Rupert Hart-Davis

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Sir Rupert Charles Hart-Davis (28 August 1907 – 8 December 1999) was an English publisher, editor and man of letters. He founded the publishing company Rupert Hart-Davis Ltd. As a biographer, he is remembered for his Hugh Walpole (1952), as an editor, for his Collected Letters of Oscar Wilde (1962), and, as both editor and part-author, for the Lyttelton/Hart-Davis Letters.

Working at a publishing firm before World War II, Hart-Davis began to forge literary relationships that would be important later in his career. Founding his publishing company in 1946, Hart-Davis was praised for the quality of the firm's publications and production; but he refused to cater to public tastes, and the firm eventually lost money. After relinquishing control of the firm, Hart-Davis concentrated on writing and editing, producing collections of letters and other works which brought him the sobriquet "the king of editors."



Early years

Hart-Davis was born in Kensington, London. He was legally the son of Richard Hart-Davis, a stockbroker, and his wife Sybil née Cooper, but by the time of his conception the couple were estranged, though still living together, and Sybil Hart-Davis had many lovers at that period. Hart-Davis believed the most likely candidate for his natural father to be a Yorkshire banker called Gervase Beckett.[1] Hart-Davis was educated at Eton and Balliol College, Oxford, though he found university life not to his taste and left after less than a year.[1]

Hart-Davis decided to become an actor, and he studied at the Old Vic, where he came to realise that he was not a talented enough actor to succeed, and he turned instead to publishing in 1929, joining William Heinemann Ltd. as an office boy and assistant to the managing director Charley Evans. He spent two years with Heinemann and a year as manager of the Book Society; during this period, he built up good relationships with a number of authors and was able to negotiate a directorship for himself at Jonathan Cape Ltd.[2]

In his seven years with Cape, Hart-Davis recruited a successful group of authors ranging from the poets William Plomer, Cecil Day Lewis, Edmund Blunden and Robert Frost, to the humorist Beachcomber. He was well placed to secure Duff Cooper's life of Talleyrand, as Cooper was his uncle.[2] As the junior partner at Cape, he had to handle their difficult authors including Robert Graves, Wyndham Lewis and Arthur Ransome, the last being seen as difficult because of his wife Genia, with her "distrustfulness, venom and guile". Hart-Davis was a close friend of Ransome, sharing an enthusiasm for cricket and rugby (but not fishing). After Cape's death he commented to George Lyttelton that Cape had been "one of the tightest-fisted old bastards I've ever encountered".[3] The second partner, Wren Howard, was "even tighter" than Cape,[3] and neither of them liked fraternising with authors, which they left to Hart-Davis.

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