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US Penguins 1945 – 1948

Where I left the story in my last post (US Penguins 1942 – 1945), Ian Ballantine had left the business to help found Bantam Books. For a period, Allen Lane sent Eunice Frost out to New York to work with Kurt Enoch, probably not just to help him out, but to keep an eye on him.

That was only ever a temporary measure – Eunice Frost was too valuable back at Head Office – but Lane had his eye on a longer term solution. He had made contact with Victor Weybright, an American with publishing experience who had been working at the American Embassy in London during the war.

Allen Lane needed someone to act as a balance to Kurt Enoch, whom he no longer fully trusted. Enoch had taken the business a long way away from the founding principles of Penguin, competing head-to-head with Pocket Books, Dell Books and others on their terms, rather than trying to change the market. US Penguins had adopted illustrated covers on US style glossy card and the standard size of other local competitors. And the quality of the list was arguably not consistent with Penguin’s UK positioning either.

A typical US Penguin from 1945

But Enoch had a personal stake in the capital of the US business and as he had organised the capital raising, some of the rest was held by his friends and associates. So both Allen Lane and Victor Weybright had to tread carefully at first.

Lane’s policy seems to have been one of constructive ambiguity – sending Weybright out more or less to negotiate his own way into the business. When he arrived, Enoch claimed not to have heard of him and was unwilling to meet him. After a two hour wait outside a closed door, there followed a week of talks mostly conducted through lawyers. The story is told from Weybright’s point of view in his autobiography, although this is highly self-serving and may not be entirely reliable.

But in the end an agreement was reached, which Weybright characterised as ‘absolute parity’ for the two men in terms of status within the organisation. Enoch would concentrate on production and distribution and Weybright on the publishing programme and public relations, an area where he considered Enoch’s abilities extremely limited. Perhaps surprisingly after such a difficult start, they formed an effective partnership that not only stayed together for many years, but was highly successful in a very competitive market. Enoch initially saw Weybright simply as a stooge for Allen Lane, but it was not long before the two of them were united in negotiating a break from Lane and from Penguin Books.

Robert Jonas designed a series of ‘peep-hole’ covers for Erskine Caldwell’s novels

It’s hard to know exactly when Weybright’s influence began to be seen in terms of the series itself. He arrived in August 1945, but probably had little effect on the books published in the following few months. They included notably ‘Trouble in July’ by Erskine Caldwell, an author not approved of by Lane, but who became enormously important for the business over the following years.

Weybright almost certainly though was influential in the major changes that took place from January 1946 and included a significant redesign in the look and feel of the books, as well as the launch of a non-fiction Pelican list. Both were important developments that had long-lasting effects, but I’ll leave discussion of the US Pelican list for another day.

In some ways the re-design was just another step in the gradual transition that had been going on for three to four years already, away from the UK Penguin style and towards fully illustrated covers. It introduced full colour printing and illustrations stretching right across the front cover, and perhaps even more symbolically, it abandoned the colour-coding that had been such a key part of the Penguin brand, in favour of a bizarre system of different shaped symbols to indicate genre. The changes could be seen as the final break with the sober traditions of Penguin in the UK.

But in another way the business was actually moving back towards some of the key Penguin attributes in the UK. In particular the size of the books changed back to the standard UK size, distinguishing them from most other US paperbacks. And although not immediately apparent (perhaps not even to Allen Lane), the nature of the list was changing to one that was maybe more in line with Penguin principles.

From a list that throughout most of 1944 and 1945 had been dominated by crime novels and relatively light fiction, there were now indications of more serious literature. D.H. Lawrence and E.M. Forster appeared in the January 1946 list, Virginia Woolf, Jack London, Sherwood Anderson and John Steinbeck over the next few months, and then in July, three plays by Bernard Shaw were issued to mark Shaw’s 90th birthday. Weybright was diplomatically taking some of the best of Penguin’s output from the UK and mixing it with more specifically American titles.

There were still plenty of lighter novels, and several that were too racy for Allen Lane’s taste. Weybright records that Lane seemed annoyed by the fact that Erskine Caldwell’s ‘God’s Little Acre’ was a runaway success, supporting the business through a difficult time. But the proportion of crime stories certainly went down and there does seem to have been a serious attempt to position the series as rather more up-market and literary. Indeed I’d suggest that the 80 or so books published in 1946 and 1947 stand comparison with almost any run of 80 books appearing in the UK Penguin main series.

