Michele K. Troy. Strange Bird: The Albatross Press and the Third Reich.
Some readers may wonder why this book has been selected for review in this journal. What would the Nazis have had to do with Lawrence? Other readers may sigh at yet another lengthy volume on an aspect of the Third Reich. The great appeal of this book is that Michele K. Troy has been able to piece together an absorbing story of interest not just to Lawrentians but to others who might be intrigued to know what happened to the publication of Modernist writers in Germany and occupied territories during the Second World War. Her book does not justify its existence based on a single new angle or a few new pieces of research attached to a familiar story. This is the first book about the Albatross Press, and it contains many intriguing stories and fascinating revelations and unearths many surprising contradictions. One can be forgiven for not knowing that Albatross was a publisher of Lawrence titles, or that it even existed. A quick look at the AbeBooks website shows that of more than 36,000 Lawrence books for sale only 78 were published by Albatross. For James Joyce the numbers are 27,000 and 2, respectively. Even a regular visitor to second-hand bookshops may never have seen an Albatross Press Lawrence title. Yet this publisher, based in England, France and Germany, founded in 1931 by three men (two of whom were Jewish by Nazi definition), came to be the biggest supplier of Anglo-American literature in Europe, and took over control of the mighty Tauchnitz along the way. This title is in Yale's New Directions in Narrative History series, and it certainly meets the objectives of the series to publish "original works of creative nonfiction ... new research ... significant scholarly contributions ... stylistic innovation ... speak[ing] to deeply human concerns."
Although the title of her book may suggest otherwise, Troy's approach is not to focus entirely on a battle of institutions, the David and Goliath confrontations between Albatross and the Third Reich, with their attendant economic and censorship issues. Yes, it is the story of the Nazi regime permitting the publication of English language books on a large scale, which is in itself of considerable interest, reflecting the Nazis' desperate need for foreign currency to assist with rearmament et cetera. For Germany, books were the third largest export; for Albatross, Germany was its largest European market. As Troy puts it, this "Strange Bird" was "a cultural outsider to the Third Reich but an economic insider." It exploited the lucrative German book market by reprinting many modern American and English titles with their liberal ideas and selling them at an affordable price, thereby satisfying an increasing appetite for imported modern literature, crime fiction, and biographies that Tauchnitz had started to cater to only a couple of years before Albatross came along. The writers that it signed up included James Joyce, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley and E.M. Forster as well as Lawrence, none of whom would find favor in Nazi Germany. Tauchnitz's list looked very tired and dusty in comparison.
In addition, in this publishing history are the stories of the three founders of the company, who came from very different backgrounds. There was John Holroyd-Reece, a very English, public school-educated, polylinguist who happened to have been bom in Dresden of a German Jewish father, and served in the British Army. He was rumored to be a British spy and, as we shall see, his cunning was surpassed only by Allen Lane of Penguin Books. He was joined by Max Christian Wegner, who had fought in the First World War on the German side, thereafter working as editor for Tauchnitz until dismissed because of the modernizing plans that were to work so well at Albatross. Finally, based in Hamburg, there was the Jewish distributor Kurt Enoch. The trio printed the books in Leipzig, registering their company as a German one, with funding from London-based Jewish mining magnate Edmund Davis, using a labyrinthine international corporate structure. They did all of this at the worst possible time, with economic problems in the United States and Europe coupled with the rise of Fascism. And they were regularly in trouble with the Nazis --one of Troy's themes is the significance of individual agency--the importance of what those working at Albatross did up against the power of the Third Reich. Enoch's escape from Germany to France to America is an absorbing secondary story here.
Troy's job in piecing it all together was made doubly difficult by issues over sources, a possible explanation for why little has been written about Albatross before, and why it is seldom discussed. There is no archive devoted to the history of the company. Only two boxes of Albatross papers survived the German occupation in France, its premises in Leipzig were destroyed in Allied bombing as were the archives of the Reich Literary Chamber, and Russian troops took the Reich Economic Ministry files. The Albatross Paris and London offices were vacated after the War, and the London office was bombed too. Troy researched the surviving correspondence (the main source for her book) amongst the archives of British and American publishers, authors and agents. In addition, she visited the archives of Nazi officials and bureaucrats who had regulated the publishing world during the war. This project required a search of over 30 archives in six different countries.
