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A most English writer

The recent news of the death of Charles Aznavour reminded me, like many others, that this most French of singers, was born as Shahnour Vaghinag Aznavourian, the son of Armenian immigrants.  To the British at least, he had an impeccably French accent, sang quintessentially French songs about French passions and in an unmistakably French way.

Which reminds me in turn of Michael Arlen, that most English of early twentieth century writers, who was though born as Dikran Kouyoumdjian, the son of Armenian immigrants to Britain.  He himself was born in Bulgaria, but came to England with his parents in 1901 at the age of 5.  He was sent to Malvern College, which no doubt turned him into the perfect English gentleman, as it no doubt still does for his modern equivalents.  He remained a Bulgarian citizen though throughout the First World War (in which Bulgaria was aligned with Germany, Austria-Hungary and the Ottoman Empire) becoming a British Citizen only in 1922 and changing his name at this point to Michael Arlen.

Michael-Arlen

Michael Arlen, from the National Portrait Gallery

My interest in him is focused on the books he had published in Continental Europe by Tauchnitz and Albatross and in the UK by Penguin and Hutchinson.  He first appeared as a Tauchnitz author in 1930, one of the new authors introduced by Max Christian Wegner, who had been appointed as General Manager of the company in 1929.   The first of his books to appear was ‘Lily Christine’ as volume 4926.  As usual Tauchnitz preferred to start by publishing his latest work, rather than going back to the earlier works that had made his name.

‘Lily Christine’, a tangled romance chronicling the lives of upper class society in the 1920s ‘Jazz Age’, had been published in the UK in 1928.   It is probably fairly typical of the novels that led to Arlen being described as the English F. Scott Fitzgerald.  The first printing in Tauchnitz is dated March 1930 at the top of the rear wrapper, and like all first printings from this era, has a two column list of latest volumes on the back and inside wrappers.   Later printings have a single column listing on the back only.

It was followed shortly after by ‘Babes in the Wood’, a collection of short stories that begins with an apparently autobiographical story called ‘Confessions of a naturalised Englishman’ (although a note adds that all characters are fictitious, including the author).  It appeared as volume 4943 and the first printing is dated June 1930 at the top of the rear wrapper.  In the three months between publication of the two books, Tauchnitz had introduced a modernised design for the front wrappers, so that they look rather different at first.

A final Tauchnitz volume, ‘Men dislike women’ appeared the following year, as volume 5001, dated July 1931 on the rear wrapper.  By this time Christian Wegner had been fired by Tauchnitz and was shortly to re-appear as one of the founders of the rival Albatross series.  Albatross was hugely successful in persuading leading British and American authors to publish with them rather than Tauchnitz, and Arlen quickly switched allegiance to the new firm, no doubt partly because of his earlier relationship with Wegner.

Albatross 40 Young men in love

‘Young men in love’, an earlier novel by Arlen, first published in 1927, appeared as volume 40 of the Albatross series in late 1932, in the blue covers used to identify love stories.  Then in 1934, ‘Man’s mortality’, a rather different type of novel from his usual romances, was published as volume 211.  This is more like science fiction, set 50 years in the future and often compared (almost always unfavourably) with Huxley’s ‘Brave New World’, published the previous year.  Albatross gave it the yellow covers representing ‘psychological novels, essays etc.’, although perhaps slightly oddly ‘Brave New World’ had been given the orange covers of ‘tales and short stories, humorous and satirical works’.

Albatross 211 Man's mortality

Arlen’s third and final book in Albatross, was a book of short stories though, and so was given orange covers, making him one of only a handful of writers to have books published in Albatross in three different categories / colours (Evelyn Waugh, Aldous Huxley and Katherine Mansfield were others, and D.H. Lawrence managed four).  ‘The Crooked Coronet’ was published in March 1938 as volume 362.

Albatross 362 The crooked coronet

This was long after Albatross had taken over editorial control of Tauchnitz in 1934, with the two series being managed jointly from then on.  Arlen could presumably have been published in either series, and the criteria for determining  which series was used, are not entirely clear.  Most authors stayed with the series they were published in before the two came together, generally with more of the edgier modern authors in Albatross and more of the longer established or more conservative authors in Tauchnitz.  That fitted the harsh reality that authors banned by the Nazis could not be published by the German-based Tauchnitz.   I don’t think that Michael Arlen was ever banned (or could ever be described as edgy and modern), so presumably he stayed in Albatross just because that was where he was at the time of the coming together.

