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"Gallimard, a century of publications" at BNF Paris

Proust, Hemingway, Malraux, Faulkner, Sartre, Camus, Kerouack, Kundera... All these legendary authors share one thing: Gallimard, their (not less legendary) French publisher. 2011 marking the first century of the house's activities, the National Library of France displays an impressively documented retrospective in Paris. IntoFrench gives you the insights of a publishing adventure turned saga.

Enter the secret

Visiting the delightful Gallimard retrospective – take a virtual tour in French here – is like walking backstage at a rock celebrity's concert: you always end up seeing things you should not. With a huge amount of previously unreleased archives on display, the exhibition lifts the veil on juicy literary anecdotes of the last decades. An example? When Proust, the major French novelist of the 20th century, sent the first volume of his monumental Remembrance of Things Past to Gallimard, it was refused. “Too snob” argued the publishing committee, “the author is a socialite who's moral, social and aesthetic values cannot meet our expectations” – a contrite Gallimard would later offer the artist apologies and a publishing offer.

Independence as the key

Yet, the show is not (only) about gossip. Rather than accumulating souvenirs of dead geniuses, the retrospective grand design is to enlighten what has made Gallimard's outstanding success possible. Luck, of course: you do not find the likes of Céline, Ionesco or JMG Le Clézio (see picture) without it. But what attracts most authors in Gallimard is probably its independence. A clever policy of sustaining elitist publications – poetry, experimental writing... – with the revenues of popular books – from Gone with the wind in the 30ies to Harry Potter today – allows the publishing house to combine demanding literature and novels with a mass appeal altogether. This balanced approach shelters Gallimard from big media groups' appetite, keeping the respect of the intelligentsia at the same time. A simple recipe that could well work a century more...

Hadrien Diez

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