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John Rodker:

An Inventory of His Papers in the Manuscript Collection at the Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center

Creator: Rodker, John, 1894-1955
Title: John Rodker Papers
Dates: 1912-1982 (bulk 1920-1961)
Extent: 45 boxes, 1 galley folder (19 linear feet)
Abstract: John Rodker’s papers span the years 1912 to 1982 and comprise his correspondence, manuscripts, publication files, contracts, financial records, and photographs, along with manuscripts and correspondence of Ludmila Savitzky.
RLIN Record ID: TXRC03-A15
Language: English
Access:

Open for research




Acquisition:

Purchases and gifts, 1986-1993 (R11124, G4027, R12994)

Processed by:

Bob Taylor, 2003

Repository:

The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center


John Rodker was born in Manchester, England, on 18 December 1894 to David Rodker, an immigrant corset-maker, and his wife Leah. After the family’s arrival in London’s East End about 1900 young John attended local schools while helping out with the family business. Increasingly fascinated with literature and languages, Rodker began about 1908 to associate with a group of like-minded young men, including the poet and artist Isaac Rosenberg and the artists David Bomberg and Mark Gertler. By 1912 Rodker had determined upon a literary career, as his poems and essays began to appear in avant-garde and little magazines like The Dial, The Egoist, and The New Age .

With the outbreak of World War I in 1914 John Rodker declared himself a conscientious objector, actively resisting military service and enduring imprisonment for a time in Dartmoor Prison. Rodker continued writing poetry even while avoiding the authorities, and with the arrival of peace he began to take a growing interest in editing and publishing, establishing the Ovid Press in mid-1919. Lasting scarcely a year, the Ovid Press was nearly a one-man show with Rodker printing and publishing limited editions of, among others, T. S. Eliot, Wyndham Lewis, and Ezra Pound. Concurrently with the beginning of this brief but notable excursion into the making of books Rodker replaced Pound as London editor of The Little Review .

While working in Paris in 1922 to bring out the second, British, printing of James Joyce’s Ulysses Rodker met his future mother-in-law, the literary translator Ludmila Savitzky. Together, Rodker and Pound persuaded Savitzky to translate Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man into French, where it appeared under the title Dedalus in 1924. Savitzky further translated two of Rodker’s manuscripts, Montagnes Russes, a novel, and Dartmoor, an excerpt from the in-progress novel of his wartime experiences.

After completing his largely successful efforts to get copies of Ulysses past the postal authorities, Rodker, now back in London, established the Casanova Society. Beginning in 1923 the Casanova Society issued expensive limited editions of classical, mostly French, literature in newly commissioned translations by Arthur Machen, E. Powys Mathers, and others. The Casanova Society was succeeded in 1927 by a publishing venture conducted under Rodker’s own name and offering additional literary translations by Montague Summers, Rosamund Mathers, and Frederick Etchells.

The arrival of the Depression after 1929 ended hopes that publishing limited editions might succeed, and Rodker finally declared bankruptcy by 1932. The process of satisfying his creditors’ claims was finally completed in 1945. The early 1930s also saw Rodker’s abandonment of an active literary career after his Collected Poems, 1912-1925 (1930), and his two final novels Adolphe 1920 (1929) and Memoirs of Other Fronts (1932) were published.

In the years from 1933 to 1939 Rodker worked as the British agent for the Press and Publisher Literary Service, a Soviet agency charged with publishing contemporary Russian fiction and nonfiction in Western languages. The work Rodker did for Preslit lacked much intellectual and cultural interest but did enable him to get back on his feet financially. Translation remained a substantial creative outlet for Rodker in the 1930s, as he produced versions of significant French literary authors (Chamson, Montherlant, Romains), along with Amedée Ozenfant’s The Foundations of Modern Art and Magnus Hirschfeld’s Sex in Human Relationships .

After the failure of Rodker’s publishing ventures of the 1920s he did not return to publishing as such until he established the Pushkin Press to issue Oliver Elton’s translation of Evgeny Onegin on the centennial of Pushkin’s death in 1937. For the next decade the Pushkin Press issued fewer than a dozen titles, works that Rodker felt should be available to the English-speaking reader, including a revised reissue of J. H. Lepper’s The Testaments of François Villon, first issued by the Casanova Society in 1924, and Blaise Cendrars’ Antarctic Fugue, finally published in John Rodker’s own translation in 1948 after he abandoned Harry Grimsditch Smith’s translation prepared twenty years earlier.

Shortly after Sigmund Freud and his family arrived in London in the summer of 1938, efforts were made to find a person qualified to superintend the publication, in German, of Freud’s Gesammelte Werke. When the aged father of psychoanalysis had fled Vienna the stocks of his published works were seized by the Nazis and burned. Freud, his family, and his disciples were determined for their part that his work should continue to be available, and in its original language. John Rodker was able to win the confidence of the Freuds for this project, for which purpose he founded the Imago Publishing Company.

