New Museum Display — Charles Williams and Victor Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing Team

Announcing a new display installed in the Wade Center’s museum in May, featuring correspondence between Charles Williams and his publisher Victor Gollancz: “Charles Williams and Victor Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing Team.” This is the second post this month on Charles Williams, in memory of the 70th anniversary of his death on May 15, 1945.

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The letters in the display come from a collection of correspondence deposited at the Wade Center by Brian and Sally Oxley.  The Wade Center is grateful to the Oxleys for these unique materials, and the story they share relating the publication history of Williams’s works. The full letter collection on deposit is listed in the Charles Williams Papers finding aid, folders 492 to 498. Wade Center visitors may view these and other collections in the Reading Room.

Victor Gollancz and his namesake publishing house became one of the most successful publishers in Britain from its founding in 1928 until the sale of the company by Gollancz’s daughter Livia in 1989 to Houghton Mifflin. Charles Williams, who became a friend of Victor Gollancz, published five of his seven novels with the publisher, and also edited the The New Book of English Verse, a collection of poetry, for Gollancz:

  • War in Heaven. London: Victor Gollancz, 1930
  • Many Dimensions. London: Victor Gollancz, 1931
  • The Place of the Lion. London: Mundanus, V. Gollancz, 1931
  • The Greater Trumps. London: Victor Gollancz, 1932
  • Shadows of Ecstasy. London: Victor Gollancz, 1933
  • The New Book of English Verse. ed. Charles Williams. London: Victor Gollancz Ltd., 1935

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This collection of letters gives an intriguing look into Williams’s relationship with Gollancz, and offers background into their collaborative efforts to bring Williams’s work to print. In one instance, Gollancz comments that the name for one of Williams’s manuscripts, The Corpse, must be changed: “Anyone … would immediately think it to be a detective story: and this would have the double disadvantage of limiting the market on the one hand and of deceiving the purchaser on the other.” (Gollancz to Williams, March 19, 1930). The novel was later renamed War in Heaven.

In another anecdote, a displeased school master writes to the publisher about a “mass of misprints” in The New Book of English Verse. Yet when pressed, the school master could only produce a list of three typos. Norman Collins, an associate at Gollancz who would go on to become a famous BBC program creator, writes a note to Williams on March 10, 1936 saying: “it seems really contemptible that a man should complain of three misprints … in a book of over 800 pages. I would propose writing back in a more or less abrupt fashion.” Letters and various documents relating to each work Williams published with Gollancz (in the list above) are highlighted in the display, including a publishing contract for Many Dimensions, a letter from Williams’s wife (Florence ‘Michal’ Williams) to Gollancz, and copies of the books themselves.

Our sincere thanks go to Wade Student Worker and Archives Assistant, Basye Peek for her work in organizing the letters to make the collection available for researchers, as well as the letter selection, design, and caption writing for this display. Basye just completed her freshman year as an anthropology major at Wheaton College; she began working at the Wade Center in the fall of 2014. Thank you, Basye!

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Basye Peek at work in the Wade Center Reading Room with one of the Charles Williams letters. Basye was the main designer for the display “Charles Williams and Victor Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing Team.”

4 thoughts on “New Museum Display — Charles Williams and Victor Gollancz: The Story of a Publishing Team

  1. Wow! This is very interesting! Do any of these letters correspond to those referenced by Alice Mary Hadfield in the “Notes” to her book,Charles Williams: An Exploration of His Life and Work (OUP, 1983)? I tried to track those down years ago, via Gollancz, without any success!

    This might be a good place to remind readers that Victor Gollancz was Dorothy L. Sayers’ publisher, before he became Williams’s. And to note that Gollancz also published Madge Pemberton’s translation of Gustav Meyrinck’s novel, The Golem, before he started publishing Williams. (It would be fascinating to know more about how Williams’s novels ‘fit in’ with other things Gollancz was publishing, but I don’t know how best to try to go about that – but maybe they discuss such things with each other!)

    And, finally, to recall Arend Smilde’s interesting essay about “C. S. Lewis, Tolkien, and the Gollancz connection” where other members of the great Gollancz family are concerned:

    http://www.lewisiana.nl/gollancz/index.htm

    • David, thanks for your helpful comments. Regarding the Hadfield notes, I’m not sure I would be as successful in answering that question as you would be, and would be happy to send you a complete list of the letters we received with this accession. Kindly email “wade ‘at’ wheaton.edu,” attn: Laura Schmidt, and I can send you the listing. We appreciate your interest!

      • Thanks! Some of the dates in the finding list correspond to ones in Mrs. Hadfield’s “Notes”, so this sounds promising!

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