Over at World Books, Bill Marx has a very thoughtful review of two Swiss horror books: The Vampire of Ropraz, by Jacques Chessex, translated by W. Donald Wilson and published by Bitter Lemon (a Best Translated Book nominee) and The Black Spider, by Jeremias Gotthelf, translated by H. M. Waidson and published by Oneworld Classics.
The spanking new The Vampire of Ropraz asserts that, when faced with irrational violence, the forces of ignorance and fear predominate. The classic The Black Spider (which was first published in 1842; this is a reprint of the 1958 English edition) revolves around a reneged deal with the Devil, who wants, but doesn’t get, an unbaptized child as payment for his services. The betrayal unleashes the title monster, who can be stopped by goodness, if it is free of moral corruption and hypocrisy. The latter turns out to be a tall order. But at least there’s some Paradise around to counterbalance Gotthelf’s Hell.
Interestingly, both of these books root their avenging vision of mayhem in the brutal mistreatment of children. Gotthelf appears to wish for a God “Who would avenge Himself terribly for all the injustice that is done to poor children who cannot defend themselves.” In a strange way, the Devil is doing the Lord’s work by punishing the sadists among the low- and upper classes.
I was pleasantly surprised by The Vampire of Ropraz, and although The Black Spider doesn’t sound like my sort of book, it does come with a ringing endorsement by Thomas Mann, who claimed it is “like almost no other piece of world literature.”
There’s a lot that could be written about John Calder—both good ad bad. He’s done a lot for world literature, yet has run into issues at various times involving not making royalty payments, going bankrupt, etc. That said, he’s the perfect representative of a classic, old-school publisher who is half-genius and half-crook.
Recently, his list was sold to Oneworld Classics, and the hope was that Oneworld would reissue Calder’s stellar backlist, which would be a great service for readers everywhere.
Well, from this note in the recent TLS is sounds like things aren’t as clean-cut as they may have seemed:
A curious “Announcement” appeared in the August 16 issue of the London Review of Books. It was paid for by the French publishers Editions Gallimard and Les Editions de Minuit, and referred to an advertisement in the July 19 issue of the same journal, in which Oneworld Classics of Richmond, Surrey, offered “A New Reading Experience”. The experience involved the publication of “mainstream and lesser-known European classics”, including Canti by Giacomo Leopardi, in a dual-language edition, and the “unexpurgated” Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Next to these were advertised Journey to the End of the Night by Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Moderato Cantabile by Marguerite Duras, Jealousy by Alain Robbe-Grillet, and multiple works by Samuel Beckett and Eugène Ionesco. These were on offer “from the Calder list”.
So after this ad appeared highlighting a number of Gallimard and Minuit authors, the two publishers issued the following statement:
Gallimard and Minuit hereby confirm that they recognize no right whatsoever on the part of Oneworld Classics to these authors.
Which is a pretty big deal for a number of reasons.
The issue is complex, but a source at Gallimard tells us that it involves “John Calder Publishers Limited (company number 1227392) which, according to our information – though John Calder did not inform us of this at the time – went into liquidation in 1991 and was dissolved on August 25, 1992”. The name of the liquidator is supplied. According to the source, contracts between Calder and the French publishers “were nontransferable and state that bankruptcy automatically invalidates the contracts”. The existing stock “should be pulped or, if allowed to be, sold out”, but “in no case can the works be reprinted or the rights be sub-licensed or transferred to others, all publication rights having reverted to the Proprietor”.
According to the same TLS piece, Gallimard offered Oneworld Classics the opportunity to “offer modest advances and sign new contracts for world-literature masterpieces,” but apparently these offers never arrived.
We asked Oneworld for comment. They forwarded a brief message from John Calder: “Gallimard’s and Minuit’s claims are wrong. The rights are still with Calder Publications.”
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