Two world wars and twelve years of national socialism took their toll on the reception of German culture in Britain, particularly literature (German music survived unscathed). Libris’s principle aim was and is to contribute to the restoration of that literature to its rightful place in the English-speaking world. To that end we have so far published new translations of Goethe, Hebel, Mörike and Fontane, and are delighted that our editions of the first three of these are now available also as Penguin and Oxford World Classics and will thus reach an ever wider public. We have also published two of the great figures of German poetic modernism – Georg Trakl and Georg Heym (published in tandem by Northwestern University Press in the USA) – as well as the Weimar classics Hans Fallada and Erich Kästner (for both of which we are looking for an enterprising paperback publisher; in this context it may be worth pointing out that each of these novels was silently expurgated in English when they were first published here in the thirties, so these Libris editions are the first integral ones of these famous novels). Our Brecht title is one of his least known works: as it had the distinction of falling foul of political sentiments in both East and West.
Our works of German literature are supported by our books on it – for instance, the essays the great Marxist critic Georg Lukács wrote while in internal exile in Soviet Russia on the German writers (including Eichendorff, Kleist and Büchner) he feared were being appropriated by national socialism.
This theme of literary heritage rescued from oppression is also reflected in the biographical works Libris has published by Richard Dove – of Ernst Toller, the pioneering Expressionist playright and one of the great literary characters of the anti-Hitler exile in Britain, and (in Journey of No Return) of five other German exile writers (including Stefan Zweig and Alfred Kerr). Both of these Libris originals appeared subsequently in German translation, as did Jenny Williams’s biography of another – in his way – internal exile, Hans Fallada (the German Patrick Hamilton), whose narrow, tortuous survival in Nazi Germany virtually killed off the fame he had established as a novelist in the outside world before the war (we republished two of those novels which show Fallada’s astonishing readability and range).
Patrick Bridgwater’s major study of the life and work of Georg Heym is also a work of restitution and rescue, because poetic Expressionism was just as rejected under national socialism as was visual Expressionism, and had to be rediscovered. The two other Libris literary biographies – Legouis’ Wordsworth and Münsterer’s Brecht (at first sight an odd couple, but readers will recall the magic moment in Brecht’s Journals when, in US exile, he came across Wordsworth’s ‘She was a phantom of delight’ in August 1940 and reports being ‘moved by this now remote work to reflect how varied the function of art is, and how dangerous it is to lay down the law’). The two had something in common aswell: each experienced an idyllic childhood.
The presence of Wordsworth indicates that we do not only publish works of and on German literature. Our aim is always to publish books of lasting value that bring lasting pleasure. Here, perhaps, some surprises are to be found – the first novel ever written wholly in interior monologue (Dujardin), the most idiosyncratic, ‘coloratura’ book on Mozart (Brophy – for a long time our bestseller), a German dictionary like no other (Bridgham), a study of Heine that does proper justice to his politics (Reeves), Neruda’s most popular work (now out of print), and Italo Svevo closely observed, not – as habitually – by himself, but by his wife.