Meanwhile in the UK, Penguin had been launched in 1935 and was buying up paperback rights where it could, mostly for books published several years earlier, rather than the latest novels.  They obtained the rights to Michael Arlen’s ‘These charming people’, another collection of short stories that had been first published by Collins in 1923, and this appeared as volume 86 of the Penguin series in 1937.  It includes a story called ‘When the nightingale sang in Berkeley Square’, a title that was later appropriated for a song that became one of the most popular songs of the second world war.

Penguin 086 dw

I think ‘These charming people’ was the only one of Michael Arlen’s works to appear in Penguin, but at least two others appeared in Hutchinson’s Pocket Library.  Hutchinson was the original UK publisher for several of Arlen’s books, so they were in a stronger position to publish paperback editions in their series competing against Penguin.  ‘Young men in love’ appeared as volume 50 of the series in May 1938 and ‘Lily Christine as volume 59 in October of the same year.

There may have been other paperback editions in other series, but by this time Arlen’s style was going out of fashion.  He wrote mainly about an era and a society that had vanished, at least from public sympathy, with the depression of the 1930s and that was totally out of tune with the conditions of the second world war.  For a few short years though he had been one of the most popular writers in Britain.   His most successful novel, ‘The green hat’, first published in 1924, doesn’t seem to have ever appeared in paperback.

Arlen himself had left Britain in 1927, first joining D.H. Lawrence in Florence and then moving to Cannes, where he married a Greek Countess, Atalanta Mercati.  He returned to Britain during the war, but then moved to the US for the last years of his life.  His son, Michael J. Arlen, an American with Armenian / British / Greek / French / Bulgarian heritage, has written ‘Exiles’, a memoir of his parents and his childhood, itself published many years later in Penguin.

Exiles 2

 

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The Albatross Mystery Club

The distinctive red and black covers of the Albatross Crime Club books from the 1930s will be relatively familiar to anyone with an interest in continental English language editions.  I’ve written before about how they resulted from a partnership between Albatross and Collins, publisher of the Collins Crime Club in the UK.

The grey and green covers of the Albatross Mystery Club may be less familiar, partly just because there were far fewer of them, but they may also have been printed and sold in smaller quantities.  Certainly some of them are now quite difficult to find, not helped by the fact that they were all issued from 1937 to 1939 in the last couple of years before the Second World War.

The distinction between Crime books and Mystery Books was a peculiarity of Collins.   Books published in the Collins Crime Club series in the UK had to conform to certain criteria that defined what a crime story was.  Books that didn’t qualify as crime, were published instead as ‘A Collins Mystery’.   Since the Albatross Crime Club published only books that had appeared in the Collins Crime Club in the UK, they inherited the problem from Collins, although their answer to it was rather different.

For Collins, ‘The Collins Crime Club’ was a little bit more than just a marketing description.  It was at least a mailing list and possibly a bit more than that, if not really a club in the traditional sense.  There was no parallel organisation for mystery stories, so no corresponding Collins Mystery Club.  For Albatross though, the Albatross Crime Club was purely a brand for marketing purposes.  As far as I can tell, it didn’t even have a mailing list or any other pretence of club membership or organisation.  So creating a parallel ‘Albatross Mystery Club’ was not at all difficult.  All it required was a new logo and a new colour scheme for the books.

Albatross 401 Brighton Alibi

It still took them quite a long while to get round to it.  The Albatross Crime Club was already four years old and had published some eighty titles before the first Albatross Mystery Club title appeared in 1937.  By this point, Collins had also started their own paperback ‘White Circle’ series in the UK, initially only with Crime Club titles, but from January 1937 with a separate Mystery sub-series as well.  So Albatross were playing catch-up.

