The New York Times Book Review
The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Ageby Richard Seaver
From Beckett to Burroughs, The Story of O to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, an iconic literary troublemaker tells the colorful stories behind the stories
Richard Seaver came to Paris in 1950 seeking Hemingway's moveable feast. Paris had become a different city, traumatized by World War II, yet the red wine still flowed, the/p>/b>/b>/i>/i>… See more details below
From Beckett to Burroughs, The Story of O to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, an iconic literary troublemaker tells the colorful stories behind the stories
Richard Seaver came to Paris in 1950 seeking Hemingway's moveable feast. Paris had become a different city, traumatized by World War II, yet the red wine still flowed, the cafés bustled, and the Parisian women found American men exotic and heroic. There was an Irishman in Paris writing plays and novels unlike anything anyone had ever read—but hardly anyone was reading them. There were others, too, doing equivalently groundbreaking work for equivalently small audiences. So when his friends launched a literary magazine, Merlin, Seaver knew this was his calling: to bring the work of the likes of Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and Jean Genet to the world. The Korean War ended all that—the navy had paid for college and it was time to pay them back. After two years at sea, Seaver washed ashore in New York City with a beautiful French wife and a wider sense of the world than his compatriots. The only young literary man with the audacity to match Seaver's own was Barney Rosset of Grove Press. A remarkable partnership was born, one that would demolish U.S. censorship laws with inimitable joie de vivre as Seaver and Rosset introduced American readers to Lady Chatterly's Lover, Henry Miller, Story of O, William Burroughs, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and more. As publishing hurtles into its uncertain future, The Tender Hour of Twilight is a stirring reminder of the passion, the vitality, and even the glamour of a true life in literature.
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“I knew Dick Seaver as a friend and fellow wrestler; he was later my publisher at Arcade. As a wrestler, Dick had strong hands. I didn't know him in the ‘50s, when he was a young editor in Paris, where he read (and first wrote about) Beckett, or in the ‘60s, when he published Burroughs's Naked Lunch at Grove Press in New York. But some of the stories in this memoir are the ones Dick told over dinner--falling in love with his wife, Jeannette, on New Year's Eve, 1953; meeting Robbe-Grillet, who was ‘charming and witty, with a soupçon of malice lurking not far from the surface'; taking Beckett to a Mets doubleheader in New York; correcting a flawed English translation of Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers in Paris; even escorting Genet through the hazards of the ‘68 Democratic Convention in Chicago. It was only after Seaver's death that he was revealed to be Sabine D'Estrée, the translator of the ‘infamous' Story of O, though many of his friends knew--or we had guessed. (The ‘infamous' word, said with a smile, is Seaver's.) Dick was loved for his exemplary life in literature and envied for his remarkable and cherished family--I mean both his actual family and the extended family of fiercely beloved writers Dick Seaver so passionately looked after. I remember and miss those strong hands.” John Irving
“Richard Seaver was a glamorous and cultured publisher who lived in Paris in the 1950s, where he befriended Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, and in New York in the 1960s, where he led the fight against censorship and championed William Burroughs, Henry Miller, and D.H. Lawrence. Fluent in French and Spanish, he acted as an important conduit between European and American literature. He was what every writer would want his editor to be: urbane, loyal, sensitive to aesthetic values, and fierce in his defense of freedom of speech. This honest, companionable book is an eloquent testament to his exciting life.” Edmund White
“Richard Seaver played a vital role in America's discovery of France and vice versa in the years after World War II. This fascinating memoir of his career as an editor is crammed with unexpected appearances of such notables as Ionesco, Genet, William Burroughs, Buster Keaton, and Henry Miller. Who knew that Samuel Beckett once played tennis with Barney Rosset in East Hampton? Edited by Seaver's widow Jeannette, The Tender Hour of Twilight finally brings into focus the career of this much-loved and influential impresario.” John Ashbery
“Dick Seaver's career as a legendary editor and can only be enhanced by this wonderful memoir, which begins in Paris in the fifties with his exciting pursuit of the elusive and as yet unknown Samuel Beckett and would prosper with distinction for another half-century in New York City. A very valuable contribution to the history of American literary publishing by a great editor who turns out to be an excellent writer, as well.” Peter Matthiessen
“How much to be learned! Publishing can sweep everything into its net: wife and children, house and home, fame and fortune, not only the attentions but the minds and hearts of the very monsters who wrote the books. The all-consuming powers of Print became young Seaver's lens on the human race, identical with his ambitions, longings, disgusts, even, surprisingly, his fulfillments. No relief, no reward: the editorial conscience its own Reckoning. The story, the drama told better here than any version I know: funnier, sadder, truer.” Richard Howard
