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the best of culture, travel & art de vivreSpr ing 201 1
The Paris Opera BALLET Life & Luxury in 18th-Century PARIS GALLIMARD’s Centennial
Agnès LetestuétoiLe of the PAris oPerA BALLet
Practically synonymous with the literary greats
of the 20th century,
its centennial this year. France magazine
revisits how this once amateurish
start-uP became a Publishing Powerhouse with
a mystique that endures to this day.
B y J u l i e n R ac i n e
In 1911, La Nouvelle Revue Française tapped Gaston Gallimard,
then a young dilettante, to launch its new publishing venture.
26 France • SPrInG 2011
well as playwright Jacques copeau. three years later, the nrF started a small book-publishing operation, entrusting the new ac-tivity to the 30-year-old gaston gallimard. under his stewardship and later that of his son and grandson, it has reigned as one of the most influential houses in the world, with more nobel and gon-court Prize winners than any other French publisher. France is hon-oring gallimard’s place in French culture by declaring its centennial an official national celebration, with commemorations scheduled throughout the year.
back in 1911, gaston gallimard certainly did not seem destined for greatness. he had grown up in an affluent home sur-rounded by rare books and impressionist paint-ings collected by his father, who led a life of leisure and hobnobbed with the likes of Pierre-auguste renoir. as a young man, gallimard spent his evenings at the theater and generally lived the life of a dandy—indeed, he had little in common with gide and schlumberger, whose Protestant upbringing was as strict and sober as gallimard’s was hedonistic. but the fledgling nrF was more a labor of love than an entrepre-neurial endeavor, and gallimard’s passion for literature was enough to get him the job.
as it turned out, he was a natural. in short order, this nonchalant, directionless young man transformed himself into a publisher with
remarkable flair. at once charming and merciless, wily and di-rect, jovial and icy, generous and frugal, he instinctively knew how to deal with writers—notoriously complicated and often unreliable people. he became the nrF’s indispensable go-to man, fiercely negotiating the terms of every writer’s contract—from fees to deadlines to press runs—while at the same time proving to be an excellent reader of manuscripts.
the first books published by les editions de la nouvelle revue Française were Paul claudel’s l’otage and gide’s isabelle, with other distinguished literary talents soon following suit. it was an impressive beginning, but gallimard never forgave himself for failing to snap up a young unknown who frequented high society
and described the impulses of the human soul in a completely new way: marcel Proust. Proust had in fact wanted to be published by the nrF, but gide and schlumberger misjudged his work. “it’s full of duchesses, it’s not for us,” sniffed gide, although appar-ently it was schlumberger who was mostly responsible for this enormous blunder. (gallimard later managed bring Proust into the nrF fold, publishing a l’ombre des jeunes filles en fleur, which won the Prix goncourt in 1919.)
less famous than gide, schlumberger, like his friend, belonged to the haute bourgeoisie (the family remains prominent in the oil industry and is associated with houston’s menil Foundation). the two men imposed a certain Protestant rigor—an aversion to
flashiness combined with high moral standards—that still charac-terizes the house. it was schlumberger, in fact, who designed the elegantly restrained nrF logo. as François nourissier writes in Un siècle de nrF, the enterprise was very dogmatic in those early years, “a combination of classic style and moral audacity, a way of considering the novel as the ultimate weapon.”
when wwi broke out, gaston gallimard worked all his connections and managed to get himself declared unfit for service. in his 1988 biography, Pierre assouline says that he simply “preferred to be a living coward than a dead hero.” it was agreed to suspend business operations, and in 1917, gallimard traveled to new york with the troupe du vieux-colombier—
gallimard is Fêting its 100th birthday this year, but like a coquettish old lady, it’s fudging its age a bit. France’s greatest publishing adventure actually got its start in 1908 with the launch of the literary journal la nouvelle revue Française (nrF), whose founders included authors andré gide and Jean schlumberger as
Gide’s Isabelle and Claudel’s L’Otage,
the first two books published by Gallimard.
Eloges (1911) by Alexis Léger, the future Saint-
John Perse, was Gallimard’s first book of poetry.
The famous white cover, designed in 1911 and
still used on the Blanche collection.
The prestigious La Pléiade collection,
acquired by Gallimard in 1932.
A poster for Le Locataire (1934) by
Georges Simenon, creator of Maigret.
Gone with the Wind by Pulitzer Prize winner
Margaret Mitchell, published in translation in 1939.