The Albatross Mystery Club began with a run of nine titles numbered from 401 to 409 and dated 1937, while Albatross Crime Club titles continued to be published with numbers in the 100 series.  But then in early 1938, all Crime Club titles started to be issued using numbers in the 400s and mixed in with Mystery Club titles.  So 410 and 411 are Crime Club titles, then 412 is from the Mystery Club, all these three issued in May 1938.  In May, June, July and August there was a consistent pattern of two Crime Club books and one Mystery Club in each month.  Then from September 1938 to June 1939, one in each series appeared each month, before the Mystery Club titles came to an end.  One Crime Club title a month continued to be published for another four months, before the war finally put an end to them.

Albatross 423 Captain Samson AB

So overall nine Mystery Club titles in 1937 then one a month for fourteen months in 1938/39, giving a grand total of 23 books in the grey and green livery of the club.  The mix of authors is similar to those published in the White Circle Mystery sub-series in the 1930s, although David Hume is a bit more prominent and J.M. Walsh a bit less so.  Hume has 5 of the 23 titles followed by Peter Cheyney with three.  Interestingly the White Circle series in the UK didn’t publish its first Cheyney title until July 1939, after all three of these continental editions, although Cheyney went on to become the dominant author for Collins White Circle after the war.

Albatross 431 Dames don't care

The only books in the Albatross Mystery Club that have really achieved any lasting fame are the two Dorothy L. Sayers novels, both early Lord Peter Wimsey novels – ‘Whose Body?’ and ‘Unnatural Death’.  Both had been first published in the UK more than ten years earlier, and were probably already seen as classics of the genre.    Indeed later Sayers novels had already appeared in the Albatross main series with red crime branding, but these were books for which Collins did not hold the rights, so they came to Albatross by a different route and under a different policy.

When Albatross came briefly back after the war, there was no longer any role for the Mystery Club, or the Crime Club.  Those 23 books represent the entire output of the Albatross Mystery Club.

The Spanish Albatross

The Albatross editions in Portuguese that I wrote about in my last post, were far from being the business’s only experiment in foreign language translations of English novels.  Perhaps not surprisingly they also tried Spanish, publishing about ten translations between about 1947 and 1950.

Spanish Albatross 8 Polonesa

The Spanish books looked completely different, although the design is clearly a development of the classic Albatross design.  The same colour coding is used, but the writing around the border becomes much larger and rather dominates the central section.  It produces a design that is quite striking, but to me seems to lose the simple elegance of the original.  The books are also larger than the standard Albatross size, again losing in elegance what they may gain in impact.

They were published by Ediciones Albatros, a Spanish company based in Madrid and presumably set up for the purpose.  Unlike most of the other post-war ventures by Albatross, there is no evidence in the books of this being a joint operation with a local partner, although it may have been.

Spanish Albatross 1 Diplomaticos en Pekin

The series started with ‘Diplomaticos en Pekin’, a translation of ‘Peking picnic’ by Ann Bridge, a book that had not previously been published in English by either Albatross or Tauchnitz.  It was followed by translations of ‘Highly inflammable’ by Max Saltmarsh, which had been published as Tauchnitz volume 5242 in 1936 and ‘Soldiers from the war returning’ by Jerrard Tickell, which had appeared as Albatross 552 in 1946.  Six of the seven other books I know about had previously been published by either Tauchnitz or Albatross.

Spanish Albatross Spines 2

The books are numbered from 1 to 13 but I have never seen books numbered 4, 7 or 12 so I only know of ten titles.  Although the series lasted only for a couple of years and I doubt that any new titles were published after 1950, it appears that some of the books were reprinted later under different covers – showing even less respect to the traditional Albatross design.

Polonesa

The Portuguese Albatross

In the 1930s, Albatross Books had been massively successful in selling English language novels in continental Europe.  But by the end of the Second World War, Europe was a completely different place.  Attempts to recreate the series in the new circumstances were doomed to failure.   The market for English language novels could be more efficiently served by the cheap paperbacks that flooded in from Britain and from the US.  In the end it was probably Penguin, that owed so much in concept and in design to Albatross, that was to kill off its own inspiration.

But if there was to be no future in selling English literature in the original language, what about English literature in translation?  In the years from 1946 through to about 1950 there were various attempts to create new Albatross series in local languages.   A small number of Albatross Books appeared in German, others in Swedish and Norwegian, in Portuguese and in Spanish.

