Edmond Charlot in 2002
|Born||February 15, 1915|
|Died||April 10, 2004|
“The young, by the young, for the young” - The life and works of Edmond Charlot, “Editor of Free France” in the second world war and advocate of Mediterranean culture.
Edmond Charlot was born on 15 February 1915 in the city of Algiers, Algeria and died on 10 April 2004 in Béziers, close to where he lived in Pézenas in the south of France in the department of Hérault. He was a publisher and ran specialist bookshops in Algiers and Pézenas as well as being an editor in Paris. He published the first works of Albert Camus and many other important authors including a translation of Gertrude Stein. He exhibited artwork and was a leading cultural figure in French literature, especially of the Mediterranean region on both the European and African shores. His contribution to literature, visual arts and French culture had been little recognised – even by close friends.
The reason for being less well known than he deserves is partly due to his modesty and not helped by two bombings of his publishing house in Algiers (credited to the OAS - Organisation Armée Secrète or Secret Army Organisation) which resulted in virtually his entire archive being reduced to ashes. He is now being re-evaluated thanks to celebrations of his centenary and work/support by museums, publishing houses, University of Rennes 2, University Paul Valéry Montpellier 3, Méditerranée Vivante, the Ministry of Culture, the town council of Pézenas, the Friends of Pézenas and the Franco-Algerian network of research in the French language among others.
His great grandfather was a baker in the French Navy who arrived in Algiers in 1830, the same year that Algeria was colonised by the French, thus his family are from the earliest French settlers. His mother’s family were originally from Malta, arriving in 1854. His father was a distributor for the publisher Hachette.
The boy Charlot went to school first at the Jesuit college (1921–32), but the strict discipline of that institution did not suit his independent nature. For his last years of secondary school, he went to the Lycée d’Alger. This turned out to be an important decision as it was there that he made acquaintances that influenced the rest of his life. First of all, a charismatic philosophy teacher, Jean Grenier, himself a writer. He crossed the path of Albert Camus, then in “khâgne” (a two-year programme after the baccalauréat, a preparation for competitive examinations to the more prestigious French university schools). Jean Grenier had encouraged his pupil Camus and Mouloud Mammeri to become writers.
After passing his “Baccalauréat de philosophie”, Charlot, in spite of his young age (21), turned to editing, encouraged by Grenier. In May 1936, under his initials E. C., he published Révolte dans les Asturies.
Two further publications followed under Éditions de Maurétanie. Then, in November 1936, Edmond Charlot opened a small bookshop, 2 bis rue Charras, Algiers, close to the colleges. He named it Les Vraies Richesses the title of a book by the already famous writer Jean Giono, with his express permission. To his first clients he offered Rondeur des jours by Giono, published with a print run of 350. He set up a lending library. He exhibited in Les Vraies Richesses drawings and three canvases of Bonnard shown there from the opening for three months, and set up a publishing house. Although very small, his bookshop/lending library became one of the principal meeting places of intellectuals, writers, journalists and painters of Algiers at that time.
Charlot moved back and forth between Algeria and France with some spells in other Mediterranean countries. As the discussion below is not chronological but thematic the main chronology of his life is below:-
- 1915-1944 Algiers, opening Les Vraies Richesses in 1936. Publishes Camus’ first work in 1937
- 1945-1948 Paris, Ministry of Information, continues to publish, notably the collection Cinq Continents.
- 1948-1962 First return to Algiers, working in publishing
- 1963-1966 Returns to Paris, working in radio
- 1966-1969 Second return to Algiers working in the French embassy and running the gallery Pilote
- 1969-1973 Director of the French Cultural Centre Izmir Turkey
- 1973-1980 Director of the French Cultural Centre Tangiers
- 1980-2004 Pézenas, opened the bookshops Le Haut Quartier and then Car Enfin.
