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One of the great literary love stories-much better than Scott and Zelda or Hemingway and any of his wives after Hadley. Dick Seaver’s posthumous memoir: The Tender Hour of Twilight has recently been published to unanimous acclaim–
“Seaver was among the great publishers of the ‘excitement’ era…This memoir,arranged from a larger mass of material by his widow, will be sought by everyone who has felt the floppy thrill of a Grove paperback between his fingers.” James Campbell. The Wall Street Journal
I recently spoke to Jeannette Seaver about her life with Dick.
You and Dick shared a great life at the center of post war literary life in Paris and in the run up to the counterculture revolution in America of the sixties. You also shared a long and great love affair. In our brief telephone meeting that love was clearly evident.
Please talk about meeting Dick in Paris and perhaps you can offer some insights into what makes for a successful partnership?
Dick had been living in Paris for five years (on a Fullbright, American Field Service, and a couple of other grants) writing, running an English literary magazine, working on his theses on James Joyce, at the Sorbonne. We met, one Christmas Eve, at the home of close mutual friends. I was a student, at the Paris Concervatoire National de Musique.
It was love at first sight.
We went on our first date, on New Year’s Eve and were married 6 months later, in Paris.
This love affair went on throughout our marriage.
Ingredients? Life-long romantic attraction, great sense of humor—laughing was essential to us—deep friendship, respect for one another, and simply, adoring being together throughout our life.
Apart from meeting you what impact did Paris have on Dick’s work and life?
The moment Dick landed in France, it became home for him. Paris, his town. He had fallen for, and was immersed in French culture, French language, French literature, French women, French food and wine. France made him discover life in all its aspects. He spoke like a native, without any grammatical error, and a perfect French accent.
His French cultural experience never left him. For years to come, Dick kept close relationships with all his Parisian friends, in and out of publishing. He translated some fifty French books into English.
The list of writers that he discovered or published, beginning with Beckett, are icons of twentieth century literary thought and were influential in many aspects of contemporary cultural life. What was his gift to be able recognize talent that had been either dismissed or underappreciated before Dick Seaver?
Always eager to learn and discover, Dick possessed infallible radar that projected him outside of his own cultural comfort zone, and pinpoint real talent.
When I think of Editor I think of Max Perkins or perhaps Robert Gottlieb who have been so instrumental in shaping the work of their authors-allowing them to be a better them. But Dick’s list is composed of so many stylists that I am curious to understand his working relationship with them?
Dick was a man of enormous cultural curiosity. His “list”, as you call it, is testimony to his intellectual broadness and generosity.
Dick’s choice and discovery of extraordinary authors, his editorial work with the respective writers—from Beckett, Cioran, Paz, Ionesco, Burroughs, Selby, Hailey, Makine, to name just a few, made a mark in contemporary letters.
Dick’s formative years spent in Europe had opened his mind irreversibly to other cultures, other sensibilities. Deep down, Dick was an artist at heart. Unconventional, he soon became known for his open mind, and authors, writing in new vocabulary, seem to gravitate towards Dick.
Despite sometime protracted editorial reconstruction, Dick gave support, respect, and encouragement to them all.
From 1959-1970 his collaboration effectively with Barney Rosset challenged American obscenity laws and paved the way for a revolution American sexual mores. Was he a crusader or did he just love the books?
Dick’s life “crusade”, as you call it, was focusing and abolishing censorship, repression. He and Barney Rosset—an odd but improbable and perfect duo, both with opposite personality— were unified in their battles for freedom to publish— something they both fought together for a good decade, in most American courts—and won.
The fight for freedom to publish by the way, Terrance, had nothing to do with what you call “American revolution in sexual mores”.
The “sex revolution” came as a parallel phenomenon.
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