Portuguese Albatross P1 Myra Carrol

Of these various series, the one that looked physically most similar to the classic Albatross design was the short Portugese series.  It was produced in collaboration with Portugalia Editora, the local publishers who were also the post-war distribution partners for Albatross in Portugal and in Brazil.  As far as I can tell, only three books ever appeared, although more were clearly planned.  A leaflet launching the series explains the colour scheme that would apply, as with other Albatross books – red for crime and adventure, blue for love stories, green for travel and so on.  Only yellow and red seem in practice to have been used.

Portuguese Albatross leaflet back

In typically enthusiastic style, the leaflet reports that the books would be rigorously selected by a committee in London from amongst the works of leading contemporary novelists and assigned to the best translators.  The first book was to be ‘Myra Carrol’ by Noel Streatfeild, a book that had earlier appeared in the Albatross series as volume 572 in 1947.  The exact date of the Portuguese publication is not entirely clear, but my best guess would be 1948 or 1949.

Portuguese Albatross leaflet front

Surprisingly the next two books to appear had not already been published in the English language series.  ‘Died in the wool’ by Ngaio Marsh was translated as ‘Um cadáver na lã’ (which I suspect loses some of the nuance) and ‘The case of the constant suicides’ by John Dickson Carr appeared as ‘O caso dos suicidios’.  I’m not sure why these books took precedence over the many other crime novels that had already been published by Albatross in English, but it may have been to do with rights for translation, or perhaps even the availability and preferences of translators.

And that it seems was that.  I’ve seen these books several times, but never any other Portuguese Albatross books, so I suspect the series ended there, presumably because of poor sales.  Albatross had other problems anyway, so may not have had the time, the money or the inclination to continue.

It’s a wrap

I have no idea when the first wrap-around bands for books were introduced.  But I do know that Tauchnitz were already using them by 1926, so their history is certainly a long one.  They typically feature a short blurb about the book or a quote from a review, and are presumably intended to make the book stand out in the shop display.  Just another marketing tool, but as they’re still used today, I suppose they must be reasonably effective.

Wrap-around band 4743

Band for ‘The secret that was kept’ by Elizabeth Robins

The earliest band I’ve seen on a Tauchnitz book is from August 1926.  It exists for volume 4743, ‘The secret that was kept’ by Elizabeth Robins, and it’s in full wrap-around style, glued together at the back.  The book can only be opened by either slipping the band up and over the top of the book or by tearing it.  Presumably most people tore it off and discarded it.  Even those readers who carefully removed it without tearing, would hardly be tempted to put it back on later, so again would end up throwing it away.  It’s surprising really that any of them have survived.

Wrap-around band 4889

July 1929 band, now with title and author on the spine panel

But one careful owner of a selection of books I bought a few years ago, slipped the bands in between the pages of the books, perhaps using them as bookmarks, and preserved them.  Some are torn, others intact, but overall they’re in surprisingly good condition.  I have eight of them, for books published between August 1926 and July 1929.  The Todd & Bowden bibliography of Tauchnitz Editions records one other known band in this style, so nine in total are known, but it’s possible that they existed for all 150 or so books published over this period.  An alternative is that they were only used to boost sales on slower-selling volumes, but in this case it seems unlikely that they would have been so clearly dated.  All the bands in this style are in white, and wrapped around an off white paperback would not have stood out particularly well.

So it was a natural next step to introduce coloured bands, which happened from around February 1930.  With this change came also a change in format, so that the band was tucked in under the front and back covers, rather than glued at the back.  Crucially this change meant that the book could be opened without removing the band.  This allowed prospective buyers to open and look at the book in the shop, without taking the band off.  If they were careful enough, they might even be able to leave it on while reading the book.  Of course most were still removed and discarded, but more of these later bands survive.  They’re mostly on books that were never read, which is the fate of many copies.  Few buyers are so uninterested in a book that they will not even want to pick it up and flick through it, which involves taking off a full wrap-around band, but many buyers never get round to reading their book, so a tucked-in band has a better chance of survival.

Tauchnitz 4976 with wraparound band 2

Volume 4976 by Siegfried Sasssoon with wrap-around band – February 1931

The colours of the bands were not random.  They were coded to indicate the genre of the book – red for crime and humour, blue for ‘serious’ books, yellow for novels and short stories of adventure, social life or historical novels, and green for love stories.  The colour-coding seems to have been the brainchild of Max Christian Wegner, then Managing Director of Tauchnitz.  Two years later, by then in charge of the rival Albatross Books, he developed the idea further, using the entire paperback cover for colour coding by genre, a practice also taken up by Penguin when it launched in 1935.

