OBITUARY: Miron Grindea

Click to follow
The Independent Online
Miron Grindea arrived in Britain a few days before the outbreak of the Second World War. With him were the two passions of his life, his pianist wife, Carola, and his magazine, Adam International Review.

Grindea had studied humanities in Bucharest and Paris. He was a Jewish intellectual, a literary and music critic; he became editor of Adam in 1936 or 1937, and made it his own. He had been deeply involved in anti- Fascist activities in Bucharest and remained so throughout the war in London. For a while he worked in Jonathan Griffin's famous BBC European Intelligence section at Bush House.

Adam was a classic little magazine, of the "eclectic" rather than "dynamic" sort, to employ its admirer Cyril Connolly's terminology. It was both typical of little magazines and, like the others, unique in that it was a projection of its editor's personality: his obsessions, his prejudices, his quirks, his passions, his brainwaves, his michegaas, his concerns, his insatiable curiosity. Grindea was an extreme case only because his creativity was entirely consumed by the job of editor. He was an autocratic and wayward editor of brilliance, a holy fool, and in the words of Storm Jameson "a mendicant friar, a monstre sacre". Given that Grindea was one of the last of that splendid breed of pre-mass-media men of letters, refugees from Europe schooled in high culture and Central European humanism, the personality projected was both educated and complex, and the self indulged was objectively, and cheerfully, contemplated.

Though temperamentally unfitted to be a conventional academic, Grindea was a very learned man, in the style of some antiquarian booksellers and scholarly librarians and - in this respect if no other - may have reflected his subscribers. He ranged not only widely but more deeply - Proust, Gide, Mansfield etc - than many scholars could bear to admit. In some circles, Adam was reviled, in others ignored. The reason for these reactions must be rooted in the insularity, both literal and metaphorical, of the host country he loved and adorned. This insularity, with its associated superiority complex, breeds suspicion of cosmopolitan culture, especially when that culture covers, as it must, all the arts.

Grindea's earlier editorials dealt with his general preoccupations about society and literature. The later ones were a mixture of the roman fleuve and the feuilleton. Like a Post- Modern novelist - and Adam was a kind of novel with Grindea as author and main character: similar in that to editors such as Charles Peguy and Karl Kraus - Grindea lets the reader into his workshop. Typically he mingles the highly idiosyncratic presentation of an issue's genuinely fascinating and scholarly discoveries with spicy gossip high or low, useful information on other subjects, grouses (he was a famous grouse, albeit virtually teetotal, and ate like a bird too), and plaintive requests for support to enable the magazine's survival.

To hand is the Dylan Thomas memorial Number of 1953, with unpublished work by Dylan Thomas himself, and contributions from Stravinsky, Augustus John (a careful reading of this text explains why Grindea appended to it the wickedly ironic title of "The Monogamous Bohemian"), MacDiarmid and others. We learn from the editorial that Eliot, contrary to rumour, not only knew Thomas's work but admired Thomas and initiated contact with regard to possible publication of his poems in 1934 - but the young poet went elsewhere.

Miron Grindea was a born and skilled journalist and could undoubtedly have lived quite comfortably from his pen had he not had Adam - equal to him in intelligence, as Connolly said of magazines and their editors - to finance for over 50 years. There is no doubt that without the devoted support, moral, financial and professional, of his equally legendary spouse Carola, the magazine would have died more terminally than it usually did. He never gave up. How could he? He too would have died. Fortunately, various institutions and individuals rode to the rescue over the years.

Grindea was not an easy man to work with. He could be infantile, selfish, uncaring of other people's equally pressing priorities. Little-magazine and small-press editors are meshuggah: crazies. They have the vices of their virtues. Hopeless at delegating, they are simultaneously obsessive and disorganised. Grindea, in the South Kensington apartment more redolent of Paris or Vienna than London, used to exploit his young assistants, some of whom later became poets, novelists, therapists, musicians, publishers, dons or layabouts. If they did not leave in confusion or despair they received an editorial and human education from the roguish insurgent which it would have taken a Joseph Roth or Shole Aleichem to convey, but which (un)officially consisted of serving as proof-reader, muse-supplier, message-runner, awkward-phonecall maker, editorial devil's advocate, analyst and analysand. In a word: Sancho Panza.