Still a family business, Gallimard has been located at 5 rue Sébastien-Bottin since 1929. The street is slated to become rue Gaston Gallimard later this year.
the Early years In the decades leading up to WWII, Gaston Gallimard turned a modest literary venture into a prestigious publishing empire. At right, a few highlights:
A selection of magazine titles
launched by Gallimard in the late 1920s.28 France • SPrInG 2011
selections for the journal. this arrangement worked smoothly, however, as the two men got along quite well; gallimard es-pecially appreciated rivière’s keen eye for new talent. more complicated were their rela-tionships with the magazine’s founders. while rivière was in favor of an exclusively liter-ary review, gide and especially schlumberger felt it was im-portant to maintain a political stance hostile to germany, one
that had occasionally shown up in nrF articles before the war. schlumberger, whose family hailed from war-torn alsace, was particularly adamant that continued vigilance was necessary. but in the end, it was rivière’s vision that prevailed.
the theater company created by Jacques copeau. there he met writer henri-Pierre roché, who would later pen Jules et Jim and les deux anglaises et le continent, both made into films by François truffaut. extremely well-connected in the émigré arts community, roché had founded the avant-garde review blind man. gallimard was fascinated by this experience with american publishing and took note of its more direct managerial style.
the nrF re-opened its doors in 1919, with editorial leadership of the journal turned over to the demanding, subtle and exquisitely analytical Jacques rivière, a highly respected writer and man of let-ters who had spent much of the war interned in german camps. gallimard, known familiarly as gaston, took over the management side of both the journal and the publishing house, which became a separate company renamed librairie gallimard (later changed to editions gallimard). at this point the gallimard family obtained a majority interest in the company.
nevertheless, gallimard had to take into account rivière’s
to take this vulgar, rude tone?”) yet in 1957, when the French revenue service sent guérin a very large bill for back taxes, he turned to his publisher for help, and gallimard immediately advanced him the money.
ditions gallimard was First and foremost dedicated to a classic use of language and did not see itself as revolutionary. yet while it avoided the literary fringes, it remained open-minded, extolling the dada movement and pub-lishing surrealist writers aragon and breton. “literature and the gallimard catalogue must be interchangeable,” proclaimed gaston, who published all the major authors of the 1920s and ’30s: saint-John Perse, Paul valéry, georges duhamel, roger martin du gard,
as it had from the beginning, the monthly journal continued to complement the book business, frequently featuring contri-butions by authors such as malraux, montherlant and giono, whose books were published by competitors. gaston would then persuade them to defect. when absolutely necessary, he would woo them with his checkbook, but he was a noted penny pincher. céline’s financial disputes with the publisher were famous—once, he reputedly called gallimard “un sacré vieux coffre-fort” (“a damn old vault”).
gaston gallimard’s relations with a less illustrious writer—raymond guérin, who was short-listed for the Prix goncourt in 1941—also reflect the publisher’s style: a mix of intimida-tion, graciousness and paternalism. gallimard initially rejected guérin’s Quand vient la fin but reversed his decision in 1941 upon learning that guérin was a prisoner of war in germany. later, when gallimard published guérin’s l’apprenti, the iras-cible author called him an “odious rascal” because of the terms of their agreement (gaston’s reply: “what gives you the right
thE pUblishEr’s stylE was a mix oF
nobel prize 2006
prix Goncourt 2009
mario vargas llosa
nobel prize 2010
J. m. g. le clÉzio
nobel prize 2008
prix Goncourt 1919
prix Goncourt 1933
simone de beauvoir
prix Goncourt 1954
nobel prize 1957
nobel prize 1964
Editions Gallimard is renowned for the
impressive number of its writers who have won
literary prizes. Thirty-five have snagged the
prestigious Prix Goncourt, which rewards “the best
and most imaginative prose work of the year,”
while a similar number— both French and
international—have gone on to become Nobel
Prize laureates. Left to right: a few of the many
eminent Goncourt and Nobel Prize winners
and their works.
France • SPrInG 2011 3130 France • SPrInG 2011
publishing house still arouses both admiration and envy.” indeed, the building at 5 rue sébastien-bottin has been a mythic
address for writers since the company moved there in 1929. but once authors actually cross the threshold of the holy of holies, they are sometimes disappointed. gallimard doesn’t have a repu-tation for babying its writers, and its contracts are rarely lavish— thriftiness just seems to be in its dna. besides, why be extravagant when writers are beating down your door?