It will be apparent from the foregoing that Troy was fortunate in her subject but had a particularly difficult job in pulling the strands together. The style adopted is fast-paced with relatively short chapters--approximately 14 pages each on average. Each chapter begins with an illustration relevant to its contents. The illustrations include photographs of the three main protagonists, of Albatross/Tauchnitz books and promotional materials, and of Albatross premises. My quibble here is that those illustrations do not have captions accompanying them. The reader is left to work out that this information is to be found in the "chapter-opening illustration credits" on page 409. The very readable text is accompanied by an impressive 56 pages of notes, the vast majority of which cite the many archives consulted. Little of significance is said in the text without a supporting authority in the notes. There is also a ten-page bibliography, which includes two articles that Troy had previously written about Albatross. Much of the bibliography is about publishing history. There are also sources relating to the general history that is another thread in this story. Here my quibble is that Troy, whilst helpfully setting the scene as the War progresses, occasionally goes into unnecessary detail, for example, on the bombing of Hamburg. The book itself is handsomely produced, with a dust jacket suitably in the style of an Albatross Press paperback.
It was the design of the Albatross books that was such an important feature of their success, putting them ahead of the Tauchnitz Editions in the competition over the British and American tourists who were their main market. Albatross wanted as additional customers those living on the continent, who did not have English as their first language. These objectives were met in a number of ways. It employed as book designer Hans Mardersteig, art director of Mondadori, whose owner, Arnoldo Mondadori, was the chairman of Albatross. The attractive book size that he chose came to be widely adopted by paperback publishers, including Penguin Books. It was much more appealing than the typically rather squat Tauchnitz books. The Albatross covers were somewhat cosmopolitan, with a different color for each category of book, enumerated in four languages. This multilingualism assisted booksellers who could not speak English well to recommend books, as did the summaries in three different languages. Exceptions to this custom were the two more difficult titles that it published through its Odyssey Press subsidiary, Lady Chatterley's Lover and Ulysses. With the intention of achieving economies of scale by adding the British market to Albatross sales, in 1934 Holroyd-Reece contracted with Allen Lane, then at Bodley Head, to enter a joint venture. Having taken on board Holroyd-Reece's ideas, including the choice of font that produced additional words on the page, Lane started Penguin Books the following year, making use of many Albatross ideas, including of course the color coding, not to mention the naming of the business after a bird!
Over time it is likely that more will be said about the individual titles that Albatross published, and it would have been useful for Troy to have provided as an appendix a list of what they were. Of interest to readers of this journal, five Lawrence titles get a mention, mostly only in passing. However, there were 20 titles in all (compared with only five by Tauchnitz). These included nearly all the novels plus a good number of the short stories and novellas but no non-fiction, except for the Huxley edition of Lawrence's letters, published in three volumes. Interestingly it was only Lawrence and Aldous Huxley whom Albatross distinguished with a "Collected Edition" of their works. The lack of attention by Tauchnitz was symptomatic of its losing its place in the market. It published none of Lawrence's work until 1928, and, with the exception of Sons and Lovers, only short stories and novellas were published.
The particular pleasure of reading this book is in the long series of ironies and contradictions it reveals. Before Albatross started, Tauchnitz had a virtual monopoly over selling Anglophone literature on the continent, with many millions of books sold in the course of its history, going back to the 1840s. It had very strong relationships with established authors. Three men managed to change all of that against all the odds, and, by 1939, Albatross had about 450 titles on its list, although making substantial and sustainable profits remained unattainable. Its taking over the management of Tauchnitz was not the panacea that it might have been. During the war, there was the irony that, although German publishers were banned from publishing English language books, Albatross continued to do so, and generated substantial foreign currency revenue for a Third Reich that one would have expected would be strictly enforcing its censorship laws and antisemitism ideology. Albatross certainly benefited from Nazi incompetence in administration (not addressing the British involvement in the German-registered company, and allowing through the hostile titles it was printing and publishing). At the end of the war, the situation for Albatross was rather different. It had too many associations with Germany and was surpassed by other publishers who had got onto the bandwagon of paperback publication, in Europe, notably Penguin Books. In addition, Enoch had moved to New York to work for Penguin USA, which became the New American Library, and (with its access to the entire American market) it was able to sell books for a third to a quarter of the Albatross price. Albatross became a subsidiary of William Collins, which, unable to find a buyer, wound it up in 1955. And the final ironies are of course that this is the first book on such a fascinating subject, and that those many beautifully designed books have not survived in great numbers, no doubt in part due to the fragility of the paperback format.
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|Publication:||D.H. Lawrence Review|
|Article Type:||Book review|
|Date:||Mar 22, 2017|
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