Edmond Charlot

Discoverer and publisher of Camus

Monday 10 October 2011 11:36

Edmond Charlot was the publisher and editor who discovered Albert Camus, Jules Roy and Emmanuel Roblès. He specialised in literary figures connected with North Africa, particularly the Maghreb of the colonial period under French rule.

Edmond Charlot, publisher: born Algiers 15 February 1915; died Béziers, France 10 April 2004.

Edmond Charlot was the publisher and editor who discovered Albert Camus, Jules Roy and Emmanuel Roblès. He specialised in literary figures connected with North Africa, particularly the Maghreb of the colonial period under French rule.

His own family had been established in Algiers since 1830, the year when the French drove out the Turkish regency from El-Djezaïr. The Charlots were of mixed Mediterranean origins; a Maltese grandfather had founded the family's mercantile business. So Edmond was one of the original " pieds-noirs" Francophones who inhabited Algeria until it won independence under Ben Bella in 1963, when they were repatriated.

Edmond Charlot was born in 1915 and his early education was with the Jesuits, then at the Lycée Bugeaud in Algiers, where he came under the influence of Albert Camus, who, though two years older, became his close friend. They were both attracted by the teaching of a professor of philosophy, Jean Grenier, who was already a well-known writer. It was he who encouraged Charlot to found in Algiers at the age of 20 "Les Vrais Richesses". Primarily a bookshop, it was also a lending library for students who could not afford to buy books, a publishing house, an art gallery and a browser's salon. This small building in the rue Charras soon became the principal Algerian-French cultural centre.

Among the first painters successfully exhibited there was Pierre Bonnard. Camus was its first published author, with Révolte dans les Asturies ("Revolt in Asturias", 1936) followed by other early works like L'Envers et l'endroit ("Six of One and Half a Dozen of the Other", 1937) and Noces ("Wedding Feasts", 1939). Among the best-sellers were Rainer Maria Rilke's Lettres à un jeune poète, whose unexpected success drew the attention of Parisian editors and reviewers, leading Charlot to publish Max-Pol Fouchet, Jean Grenier, Jules Roy and several titles by Federico García Lorca. Camus, who in 1942 became internationally famous with his L'Etranger (translated into English as The Outsider, 1946), became his literary adviser, and urged him to publish André Gide, Philippe Soupault and other names associated with Surrealism.

With the Nazi invasion of France, Charlot was imprisoned for a short while by the Vichy government as a "suspected Gaullist". On his release, he was determined to demonstrate his independence by publishing Gertrude Stein's Paris France (1941). More significant, he issued Soupault's Ode to Bombed London/Ode à Londres bombardée (1944) and his 5,000-copy edition of Vercors' Le Silence de la mer (1942: The Silence of the Sea), a work that became an underground best-seller in occupied France and abroad, sold out within two days of publication.

Charlot's editions spread all over North Africa, where Algiers had become the capital of Free France, to reach Egypt, the Lebanon and Portugal, with other outlets in Ireland and Sweden. He published parts of Gide's monumental Journal and with that great writer's encouragement undertook the printing of the first numbers of the literary review L'Arche, which revealed the genius of the young Berber Christian writer Jean Amrouche.

After the Liberation, Charlot was called to Paris as Minister of Information. In 1945, he transferred his publishing house to Paris, where he published the very fine Egyptian novelist Albert Cossery, Virginia Woolf in translation, Amrouche and others. Two of his authors, Henri Bosco and Jules Roy, won big literary prizes: the former the Prix Renaudot for Le Mas Théotime (1945, translated as The Farm Théotime, 1946), the latter the Prix Renaudot again for La Vallée heureuse (1946: The Happy Valley, 1952), which sold a record 700,000 copies in its first year alone. But in 1950, despite two years before winning the Prix Fémina with Emmanuel Roblès' Les Hauteurs de la Ville ("The Upper Town"), Charlot went bankrupt and returned to Algiers, where he resumed publishing and collaborated on Radio Alger's literary programmes.

In 1961, his bookshop was twice bombed, and after occupying cultural ambassadorial posts in Smyrna (1969-73) and Tangiers (1973-80) he retired to Pézenas in France with his companion Marie-Cécile Vene. There, with the help of André Maurois, they established their bookshop "Le Haut Quartier" and later the Bouqinerie Car Enfin, which became cultural centres for the region.

Edmond Charlot was a man whose life was devoted to international understanding between Arabs and Europeans; an impassioned bibliophile and literary enthusiast who started the careers of many famous authors. He also defended the idea of "Mediterranean civilisation" as a force for peace and artistic excellence in a world rent asunder by politics and war.

James Kirkup

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