“Seaver's memoir is a captivating read. It takes courage to remain creative in an increasingly problematic and vulnerable industry. I, along with so many others, am grateful for Seaver's life-long faith in literature. His commitment to authors has my deepest admiration.” George Soros
“A fantastic read! In his memoir, Seaver displays a remarkable recollection of important moments both in Paris and New York. His discernment in discovering new literary voices in both continents afforded us here, in America, the opportunity to read what otherwise we would have missed.” Ellsworth Kelly
“This book reminds us how much Dick Seaver is missed, and how lucky we--publishers, writers, readers, literature itself--were to have had him in our lives. The Tender Hour of Twilight is as fascinating, as insightful, and as generous as the man himself.” Daniel Okrent
“For those of us who treasure fresh modern writing, Richard Seaver's memoir gives us a portrait of the passion, adventure, and care that resulted in one of America's great publishing houses--Arcade Publishing. Along the way he creates snapshots of Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre and William Burroughs, among others. A graphic, riveting book.” Daniel Talbot
“This is a riveting memoir, perhaps because not even the generosity and grace with which Dick Seaver wrote it can obscure the enormous part that he himself played in--not to mention the courage of an unerring appreciation he brought to--the fight to open America's censorious gates to a brave new universe of post-war writers. It was Seaver, more than anyone I knew, who manned the barricades so that the rest of us could read. He was the translator who gave us Becket; the editor who gave us William Burroughs and Jean Genet; the warrior who gave us Henry Miller and Sade and The Story of O. As often as not, he was all three. He was also, as anyone who reads The Tender Hour of Twilight will discover, quite a formidable writer himself. I was fortunate to have known him. I count myself even more fortunate now that I know him better.” Jane Kramer
“The Tender Hour of Twilight is a brilliant memoir--lucid, informative, funny and poignant. Dick's distinctive voice, his prodigious memory, his instinctive, visceral appreciation of avant garde literature, and his contributions to our literary culture are on rich display. It's a pleasure and a privilege to read his invaluable recollections of two decades of publishing on both sides of the Atlantic. Certainly twentieth-century literature would not have been the same without his editorial acumen.” Sybil Steinberg
“Richard Seaver was a remarkable man and a supremely important and courageous publisher in the post-world war period of international publishing. Most publishers are grounded in their own culture, not Dick. As this book shows, he has left a big mark on modern publishing.” Matthew Evans, Baron Evans of Temple Guiting, former publisher of Faber and Faber, Ltd.
“Richard Seaver's memoir reminds us of the days when publishing was an adventure, when editors committed themselves to writers as writers rather than as products. Seaver lived the magic of Paris--the Paris of the garret, the public baths, the all-night cafes, of Beckett, Ionesco, and Sartre. He introduced American readers to a European literature that has now become our canon. He writes quietly, with humor, and through the telling detail, creating a nostalgia for a world which we may not have known but which most of us would surely want to have experienced.” Vincent Crapanzano
“Being with Richard Seaver in Paris and New York, in company with Beckett, Burroughs, Genet, Sartre, Henry Miller, and so many more renegades, is a giddy trip. Seaver, the legendary publisher and translator, a scholar and daring enemy of censorship, takes you to the barricades of literature. His story is incredible.” Arthur Kopit
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The Tender Hour of TwilightParis in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age
By Richard Seaver
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2012 Richard Seaver
All right reserved.
Café Sitting at St. Germain
ONE SPARKLING LATE MAY MORNING in 1952 when, after endless weeks of dreary, unrelenting winterlike weather, the sun had finally wormed its way through the stubborn gray blanket that had been clinging to Paris, I was sitting on the terrace of the Café Royal at St. Germain des Prés, pretending to read the paper but really watching the world go by, a constant stream of locals and a trickle of tourists—the latter so obvious they could have been picked from the crowd even by the familiar cyclopean beggar who went, appropriately, by the name Petit Jésus, bowing scrapingly low at the church door across the square, his floppy beret extended to welcome the occasional oblation—the Parisian girls suddenly out in full force, piquant and pert in their flowered smocks and blouses, their swirling skirts, their high-toned legs. After seven drab months of hibernation, they had, seemingly overnight, emerged in full flower, a medley of primary colors, proclaiming that winter was finally, irrevocably over. Each colorful passerby, floozy or Flora, just waiting to be plucked.
I was enjoying my café crème when I heard a male voice, melodious with its South African lilt. “Why are you shaking your head?”
