Henry S. Sommerville
Univerity of Rochester
In September 2003, I had the pleasure of performing research at Princeton University, using the papers of the publisher George Braziller, Inc., in the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections. I am grateful to the Friends of the Princeton University Library for making this research possible through a Visiting Fellowship and to the staff of the Department of Rare Books and Special Collections, who were knowledgeable, courteous, and professional. They helped to make a few weeks sharing in the life of the university as pleasant as they were vital to my dissertation research.
George Braziller, Inc., New Directions Publishing Corporation, and Grove Press, three of the leading independent American publishers of the years between 1945 and 1975, are the subjects of the dissertation I am preparing for the History Department at the University of Rochester. My dissertation, "Publishers and Mass Modernism," will examine the years in which modernist literature appeared in cheap paperbacks, traveled along a faster and farther-reaching distribution network, and invaded the classrooms of the fast-growing colleges and universities. In the work of the independent publishers, I find both the collaboration and the clash of business practice and literary values. In some ways, modernism became good business; at the same time, independent publishers could violate the demands of business in the service of other ideals; and, finally, the necessities of business inevitably shaped the transmission of modernist texts in American culture. My work at Princeton has given me new insight into the unfolding of these processes at George Braziller, Inc.
When George Braziller began publishing in 1954, the Book Find Club, which he founded in 1942, had grown into one of the most successful book clubs in the United States, not on the scale of the Book-of-the-Month Club and Literary Guild but with a reputation for seriousness of purpose. The new publishing house followed the model of the book club, bringing out works of popular physical and social science, literature, and art, often reviving out-of-print books that found a grateful audience. Braziller soon added new fiction by foreign authors, especially French "new novelists," and debut novels by American authors. In 1959, Braziller brought out the Great American Artist series, six slim art books, well-illustrated, with texts aimed at the general reader. The series set a pattern for books on architecture, religion, and history that helped George Braziller, Inc., fund its continuing publication of literature and the eventual addition of poetry to its list. By the close of the 1960s, Braziller's importance as a publisher of literary and artistic books rivaled that of larger publishers and marked the firm as a leader in these fields.
Princeton's manuscript holdings for George Braziller, Inc., fill fifty-seven boxes and cover a span of more than thirty years in the life of the company; these records are indispensible to the study of the publisher's business practices. Most importantly, they will reveal the financial commitments the company made to different kinds of books and the sources of revenue that it drew upon. To this end, I collected the raw data on advances, royalty rates, subsidiary revenues, and sales of Braziller books.
The keener pleasures of investigating Braziller's papers came from gaining a detailed knowledge of the company's daily operations, its setbacks and unexpected triumphs, and the personalities of some of the long-time staff members. As I examined the files at Princeton, I found George Braziller, Inc., facing every possible variation on the elusive "normal" publishing process: a manuscript that never materializes, a translation unacceptable to the original author, a book printed in Holland tied up in Dutch customs, a dispute over the motion-picture rights to a work by Jean-Paul Sartre that results in a court order to withhold his royalties, and a rush to publish a timely book entitled "What Do We Tell the Children About Watergate?" These incidents reveal the complexities of the publisher's job and help us understand that profits and prestige are not the only factors in any given decision. They teach us instead that cultural outcomes depend on courts and customs officers as well as authors and readers.
Again, I would like to thank everyone at Princeton who made my research possible.