An evocative but somewhat slapdash scrapbook of documents and interviews concerning the iconoclastic publisher of Grove Press and his most famous author.
As Paul Auster notes in his appreciative preface, the late Barney Rosset (1922-2012) made it Grove’s business to challenge the mid-20th-century status quo both by battling censorship with the publication of the unexpurgated Lady Chatterley’s Lover and Tropic of Cancer and by introducing America to a host of challenging new writers, from the Beat poets to such avatars of the European avant-garde as Alain Robbe-Grillet, Eugène Ionesco, and Harold Pinter. Some of them get nods here, but the focus is on Samuel Beckett, first and foremost among this stellar group from the time Rosset contacted him in 1953 to arrange an English-language edition of Waiting for Godot. The author and publisher’s increasingly warm professional and personal relationship is chronicled in rather spotty fashion here: Rosset’s letters—there are only a handful from Beckett—could use a lot more annotation than they receive from editor Oppenheim, who apparently thinks that a list of “Characters” up front is sufficient for general readers, who may be baffled by fleeting references to Beckett’s fiction (also published by Grove) and to Rosset’s notorious ouster by Grove’s new owners in 1986, which should have been covered in more detail or not at all. Still, a wonderful period aroma emanates from the reproductions of typewritten letters on Grove letterhead, telegrams, newspaper clippings, etc., and the detailed documentation of such projects as Beckett’s Film starring Buster Keaton and the world premiere of Rockaby with Billie Whitelaw is most welcome. Interviews with Les Editions de Minuit principal Jérôme Lindon and British publisher John Calder give a nice perspective on the international avant-garde.
Not the last word on Beckett, Rosset, or Grove, but a vivid snapshot of a revolutionary era in the culture.