My Life And Loves, vol 5
PREFACE (by Maurice Girodias)
This fifth volume of Frank Harris's memoirs has a history which must now be made public, although I cannot do so without admitting to a feat of truancy dramatically opposed to publishing ethics.
I have recounted elsewhere the unfortunate phase of my career when I lost my first publishing firm, in which the remains of the Obelisk Press had been incorporated. My father, Jack Kahane, had bought the publishing rights of My Life And Loves from Frank Harris in the early Thirties and since then the four volumes put out by the Obelisk Press had enjoyed a large and steady sale.
Many years later, after the Obelisk Press had become the property of my powerful rivals, Hachette-much against my will-they went on printing and selling My Life and Loves year after year.
I had first read the book when a boy, and I had been impressed by the ludicrous cheek of the little Irish adventurer. I was elated by his treatment of the reader, the half-amused, half disguised unconcern with which he fed his cock-and-bull stories to the gullible. The large layers of sexy episodes came between rich slices of literary and political souvenirs with model regularity; the cocksure, vulgar tone of the recital was quite wonderful. And yet, Harris had certainly been a sincere and courageous man in his own funny way. He had some generous ideas, and he had been a plucky fighter when it came to defending some rather interesting causes; alas, self-adulation had prevented him from being quite the universal hero he fancied himself to be in literature, sex, or politics. But he is certainly responsible to a large extent for the invention of modern journalism, whether he should be thanked for that or not.
When I started the Olympia press in competition with my ex-publishing firm, the Obelisk Press, I remembered that my father's contract with Frank Harris had contained a mention of a fifth volume to be added at a later date to the famous first four, but that Harris's death had brought an end to that project.
However, I decided to investigate and I went to see a lawyer who represented the interests of Harris's widow. He was a tiny old gentleman by the name of Adolph, living in a crepuscular apartment in the frugal fashion typical of the bourgeoisie of old. I crashed into several chairs on the way to his office as there was strictly no light, electric or otherwise, in the hall; then he prudently guided me to a chair and went to sit behind his desk. Gradually my eyes became used to the deep night and I began to perceive his frail contours. Then the uncanny negotiation began.
“Madame Nellie Harris”, he explained, “is aware of your interest, but she values her husband's work very highly, and particularly that last unpublished book of his. Up to now she has refused even to envisage letting it be published…. But now she is a very old lady, and perhaps I might use my influence on her to try to persuade her to change her mind. However, I am aware of the fact that your former business has been taken over by La Librairie Hachette and that you have now started a new company with very limited means..
… In those conditions we would require a rather substantial advance from you, young man, you must realize that.”
I quoted a figure which I immediately knew was much too ridiculously high: 400,000 francs. I did not have the money, of course, but we would see about that later. The little man seemed pleased for the time being and made a few sniffing noises. Then I asked when I could see the manuscript.
“Ah, I expected that sort of question, young man”, he retorted with mild impatience, “but why would you want to see that manuscript? You have just made an offer without having seen it: if I gave it to you to read now, what difference would that make? Your papa published the first four volumes of Monsieur Harris's world famous work, and I venture to say that he found that to be a profitable venture; and I daresay profit is also what you have on your mind, eh? So I must regretfully conclude: no, you cannot see the manuscript. But I promise to write to Madame Harris and plead your cause.”