Charlot as a publisher
Charlot’s first foray into publishing was in May 1936, with a print run of five hundred, a play co-written by Camus, Jeanne-Paule Sicard, Yves Bourgeois and Alfred Poignant Révolte dans les Asturies. This concerned a revolt by Spanish miners brutally suppressed by the Spanish government. A group of friends, including Charlot, intended to put the play on. The play was censored by the Algerian authorities and the group lost money on the venture. Charlot published it to refinance his friends. This was an early indication of how Charlot would later operate – he was more concerned with literary freedom than his own, and he was generous. He then opened a small bookshop Les Vraies Richesses in November 1936. Its slogan was “The young, by the young, for the young”.
Charlot was influenced by Gabriel Audisio, a writer who celebrated the Mediterranean. Charlot explicitly acknowledged the debt to Audisio when he said he wanted to create a collection of classics of the Mediterranean, not simply Algeria. However Charlot was not a simple disciple of Audisio. Audisio had a clear vision of the Mediterranean that was influenced by the Greeks rather than the later Roman domination of the region. Charlot’s 1936 collection Méditerranéennes was on the other hand eclectic with works by Camus, Audisio, Grenier and Lorca and poems by René-Jean Clot.
He published further works by Camus, for example in May 1937 his first book L’Envers et l’Endroit – dedicated to Grenier. There were also works by Grenier, Audisio, and Max-Pol Fouchet. Then in December 1938 he published the first number of the revue Rivages (shores) which celebrated Mediterranean culture. In 1941 he published the revue Fontaine edited by Max-Pol Fouchet with whom he developed a close working partnership. Fouchet concentrated on the editing and Charlot the commercial side of the business. Fouchet also set up a publishing house also called Fontaine which Charlot accommodated.
Many editors acquiesced with the Nazi Occupation and the Vichy Government. For example, Bernard Grasset approved race laws and “shouted loud and clear his anti-semitism” and he and other editors removed authors on the “Otto” lists (first published in 1940, that listed books considered anti-German or anti-Nazi) from their catalogues. However Charlot and some of his circle such as Max-Pol Fouchet, rather than kow-tow to the authorities risked financial hardship and even imprisonment. It has been surmised that an environment of revolt in Algeria may explain the acceptance of risk. Loss of freedom was a reality for Charlot as he was imprisoned briefly after publishing a translation of Paris France by Gertrude Stein (who had described Charlot as a dynamic and resistant editor she was proud to work with - “resistant” was a word with a particular resonance for the Vichy and German authorities of occupied France) for what he later described as the “astonishing claim” that he was presumed to be a Gaullist and communist sympathiser. He was not attached to a political grouping and unlike Camus he was never a Communist party member.
As the war progressed things became increasingly difficult. He was released from prison into house arrest and only after he had used one of his contacts (Marcel Sauvage who was close to the Minister of the Interior, Pucheu) was he released from that. There were practical problems due to scarcity of supplies – made worse as publishers who did not publish those on the Otto list were given supplies and conversely those who refused to comply with the Vichy regime were penalised. Even basics such as paper and ink were difficult to come by. Books were made with any scraps of paper Charlot could cobble together and the covers resembled butchers’ wrapping paper, Charlot recalled, and he used staples to bind the pages and ink made from soot. Despite these constraints he sold everything he could put out.
When the Anglo-American forces departed in 1942 Algeria became the only part of France to be liberated, Algiers became the capital of Free France, Charlot the “Editor of Free France” and a wave of writers and artists came to Algeria. Charlot’s titles included work by André Gide and Jules Roy. In 1944 he published and edited L’Arche, a review created by the poet Jean Amrouche with the explicit blessing of Gide and Général de Gaulle. The benediction of Gide is illuminating as he was one of the three co-founders in 1909 of the Nouvelle Revue Française, which L’Arche could be said to have culturally replaced the NRF during the years of German occupation of France.
