Papers of Maurice Girodias

Scope and Content

32 letters to Paul Kahane and 1 letter to Michael Allen

Administrative / Biographical History

Maurice Girodias was born in 1919, the son of Jack Kahane, who came from a well-established Anglo-Jewish family in Manchester, and his French wife 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 only fourteen.

At the outbreak of the Second World War Jack Kahane died and Maurice used his father's Paris office to start a business publishing art books. He took his mother's name to avoid detection as a Jew and survived the occupation through luck and a willingness to make deals with both sides. After the war Maurice married a woman he had been in love with from the age of sixteen and had two daughters, but the marriage did not last. Nor did his prosperity, for although he had flair as a publisher he had no ability as a businessman. In 1950 his firm was taken over by a rival and he lost everything.

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, at first with and later without his wife.

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.

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Acquisition Information

Gift of Paul Kahane 1994


This description was written by Gil Skidmore

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