At Tauchnitz the colour-coded bands continued for over four years, through to mid 1934, at which point the firm more or less collapsed into the arms of Albatross.  I’m aware of surviving bands for around 20 volumes, but again they may have been used on all the more than 200 volumes published over that period.   The bands did their bit to brighten up the rather drab Tauchnitz books, but they were still unable to compete against the more colourful Albatross volumes.

Wrap-around band 5148

Band for ‘Gretchen discovers America’ by Helene Scheu-Riesz – May 1934

After mid 1934 the two series were managed jointly by the Albatross management team and Tauchnitz fell into line with the Albatross practice of colour-coded covers with dustwrappers, but no wrap-around bands.

But it wasn’t quite the end of the story.  After the end of the war, a number of attempts were made to revive both Tauchnitz and Albatross, one of which involved a short series of 40 volumes published from Stuttgart under the Tauchnitz brand from 1952 to 1955.  Dustwrappers on paperbacks had by then gone rather out of fashion and wrap-around bands were again used.  As ever, it’s impossible to verify that all volumes were issued with bands, but many of them may have been, with again only a small number surviving.

Wrap-around band S125 post-war

Band for ‘The exploration of space’ by Arthur C. Clarke – 1953

The mystery of Collins mysteries

What is a mystery story?  Wikipedia defines mystery fiction as a genre usually involving a mysterious death or a crime to be solved.  That seems clear enough.  To take one example, ‘The girl on the train’ by Paula Hawkins, which I’m reading at the moment, is surely a mystery story.  Certainly it has a mysterious death at its core and the author tries constantly to keep the reader guessing about what’s really going on.

The girl on the train

On the other hand, you won’t find the word ‘mystery’ in the description of the book on its covers.  It’s described as the author’s first thriller.  Comments from reviewers describe it as ‘crime fiction’ or ‘noir’.  Do authors or publishers still use the term ‘mystery story’ much, or make any distinction between a crime novel and a mystery novel, or between a thriller and a mystery story.

For Collins, long-time publisher of the Collins Crime Club, there certainly used to be a distinction.  Crime novels were published in the Collins Crime Club, and in the ‘Golden Age’ of detective fiction there were various written and unwritten rules about what constituted a crime or detective novel.  Other stories that we might think of today as crime novels, were published as ‘A Collins Mystery’.  Did they meet some parallel definition of what a mystery story was, or were they just crime stories that didn’t meet the Crime Club rules?

The distinction was carried across to the Collins White Circle series of paperbacks, which contained separate sub-series for crime novels and mystery novels, each with their own distinctive covers.  Crime was green and black with two mysterious figures, while mysteries were purple or magenta with a policemen in a helmet.  On the face of it, the other way round might have been more appropriate?

Collins also provided most of the crime and mystery books for the Continental European Albatross series, and again kept them separate – Albatross Crime Club books in red and black, Albatross Mystery Club in grey and green.

For the most part, writers were assigned to one or other category.  Agatha Christie for instance was a crime story writer, almost by definition.  But there was still at least one of her books, ‘Parker Pyne investigates’, that was originally categorised as a mystery story, with its author described as an ‘unrivalled writer of mysteries’.  It’s a collection of short stories that are more about romantic problems and the theft of jewels than the solving of murders, so it’s perhaps not too difficult to see why it might have been put into a different category.  It was nevertheless reissued in the Collins Crime Club many years later.

Parker Pyne Investigates

Dorothy L. Sayers, on the other hand and for reasons that are not obvious to me, was categorised by Collins as a mystery writer.  Three of her Lord Peter Wimsey stories were published in the White Circle mystery series, with two of them also appearing in Albatross Mystery Club editions.

Just  to confuse things even more, Albatross also published three of the later Wimsey novels in red crime branding.   These had not been published by Collins and the distinction is probably more to do with the publisher than anything in the nature of the stories themselves.  ‘Busman’s honeymoon’, the last of the series, was originally described as ‘a love story with detective interruptions’, so perhaps could have been categorised, neither as crime or mystery, but as romance!