After French Liberation (the German garrison surrendered Paris on 25 August 1944) Edmond Charlot in December 1944 joined the Ministry of Information in Paris. Living in the barracks, he searched for a place to install his publishing centre near to Saint-Germain-des-Prés, first at the hôtel de la Minerve, rue de la Chaise that Camus had advised him to take, then in the autumn 1945 at 18 rue de Verneuil. He moved it finally in 1947 to a former “maison close” (brothel) at la rue Grégoire-de-Tours, which had counted Apollinaire among its clients. The new law Marthe Richard ordered the closure of all brothels. Charlot published about a dozen volumes each month, notably the works of Henri Bosco (Le Mas Théotime, 1945, Prix Renaudot), Jean Amrouche (Chants berbères de Kabylie, 1946), Marie-Louise Taos Amrouche (Jacinthe noire, 1947), Jules Roy (La Vallée heureuse, 1946, Prix Renaudot), Emmanuel Roblès (Les Hauteurs de la ville, 1948, Prix Fémina) and blank verse of Jean Lescure (La Plaie ne se ferme pas, with a lithograph of Estève, 1949).
In 1947 Charlot, who passed to his sister-in-law his first bookshop at Algiers Les Vraies Richesses, started the publication of “ten best French novels” chosen by Gide. Among the titles published under his care were those of Georges Bernanos (1944), Yvon Belaval (1946), Albert Cossery (Les Hommes oubliés de Dieu, 1946 ; La Maison de la mort certaine, 1947) and Arthur Adamov (1950). However “the finances of Charlot were not a success. Missing a solid cash reserve, lack of insurance and mistreated by his rivals and exposed to the ferocity and jealousy of the older publishing houses, he floundered” wrote Jules Roy. Despite the support of the Association des éditeurs résistants, his financial difficulties grew from 1948 and Charlot could not find the capital nor obtain loans, and was forced into debt to reprint and had to leave the Paris base which carried on some further months (1949-1950) under the direction of Amrouche and Charles Autrand.
One of the most interesting publications was by Général Tubert. The anodyne title (L'Algérie vivra française et heureuse – Algeria will live to be French and happy) disguised a rather disturbing story. For the contents of this volume dated 1943 and by a fictional imprimatur was in fact the 1945 report of Tubert to the Assemblée consultative provisoire (following a massacre in the Constantinois - a region of north-eastern Algeria). The “typographical errors” of the cover are repeated on the title page and were a deliberate effort to disguise the real content and allow the report to be disseminated to avoid the notice of the authorities. From 1936 until his death, but primarily in the 1940s-1950s he published widely, see the table below using information from the Catalogue.
- 1936 5 works including Révolte dans les Asturies by Camus et al.
- 1937 8 works including L’Envers et l’Endroit by Camus and Santa-Cruz et autres paysages africains by Genier
- 1938 9 works including two by Audisio and two issues of the review Rivages
- 1939 5 works including Noces by Camus
- 1940 3 works including Prologue by Lorca
- 1941 16 works including those by Lorca, Clot, Roblès and Paris, France by Stein
- 1942 21 works including the Sonnets of Shakespeare
- 1943 20 works including those by Gide and Roy and a further 15 works within Editions France
- 1944 32 works and issues 1-6 of L’Arche
- 1945 28 works (many translations including Persuasion by Austen) and issues 7-11 of L’Arche
- 1946 68 works and issues 12-22 of L’Arche
- 1947 42 works and issues 23-27 of L’Arche
- 1948 4 works
- 1949 12 works
- 1950-56 14 works
- 1957-2003 10 works and director of the Méditerranée vivante collection
In his career Charlot worked with three Nobel Laureates, Camus (whose first works he published), Aleixandre (who wrote in the first issue of Rivages) and Gide (who encouraged him to run L’Arche). Other writers in his publishing house won other prestigious prizes such as le prix Renaudot (for Bosco’s Le Mas Théotime) and le prix Femina for work by Roblès.