“Patrick!” I said, motioning to the empty chair across from me. “You caught me ruminating.”
“Ruminating, my arse! You were ogling every Parisian lass passing by. I’ve been watching you for several minutes.
“Anyway, I wanted to see you. There is somebody I want you to meet. A writer friend of mine named Alex Trocchi. He has a new magazine.”
“Merlin,” I said. “I saw it at the kiosk across the street.”
“Trocchi read your piece in Points and wants to meet you. When is a good time?”
I shrugged and glanced at my watch. Eleven thirty. “How about now?”
“I am not sure they’ll be up,” he said.
“He lives with a smashing girl. An American named Jane Lougee. A banker’s daughter from Limerick, Maine.”
“Ah,” I said. “Where do Sir Trocchi and Miss Limerick live?”
“About twenty minutes from here. At the Hôtel Verneuil.”
* * *
Patrick Bowles, a white South African who could not bear to live in his tortured, apartheid-ridden homeland, had fled a year or so before to London. Appalled by its weather, he had quickly crossed the Channel to Paris, only to discover that the weather here was not all that much better, though the general climate was far more exciting. In his mid-twenties, Patrick was classically handsome: beneath a rich shock of chestnut hair lay a high prominent forehead, an arrow-straight nose, full sensuous lips, and a firm chin. There was a calmness, a gentleness about him that sprang from an inner balance few possessed—or at least few I knew. Like most of us on the Left Bank, he cobbled together an existence by placing a newspaper article here, a book review there, a story or poem in one of the literary mags (payment for which might get you a lunch or dinner at Raffy’s around the corner), or, more lucratively, by teaching English at Berlitz (hey! if it was good enough for Joyce, it’s good enough for us!) or, even better, teaching English to well-to-do young Parisian ladies, whose parents sensed that in this brave new postwar world their beloved mother tongue would have to yield, if only a tad, to the invasive English, if their offspring were to survive and prosper. Then there was a small supplement from home, wherever home was, a tentative gift from worried parents who pictured their wayward offspring down-and-out in Paris, living just above, or even slightly below, the imagined starvation line. Patrick and I shared another common trait: we both used, as our only means of transportation, the trusty bicycle and in our Paris years had logged thousands of kilometers, not only in Paris itself, but to and from our respective jobs. For a year or so I had earned a share of my daily bread by teaching English to Air France stewardesses twice a week. The pleasure was all mine, since most of them had been picked as much for their stunning looks and shapely forms as for their personalities or amiability. Until these postwar years, the French had never quite admitted to themselves that theirs was not the premier language of the planet and had eschewed all others, including the obtrusive English. But some prescient Air France administrator had doubtless faced up to the dismal fact that in the competitive new aviation world, a place would have to be made for zee Eenglessh. Thus to my Berlitz teaching load was added the more pleasurable, slightly more lucrative, but more demanding post at Air France. Demanding because, twice a week, I had to straddle Big Blue—for such had I dubbed my battered, thin-tired Peugeot bike—and head from the rue du Sabot to Orly Airport, a ride of an hour and a half most days. One way. Thus for an hour-and-a-half teaching twice a week I had to carve out close to six hours of my Paris life. Good for the legs, I kept telling myself. Think wrestling. Think Maurice Goudeket—Olympic athlete, Colette’s husband. Think Tour de France. Go, Coppi, go! I would whisper to myself on especially dark or difficult rain-spattered days. But Patrick’s gig was far worse: in January he had started teaching English at a school in Le Havre, a good two hundred kilometers from Paris, and lacking the desire—or the wherewithal—to take the train, he bicycled in every weekend. True, he had arranged with the school to have no classes on Friday or Monday, but still, it took him most of those two days to-ing and fro-ing for the pleasure of spending Saturday and Sunday here. But we were young and in Paris, and these presumably daunting mountains were as molehills to us.
Both the Deux Magots and the Flore were already famous from before the war, and older writers—Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone de Beauvoir, Jacques Prévert—were known to hang out there, lending those starched-waiter places a tone of slight, if not considerable, superiority generally lacking at the Royal. Basking on the terrace there, at what seemed to us both the center of the universe, we felt that there was nowhere else on earth we would rather be. So it wasn’t the world of Joyce and Sylvia Beach, of Hemingway and Scott Fitzgerald, or even of Henry Miller and Brassaï’s haunting Paris by Night. Nor were we, however long their shadows, trying to emulate them. Paris had been their mentor or mistress; now she was ours, to do with what we would.
