On Books and Authors

The Foreign Division In The Paperback

Invasion Of The United States


It is no news to state that in the mighty invasion of paperbacks in the United States in the sixties the foreign division is occupying a strategic position. The steadily increasing customers who peruse the shelves of paperbacks, displayed in bewildering abundance with their striking covers, have grown accustomed to seeing "Don Quijote" cover to cover with "Alice in Wonderland," or the "Rhinocerus" adjoining "Road to Damascus."

For the foreign books, their soft covers are no innovation. In that form they first emerged from foreign presses. Nor can they be surprised by the diversity of readers in the United States, in this culture wave precipitated by the paperback revolution. They have long been in the hands of the metro commuter, the university student, the factory worker and the traveler with a paper-knife in the recesses of his bag or satchel.

We must allow, however, for an occasional shudder of indignation that might have come from such decided personalities as the Basque novelist Pio Baroja, upon finding himself in a realm which he would doubtless characterize as absurd, a realm, incidentally, which he explored 30 years before Camus.

Besides, he specifically stated in his memoirs that his desire for readers was limited to Castillians and to Basques. "The rest of the Spaniards interest me less," and Baroja, "and the Spaniards in America and the Americans do not interest me at all."1

But the familiar feeling of customary dress and of a wide variety of readers would not apply to the super-salesmanship methods with which the foreign books in the United States find themselves swept along. High-powered advertising, supermarket techniques – wire baskets on wheels, unbelievably rapid turn-over and long lines at a cash register – represent something novel in their habitat.

Anyone who is seriously interested in foreign literature can view only with gratification this new accessibility of foreign writers. If he is a teacher of F. L. (The current abbreviation for foreign language, which will be used hereafter), his "gospel" is now being spread in an amazing fashion and the message comes from a vast international front.

But if the F. L. devotee is at first gratified and delighted to find his favorites is popular dress and within easy economic reach, he is also bewildered as to where to turn for his own orientation, as well as for advice to offer others. The aid and comfort usually afforded by the card-catalog in the library is sadly missing.

The problem of the paperback faces every librarian today in the United States and he must choose sides. Otherwise his attitude will be counted "against." If the F. L. reader has access to paperback trade publications, the term "original" applied to F. L. works is likely to mislead him. He comes finally to the discovery which most serious paperback fans have already made: he needs a guide.

The guide to the F. L. paperbacks may be supplied in a number of forms. First, there is the quarterly publication, Paperbound Books in Print, published by R. R. Bowker Co., and issued from the office of Publishers’ Weekly and the Library Journal, at $10 a year. Second, there are special publications of selective subject guides. An example of these is Paperbound Book Guide for Colleges, likewise issued by Publisher’s Weekly and the Library Journal, and published by R. R. Bowker Co., in cooperation with 99 publishers of paperbacks, at 35 cents. Third, a visit to a large paperback center will perhaps yield most satisfactory results. There is no substitute for a personal examination of the book before it is purchased. Paperback dealers are accustomed to this procedure and are often able to furnish valuable information. Experience in browsing in the paperback centers in the evening has found the clerks themselves engrossed in their paperbacks.

The present communication to the readers of the new Monmouth College Forum is the result of an all-too-hasty survey made by this F. L. teacher who hoped to assist students is directing their reading as well as to inform herself as to the personnel of the foreign division of publications in the field of French, Spanish and Russian.

Some of the findings are submitted herewith, with a sample of the lists compiled for Modern French Drama and Modern French Poetry. They may be of interest to the student of French or to the reader who wants to explore the field as a newcomer. And if he has had no contact with the language for a number of years he may want to bring back the hidden luster of his linguistic talents.

In the foreign division, the French regiment is the overwhelming one in number of titles and in total editions. Four companies publish "The Red and The Black," and there are also four publishers of "The Charterhouse of Parma." The majority of the books are in English translation. Twenty years ago a translation in F. L. was strictly declassee. Even 10 years ago one mentioned it apologetically. Now the paperback has given it status.

For the increasing number of readers who know a F. L., a translation is useful as a time-saver, and as an explanation of the original which may be incomprehensible Old French or ultra symbolism or abstract expressionism. For those who do not read a F. L., a new world is opening through paperback translations, even if, as Cervantes claims, they are seeing the reverse side of the tapestry.

The classical French dramatists, as one might suspect, come in for a heavy share of French titles. Moliere is in the lead, with Racine and Corneille making a creditable showing. The modern theater is well represented in English translation. There are constant additions to already published plays by Anouilh, Beckett, Camus, Genet, Cocteau, Ionesco, Giraudoux and Sartre.

Two companies publish Readers, in English translations, for such authors as Voltaire, Rabelais, Maupassant and Balzac. Typical of these is the Viking "Portable Maupassant," edited and with an introduction by Lewis Galantiere, 756 pages, including 20 stories, one novel and some personal writings of the author, priced at $1.65. The "Laurel Readers," published by Dell are less extensive and sell for 50 cents.

