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Wolff, Helen and Kurt.

LETTERS: Publishing Archive. 2 large slipcases.


Helen and Kurt Wolff
Letters to William Jovanovich
Wolff, Helen and Kurt. Letters to William Jovanovich, 1960-1984.
An archive of over 300 letters from the publishers Helen and Kurt Wolff to William Jovanovich; 1960-1984. The correspondence begins a year before the Wolff's established their imprint, "A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book" at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. The majority of the early letters are between Kurt Wolff and Jovanovich; after Wolff's death in 1963 Helen wrote regularly to Jovanovich up through 1984; she retired shortly thereafter. With related typescript materials and photographs.
Also included are Jovanovich's carbon responses and photocopies of his letters to the Wolffs; correspondence and carbons to and from the Wolffs and Jovanovich with other editors and editorial assistants at Harcourt, including Julian Muller, Pat Hurley, Olivia Bart, Hilda Lindley and Mary Margaret McQuillan; and correspondence to Jovanovich from others, regarding the Wolffs, including Melville Case (8 letters), Peter Frank (2) and one letter each from Felix Guggenheim, Iris Origo, Sheila Pellegrini, Richard Winston, Claude Gallimard, James Hamilton, Konrad Lorenz, Henry Carlisle, and Nardi Reeder Campion.
  • the Wolff's traveling and publishing schedules
  • a list of foreign agents
  • a typed translation of an Edward Reifferscheid letter to Helen
  • a two-page chapter synopsis of "Children of Space" by a "Dr. Knaus"
  • a two-page typescript titled, "The Century of the Detective" by Jurgen Thorwald, with emendations by Helen Wolff
  • one black and white 8" x 10" of Kurt Wolff in 1941
  • one color snapshots of the Wolff's with Jovanovich
Helen Wolff
  • 220 letters to William Jovanovich (173 ALS, 43 TLS, 3 telegrams and 1 APS)
  • 12 letters to Martha Jovanovich (11 ALS and 1 TLS with a missing page)
  • 2 ALS to Mary Margaret McQuillan, at Harcourt Brace Jovanovich
  • 1 ALS to Melville Cane; February 25, 1961
  • 1 TLS "Hannah" (Arendt) to Wolff; February 26, 1962; 1p., one half-leaf of paper. Regarding Karl Jaspers.
Kurt Wolff
  • 58 letters to William Jovanovich (39 TLS, 14 ALS and 5 telegrams)
  • 13 typed letters to Mary Margaret McQuillan, at Harcourt.
The Wolffs, both German Jewish, met in 1927 when Helen was hired at Kurt Wolff Verlag in Munich. She married Wolff - twenty years her senior - in 1933. In 1941, at the outbreak of World War II, the Wolffs immigrated to New York, where they founded Pantheon Books in 1942. After doing research at the New York Public Library, the Wolff's decided to publish classics like Pascal, Dante, Goethe and Tolstoy, and also published contemporary writers like Karl Jaspers, Paul Valery and Julian Green, sometimes illustrating their books with drawings by Alexander Calder and Ben Shahn.  Among the many notable books published by Pantheon was Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift From the Sea, a best seller and Pantheon's first financial success (1955), Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago (1957), and Giuseppe di Lampedusa's The Leopard (1960). Random House acquired Pantheon in 1961, and named Andre Schiffrin editor in chief. They began their imprint at HBJ, "A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book" and published translations of European writers such as Hannah Arendt, Gunter Grass, and Umberto Eco. When Kurt Wolff died in 1963, Helen took on all of the editing duties under the Wolffs' imprint. She retired in 1986, and she died in 1994.
The Wolff's relationship with Jovanovich was a nurturing one, both personally and professionally. They seem to have regarded him as a son, genuinely concerned about him and his wife Martha's health and happiness; and as a respected colleague, appreciative of the freedom he gave them with their imprint. Kurt Wolff wrote to friends,
We have now decided to join the firm of Harcourt, Brace and World. We liked the company's young president, who has visited us twice in Locarno and impressed us with his intelligence and integrity. He offered us terms that are extremely fair in every respect; they leave us a great deal of independence and identify us by name with all the books we will publish…In short, we are returning to our beloved profession, and I feel rejuvenated. (Kurt Wolff, a Portrait in Essays and Letters, by Ermath, Michael, ed. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991; p, xxvii)
This was the first time Wolff was involved in a publishing house that he had not established himself. As Ermath describes in his Introduction to Kurt Wolff,
Imprint publishing, now a widely practiced form of affinitive publishing, was then invented, by William Jovanovich, to accommodate a celebrated elder colleague who had always been a founder and, as Jovanovich realized, would not fit into the mold of subordinate. The relationship was fruitful up to Wolff's death, and continued to be so with his surviving partner Helen Wolff. (ibid., xiii)

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