Wednesday, August 07, 2019

Collection internationale

Until relatively recently, the availability of foreign-language reading material in the US was a bit hit-or-miss, unless you happened to live in a major city. What student editions existed of texts in French and other languages tended to be heavily (and often annoyingly) annotated, and they were often abridged or censored to remove passages that might corrupt the youth of America. This series from the early 1960s was an interesting attempt to remedy the situation, at least for French, which was the prestige language of the day. They were published by Doubleday under the direction of an academic named Bert Leefmans, and the publisher promised that "no English, except the Doubleday copyright line, will appear in any of the books." Below is a two-page advertisement that ran in the French Review in 1961.

The books were comparable in price to Doubleday's Anchor series, and bore a simple cover design created by the noted artist and graphic designer Leonard Baskin. The selection of titles wasn't particularly edgy, but at least the edition of Candide was presumably better than the one I used, which had all the naughty bits removed. The line doesn't seem to have lasted very long, and I've only come across used copies once or twice.


Michael Leddy said...

I like that austere cover design, which suggests both Gallimard and the Olympia Press.

I have a 1964 guidebook for New York City that lists the following bookstores: British (1), Chinese (2), Czech (1), French (3), German (3), Greek (1), Hungarian (2), Irish (1), Italian (3), “Orientalia” (3), Polish (1), Russian (3), Slavic (1), Spanish (3), Ukrainian (1), and “foreign” (1). What abundance. But only in New York, and no longer even there.

Chris said...

When I was living in the city in 1976-77 there were three or four good Spanish-language bookstores, and a famous store at Rockefeller Plaza that sold French titles (and I think some Spanish ones too). The Ukrainian one may have been Surma Books & Music, which was near me in the East Village. I may still have somewhere an Easter egg I bought there. Real estate values killed them all off eventually. A lost world. We have the internet now but it's not the same.