to outsiders, gallimard can seem like something straight out of balzac, with its stubborn strength, its mysterious, impenetrable power and the larger-than-life figures who work there: Philippe sollers, Patrick modiano, richard millet…. even the building on rue sébastien-bottin is a throwback to another age, a laby-rinth of hallways, stairways and mezzanines that seems governed by an arcane code—insiders will tell you that the location of each office conforms to a secret symbolic order. getting an office on the second floor next to antoine, for example, might appear to be a promotion, but then again, not necessarily…. and the old Protestant values of discretion and confidentiality are still the cornerstones of gallimard’s corporate culture. the identity of the editorial board members is not public knowledge, for example, and any mention of how editorial decisions are made or of the company’s inner workings is severely frowned upon.
in a France obsessed by decline and the disappearance of traditions, gallimard stands for resistance and cultural uniqueness, the rejec-tion of inevitability. this peerless publisher represents something very French: a combination of immutable rituals and adaptability, a reconciliation of the past and modernity that could be called a “tradition of newness.”
talents, French and foreign, and rack up prizes. the house’s success allowed gaston to publish writers he admired but whose work would likely not sell, at least not well enough to make a profit. For him, such sacrifices were simply a duty of sorts, something that came with the territory. gaston gal-limard passed away in 1975, at age 94—it is said that he kept an eye on his beloved house right up until the end. claude then took over, and in 1988 was succeeded by antoine, gaston’s grandson.
today gallimard boasts a catalogue of more than 24,000 titles, 1,300 employees and, in good years, a turnover of some €300 million. seventy of the 230 collections launched during the past century are still active. all in all, the publishing house is still thriving, even if it no longer wields the intellectual authority it once did. of course, in this it is not alone: the seductiveness of images has eclipsed the power of books throughout the world, with literature losing ground each day. still, antoine gallimard says he is not worried about the future of print. in a recent interview with France 24, he quipped, “when i want to give a friend a nice gift, i don’t see myself giving him a book on a usb key!” that said, he could if he wanted to—gallimard has been actively involved in electronic publishing for several years now.
although he wasn’t groomed for the job, gaston’s grandson has surprised everyone with his clear-sightedness and business sense. described as shy, occasionally unpredictable and rather taciturn, he is known to delegate well yet keep a discreet eye on partners and subsidiaries (denoël, Pol, la table ronde). he judges employees solely on their performance and demands certain sacrifices—things haven’t changed much since the days when rivière and Paulhan complained of being underpaid—but he applies the same standards to himself, flying coach and get-ting around Paris on a moped. and while major literary coups are not the house’s style, antoine has nonetheless sniffed out successes such as Jonathan littell’s les bienveillantes, published nobel Prize laureate le clézio and beat out other French pub-lishers for the rights to the harry Potter series.
in his years at the helm, antoine has managed to freshen up the old lady without sacrificing her prestige or detracting from her legendary mystique. the famous white cover with the thin red rules continues to elicit fascination and longing—every year, the literary division receives 5,000 to 7,000 manuscripts, of which fewer than 10 are chosen for publication. “entering gal-limard is like entering the kingdom of heaven,” says writer Fran-çoise de maulde, who has worked there for many years. “this
marcel aymé, Jean giraudoux, Pierre drieu la rochelle, an-toine de saint-exupéry…. For-eign authors also found a home here: dos Passos, hemingway, Faulkner, steinbeck, caldwell, Fitzgerald, nabokov…. valu-able guidance on anglo-amer-ican literature was provided by valéry larbaud, who convinced gallimard to publish whitman and Joyce (larbaud contributed to the translation of Ulysses in 1937).
during that period, galli-mard also shrewdly diversified the company, branching into children’s books, biographies, illustrated works and essays; launching new reviews on mu-sic, film and other topics; and bringing out weekly magazines designed for the general public (marianne, voilà, détective). in 1932, he scored perhaps his most prestigious coup, acquir-ing the legendary Pléiade library, which packages the classics of world literature in handsome volumes printed on bible paper and bound in supple leather with gold lettering.
then came the german occupation, dividing the company. “there are three powers in France: the communist Party, the banks and the nrF,” the new german ambassador, otto abetz, reputedly
declared. between december 1940 and June 1943, the journal was edited by the collaborationist
writer drieu la rochelle, while in the neighboring office, Jean Paulhan—who had succeeded rivière after his untimely death in 1925—secretly coordinated a literary and intellectual resistance. despite german censorship and paper rationing, the house man-aged to publish maurice blanchot’s thomas l’obscur, saint-exupéry’s pilote de guerre and sartre’s l’Etre et le néant. gaston carefully navi-gated the situation without unduly compromising himself.