The city had been humbled by the war. Class distinctions had been, no, not eliminated, but certainly greatly leveled—whether permanently or not only time would tell. Virtually everyone was poor. Rationing had been lifted, but luxury goods were still almost nonexistent. And the Parisians, with their reputation as acerbic, arrogant, and disputatious, were actually oftentimes pleasant, not only with one another, but now even with foreigners. That’s not quite fair: France, and especially Paris, had long welcomed foreigners, especially those fleeing their own countries in times of repression, war, or revolution. Even in 1952, thirty-five years after the Russian Revolution, a fair share of Paris taxi drivers were Russian. You never knew when you’d be driven home by a prince or a count. There were many new divisions among the French, but today they were more along political than class lines. French politics had always been driven and strident, for, on the one hand, every Frenchman—and woman—had a lock on the truth and, on the other, the French yield uncomfortably, if at all, to any law ever passed, no matter what the regime. But their brutal, unexpected defeat in 1940 had humiliated the country, stripped it bare. And the war years had only humbled it further, as political lines hardened. The occupation brought out the worst in many—as it brought out the best in some—and for those who survived with their lives, if not their consciences, intact, a whole new world of hardship and deprivation awaited them after the momentary euphoria of the liberation had worn off. During my first years here I had stood in line for all the essentials, from bread to wine, milk to meat, sugar to the heating alcohol needed for your two-burner stove. So had everyone. The miracle was that the French handed us étrangers a ration card equal in all respects to those given to their own citizens. As long as you had a valid local address, you had a valid ration card. And—one of the attractions for fledgling artists and writers—life was so incredibly cheap. Thirty cents a day would get you a hotel room—not with bath, mind you, but with eau courante, “running water,” as the street-level hotel sign proudly proclaimed. The room had a bed, a basin, a table, and a chair. Around the corner were the public baths, where for a few francs you could take a scalding-hot shower. Payment by the quarter hour. Up to your conscience how clean you came out. If your budget was really tight, you could take a douche double, two for the price of one, the sex of your co-showerer up to you, no questions asked by the management. As for food, while there were still shortages, the indomitable French culinary spirit, which had been all but crushed by the Germans for five long years, was slowly reasserting itself, stymied only by the recurrent lack of this or that basic ingredient. American aid helped but also led to unfortunate misunderstandings, among them corn flour: there was no way on earth that corn flour could be transmuted into French bread, the country’s pride (and rightly so; I could not understand how the United States had lasted all these years with, as its presumed staple, the tasteless white nonsense that passed for bread). The point was, for those lucky enough to be dealing, even partially, in pounds or dollars, one could live for a third of the cost back home. Not well, mind you. I speak only of the Left Bank and the young. There was, we knew, a whole other world across the river, the world of diplomats and businessmen, of journalists and politicians, who lived high on the hog and experienced a whole other Paris than ours. We were here to find ourselves and save the world, presumably in that order, and we were ready to do it on a shoestring. If any of us had come here with false illusions, romantically drawn by the towering figures of past generations, we soon lost them. Not only had Paris changed, so had the world. Politically and artistically, it seemed to us far more complex and challenging than the one in which those two disparate birds—the sovereignly solipsistic Joyce and the hedonistic Hemingway—had lived twenty or thirty years before. The scars of World War II were fresh, unhealed, and, as we would later learn, too often buried. Close beneath the surface, resentments still lingered, as did guilt for those with a conscience. The trials of the French who had actively compromised themselves under the Germans were by now a thing of the past, but few felt that justice had really been done. If “compromise” was an ugly word, it was far less offensive than “collaboration.” The French knew that their record under the occupation was less than impeccable. But there was a difference between passivity, of survival at (almost) any cost, and active collaboration, of doing the Germans’ bidding in rooting out the Jews, the Gypsies, the homosexuals, and the politically undesirables, rounding them up, and herding them to Drancy, a city just north of Paris, which the Vichy government in 1941 converted from a projected public-housing project to a prison camp, a holding pen from which over the next three years some sixty-five thousand Jews were herded into the cattle cars of death and shipped to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. The profound revelations of the Holocaust, and all it implied, were just beginning to emerge. In a recent issue of Les temps modernes I had read a document that overwhelmed me, written by a Hungarian Jewish doctor, Miklos Nyiszli, who had been deported to Auschwitz in 1944 and survived to tell the tale.1 Other revelations of Nazi atrocities—not just the horrors of war, of any war, but bestial tales of death camps and genocide, murder on a scale never seen before in human history—were emerging, tentatively at first, and with them the need for the French to do some serious soul-searching: How clean was my wartime record? To what degree did I collaborate?