In the field of criticism a series entitled "Twentieth Century Views," Spectrum books, published by Prentice-Hall, has done well by French authors. Included in the first 23 titles are: Camus, Proust, Stendahl, Baudelaire and Sartre. Malraux is listed for future publication. Editors who are recognized critics of the authors selected have made prudent selections of critical essays from such journals as Yale French Studies, Partisan Review and various university, as well as less accessible journals such as Revue Socialiste, Preuves, Mercure de France and Nouvelle Revue Francaise.

Although the inevitable existentialist label appears as a subtitle to the prologue of the Sartre volume, there is repeated evidence that Sartre the novelist, dramatist, stylist, critic and biographer is amply presented without swinging continually on the existential hinge that has by now reached a straining point from overuse in the United States. Interspersed throughout the volume are numerous observations that provide background for putting together the Sartrian puzzle. In speaking of Sartre’s qualities as the editor of Les Temps Modernes, Edmund Wilson, says, "And Sartre, bourgeois and provincial, has succeeded in preserving for the French qualities which they very much need and which it is cheering to see still flourish: as industry, an outspokenness and a common sense which are the virtues of a prosaic intelligence and a canny and practical character."2

The Camus volume edited by Germaine Bree, with Stanley Wyatt’s cover design of Sisyphus hopelessly (?) pushing his rock up the hill, contains in addition to explanation and appraisal of Camus’ writings, Justin O’Brien’ s fresh account of Camus’ first visit to the United States in March, 1946, when as militant editor of Combat he took part in the symposium "The Crisis of Mankind," and defended the dignity of man.

Here too the political quarrel between Sartre and Camus is detailed by Nicola Chiaromonte and referred to by Sartre in the essay which concludes the volume – Sartre’s tribute to Camus, originally published in The Reporter. The inclusion of two spokesmen of the church in this volume reminds the reader that the dialogue which Camus recommended between Christian thinkers and unbelievers still obtains.

The editor has included Henri Peyre’s chaper, "Camus, the Pagan," along with Protestant Thomas L. Hanna’s "Albert Camus: The Dark Night before the Coming of Grace?" we read what the editor of Fides wrote precisely one year before Camus’ death concerning Camus "pilgrimage through absurdity to a high sense of purpose."3

With the previously mentioned increase in a French reading public in the United States, and with the high school, college and university market for paperbacks mushrooming to gigantic proportions, there are steadily increasing numbers of French language books being published.

Long established F. L. publishers now offer many of their French texts with soft covers. Scribner’s Modern Student’s Library has 11 French language works. Anchor’s Foreign Language Series includes "Fleurs du Mal," "Pensees," "Theatre de Racine et Moliere," and seven or eight other titles. Macmillan makes available along with its own paperback books, some of the titles of the well-known French series Livre de Poche, priced from 75 cents to $1.15. A welcome new series by Dell, Laurel Language Library, with Germaine Bree as general editor, has already provided some useful reading. Its modern French version of "Ivain" by Chretien de Troie of the twelfth century, with introduction by Julian Harris, sells for 50 cents.

The dual-language is a welcome publishing device for the serious F. L. student. Bantam’s Dual-Language series includes the works of Voltaire, Francois Villon and a collection of French stories as well as Spanish, Russian, German and Italian. The poetry offerings of most publishers are now presented in dual language, on facing pages, with translation in verse or at the bottom of the page with prose translations. Occasionally the English translations are in a separate sections at the back of the book.

Dictionaries, grammars and reference books are plentiful in paperbacks. Barron’s Educational Series has long provided assistance to students for conjugating verbs, preparing for College Board tests and studying the classics. The beginner also is enticed by such titles as "Look and Learn French (Russian, Spanish)," published by Dell; "If you Really Want to Learn French (Spanish)," Scott Foresman; "Learn French the Easy Way," Cambridge; "Getting Along in French," Bantam; "French for Beginners," Barnes and Noble; and "Say it in French," Signet.

Kroch’s and Brentano’s in Chicago, with 10,000 paperback titles of the 20,000 in circulation, proved an ideal place to start examining seriously the foreign division. An intensive paperback weekend resulted, in addition to tired feet, in a discreet addition of paperbacks for the college library, a shocking number added to this F. L. teacher’s personal collection and substantial start in compiling the classified list of F. L. paperbacks. Two of the classifications follow: nineteenth and twentieth French drama and modern French poetry.

1Pio Baroja, Juventud, Egolatria, Espasa Calpe. Madrid, 1935, p. 42.

2Edmund Wilson, "Jean-Paul Sartre, the Novelist and the Existentialist," quoted from Classics and Commercials: A Literary Chronicle of the Forties, New York, Farrar, Strauss and Cuhahay, 1950, in Sartre: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Edith Kern, Twentieth Century Views, Prentice-Hall, 1962, p. 53.

3Bernard C. Murchland, C.S.C.. "Albert Camus: the Dark Night Before the Coming of Grace?" quoted from The Catholic World, CLXXXVIII, No. 1126 (January, 1959, pp. 308-314) in Camus: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Germaine Bree, Twentieth Century Views, Prentice-Hall. 1962, p. 64.