this delicate maneuvering avoided post-liberation problems and purges, although like all publications that had continued to print during the occupation, the journal was not allowed to reappear afterward under the same name (when it did come out again in 1953, it bore the title nouvelle nouvelle revue Française but reverted to its original name a few years later). at the same time, camus and other resistance writers testified that gallimard had helped them during the war years and signed with the publisher afterward.
gaston was determined to recapture the house’s former dyna-mism. in 1945, he introduced the série noire collection directed by marcel duhamel; Peter cheyney’s poison ivy was the first of more than 2,600 thrillers and detective novels to appear with the emblem-atic black and yellow cover. more imprints would follow, eventually expanding the company’s reach into contemporary topics (under Pierre lazareff, head of a group of popular daily papers), art books (under writer andré malraux) and other areas.
gaston’s son claude, who had been a prisoner in german camps during wwii, played an increasingly important role in the family business, notably steering gallimard’s diversification into social sciences. historian Pierre nora, one of the most re-spected intellectuals in France, launched imprints on such sub-jects as history, sociology, ethnology and psychoanalysis, making nonfiction as important to the house as literature.
meanwhile, editions gallimard continued to attract top literary
Les Editions Gallimard sont ce lieu, unique au monde, où les grands écrivains morts sont plus vivants que jamais. Avec un peu d’imagination, on les rencontre ici tous les jours. Ce matin, par exemple, Gide est concentré, Claudel furieux, Malraux et Aragon agités, Sartre grognon, Camus soucieux, Paulhan évasif, mais Queneau rit de son rire chevalin célèbre. Majestueux, Gaston passe en dandy jardinier. Valéry virevolte, Cioran s’amuse, Bataille essaie de se débarrasser de Blanchot, Artaud murmure des exorcismes, Genet vient chercher de l’argent liquide. Le duc de Saint-Simon est très surpris de ses huit volumes en Pléiade impeccablement présentés, et d’être,
en même temps que Retz ou Sévigné, considéré comme « un écrivain français ». Sade apprécie ses élégantes gravures pornographiques du XVIIIe siècle, Voltaire sourit en caressant les treize volumes de sa Correspondance. Montaigne, Pascal, Bossuet, Molière, La Fontaine, Diderot, Rousseau, Chateaubriand, Balzac, Stendhal, Flaubert, Lautréamont, Rimbaud, Mallarmé, Proust, Breton, Céline passent en coup de vent dans les arbres. Peu importe qu’ils se détestent ou s’ignorent les uns les autres, ils volent, c’est l’essentiel.
Au bout d’un couloir, un petit bureau, qui n’a l’air de rien, s’appelle « l’Infini ». C’est un observatoire-laboratoire discret où se poursuivent
certaines expériences d’avenir (la revue « l’Infini » vient de publier son 113e numéro). Là, les livres s’entassent en désordre, mais je sais où chacun se trouve. Cent ans, ce n’est pas bien long, puisque j’ai sur ma table les Grecs, les Latins, les Chinois, la Bible. Plein d’auteurs étrangers veillent aussi avec moi. Avec la nuit, la « banque centrale de la littérature », paquebot romanesque géant, largue ses amarres et flotte, à travers les siècles, sur des heures liquides. A son poste de commandement amiral, Antoine, l’heureux propriétaire des lieux, a d’ailleurs, sur sa cheminée, une maquette de bateau à voile. —Philippe Sollers
Gaston to pUblish
writErs hE admirEd bUt who
woUld likEly not sEll
wEll EnoUGh to makE a proFit.
a banQUE cEntralE
celebrating thE centennial
Appropriately for a publishing house, nearly 20 books honoring Gallimard are slated for publication during this anniversary year, from coffee-table tomes to collections of correspondence between Gaston Gallimard and Jean Giono, André Gide and Jean Paulhan. The Bibliothèque Nationale
de France will host “Gallimard: un siècle d’édition,” featuring an outstanding selection of manuscripts, first editions, correspondence and photographs (through July 3; bnf.fr), and Arte has produced a special documentary, “Le Roi Lire.” Tributes
will be evident at major literary festivals throughout the world, and from April through June, the Saint-Germain-des-Prés metro stop will devote its display cases to the most famous publishing house in its neighborhood. In a nod to the future, Gallimard is bringing out its first book designed especially for the iPad.
Philippe Sollers’s first work published by Gallimard was Femmes (1983); he now directs the journal L’Infini for the publishing house. This account originally appeared in the February 2, 2011, edition of Le Nouvel Observateur. More authors’ recollections of Editions Gallimard are featured on http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/; searchword “Gallimard.”
France • SPrInG 2011 3332 France • SPrInG 2011