In September 1946 Lady Chatterley’s Lover appeared as volume 610 and it was followed in November by E.V. Rieu’s new translation of ‘The Odyssey’ published by Penguin in the UK. Early 1947 saw Henry James and Joseph Conrad added to the list followed by William Faulkner’s ‘Sanctuary’. Lane disapproved of Faulkner, but when he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1949, Weybright must have felt vindicated, as indeed when Lane later fought a court battle to publish Lady Chatterley in the UK.

Of course part of Allen Lane’s disapproval stemmed from the illustrated covers rather than the actual contents of the books. The covers were undoubtedly becoming more colourful and striking (regarded by Weybright as a necessity to compete in the US market), but Lane’s generalised slur on illustrated covers as nothing but ‘bosoms and bottoms’ would not have been a fair description of them, at least in 1946/1947.

Most of the covers were designed by Robert Jonas, often featuring stylised images evoking the spirit of the books rather than specific scenes from them. The Jonas covers are often described as having a distinctive style, but in fact several of the covers by other artists seem to me to be consistent with them, so it may be more of a house style influenced by Jonas rather than just the style of one artist.

Cover designs not by Robert Jonas

When Allen Lane visited New York in April 1947 it became clear that a split with the UK business was inevitable. The terms were negotiated in October of that year and by February 1948 the changes were under way. Penguins were to be re-branded as Signet Books, while Pelicans became Mentor Books – the overall business becoming the New American Library. For a period in early 1948 books were branded as ‘Penguin Signet’ but from August 1948 references to Penguin were dropped and the business was on its own.

Freed of UK constraints, the cover art took another turn. Robert Jonas was for a time Art Director, but from about November 1947 his stylised designs started to give way to a more brash style of which Allen Lane would certainly not have approved. Penguins had come a long way in a relatively short time.

DH Lawrence in Tauchnitz and Albatross

For one of the most important writers of the 1910s and 1920s, D.H. Lawrence was strangely neglected by Tauchnitz, which had earlier had an excellent record in identifying and publishing the best works of English literature over a long period.   As with James Joyce and Virginia Woolf, Lawrence seems to exemplify the way that Tauchnitz had rather lost its way after the First World War, lost touch with the latest trends in English literature and most importantly become out of touch with its own customers and potential customers.

Tauchnitz 4825 England my England

Lawrence didn’t appear at all in Tauchnitz until 1928, when a first short story collection, ‘England, my England’ was issued as volume 4825.   A further book of short stories, ‘The woman who rode away’ (vol. 4877) appeared the following year, together with ‘Sons and Lovers’ in a double volume, (4879/ 80), the only one of Lawrence’s full length novels to appear in Tauchnitz.   Two further volumes of novellas / short stories followed, after Lawrence’s death in 1930.  But 6 volumes, mostly of his shorter works, hardly do justice to the works of one of the greatest writers of the period. In fairness it should be said that this was not the universal opinion at the time.  Although Lawrence had many supporters, he also had his critics and was certainly a controversial novelist.   Were Tauchnitz influenced by the controversial nature of some of his works, even in advance of the rise of the Nazi party?

Tauchnitz DH Lawrence spines 2

A battered, but complete collection of the DH Lawrence volumes in Tauchnitz

If they were, they paid the price.  Their neglect of Lawrence and other modern authors, was certainly one of the factors that opened up the opportunity for Albatross to attack their market, which they did with spectacular success from their launch in 1932. Lawrence’s work was prominent in the Albatross list, with ‘Apocalypse’ and ‘The white peacock’ appearing in that first year, followed by a special edition of ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ in 1933 (published in plain covers by the Odyssey Press, but effectively Albatross volume 56).   By the time the series reached 100 volumes it already included 7 volumes of Lawrence – more than of any other author – and by mid 1934 when the editorial departments of Albatross and Tauchnitz merged, the volume count stood at 8 in Albatross and 6 in Tauchnitz.

Albatross 98 The trespasser

Albatross volume 98 published in 1934

Running two different brands and series required some decisions about which authors should go in which series, and it’s not obvious looking back exactly how all those decisions were made.   In the case of Lawrence though, the decision was effectively made for them.  From 1933 his works had been banned by the Nazi party in Germany, which made it almost impossible for them to be included in the Tauchnitz series, so it was Albatross or nothing.  He and Aldous Huxley, another banned author, seem to have been singled out as prime Albatross authors, and honoured with a ‘Collected Edition’ of their works.   Not only were further new works issued in Albatross, but those works already published in Tauchnitz were transferred across as reprinting was required.   Although the books were banned in Germany, they were nevertheless printed in Leipzig, with distribution organised from Hamburg.   The publication and sale of an important Collected Edition of Lawrence’s work seems to have gone on under the nose of the Nazis.

