers. The first volume, P1, was ‘Public Opinion’ by Walter Lippmann, first published in 1922 and a classic American text. It was followed by ‘Patterns of Culture’ by the American anthropologist, Ruth Benedict, hardly less classic – and then by a British text, ‘You and Music’ by Christian Darnton, that had appeared in the UK Pelican series as volume A68.
Slightly oddly, these first three numbered volumes are all dated January 1946, while volume P4, George Gamow’s ‘The birth and death of the Sun’, is shown as published in December 1945. Also slightly oddly, Weybright’s autobiography recalls ‘The revolt of the masses’ by José Ortega y Gasset as one of the first titles, although it did not appear until much later, after the split with Penguin in the UK.
The volumes look very similar to the main series US Penguins in the new format introduced at that time, with a Pelican logo in a circle replacing the various shapes used for the Penguin logo. The price was the same at 25c, the covers have the same plastic laminating, now often peeling away, and the cover designs, almost all by Robert Jonas, look very similar too.
By the end of 1946 the series had reached 11 volumes, and the eleventh volume, ‘Heredity, race and society’ by L.C. Dunn & T.H. Dobzhansky, is the first one to be a new book specially written for the series, rather than a reprint. In the UK, Pelicans had started as a reprint series before moving to commission their own books, and the process was now underway in the US as well. P11 was also the first for a period to have no direct indication of price on the book. It was becoming difficult to maintain the standard price of 25c and for a few months no price was indicated, although some books carry a 35c sticker. From volume P18 onward, the price is marked as 35c.
The format of mixing UK reprints with more specifically American books continued throughout 1947, while negotiations for the separation from UK Penguin went on. In October, E.V. Rieu’s translation of ‘The Odyssey’ that had been a surprising literary success in the UK, and had sold well also in the US Penguin main series, moved across to the Pelican series as volume P21. It followed another, perhaps less surprising success, Kenneth Walker’s ‘The physiology of sex’ that had been reprinted several times in the main series before appearing as a Pelican too.
Then in November 1947, Dunn & Dobzhansky’s ‘Heredity, race and society’ was reprinted, but given a new number as volume P23. I am not aware of any of the other volumes in the series being reprinted as Pelicans, either under the same or a different number.
As far as I can tell (from not only several decades, but several thousand miles away), this series was very unusual in the US market at the time. Paperbacks were generally downmarket and seen as not very serious. For a paperback publisher to be publishing not only non-fiction, but serious intellectual non-fiction (anthropology, astronomy, modern architecture, and sex) was at least surprising, if not groundbreaking.
So did it matter that it was doing so with illustrated covers (and hardly salacious ones)? And yet, for Allen Lane it seems that it did. His US business was publishing not only this kind of serious non-fiction, but in its fiction list, D.H. Lawrence, Joseph Conrad, Henry James, John Steinbeck, Bernard Shaw, Pearl Buck and William Faulkner (the latter four all, sooner or later, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature). And still it seems, Lane felt it was straying too far from the traditions (little more than a decade old) of Penguin Books in the UK. Rather than focusing on The Odyssey or other Pelican titles, Lane saw novels by James M. Cain, James T. Farrell and Erskine Caldwell, and he saw, and disliked, the illustrated covers.
In ‘The Penguin Story’, published by Penguin in 1966 and, although written by Bill Williams, probably as close as we can get to Penguin history as Allen Lane wanted it to be seen, there is a remarkable attack on the position of Weybright and Enoch. After the split from Penguin in the UK, Lane is reputed to have never talked to Weybright again, and it seems that almost twenty years later, he still held a grudge.
Penguin’s ‘American associates’, writes Williams, without naming them, ‘wanted the mass market in terms of quarter million sales or more, for every title’. To achieve this they used distribution outlets ‘with no interest in books as such’ and that preferred ‘a commodity with garish and sensational eye-appeal’. ‘The contents of the book … were relatively unimportant: what mattered was that its lurid exterior should ambush the customers’. It seems to me difficult to sustain this charge against the range of titles published in the US Pelican series and their cover designs, or indeed against the US Penguins in the same period – but judge for yourself.
By October 1947 the split had been agreed and from early 1948 was being implemented. Penguins were re-branded as Signet Books and Pelicans as Mentor Books, both under the overall heading of the New American Library. For a brief period, Pelicans appeared as ‘Pelican Mentor Books’ and the numbering moved from P25 to M26, M27 etc. Volumes M26 to M29, published from March to June 1948, had the dual branding, and then traces of Pelican disappeared from the American market.