Edgar Wallace was another writer that Collins assigned to the mystery genre, although his main publisher, Hodder and Stoughton, had firmly categorised him as a writer of thrillers.  ‘It is impossible not to be thrilled by Edgar Wallace’ went the tagline on many of his books.

Edgar Wallace The Brigand

Other writers with several books published in the mystery series included Peter Cheyney, J.M. Walsh / Stephen Maddock and David Hume.  Stephen Maddock was a pseudonym for Walsh, with books under both names classified as mysteries.  David Hume however was a pseudonym for J.V. Turner, whose books under his own name were classified as crime.  I suspect that most people who remember these writers today would consider them all to be writers of crime novels, or perhaps thrillers.

As far as I can tell, the distinction between crime and mystery stories was specific to Collins, and not adopted by other publishers.  Certainly Penguin made no distinction between them.  Their iconic green banded covers were from early on described as ‘Mystery and Crime’ books, although the use of both words suggests they did recognise that they might not mean the same thing.

Penguin 313

Boxing clever – the first 6 Albatross books

The launch of Albatross books in 1932 was a key moment in the paperback revolution, even if not fully recognised as such at the time.  It signalled the imminent demise of Tauchnitz, which had dominated English language publishing in Continental Europe for almost a century.  It was to be the inspiration for the launch of Penguin Books three years later.  And it was in some respects the moment that paperbacks came of age in the twentieth century.

A lot of planning and preparation had gone into the launch, which brought together three remarkable men, John Holroyd-Reece, Max Christian Wegner and Kurt Enoch.  Their stories are too long and varied to cover here, but all three played important roles in publishing history, even apart from their time at Albatross.   It was important for them that the first list of Albatross titles made a statement about the ambitions of the new series.

Albatross First six anouncement

It was a mixed list, establishing the principle that the series would cover a range of genres and styles.  A crime story and a romance rubbed shoulders with more literary fiction.   A volume of short stories was published alongside the first volume of an historical family saga.   There was something for everyone, and importantly, with colour coding by genre, the mix of types of book was reflected in a mix of colours for the first six books.

The choice of the first three authors – James Joyce, Aldous Huxley and Sinclair Lewis, seemed to say that the series would be more at the cutting edge of modern literature than Tauchnitz had been in recent years.   It also said something about the ability of Albatross to attract authors away from Tauchnitz.

James Joyce in particular had been neglected by Tauchnitz.  They had eventually published ‘A portrait of the artist as a young man’ in 1930, some ten years after being offered it, but had shown little interest in his other works.  So for Albatross, publishing ‘Dubliners’ as volume 1 was an open goal.

Huxley and Lewis had been treated better, with Tauchnitz publishing six volumes of Huxley and three from Lewis, arguably including their most important works.  But that was far from comprehensive coverage and as with Joyce, Albatross was able to target earlier works, overlooked by Tauchnitz, before later publishing new works.  Sinclair Lewis had in 1930 become the first American author to be awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, so it was a good time to be revisiting his earlier works.

The next three titles were perhaps a bit lighter, but Rogue Herries by Hugh Walpole was a significant prize.  It was the first of the Herries Chronicles, a trilogy of books set in the Lake District, and probably the work for which Walpole is best remembered now.  He too had to be attracted away from Tauchnitz, which had published several of his earlier works, as did Warwick Deeping.   As Tauchnitz had had a near monopoly on publishing English literature in Europe, it was almost inevitable that the authors Albatross wanted to publish would already have had dealings with Tauchnitz.

The launch of the first six titles was also marked by the issue of a boxed set of the six books.  I have little idea how many of these were produced or sold, or indeed the price at which it was offered.  I have only ever seen the one example, illustrated below, and that is in less than perfect condition.  Although the box has no Albatross branding, I am pretty sure that it was produced for Albatross, rather than just being a home-made affair.  It’s possible though that it was produced only for presentation copies, offered to business contacts and colleagues.

Box Set First Six 2

Just one of the books in this box still has its transparent dustwrapper, and that is in poor condition, but all the books would originally have had them.   They were easily damaged and after a year or so, new titles were instead given paper dustwrappers in the same design as the books.

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.

Embed from Getty Images

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.

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)