Grindea was a brilliant wheedler of texts, often but not always their best work, from famous writers or their heirs, among them: Wells, Shaw, Chekhov, Wilson, Greene, Eliot, Cocteau, Gide, Joyce, Churchill, Auden, Forster, Priestley, Murdoch, Durrell, Spender, Powell. His recipe was a secret mixture of chutzpah, flattery, intelligence, passion, straightforwardness and charm. He encouraged new and / or young writers, Veronica Forrest- Thomson, Fred Uhlman, P.F. Spalding, for example, and some future talents made their debuts in Adam: Maureen Duffy, Wolf Mankowitz. But the past concerned him more.

He published important accounts by servants of their masters such as Tolstoy and Proust, made available important discoveries in musicology, and brought out plays by Kops, Josipovici and many others. There were special issues on national literatures - Sweden, Iceland, India, Sri Lanka, Catalonia, Ecuador, Israel (Hebrew and Arabic); on key authors and composers in his canon - Gide, Greene, Cary, Proust (seven), Mansfield, Agnon, Stravinsky, Chopin, Mozart, Neruda, Simenon. There were theme-centred issues: the moon, Jerusalem. All these special issues contained editorials synthesising critical and serious bio-bibliographical approaches to the subjects.

Perhaps Grindea's vital editorial organs were most fully engaged in two activities: in the first place, drawing the attention of his subscribers and the literary establishments of France and England - the magazine was bilingual - to the work of living authors, in his opinion neglected, such as Visiak, Ramuz, Cary, Fleg, Gascoyne and the grandest literary lesbian of her day, the legendary but unread Natalie Clifford Barney, whom he took me to meet in Rue Jacob. In the second place, tracking down unpublished letters and texts, by Mansfield, Wells, Gorky, Berlioz, Chekhov, Dickens, and Dreyfus (the case obsessed him).

On the one hand he swanned around the world and had a good time. On the other hand, sometimes the same hand, he worked maniacally hard. His frustrations and triumphs are always recorded in the editorials. Some of his authors drove him crazy and some of them - an overlapping but not identical category - in turn considered him the most exasperating editor of all time. Some of the twice shy were undoubtedly difficult characters but it would falsify the record to censor the fact that his behaviour could be fairly awful.

In actual fact Grindea, with his polymorphous perversity and manifold humanity, his humour and solicitousness, his passionate concern for the survival of humanistic values and of literary culture, was a shining knight in a naughty world - and, indeed, Picasso depicted him in a cartoon as Don Quixote. He was deeply British, but un-English in his involvement in music and painting as well as literature; deeply Jewish and involved with Israel, but not chauvinistic and certainly not an admirer of sectarian zeal; deeply Romanian, but not rabid in his nostalgic attachment to his troubled native land (recently Romanian television took him back to his shtetl, the small town where he was born, and from which, he told me several times, he had come a long way); deeply French in professional formation/deformation but no dumb worshipper at the altar of this or that ism or asm.

In his last years, despite a long illness, he continued working in his own way on the magazine and at last learnt to listen properly and engage in real dialogue. Perhaps he was inspired to this by his grandchildren and their parents, of whose musical and medical skills he was properly proud. A full assessment of the magazine - more than 50 years and 500 issues by Grindea's own crafty reckoning - must await its historian, but it is surely no exaggeration to say that the whole of Adam will be consulted for years to come as an informed guide to many of the byways and some of the highways of European culture, and that the best of Adam would make a splendid anthology. As with all the other great eclectic magazines, the worst will be quietly forgotten.

The magazine's extraordinary editorial archive was sold to King's College London several years ago, and a sensible agreement was reached that King's - which established an Adam Lecture in Grindea's lifetime (this year's lecture is to be given by the poet R.S. Thomas) - would continue to publish Adam after his death, perhaps as an annual. Quite understandably, Grindea remained edgy about the deal and sometimes seemed to disbelieve it had taken place. And indeed, how do you replace the man of whom it was said "Nobody knew him from Adam"? It is pointless to regret that he did not write books. One gives thanks that a passion such as his found an outlet beyond reading books. He was the apotheosis of the tertium quid: an original editor who did what was right in his own eyes. He could do no other.

Anthony Rudolf

Mondi Miron Grunberg (Miron Grindea), editor: born Tirgul Ocna, Moldavia 31 January 1909; married 1936 Carola Rabinovici (one daughter); died London 18 November 1995.