Albatross publicity for DH Lawrence Collected Edition

Four of the five Tauchnitz volumes of Lawrence were reissued in Albatross, including ‘Sons and Lovers’, issued as volume 292 in 1936. By the end of 1938, there were a total of 17 volumes of Lawrence in the Albatross Collected Edition, if ‘Lady Chatterley’s Lover’ (always kept slightly separate) is included, but his contribution didn’t end there.   Before the war intervened, there was still time to publish three thick volumes of Lawrence’s letters, taking the total up to 20 volumes.  Finally it could be said that the combination of Albatross and Tauchnitz had done justice to Lawrence’s place in English literature.

Albatross Spines DH Lawrence

The Albatross Collected Edition of DH Lawrence

Ulysses in plain covers

James Joyce has a special place in the story of Albatross Books.   The very first Albatross, published in 1932 was ‘Dubliners’ by Joyce, and in some ways the connection goes even further back than that, to the point when Max Wegner became General Manager of Tauchnitz in 1929.   By that point, Tauchnitz was living on past glories and had lost most of its earlier dynamism.  Wegner set about shaking it up.  Amongst other things, a search through the file found correspondence from Joyce 10 years earlier about plans for Tauchnitz to publish ‘A portrait of the artist as a young man’.  It had never appeared.   Wegner arranged for it to be published, and it finally appeared in May 1930 as Tauchnitz volume 4937.

Tauchnitz 4937  Albatross 1 Dubliners

Other Joyce books might well have followed, but Wegner’s changes at Tauchnitz were too much for the Board, which forced him out by mid-1931.   It was a catastrophic decision.  Wegner played a key role in the establishment of Albatross the following year as a rival to Tauchnitz, and by 1934 the new firm had effectively taken over the old one.   It seemed fitting that ‘Dubliners’ became the first Albatross book, rather than the 5000 and somethingth Tauchnitz.

But Wegner and John Holroyd-Reece, the head of Albatross in Paris, had other plans in mind for Joyce as well.  After ‘Dubliners’, it was natural to look next at ‘Ulysses’, which had been published in Paris 10 years earlier and reprinted several times, but was effectively banned in the UK.   For the ‘Albatross’ edition, it was revised by Stuart Gilbert, at Joyce’s request, and carries a note saying it ‘may be regarded as the definitive standard edition’.   That’s a substantial claim for a notoriously complex book that has been plagued by errors and misprints, but I think it’s fair to say that many people still regard this edition at least as an important one in the book’s publishing history, if no longer the definitive one.

Albatross 43 Ulysses 1  Albatross 44 Ulysses 2

The two volume Odyssey Press edition of Ulysses

But is it really an Albatross?  It doesn’t immediately look like one, published in two volumes in almost plain covers, and bearing the imprint of The Odyssey Press.  It does though have the standard size of an Albatross and the layout of the books is almost identical to other Albatross Books.   It has the typical blurb in three languages on the cover, the same style of title page and copyright notice at the front and the characteristic Albatross colophon at the back, showing it uses the same typeface, the same paper supplier and the same printer as other Albatross Books from that period.

In practice The Odyssey Press (as the name might suggest) was an imprint set up specially for this purpose by Albatross, presumably because they were concerned that the book might not be consistent with the brand image they were trying to create for Albatross. They used the same imprint a few months later for publication of ‘Lady Chatterley’s lover’ as well – another book that at the time was banned in Britain. In some ways this feels like an excessively cautious approach to us now, but modern publishers too are concerned about establishing and protecting their brand image, so we shouldn’t judge them too harshly.

Ulysses publicity leaflet front

Marketing leaflet for Ulysses inserted into copies of the Albatross edition of ‘Dubliners’

And in reality it was an Albatross – indeed very specifically it represented volumes 43 and 44 of the Albatross Modern Continental Library. Those volume numbers never appeared on the book and Ulysses didn’t feature much alongside other volumes in Albatross marketing, so the numbers are missing from most Albatross lists of titles, but there’s no doubt that that’s what they were. Lady Chatterley’s Lover similarly appeared in plain covers, but was allocated volume number 56 in the Albatross series.