I recently found myself cataloging a March 1957 issue of the French literary journal, Les lettres nouvelles for the predictable reason that the French translation of Samuel Beckett’s one-act radio play, All That Fall, was first published here as Tous ceux qui tombent. I like Beckett, I think, and enjoyed the theatrical production of Waiting for Godot that I didn’t sleep through, but it wasn’t until I was nearly done with my research that I stumbled upon something far more interesting to me than Mr. Beckett’s fine play.
When I began to analyze the journal’s condition, I quickly spotted a tiny red ‘Bryn-Mawr’ stamp in the upper left hand corner and the words ‘Maurin no. 2’ directly underneath it. I didn’t pay much attention to it at first surmising that the journal must have been in the Bryn Mawr College library at one time, but after seeing the name ‘Maurin’ again in the list of contributors, I began to do a little research.
In the late 1940s Mario Maurin had just begun his undergraduate studies at Yale and as a French speaker didn’t see much point in taking any French classes. But, based on the stellar reputation of the French scholar and professor, Henri Peyre, Maurin signed up for his class on the modern French novel and unknowingly determined his future. Under Peyre’s direction Mario completed his M.A. at nineteen and his Ph.D. at twenty-two, a remarkable accomplishment; and after two years in the Marines Peyre again assisted the young Maurin by recommending him for a teaching position at Bryn Mawr College where he’d begun his American career in 1925. Mario Maurin retired from Bryn Mawr nearly fifty years later as an Emeritus Professor of French. Toward the end of his career he began to collect the prodigious correspondence of Peyre, and under the editorship of John Kneller Yale University Press published this correspondence in 2005. It would have been near the beginning of his distinguished career at Bryn Mawr that Maurin published the review of Zola’s La république en marche in Les lettres nouvelles.
When I delved a little further into Maurin’s background I discovered that he’d been born in Paris in 1928 to Joaquín and Jeanne Maurín and that mother and son had emigrated to New York City in 1941. It would take Joaquín five years to join them. I wondered why.
Joaquín Maurín Juliá was born in 1896 in Bonansa, in the Huesca province of Spain. During the winter of 1917-1918, he established his first links with the organized labor movement and became a militant syndicalist joining the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) in 1920. He would leave the organization in 1922 after a fallout with the anarchist-influenced leadership who were suspicious of Leninist policies. He was imprisoned for nearly three years under Primo de Rivera’s dictatorship and fled to Paris in 1927.
He returned to Spain after the dictatorship’s collapse and in 1931 became general secretary of the newly established Bloque obrero y Campesino (BOC), a communist amalgamation of Maurín’s Federación Comunista Catalano-Balear and the Partit Comunista Catalá. The BOC never attracted more than a few thousand members and when the Troskyist-oriented Izquierda Comunista (IC) led by Andrés Nin decided to break from Trotsky they joined forces with Maurín and the BOC to establish the Partido Obrero de Unificación Marxista (POUM).
The POUM quickly gained support due to their adept propagandizing and their friendly relationship with anarchists. They attracted international supporters such as George Orwell who fought alongside them and later memorialized them in his Homage to Catalania. But they also attracted the ire of the Stalinist leadership who backed the Spanish communists and by 1937 an all out attack on the POUM had commenced. Forty of the organization’s leaders were arrested and Nin was executed in June of that year.
Maurín was not arrested because in July of 1936, he was attending a POUM meeting in Galicia when the military, under Franco’s leadership, began their coup against the Second Spanish Republic. After attempting to make his way back to Republican strongholds he was arrested and quickly disappeared. Many POUMists believed him dead and Nin assumed sole leadership of the party. In the meantime, Jeanne and Mario had returned to Paris and Jeanne, once she discovered that her husband was still alive, worked tirelessly for his release.
In 1937 after being imprisoned for a year, Maurín wrote and dedicated two children’s stories to Mario. ¡Miau! Historia del Gatito Misceláneo and El Misterio del Museo del Prado contained beautiful watercolor illustrations executed by a prisoner simply known as ‘Jules’ and now reside in the manuscripts collection at Bryn Mawr. It wasn’t until 1946 that Maurín was freed from Francoist Spain and was able to emigrate to NYC where his wife and child had been living for five years. Joaquín Maurín would go on to found the American Literary Agency (ALA) promoting the works of Latin American authors and Mario would soon step into Henri Peyre’s classroom for the first time at Yale and have his life altered forever.
Who wrote ‘Maurin no. 2’ on the top of Les lettres nouvelles? A librarian? A student? Mario himself? Unfortunately Mr. Maurin is currently quite ill, so if he holds any insight into the provenance of the journal we may never become privy to such insight. Regardless of whether the mystery is ever solved though, the mystery is there because the physical object is there, because Les lettres nouvelles existed as a physical object and was not relegated to the dust bin of digital detritus. Re-contextualizing rare books, creating new narratives, and ascribing cultural or historical value to what may appear relatively valueless are just some of the ways that we rare book dealers transcend the simple commodification or fetishization of books and attempt to both preserve the stories within the book and to weave the stories of the book itself.
(Please ignore the segue into the market-dictated cataloging spiel.)
[BECKETT, SAMUEL] [LITERARY JOURNALS] NADEAU, MAURICE (ED.)
Les lettres nouvelles. Mars 1957 n°47
Paris: René Julliard, 1957. Octavo (23cm). 321-480 pp; ill. Original wraps lettered in red and black. Wraps are slightly soiled; chipping to extremities with half inch loss to tail of spine; 1″ closed tear to back cover. Miniscule Bryn Mawr stamp to top left corner of cover along with “Maurin no. 2” written in pen. Pages are browned, otherwise unblemished. $200
Beckett first wrote this one-act radio play at the suggestion of the BBC in 1956. It was produced in January of 1957 and was quickly followed by English (Faber & Faber) and American (Grove Press) editions. It’s hard to believe that either of these editions were published between the January production and March publication in Les lettres nouvelles. Other contributors to this issue were Léon Pierre-Quint, Miorslave Kerléja, Robert Marteau, Iganzio Silone, Olivier de Magny, Ado Kyrou and Jean Selz.
Cortada, James W. (edited by). Historical Dictionary of the Spanish Civil War. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1982.
Dolenski, Leo M. “The Unpublished Writings of Joaquin Maurin, 1896-1973.” Accessed at http://www.brynmawr.edu/library/mirabile/mirabile1/maurin.html
Kneller, John W. Henri Peyre: His Life in Letters. Yale, CT: Yale University Press, 2005. Accessed at http://yalepress.yale.edu/yupbooks/excerpts/maurin_henri.pdf
Register of the Juaquin Maurin Papers, 1870-1976. Accessed at http://www.scribd.com/doc/18030109/Joaquin-Maurin-Papers