University of Texas at Austin

John Rodker:

An Inventory of His Papers in the Manuscript Collection at the Harry Ransom 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 #: TXRC03-A15
Language: English
Access: Open for research

Administrative Information

Acquisition: Purchases and gifts, 1986-1993 (R11124, G4027, R12994)
Processed by: Bob Taylor, 2003

Harry Ransom Center, The University of Texas at Austin

Biographical Sketch

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.

Scope and Contents

Scope and Contents

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, 1920-1982; Series II. Press and Publisher Literary Service, 1933-1961; Series III. Imago Publishing Company, 1930-1973; Series IV. John Rodker Personal Papers, 1912-1978; Series V. Ludmila Savitzky Personal Papers, 1920-1955; and Series VI. Miscellaneous Materials, 1918-1939.
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.

Series Descriptions

Series I. General Business Correspondence, 1920-1982 (bulk 1934-1961) (13 boxes)
The series embraces John Rodker’s work as a publisher and agent from the 1920s until his death in 1955 and Marianne Rodker’s continuation of that work into the early 1960s. General files relating to contacts with other publishers, with printers, literary agencies, paper suppliers and the like are found here as well. The files are arranged alphabetically by correspondent or topic.
The small amount of material in the papers concerned with Rodker’s early work in the Ovid Press and the Casanova Society is found in the series. Ezra Pound’s manuscript for Hugh Selwyn Mauberley, published in 1920 by the Ovid Press is present, as are contracts and financial records of the Casanova Society. A related correspondence begun in the early 1920s with Harry Grimsditch Smith concerning the intended publication by the Casanova Society of Smith’s translation of Cendrars’ Antarctic Fugue is found in Rodker’s personal papers series.
The files of personal or avocational interests housed in the series include none relating to family matters, but do document Rodker’s efforts on behalf of Freda Bloch, a refugee from Nazism, and to his co-executorship, with Sir Reader Bullard, of the estate of Erica Cotterill. Cotterill’s Form of Diary had been published anonymously by the Pushkin Press in 1939, and she and Rodker had continued a correspondence, retained here, until her death in 1950, at which time Rodker was appointed her executor.
Correspondence relating to the International Engineering Publishing Co., a partnership with Paul Elek begun in 1940, documents the acrimonious deterioration of this ill-starred venture. Through misunderstandings and mischances the partnership foundered and became inactive, only to be followed up by intermittent disagreements into the mid-1950s as to how its small remaining bank account was to be shared between the principals.
Series II. Press and Publisher Literary Service, 1933-1961 (2.5 boxes)
From late in 1933 until World War II broke out John Rodker was the British representative for the Press and Publisher Literary Service, a Soviet agency involved in making current and historical Russian fiction and non-fiction available in the West. Material found in the series relating to Rodker’s work for Preslit is arranged in two subseries: A. General Correspondence, and a smaller subseries B. Russian Plays in English Translation. Subseries A contains a substantial amount of correspondence between Rodker and Preslit, as well as between Rodker and British publishers and translators. The plays in subseries B are adaptations of classic Russian novels.
Present in the General Correspondence subseries is an extensive and illuminating correspondence between Rodker, Preslit, the translator Moura Budberg, and the slightly mysterious Dr. Edward J. Byng. The correspondence stretched over a period of nearly four years and dealt with Preslit’s attempt to have the correspondence between Tsar Nicholas II and his mother published serially and in book form. Byng was ostensibly assisting Rodker in this project, but increasingly Rodker came to feel Byng was deliberately stalling in his financial obligations to Rodker, to Baroness Budberg, and to Preslit.
A byproduct of John Rodker’s involvement with Preslit was the publication by the Pushkin Press in 1941 of Hubert Griffith’s English translation of Aleksandr Afinogenov’s Distant Point. Griffith had by 1936 developed a strong interest in the play, first producing it in London in 1937. Correspondence concerning this and other early British productions appear in the series, along with royalty statements received from Margery Vosper Ltd.
Series III. Imago Publishing Company, 1930-1973 (bulk 1939-1961) (19 boxes)
This extensive series is the largest and most substantial in the John Rodker papers, comprising four subseries: A. Correspondence, 1938-73, B. Business Records, 1939-61, C. Author Files, and D. Reviews. Subseries A and B include materials relating to organizational matters such as royalty reports and correspondence with government agencies and jobbers. Subseries C typically embraces publication files, correspondence with authors, and copies of reviews. Additional reviews (including reviews for authors for whom no other material is present in the Imago series) are found in Subseries D under the heading Duplicate Reviews.