Beginning in the darkest days of World War II, Rodker, working with Anna Freud as editor, saw the writings of Sigmund Freud through the presses until the final volume was completed in 1952. The massive Freud project, with the related publication of psychological, psychoanalytical, and child guidance titles by other authors, consumed most of John Rodker’s time and energies from 1940 on.

In 1951 John Rodker married Marianne Rais, a Paris bookseller and daughter of Ludmila Savitzky. Rodker’s previous marriages to the writer Mary Butts and the painter Barbara Stanger McKenzie-Smith had ended in divorce. Marianne moved to London, where she helped her husband operate the Imago Publishing Company. At his death on 6 October 1955 John Rodker was survived by Marianne, two daughters, Joan Rodker and Camilla Bagg, and a son, J. Paul Morrison. Marianne Rodker continued to manage Imago and issue additional titles until she closed the firm in 1961 and returned to France.


Bonaparte, Marie. "John Rodker, 1894-1955" in The International Journal of Psycho-analysis, March-June 1956.

Crozier, Andrew. "Introduction" to John Rodker’s Poems & Adolphe 1920. Manchester: Carcanet, 1996.

Isaacs, J. "Mr. John Rodker" in The Times, 11 October 1955.

"John Rodker, 1894-1955" in Revue Française de Psychanalyse, octobre-décembre 1956.

Additional information on the life of John Rodker was found in his papers and those of Joan Rodker held by the Ransom Center.


John Rodker’s papers span the years 1912 to 1982 and comprise his correspondence, manuscripts, publication files, contracts, financial records, and photographs, along with manuscripts and correspondence of Ludmila Savitzky. The papers are largely in their original order, and the folder titles are for the most part Rodker’s. The papers fall into six series: Series I. General Business Correspondence, 1920-82; Series II. Press and Publisher Literary Service, 1933-61; Series III. Imago Publishing Company, 1930-73; Series IV. John Rodker Personal Papers, 1912-78; Series V. Ludmila Savitzky Personal Papers, 1920-55; and Series VI. Miscellaneous Materials, 1918-39.

The General Business Correspondence comprises the records of Rodker’s broad publishing activities from 1920 on, save for the Preslit and Imago files, each of which is in a separate series. Rodker’s early publishing ventures before about 1931 are poorly represented, but there are significant files relating to titles issued under the John Rodker and Pushkin Press imprints. Included in the series are a number of files of essentially personal significance, such as national service, charitable activities, and a legal guardianship.

The Press and Publisher Literary Service series embraces the earliest period of John Rodker’s professional publishing activities for which substantial coverage is found in these papers. From the correspondence of the Preslit staff in London and Moscow, together with Rodker’s carbons, it is possible to determine the outlines of Soviet publishing goals in Britain in the 1930s and to gauge the interest of British publishers in Soviet articles and books. Rodker’s efforts to serve the best interests of a client at once demanding and obtuse, while candidly advising them of their commercial short-sightedness are clearly demonstrated in the series.

The Imago Publishing series is the largest in the papers and contains detailed files relating to Rodker’s efforts to publish the works of Sigmund Freud and other scholars and practitioners writing on psychologically related topics. Significant correspondence and publication files for Sigmund and Anna Freud, Marie Bonaparte, and Edward Glover are found in the series, but for other authors publishing under the Imago imprint the files are less substantial or are absent altogether. Foreign interest in publication rights for the works of the Freuds is detailed. With minor exceptions in the Bonaparte papers, there are no manuscripts of the works present in the series.

The John Rodker Personal Papers series is not large--about 7 boxes in extent--but does include a substantial collection of his original works in manuscript, including an unpublished novel, “An Ape of Genius.” For most of the titles represented in the series there are handwritten manuscripts, typescripts, and carbons, many with Rodker’s corrections in manuscript. A number of his translations are present, including one of an original work by Ludmila Savitzky. Correspondence found here includes many letters received from significant literary figures during the early 1920s.

The series of Ludmila Savitzky’s personal papers is dominated by her translation of James Joyce’s Portrait. The novel is represented by her original manuscript, a typescript, and galley proofs, along with correspondence concerning the novel between Savitzky and her publisher. A number of her shorter translations, mostly from the immediate post-1945 period are also to be found in the series.

The final series in the John Rodker Papers, Miscellaneous Materials, comprises small groups of interesting letters from James Joyce and E. Powys Mathers, along with some British woodcuts and a few art exhibition catalogs from the interwar period.


Other material concerning John Rodker may be found in the Joan Rodker Papers, also housed in the Ransom Center. Family correspondence, personal documents, as well as some of John Rodker’s diaries and dream notebooks are present. The Mary Butts papers at the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library at Yale University contain a quantity of John Rodker’s personal correspondence.


Subjects

Rodker, John, 1894-1955.

Savitzky, Ludmila, b. 1881.

Subjects

Modernism (Literature)--Great Britain.

Psychoanalysis--History--Sources.

Document Types

Broadsides.

Erotica.

Galley proofs.

Legal documents.

Love letters.

Photographs.

Postcards.

Scrapbooks.