Girodias, Maurice (publisher)

Reference: MS 4054Date: 1961-1994Extent: c. 81 items

Maurice Girodias was born in 1919, the son of Jack Kahane, who came from an Anglo-Jewish family in Manchester, and his French wife, Marcelle Girodias, whose family had made their fortune building railways in Argentina.  Jack Kahane set up in business in Paris as a publisher and founded the Obelisk Press which produced the work of writers prevented by censorship laws from being published in their own countries, such as Henry Miller, as well as more conventional pornography. The young Maurice assisted his father and designed the cover for Miller’s Tropic of Cancer when he was around the age of fourteen.

After his father’s early death in 1939, Maurice used his father’s Paris office to start a business publishing art books, and at the age of 20 managed to survive Paris, World War II, Occupation and paper shortages.  Girodias took his mother’s non-Jewish maiden name during World War II.

After the war, with his brother Eric Kahane, Girodias expanded operations, publishing Zorba the Greek (in French) and Henry Miller’s Sexus, among other texts. The latter volume touched off a firestorm in France, with trials and arrests for obscenity. The ‘Affaire Miller’ ended with Girodias out of jail, but bankrupt and no longer in control of his company.

After a period of near destitution living in dingy hotel rooms with his brother on a diet of bread and potatoes, Maurice recovered sufficiently to start a new publishing business, the Olympia Press, in 1953 and employ his brother as a translator. He repeated their father’s formula, publishing pornography, and commissioning struggling writers to produce these DBs, or Dirty Books, while at the same time issuing literary works by writers such as Henry Miller, Samuel Beckett and William Burroughs who could not find publishers in their own countries. The enterprise flourished and when Nabokov’s Lolita was reprinted in America Girodias made a lot of money and diversified into restaurants and a nightclub.

Unfortunately, his business sense had not improved and he had also made many powerful enemies through his activities and his crusade against censorship. His nightclub was closed down and Girodias was forced to leave France with several convictions hanging over him. He went first to England and then to America where he set up another press and again became bankrupt. In order to avoid deportation, he married again and lived in Boston but he was frustrated and unhappy there and returned to France in the 1970s.

Throughout the 1980s Girodias, his health gradually deteriorating, lived a precarious poverty-stricken existence in Paris, staying in cheap rooms or with friends and family. He was always talking of grand projects which would make his fortune, but these usually came to nothing. In 1990 his two volumes of autobiography, which for many years he had negotiated to have translated but could never agree what seemed to him reasonable terms, were reissued in French. It was while giving an interview about his life and struggles to a Paris radio station that Maurice Girodias collapsed and died of a heart attack at the age of 71.

The collection consists of personal correspondence with Paul Kahane and business correspondence with his publishers.

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