Meanwhile, on a whole other level, a thousand miles to the east but seemingly almost next door, the Soviet Union, our erstwhile ally, suddenly loomed as the ultimate solution to some, the ultimate menace to others. No in-between. For many French, an innately conservative people, Communism was strangely the answer, in part because the Communist record for resistance during the war was among the best, and also because the memory of the French right wing’s collaboration with the Germans was still embarrassingly fresh. The conservative French often saw Germany as the buffer between them, their goods and possessions, their way of life, and Stalin’s barbarian hordes to the east. For much of the war, almost to the very end, these people had lived a life free from fear: their dinner parties, their dances and entertainments, their visits to the nightclubs and concerts virtually unchanged. By late 1943, however, and more certainly with the dawn of 1944, these privileged few knew that the game was up: the invincible führer’s brief but devastating stint as emperor of the Western world was coming to a cataclysmic end.
But good and evil are rarely as clear-cut as people would like to believe, and for the French there was now almost as great a fear of Uncle Sam, with his frightening new weapon of ultimate destruction and paranoid politics, as there was of Uncle Joe. The scare stories coming out of Washington almost daily left us perplexed and distraught. The other Joe, the bejowled McCarthy, struck fear in our expatriate hearts, and whenever two or three Americans met—I speak still of the Left Bank—sooner or later the conversation would turn not only to the coldly self-serving machinations of the maverick senator who, thank God, was three thousand miles away but, more immediately, to his two swashbuckling sidekicks, Roy Cohn and David Schine, the not-so-funny comedy team traipsing through Europe, wreaking havoc at every embassy and consulate along the way, turning over stone after spurious stone, hoping to find a Communist, or at least a fellow traveler, cowering underneath. The French regarded these two stooges with a mixture of ridicule and disdain, wondering how we Americans could grant them—long before the phrase was born—even fifteen minutes of fame. But the French could look at the McCarthy phenomenon with distant objectivity; as far as they could tell, it did not affect them directly. We Americans, despite the watery distance between us, felt personally threatened. What had happened to the world in so short a time? With Germany and Japan defeated, wasn’t there supposed to be a respite? A time to relax and recoup, to enjoy our presumed triumph over evil? After World War I, our elders had mistakenly believed, with the world made safe for democracy now and forever, it was a time to play. Drink and dance the nights away. And Paris had indulged them. Not so our generation: rightly or wrongly, we felt we had awakened from one nightmare only to find another looming. The bomb may have won the war, but it now posed a problem such as the world had never faced before. Existentialism, not hedonism, was the order of the day. Still, on this radiant spring day, it was easy to put all that behind us.
Copyright © 2012 by Jeannette Seaver
Introduction copyright © 2012 by James Salter
Excerpted from The Tender Hour of Twilight by Richard Seaver Copyright © 2012 by Richard Seaver. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Richard Seaver was an editor, publisher, and translator who became legendary for championing unconventional writers in the face of censorship and cultural prudishness. He was the editor in chief of Grove Press in the 1960s, started his own imprint at Viking in 1971, and served as publisher of Holt, Rinehart&Winston until he founded Arcade Publishing in 1988, which he ran with his wife, Jeannette, until his death in 2009.
Richard Seaver was an editor, publisher, and translator who became legendary for championing unconventional writers in the face of censorship and cultural prudishness. He was the editor in chief of Grove Press in the 1960s, started his own imprint at Viking in 1971, and served as publisher of Holt, Rinehart&Winston until he founded Arcade Publishing in 1988, which he ran with his wife, Jeannette, until his death in 2009. He was the author of The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age.
James Salter was the celebrated author of six novels (The Hunters, 1957; The Arm of Flesh, 1961; A Sport and a Pastime, 1967; Light Years, 1975; Solo Faces, 1979; and All That Is, 2013) and three books of stories (Dusk and Other Stories, 1988; Last Night, 2005; and Collected Stories, 2013), as well a memoir, Burning the Days (1997). He also had a successful Hollywood career, most notably as the screenwriter of Downhill Racer (1969). Born in New Jersey in 1926 and raised in New York City, he attended West Point during World War II and served as an officer and a fighter pilot in the U.S. Air Force from 1945 to 1957. He drew on his combat experiences in Korea for his first two novels, though it was not until the controversial but now-classic A Sport and a Pastime that he considered that he had come close to measuring up to his own standards. He was a recipient of the 1989 PEN/Faulkner Award and the 2012 PEN/Malamud Award. He died in Sag Harbor, New York, in 2015.
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In this impressionistic patchwork some stories soar to great heights while others fascinate. Recommended to lovers of Paris.