The careers of Maurice Nadeau
By ADRIAN TAHOURDIN
Maurice Nadeau, who has died at the tender age of 102, was, according to John Calder, writing in the TLS, “the most versatile and many-faceted figure in post-war literary Paris”. Nadeau cut his teeth on the books pages of Combat, before becoming its director. Albert Camus was an early editor. He wrote a history of Surrealism (1945), but later fell out with the high priest of that movement André Breton. There were also books on Sade and Flaubert. Nadeau had a lifelong commitment to the Left and was involved in anti-Algerian war demonstrations.
In 1966 Nadeau set up the Quinzaine littéraire, taking the recently founded New York Review of Books as a model (although, unlike its precursor, it generally eschewed polemics). His assistant on the journal was Anne Sarraute, daughter of the novelist Nathalie (who herself died at the age of ninety-nine). According to Marion Van Renterghem, writing in Le Monde (June 18), when Anne Sarraute died in 2008, Nadeau exclaimed “Subir ça à 97 ans, mince! J’en ai pris un vieux coup” (a real blow). The Quinzaine, which has always given generous coverage to foreign literature, preserves an old-fashioned appearance and doesn’t pay its contributors; it has struggled in recent years against a falling circulation, but Nadeau was determined to keep the show on the road. It limps on to this day, and was recently bailed out by the luxury goods maker Louis Vuitton.
The biographer and critic Pierre Assouline, writing on his blog La République des livres, listed well over a hundred authors French readers can thank Nadeau for having discovered in his role of publisher. They include Georges Perec (Les Choses), Roland Barthes, Michel Leiris, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Jean-Marie Le Clézio and, among foreign writers, Lawrence Durrell, Malcolm Lowry, Jorge Luis Borges, Richard Wright, J. M. Coetzee, Thomas Bernhard and Leonardo Sciascia. He hailed Claude Simon when his first novel was published, defended Henry Miller against the censors and just missed out on publishing Samuel Beckett. He had no proprietorial feelings towards writers and was happy to let them move on to bigger publishers - Nadeau claims never to have made any money for the various publishers he worked for: “just ask them!”
More recently Nadeau published Michel Houellebecq’s first novel Extension du domaine de la lutte (1994). Houellebecq went to the giants Flammarion for his second and subsequent novels. Nadeau, meanwhile, turned down Houellebecq’s poetry, explaining that “Houellebecq has published a poem called '[Jacques] Prévert est un con’ and as this ‘con’ is my friend . . .”.