BOOKFORUM ONLINE, FEBRUARY 2012
In 2009, Jeannette Seaver faced two life-altering problems. Her husband of over half a century, publishing giant Richard Seaver—known for legal triumphs over censorship and for helping to introduce Beckett, Duras, Robbe-Grillet and a number of other literary heavyweights to the American market—suffered a fatal heart attack. His company, Arcade Publishing, was in a state of financial irresolution, and Jeannette was forced to file for Chapter 11. But just as confounding were the nine hundred pages of an uncompleted autobiography that Richard left behind. Both problems, however, were eventually resolved: Arcade became an imprint of Skyhorse Publishing, and Jeannette edited the pages into The Tender Hour of Twilight, which was released this month with Farrar, Straus, and Giroux. This year, Jeanette Seaver will oversee the reissue of key works from Arcade’s backlist by authors such as Simone de Beauvoir and Octavio Paz, and is now in charge of acquiring new titles for Arcade.
What was your relationship with literature before you met Richard?
I came from an intellectual family. My father was a writer who became a diplomatic correspondent for a major European paper. All our friends were writers, so this had always been my world. In fact, I felt that my so-called talent as a musician interfered with my first love, which was books. It was like ballet, training to be a top professional takes your all, whereas I longed to read more and just didn’t have the time. I toured, I gave concerts, everything was highly professional until my third child came along and I expressed a desire not to travel any longer. At that point, I studied publishing and gradually came up the ranks and became Dick’s business partner.
Your earliest understanding of creativity was through music, then.
And being a performer and an artist, I tended to be very much on the side of the authors rather than the publisher. I understood their torment, their writer’s block, and in a way other publishers don’t because they haven’t been on the other side. The process of creating is sometimes very painful.
Richard first read Samuel Beckett’s Molloy in 1952 and you were married in 1953. That period seems to have been one of crystallisation.
While Dick was working on his thesis on James Joyce and being an editor, he was writing novels; he was writing pages and pages of poetry. When he discovered Beckett, the first lines froze him completely: he felt he wasn’t worthy of putting pen to paper after this man. He felt that it had been said. So when I met him, all he could talk about was the discovery of this genius. They started to work together on translation and Beckett was so pleased with Dick’s work that he asked if Dick would kindly take it upon himself to translate Godot, and Dick bowed and said, “I’m honored but I can’t, because I have to finish my Joyce dissertation before the end of the year.” Can you imagine if he had done it? So yes, when I first met him he was in the ferment of this extraordinary literary discovery. He then met Eugène Ionesco and other people and brought them in to be translated into English for the magazine, Merlin, and subsequently introduced those people to Barney Rosset, who was young and working for the New York publishing house Grove Press, which was looking for foreign authors. After that, Dick owed the navy two years so he was recalled from France.