On the Other Side of the Seine


The writers and editors at The Paris Review, 1955

From The New York Times:

In the winter of 1954 my wife, Barbara, and I spent a few weeks in a grand, gloomy Paris apartment amid scratched and faded 18th-century furniture and silken walls at 35 Rue de la Faisanderie, off Avenue Foch, a chic address. The apartment belonged to Doubleday & Company, my employer, and was used by the occasional sojourner from the New York office, though there was no Doubleday business in Paris to justify such luxury. At the age of 25 I was such a sojourner, rewarded for having created a successful new paperback format that would become the industry standard. In Paris I visited the offices of the great French publishing houses Gallimard, Plon and Hachette, and in the evening Barbara and I were treated to Krug and La Tâche at Le Grand Véfour and Chez Allard, where we chatted with our hosts about the Sartre-Camus quarrel, the emerging cold war and the calamity of Senator Joseph McCarthy. If Paris was the scene of a postwar literary revival, no one we met had heard of it. The writers I saw were displaced European intellectuals, former leftists now working secretly for the C.I.A.

How I regretted as I read “The Tender Hour of Twilight,” Richard Seaver’s lovely posthumous memoir of his very different Paris in the ’50s and his brilliant, truncated career at Grove Press in the ’60s, that I hadn’t spent more time on the other side of the Seine. There I would probably have met him among the young American and British writers associated with the quarterly magazine Merlin, which would introduce in English translation the undiscovered writers — Beckett, Genet, Ionesco — whom Dick would later publish in New York at Grove. Only then, when he had become one of the great book publishers of his generation, did I finally meet him and become a lifelong friend and admirer.

Dick may have intended his memoir to be read privately by his children, which could explain the liberties he seems to have taken with remembered conversation, though according to his widow, Jeannette, who edited the text and submitted it for publication, he kept a journal and may have taken contemporaneous notes. This is how he describes his introduction to Alex Trocchi, Merlin’s heroin-addled ­Scottish-Italian editor, to whom Dick would soon submit his translations of Beckett and urge the publication of Genet and others: “It was a typical Left Bank hotel room of the time, small and dimly lit, with hideous flowered wallpaper scuffed and peeling in a dozen places. Its only window looked onto an oversized air shaft . . . with a scrawny tree that had managed . . . to push its fragile branches as high as this floor. A hesitant handful of lance-shaped leaves fluttered just outside the window. It turned out to be a sumac. . . . ‘Can I offer you some tea?’ Alex said. ‘Or coffee? Or perhaps a bit of fine Scotch?’ He paused. ‘Or is it too early for that?’ ”

“How to Be an Avant-Garde Publisher”, Jason Epstein, The New York Review of Books