While the publication files and related correspondence for the works of the Freuds and Edward Glover found in the Author Files are extensive, it is the Marie Bonaparte file that contains the most detailed correspondence between John Rodker and an Imago author. That correspondence reveals Rodker as a patient and resourceful publisher, responding with never-failing tact to a demanding client.
Two works by Bonaparte not actually issued under the Imago imprint, Topsy (issued by the Pushkin Press), and A la Mémoire des Disparus (v. 1 issued without publisher statement, v. 2 by the Presses Universitaires de France) have been included here in order to keep all her titles in a single series. In addition to publication files, the Imago records for Sigmund and Anna Freud comprise contracts and an extensive correspondence related to foreign publication rights. There is a significant amount of other correspondence from Anna Freud throughout the entire series.
The publication files for all the Imago authors give considerable insight to the problems faced by the specialist publisher in Britain during and just after World War II, as paper and other material shortages and inflation severely tried the patience and cost-calculating skills of publisher and printer alike. Another problem faced by Rodker from time to time with the Imago titles was that of convincing printers and their employees that some of the the subject matter touched upon was intended for a specialized medical readership and not for sale as pornography.
A number of folders in Series I. General Business Correspondence represent topics closely allied with those found in the Imago Publishing series, including the files for Martin Grotjahn, Willi Hofer, Gertrude M. Kurth, Barbara Low, James Strachey, and Nelly Wolffheim.
Series IV. John Rodker Personal Papers, 1912-1978 (7 boxes)
The extensive collection of John Rodker manuscripts present in the series includes a number of unpublished works and works published only in translation. The story "Trains" included here and accompanied by a 1930 letter from Caresse Crosby declining to consider it for the Black Sun Press has to date only appeared in Ludmila Savitzky’s 1927 translation. A manuscript dated 1933 and bearing the title "An Ape of Genius" has been identified as a response to Wyndham Lewis’ The Apes of God.
Among the several translations in manuscript in the series is a copy of the Casanova Society 1924 edition of Lautréamont’s The Lay of Maldoror, with Rodker’s extensive textual revisions, dated 1932, for an unrealized later edition. Ludmila Savitzky’s novella "Children’s Clearing, 1914-1918" is found here in Rodker’s English translation.
The correspondence found in the series is not extensive but does include a number of significant correspondents. Letters from Havelock Ellis in the years 1928-31, with Rodker’s replies, outline Rodker’s successful attempt to have Ellis write an introduction to the 1930 Monsieur Nicolas. Accompanying the correspondence is a carbon of Ellis’s introduction to that work.
The David Bomberg correspondence from the early 1930s on shows their close friendship as well as Rodker’s efforts to obtain financial assistance for the artist. Related letters from individuals Rodker contacted in seeking support for Bomberg are also present, including a 1954 reply from 10 Downing Street indicating Bomberg had not been awarded a civil list pension. There are also several brief notes, with accompanying verse, from Isaac Rosenberg, serving with the British army in France, as well as letters from Ezra Pound while a patient in St. Elizabeth’s Hospital written between 1946 and 1955.
Series V. Ludmila Savitzky Personal Papers, 1920-1955 (3 boxes)
The material relating to Ludmila Savitzky’s career as a literary translator was added to the John Rodker papers by his widow Marianne after his death and that of Madame Savitzky. Accompanying her manuscript translation of Joyce’s Portrait are the letters from James Joyce to Savitzky written between 1920 and 1924 when she was, at Ezra Pound’s urging, translating the novel into French. The first several of the letters were written by Joyce when he and his family, then newly arrived in Paris, were living in quarters at Rue de l’Assomption 5 provided rent-free for them by Savitzky. The French translation ultimately appeared in 1924 under the title Dedalus, which Savitzky had herself suggested to Joyce.
Also present in Savitzky’s papers is a setting copy for the 1917 American edition of Ezra Pound’s Lustra, with cover letter and additional poems in typescript, sent by Pound to Savitzky in 1920 in the hopes that she might undertake a French translation.
Series VI. Miscellaneous Materials, 1918-1939 (.5 box)
This small series is dominated by a collection of love letters and erotic verse written by E. Powys Mathers and sent to Annie Lou Staveley between 1932 and his death in 1939. Also present is a letter, dated 8 February 1918, from James Joyce, then in Zurich, to Francine Brüstlein of Bern concerning "Mr. Schickele’s play." Accompanying are four letters Joyce addressed to the British legation in Bern between 1 May 1918 and 11 March 1919 on a related matter, together with a reply, dated 6 March 1919, from the British minister Horace Rumbold.

Related Material

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.

Index Terms


Rodker, John, 1894-1955.
Savitzky, Ludmila, b. 1881.


Modernism (Literature)--Great Britain.

Document Types

Galley proofs.
Legal documents.
Love letters.

Folder List