Published in the night

Les Éditions de Minuit (Midnight Press), established in 1941, existed only as an underground publisher until the Liberation of Paris on 25 August 1944 – hence its very evocative name. The press was founded by Jean Bruller and Pierre de Lescure, and the first item to be published, in 1942, was Bruller’s own novel Le silence de la mer, under his pseudonym Vercors. This text was the subject of an earlier blogpost One thing leads to another : Vercors’ Le silence de la mer.

The only other title to be published in 1942, Jacques Maritain’s À travers le désastre, unusually bore the author’s real name, for by then Maritain was living in exile in the United States. There followed two anthologies, one of prose, Chroniques interdites, and the other of poetry, L’honneur des poètes. The latter was published, very significantly, on July 14th 1943, and had 20 contributors, including Louis Aragon, Pierre Seghers, Paul Éluard, Jean Tardieu, Guillevic, Francis Ponge and Robert Desnos. All writers used pseudonyms, sometimes chosen, like Vercors, to evoke the mountainous areas of France – Cévennes, Forez, Minervois – and thus suggestive of endurance.

The length of each title was limited to a maximum of 96 pages, the amount which could reasonably be printed in a single night. The publications’ dimensions were small, 17 x 12 cm, so that they could be circulated easily and slipped into a pocket. Nevertheless, the paper and type used were of high quality, as were the paper covers. After the Liberation all but three of the Éditions de Minuit texts which had been published clandestinely during the German occupation were reissued as the named collection “Sous l’oppression”. The quality of production was maintained, each title including a detailed statement of the numbers printed and the type of paper used. All this information is reproduced in the University Library’s catalogue descriptions (see, for example, Chroniques interdites, In process.508).

Éditions de Minuit - spines (in private ownership)

Éditions de Minuit – spines (from private collection)

There were 25 volumes in the set, reissued between October 30th 1944 (Le musée Grévin) and November 20th 1945 (33 sonnets composés au secret). 19 of them have either a letter or an asterisk on the spine, the significance of which seems baffling when viewed in isolation. However, when correctly arranged on the shelf these spell out “Éditions de Minuit”, as illustrated by our image of a bound set (in private ownership) which reproduces the letters as they appear on the paper spines. A further printing of the first 20 titles, intended principally for the Belgian market, appeared in 1946, as a collaborative edition with La Renaissance du Livre in Brussels.

Contributors included many of the leading literary figures of the time – Paul Éluard, Louis Aragon, François Mauriac, Jean Paulhan and André Gide. The reprints closely resembled the clandestine originals in appearance, but the true identities behind the pseudonyms are revealed on the page facing the title page, as in “Cévennes était, en clandestinité, le pseudonyme de Jean Guéhenno”, which statement appears in Dans la prison (In process.504). In the euphoria of the Liberation virtually all the contributors agreed that Éditions de Minuit could reissue their work, so the publisher immediately came to represent for the reading public all that was honourable and defiant about French literary life, even though many of the authors concerned then quickly abandoned Éditions de Minuit and reverted to their original publishers.

A detailed bibliography of the publisher’s output up until 1972, Bibliographie des Éditions de Minuit : du “Silence de la mer” à “L’Anti-Œdipe” (20 février 1942 – 18 février 1972) by Henri Vignes was published in 2010. (862.c.634). The compiler also provided one of the introductory essays to the 2014 University Library exhibition catalogue, entitled Literature of the liberation : the French experience in print 1944-1946 (Cam.b.2014.25).

David Lowe

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