Finally one notes Charlot published books for children. One of these L’enfant et la rivière became one of the most successful French children’s books. It sold 5,000 copies in 1945 but when republished by Gallimard in 1953 sold eventually 1,800,000 copies.
Charlot and translation
Translation of foreign works became central to Charlot’s work. Charlot published from 1939 to 1950 83 translations of works originally in languages including English and Russian. He favoured “original” translations by which is meant either a translation into French of a foreign text previously unpublished in French, or a new translation of a work previously available in French. To start with, most of his published translations were original but increasing workload (he doubled the edition of translations in the second half of the 1940s compared with the first half) and financial pressures meant he reduced the percentage of original translations but these were always more than half of his output of translated works. Charlot had many translators as a policy so as to have a variety of styles and to utilise both specialist language and subject expertise. Some of the translators were authors and editors who worked on his reviews. While unfortunately correspondence between Charlot and translators is missing due to the bombings of his publishing house, it is clear he had close contact with them while giving them latitude to translate in their own fashion and they had great confidence in him.
His philosophy on translation can be understood through his reviews. Rolland-Simon who translated several works for Charlot spoke in Fontaine disparagingly of some translations. He said the common path was to kill the original, and having labelled all the disjoint components, give an illusion of translation by stitching them all up. Thus the philosophy of Rolland-Simon was not that of the “black and white” translation but keeping the essence of the original rather than a direct word for word transfer. There was also a thread in the review articles concerning to what extent should the foreignness of a text be welcomed and to what extent it should be made native, so in Charlot’s later review L’Arche, Maurice Blanchot questioned the balance between the foreign strangeness of the text and the need to bring the text into the receiving language.
As well as the process of translation there was discussion of how welcoming material outside of the French language could challenge conceptions of other cultures. Fouchet who had written about translation in Mithra continued to write in Fontaine that replaced it. He wrote of the translations of the Iraqi poet Jamal Sidki al-Zahawi and spoke of his reclaiming social and cultural rights including support for women’s education, thus debunking some of the stereotypes of Islamic culture (al-Zahawi was a professor of Islamic philosophy).
So Charlot’s reviews promoted texts from non-French sources and critically analysed the process of translation. Charlot also published within the reviews, whether Rivages, Fontaine or L’Arche, extracts of translations prior to publication in full. The philosophy of treating any translation as work in progress was clear as many of these showed evidence of significant revision in the full translation.
Having presaged in many cases important and controversial works in his review, Charlot’s largest corpus of full translations was published as Cinq Continents which was a project commenced in Algiers but published in Paris from 1945. Its thirty volumes included both contemporary and classical works. While Stein’s work had got him into trouble with the authorities, the earlier works could be equally challenging. For example, he published a translation of Tis Pity She's a Whore by the 17th century English playwright John Ford which explored the subject of incest. Over three centuries before Nabokov published Lolita, Ford was similarly criticised for portraying his protagonist in a sympathetic light. So controversial was the play by Ford that it was omitted from a 19th-century list of his full works and it is only in the second half of the 20th century that the work has been more appreciated. Other authors in the collection included Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf, Aldous Huxley, Edgar Allan Poe, Henry James and Arthur Koestler.
Charlot and the visual arts
From the very onset of his career Charlot was interested in the visual arts. His first venture, Les Vraies Richesses, opened with a three-month exhibition of drawings and three canvases of Bonnard.
