Maurice Girodias  

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Maurice Girodias (12 April 1919 - 3 July 1990), was the founder of the The Olympia Press. At one time he was the owner of his father's Obelisk Press, and spent most of his productive years in Paris.

The son of the Manchester born Jack Kahane and a French heiress, Girodias lived a relatively idyllic childhood, until the Depression forced his father to take up a new profession, namely publishing risqué books in English at Paris for the consumption of foreign tourists, who because of censorship could not obtain such materials at home. French censorship laws had a loophole allowing English works to be published without domestic confiscation.

Kahane's venture (Girodias later took his mother's birth name to hide his Jewish background from the Nazis) was called the Obelisk Press[. It published notorious works by Frank Harris, Henry Miller and Anaïs Nin, as well as several pieces of light erotica written by Kahane himself.

Girodias's involvement with his father's business started early. In 1934, at the age of 15, Girodias drew the disturbing crab picture seen on the original cover of Tropic of Cancer. After his father's early death in 1939, Girodias took over publishing duties, and at the age of 20 managed to survive Paris, World War II, Occupation and paper shortages.

After the war, with his brother Eric Kahane, Girodias expanded operations, publishing Zorba the Greek and Miller's Sexus, among other texts. The latter volume touched off a firestorm in France, with trials and arrests for obscenity. The Affaire Miller ended with Girodias out of jail, but bankrupt and no longer in control of his company.

Contents

The Olympia Press

Following a cold and difficult winter, Girodias one day met up with numerous hungry expatriates, many of them working for Merlin, a literary review. He famously advised the group that the way out of poverty was for everyone to come and write dirty books for his new venture, The Olympia Press, which took its name from the similarity to his father's company and Manet's famous portrait of a courtesan.

Among those who wrote for Girodias in the early days were Scottish author Alexander Trocchi, Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett, John Glassco and Christopher Logue. Trocchi, Glassco and Logue penned "db's" ("dirty books") for the Atlantic Library Series, a short-lived line of erotica. Beckett published Watt and his Malone Trilogy through the more literary Collections Merlin. The South African poet Sinclair Beiles was an editor at Olympia.

After several police crackdowns, and to keep ahead of the authorities, Girodias shifted his imprints, replacing the Atlantic Library with the Traveller's Companion Series. Initially, TC was intended to produce erotica, beginning with The Enormous Bed by Henry Jones. However, legal difficulties persuaded Girodias to include more literary works in the series, such that #6, Tender Was My Flesh, by Denny Bryant, was followed by #7, The Ginger Man, by J. P. Donleavy.

Other famous titles published in the Traveller's Companion Series were Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov, The Naked Lunch by William S. Burroughs, a translation of Story of O by Dominique Aury, and Candy by Mason Hoffenberg and Terry Southern.

Other imprints were Ophelia Press, Ophir Books and Othello Books.

Legal Troubles: Criminal

Girodias consistently ran into difficulties with the authorities throughout his career. The Paris police, often pressured by British Customs, would seize and destroy many copies of his books. The courts would fine him, and by 1963 he found himself having to leave Paris, first for Copenhagen, then for America, where Customs agents destroyed the microfilm copies of numerous TC titles Girodias possessed. He also got into serious trouble with Simon & Schuster and author Irving Wallace over a work called The Original Seven Minutes by J.J. Jadway which purported the be the actual book featured in Irving Wallace's novel The Seven Minutes. Copies of Girodias' Olympia Press title had to be destroyed before reaching the bookstores. Books were published in the United States under the Olympia Press, Traveller's Companion and Ophelia Press imprints. Later, after acquiring the Venus name from Kable News who had taken it from Barney Rosset's Grove Press in settlement of debts, Girodias published in the US under the Venus Freeway imprint, with distribution being handled by Kable News.

Erotic books were also published in other countries under the Olympia Press imprint, including the UK. The first British edition of Story of O by Pauline Reage was published by Olympia Press.

After a decade in America, Girodias published President Kissinger using the Venus Freeway imprint, a deeply flawed work of science fiction by numerous authors offering a dream of socialism starring Secretary of State Henry Kissinger. For this, Girodias was set up by the authorities in a phony drug deal and invited to leave the country.

Legal Troubles: Civil

An indifferent businessman, Girodias tended not to pay his writers, document his publications, or live up to his contracts. He was involved in litigation concerning Lolita, Candy, The Ginger Man, Stradella and O, among other works. In the cases of Candy and O, Girodias won, in the process setting a great deal of copyright precedents. In the cases of Lolita and The Ginger Man, Girodias lost rather badly.

The Ginger Man

Girodias, very much against Donleavy's intention, published The Ginger Man as pornography. He seemed unable to grasp the literary merit of the work. When he did belatedly understand that he had a brilliant and original book, instead of acknowledging this, he tried to steal the rights from the author. Girodias and Donleavy sued each other back and forth for a period of 20 years following the publication of The Ginger Man. This litigation continued, even after Girodias' bankruptcy, when at auction Donleavy's wife bought the rights to the Olympia Press.

Analysis of the original manuscript for The Ginger Man shows, in Donleavy's words, "a few major blunders and distinctly misplaced paragraphs and an odd misprint here and there, but the work with these exceptions had meticulously followed the manuscript". Donleavy won almost every case, though it was an expensive ordeal for both parties.

Lolita

A complicated arrangement accorded the Olympia Press roughly one-third of the royalties for Lolita after the novel's breakthrough success in America. However Girodias lost this share when he failed to pay Nabokov on time for the French royalties.

Legacy

Girodias did not achieve the reputation of men like Barney Rosset of Grove Press, despite the latter's replication of numerous Olympia titles. Though sometimes dishonest in business matters Girodias did as much to produce great literature as anyone in the twentieth century:

In 1964, Girodias was prosecuted for publishing obscene literature. He was sentenced on March 3rd to a year in jail, banned from publishing for twenty years, and received a $20,000 fine. It was the most serious penalty ever imposed on a publisher for offenses listed outrage aux moeurs par la voie du livre. Girodias was probably ruined because of collusion amongst French, American, and British authorities...As a result, Girodias lost everything and was ruined.


References

  • De St. Jorre, John (1994) The Good ship Venus: The Erotic Voyage of the Olympia Press. London: Pimlico ISBN 0-7126-5944-7
  • De St. Jorre, John (1996) Venus Bound: The Erotic Voyage of the Olympia Press. New York: Random House. ISBN 0-679-44336-3
  • Southern, Niles (2004): The Candy Men: The Rollicking Life and Times of the Notorious Novel Candy. New York: Arcade Publishing. ISBN 1-55970-604-X
  • Girodias, Maurice (1988): The Frog Prince. New York: Random House. (Volume 1 only, second volume, covering the '50s was published in French but never translated). ISBN 0-517-54195-5
  • Kearney, Patrick J (1987) "The Paris Olympia Press: An Annotated Bibliography" London: Black Spring Press ISBN 0-948238-02-X
  • Kearney, Patrick J (1988) "A Bibliography of the Publications of the New York Olympia Press" Santa Rosa (CA): Scissors & Paste Bibliographies (Privately printed by the Author)




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