Obituary: Paul Flamand

PAUL FLAMAND founded his publishing house, Les Editions du Seuil, in 1935, but it was after the Second World War that it achieved its celebrity as one of the most eminent and innovative of French imprints.

He ran it with a combination of talents rare for an independent publisher: good taste, an adventurous disposition and unusual commercial flair. Among the authors he published were Roland Barthes, Simone Signoret and Jacques Lacan. The great success of Giovanni Guareschi's Don Camillo books allowed Flamand the luxury of publishing less commercial foreign writers, among them Alexander Solzhenitsyn, Italo Calvino and Gabriel Garca Mrquez.

Flamand was also lucky in that for most of his career he had a partner, Jean Bardet, whose interests were purely in administration and finance rather than in the nature of the books published. They worked in perfect harmony without the conflicts that often sour those publishing partnerships where there is competition for editorial pre-eminence or occasional disagreement over policy.

Les Editions du Seuil became one of the most noticed imprints during the Fifties and expanded rapidly during the Sixties, when it became known as an intellectual list with a liberal Catholic flavour, and published such Catholic radicals as Teilhard de Chardin and his followers. Its collection of well-produced, glossy paperbacks on religious and spiritual subjects grew out of its journal of the same name, Esprit, and found a ready market.

Seuil also published many of the best new literary talents and successfully competed with the highbrow list of Editions de Minuit and the more popular fiction series put out by Gallimard and Grasset. Flamand countered the literary movement promoted by Minuit that became known as the nouveau roman, with Tel Quel, a literary review that also gave its name to a series of books that combined the literary novel with emerging theories drawn from psychoanalysis, linguistics, and, in particular, structuralism, to form a literature that combined and was dependent on the mental sciences as much as the traditional concepts of art.

The charismatic editor of Tel Quel, who became the leader of the new movement that developed out of it, was Philippe Sollers. He had started as a nouveau romancier with Minuit, but developed as a post-structuralist writer whose work, hermetic except to a few, used a wide range of non- literary theory and structuralist and psychoanalytical verbiage to create a new kind of fiction that has not yet been given a name. His wife, Julia Kristeva, developed a feminist version of the same type of writing, but having closer links to sociology, more overtly political and very much easier to read, was more successful, both in France and internationally.

The Seuil list moved into anthropology, semantics, contemporary musical theory and musique concrete, disciplines that were just becoming part of university curricula, as many of the authors had university posts. Such books were much discussed in the press and widely bought. Some were probably little read, but it became obligatory to have such authors as Jacques Derrida and Lacan on the shelf.

Flamand had the flair to employ the right gurus and specialists as editors of his different series to attract press attention (Francois Wahl, for example, created "Le Champ Freudien" series in 1964, for whom Lacan wrote Ecrits in 1966) and also the resources to back them and their books.

In addition he introduced a series of inexpensive, glossy, heavily illustrated books in a small format ("Microcosme"). Subjects included history, biography, music, painting and subjects of similar interest; booksellers found it profitable to display them prominently on their tables. Each series had an established author in charge, not necessarily with previous experience of French publishing. Seuil were innovative in many different fields and more commercially successful than most of their rivals, in spite of the high intellectual tone of their list.

Paul Flamand was born and brought up in Aigre, Charente, and educated at the College Saint Paul in Angouleme. He retained a taste for provincial life and in 1978 retired to Saint-Cheron, just outside Paris, leaving his firm to successors who have changed its policy very little.

A conventional and basically private person, Flamand did not seek to make his own name rather than that of his company, and was more bourgeois in his tastes and manner than most of his colleagues of the same generation.

Always approachable and courteous, more of an intellectual than he revealed, he had good judgement in what he published and especially in those he chose to work with and for him. He was active on some committees to further the interests of French publishing, but his reticence did not attract the honours that most of his more flamboyant rivals received. He was a widower for many years before his death.

John Calder

Paul Henri Flamand, publisher: born Aigre, France 25 January 1909; married 1937 Marguerite Olivier (deceased; two sons, two daughters, and one son deceased); died Paris 4 August 1998.