Algeria had been between the world wars somewhat pictorially conservative with an emphasis on representative art. Camus, though a writer himself, was deeply interested in the visual arts and counted among his friends many artists who he introduced to Charlot. One such was René-Jean Clot who was also a writer, though he focussed in later life on art. As the Algerian art establishment turned their backs on abstract art it was places such as Les Vraies Richesses that provided a space to exhibit but also where writers and artists could meet and exchange ideas. Propaganda Staffel (the department of Nazi propaganda) considered abstract art “degenerate” but could not extinguish the new art in Algeria. Even under German occupation (Algeria was under the Vichy Government until the Allies captured Algiers with Operation Torch commencing on the night of 7–8 November 1942) the new art was shown. For example, on 10 May 1941 gallery Brun exhibited “traditional” art side by side with the “modern” works which attracted no comment from Propaganda Stiffel but after the war was quoted as an act of resistance. After the war there was a “porosity” between Paris and Algeria and many Algerian artists exhibited in Paris
On his return to Algiers, after the Second World War, in 1948, Charlot continued with his interest in art. “Charlot went to show (…) the best Algerian visual art or sculptures and, just as he had naturally made it by written works in the 1940s, in the years 54-62 he took up the challenge with canvases by Algerian painters”, recounted Jacqueline Moulin. Over decades he would organise in his bookshops, then for the gallery Comte-Tinchant, exhibitions, notably of Nicole Algan, Louis Bénisti, Jean-Pierre Blanche, Charles Brouty, Jacques Burel, Marius de Buzon, Henri Caillet, Henri Chouvet, J.A.R Durand, Sauveur Galliéro, Maria Moresca, Pierre Rafi, René Sintès, Marcel Bouqueton, Maria Manton, Louis Nallard, Jean de Maisonseul, Hacène Benaboura, Mohamed Bouzid, Rezki Zérarti and others.
After his spell in Paris (1963-5) in ORTF (Office de Radiodiffusion-Télévision Française, which was the national public broadcasting service) he opened the gallery Pilote in Algiers where he again set up exhibitions of young Algerian painters such as Baya, Aksouh and Mohammed Khadda.
Charlot and radio
After his return to Algeria in 1948, in addition to setting up a new bookshop/gallery he continued to publish and edit. He had close links with many who went on to be influential in French Algerian radio such as Marcel Amrouche (later chief editor of Radio-Alger), José Pivin (who had a long radio career in France after years in Algeria) and El Boudali Safir (who created programmes in Arabic and Kabyle but also five musical ensembles and helped set up the National Institute of Music).
Towards the end of the Algerian war Charlot worked with three men who went on to take important posts. Jean Lanzi after a long career ended up as director in information for TF1 (a private national French TV channel). Jean-Claude Hérbelé after being a journalist in Radio-Alger headed Antenne2. Pierre Wiehn spent his whole career in radio ending as director of programmes for France-Inter. For two years in a very delicate situation of decolonisation they broadcast and their broadcasts around the jubilant days of independence were picked up and used by Jules Roy for both French radio and Paris Match After independence Charlot and the three men went their separate ways. The day Charlot arrived in Paris he met with Jean Lescure of the “Research Arm” of ORTF who led him to Pierre Schaeffer, its boss.
Charlot had many ideas, including many that never saw the light of day, such as a programme on Gandhi as a saint and another on less well known masterpieces. Programmes that did get broadcast included a series of material from the archives on the anniversary of events over the previous fifty years. One such was a reflection of Camus in Pataouète (patois of the Pieds-Noirs) on the fourth anniversary of his death. The only reason the material survived was that Camus had made his own recording of it and Charlot had kept it.
However Schaeffer was at odds with Charlot as he thought Charlot’s transmissions lacked mass appeal and as the two men could not in the end see eye to eye Charlot gave up his post and returned to Algiers.
Charlot as a cultural envoy
On his second return to Algeria he was given by Georges Gorse, who was the French ambassador to Algiers, the responsibility for French-Algerian cultural exchanges at the French embassy in Algiers, reporting to Stéphane Hessel who led the cultural service.
In 1969 Charlot became the Director of the French Cultural Centre in Izmir, Turkey, with the aim of reintroducing French to the University of Izmir. From 1973 to 1980 he was Director of the French Cultural Centre of Tangiers. During these periods as cultural leader he continued to publish. For example, in Turkey he published the poems of Jean Lescure illustrated by Georges Dayez and in Tangiers he published an anthology of Moroccan poetry written in French.
In the year following his death (2004) his name was given to the médiathèque of Pézenas where was set up an exhibition of some twenty of his painter friends. A fonds éditorial Edmond Charlot (editorial fund) was created there in 2010 thanks to a significant donation by the famous poet Frédéric Jacques Temple (who Charlot was the first to publish in 1946 – apart from a private edition in 1945 of Seul à bord). Some three hundred and fifty public works of Edmond Charlot, of which a great number had been re-edited by other publishing houses, are today researched by book lovers.
The centenary of the birth of Edmond Charlot, in 2015, has been inscribed in the official national celebrations by the Ministry of Culture. In this context, several events were organised, notably a colloquium in Montpellier and Pézenas. A complete catalogue of Charlot’s work as an editor was published by the Domens Editions.
In his obituary, the late poet James Kirkup described Edmond Charlot as ‘a man whose life was devoted to international understanding between Arabs and Europeans; an impassioned bibliophile and literary enthusiast who started the careers of many famous authors. He also defended the idea of "Mediterranean civilisation" as a force for peace and artistic excellence in a world rent asunder by politics and war.’
- DUGAS, G. 2016. Edmond Charlot en son siècle. In: DUGAS, G. (ed.) Edmond Charlot: passeur de culture: Actes du colloque Montpellier-Pézenas. Centenaire Edmond Charlot 2015. Pézenas: Domens.
- VÈNE,M-C. Personal communication April 20, 2017
- MASSON, P. 2016. Tentative de portrait d'un jeune éditeur. p17. In: DUGAS, G. (ed.) Edmond Charlot: passeur de culture: Actes du colloque Montpellier-Pézenas. Centenaire Edmond Charlot 2015. Pézenas: Domens.
- ELEFANTE, C. 2016. Edmond Charlot et l "épreuve de l'étranger". Traduction et traducteurs chez Edmond Charlot. p89. In: DUGAS, G. (ed.) Edmond Charlot: passeur de culture: Actes du colloque Montpellier-Pézenas. Centenaire Edmond Charlot 2015. Pézenas: Domens.
- JAFFEUX, V. 2016. L'Arche au milleiu de la tempete. Naissance d'une revue algéroise dans la tourmente de la seconde guerre mondiale. In: DUGAS, G. (ed.) Edmond Charlot: passeur de culture: Actes du colloque Montpellier-Pézenas. Centenaire Edmond Charlot 2015. Pézenas: Domens.
- TUBERT, P. 1946. L'Algérie vivra française et heureuse, Algiers, Charlot.
- BOGLIOLO, F. 2015. Tubert chez Charlot et Camus en écho. Edmond Charlot: Catalogue raisonné d’un éditeur méditerranéen. Pezenas: Domens.
- BOGLIOLO, F., DOMENS, J.-C. & VÈNE, M.-C. 2015. Edmond Charlot: Catalogue raisonné d’un éditeur méditerranéen, Pezenas, Domens.
- BOSCO, H. 1945. L'enfant et la riviere, Algiers, Charlot.
- BAUDUÏ, R. 2016. Edmond Charlot, défense et illustration de la modernité picturale algérienne. p155-156. In: DUGAS, G. (ed.) Edmond Charlot: passeur de culture: Actes du colloque Montpellier-Pézenas. Centenaire Edmond Charlot 2015. Pézenas: Domens.
- DUGAS, G. 2016. Les années radio. In: DUGAS, G. (ed.) Edmond Charlot: passeur de culture: Actes du colloque Montpellier-Pézenas. Centenaire Edmond Charlot 2015. Pézenas: Domens.
- DUGAS, G. 2016. Edmond Charlot: passeur de culture: Actes du colloque Montpellier-Pézenas. Centenaire Edmond Charlot 2015, Pézenas, Domens.