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Olympia Press

Related: Maurice Girodias - erotic literature - book publishing - French literature

List of publications: The Beat Generation - Watt - Candy (novel) - Terry Southern - William S. Burroughs - Naked Lunch - Alexander Trocchi - Lolita - Henry Miller - Anais Nin - James Joyce - Frank Harris - Lawrence Durrell

The Olympia Press was in many ways the Paris equivalent of New York's Grove Press. Founded in the Spring of 1953, it was Maurice Girodias's third publishing venture: the Olympia Press followed his Les Editions du Chêne publishing house, which had failed several years earlier; Maurice Girodias's first publishing venture was the revival of his father Jack Kahane's Obelisk Press, which had published the landmark works of Henry Miller, Lawrence Durrell, and Anaïs Nin, among others.

But mixed in with the erotic titles were works which were to become some of the most important literature in the poat-war era. J.P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man, Pauline Reage's Story of O, William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Terry Southern's Candy, works by Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, Raymond Queneau, Jean Genet and Georges Bataille rounded out the Olympia list. --from the publisher

Cover of OLYMPIA magazine issue #1 January 1962
Image sourced here.

There was a time when Olympia Press, the publishing company founded by Maurice Girodias, was at the leading edge of modern fiction, bringing us the likes of William Burroughs, Lawrence Durrell and Henry Miller. Now, personally I'm of the opinion that the world would have been in no way impoverished if none of these authors had ever published a single word, but I'm aware that in some quarters there are some people who even now still rate this kind of proto-hippy self-indulgence. More usefully, in the period before the Lady Chatterley trial [1960], Olympia was the only publishing house which was prepared to issue English-language editions of the likes of de Sade and Jean Genet. (Being based in Paris, you see, it escaped the absurdly draconian British obscenity laws.)

By the 1960s, however, all of this had changed. Pretty much anything was now publishable by pretty much anyone, and Olympia - relocated to London - had lost its edge. What they ended up with was nonsense like this: a truly awful bit of sci-fi porn that leaves nothing to the imagination and owes nothing to inspiration. It's not erotic, it's not big and it's not clever. --http://www.trashfiction.co.uk/frankenstein_69.html [Oct 2005]

Frankenstein 69 (1969) - Ed Martin (Generic Traveller's Companion cover)
Image sourced here.


Olympia Press was a Paris based publisher, founded by Maurice Girodias and best known for the first print of Nabokov 's Lolita; this led to copyright issues, since Nabokov was not satisfied with the publisher and the reputation it had, since besides some serious literature, it published mostly erotic novels. Eventually the English owner got into trouble, and Olympia Press vanished. --http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Olympia_Press [Aug 2005]

Some of the most important literature in the post-war era

Maurice Girodias founded the Olympia Press in Paris in 1953. His father Jack Kahane had published such luminaries as Henry Miller, Anais Nin, James Joyce, Frank Harris and Lawrence Durrell under his own Obelisk imprint in the 1930's. After World War II, Girodias began to accumulate a crew of American and British writers living in Paris to produce what became know as "dirty books" under his Traveller's Companion series. These small green paperbacks were written in English and sold mainly to American servicemen and tourists who helped to "distribute" them throughout the world.

But mixed in with the erotic titles were works which were to become some of the most important literature in the post-war era. J.P. Donleavy's The Ginger Man, Pauline Reage's Story of O, William S. Burroughs' Naked Lunch, Terry Southern's Candy, works by Samuel Beckett, Henry Miller, Raymond Queneau, Jean Genet and Georges Bataille rounded out the Olympia list.

Girodias was also the first to publish Vladimir Nabokov's Lolita. The two had a long running feud over the book, some of which was played out in the pages of Evergreen.

Girodias' article, Lolita, Nabokov and I was first published in Evergreen in September of 1965 (#37). Nabokov replied in Evergreen #45 (1967) in his article Lolita and Mr. Girodias. Girodias had the last word in his Letter to the Editor, June 1967 (#47).

After the censorship barriers were broken in the U.S. and in Europe, Girodias moved Olympia to New York City where it remained until its demise in 1973. Maurice Girodias died in 1990. --http://www.evergreenreview.com/101/articles/mgirodias.html, accessed Feb 2004

About the Olympia Press

  1. The Paris Olympia Press - (1981) - Patrick J Kearney [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]

  2. Venus Bound: The Erotic Voyage of the Olympia Press and Its Writers (1996) - John De St. Jorre [Amazon US] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    A tale intriguing for its novelty, its insight into modern literary history, and the thread of social history that runs throughout, Venus Bound is the true story of Olympia Press. The company spent decades pushing the censorship envelope by publishing ground-breaking literature from authors such as Henry Miller, William Burroughs, and Vladimir Nabokov. To subsidize this high-minded adventure, Olympia pumped out a line of plain old dirty books. John de St. Jorre follows the venture from its inception just after World War I until its demise during the liberated 1960s and 1970s.

    Anyone old enough to have traveled in Europe in the 1950s and '60s probably remembers those green paperbacks with black lettering, affectionately known by both their creators and many of their readers as dirty books; the best "DBs," by common consent, were those published by Maurice Girodias at the Olympia Press in Paris. If that were all Girodias did, he would be no more than a shabby footnote to literary history; but because his press, in those puritanical times, was the only one on either... read more --From Publishers Weekly

  3. Olympia Reader - Maurice Girodias [Amazon.com] [FR] [DE] [UK]
    I was always a big fan of American publishers like Lawrence Ferlinghetti and Barney Rosset for their role in liberating and promoting subversive literature in America. I am sure that many deplore the famed publisher Rosset who introduced "Tropic of Cancer" and "Naked Lunch" and "Lady Chatterly's Lover" to American readers. These are people who will probably not appreciate the importance of a book like "The Olympia Reader". Maurice Girodias was the founder of the Olympia Press. This French publisher was responsible for the first publication of many literary icons. Girodias followed in the footsteps of his father Jack Kahane who founded the Obelisk Press in the 30's. Kahane, it should be noted, is famed for discovering Henry Miller. The Olympia Press was a shoestring operation and labor of love for Girodias. These paperbacks were put out as The Traveller's Companion series. Girodias also faced censorship pressure in France. Luckily for us, he was able to put so much work out in spite these problems. He published writers like Raymond Queneau, Paline Reagé and Jean Genet among others. (It should be noted that he published the first version of Nabakov's "Lolita" but Nabakov refused permission for reprint in this book.) Publishing banned English books was a grand scheme for making money. The 'not to be sold in USA or Britain' category was a surefire way to spark sales. American G.I.s snapped them up with a passion. This book collects samples from this extraordinary press. It includes excerpts from books like "The Ginger Man" by J.P. Donleavy, "My Life and Loves" by Frank Harris, "The Black Book" by Lawrence Durrell, "Naked Lunch", de Sade's "Justine" and many more. It is a retrospective of an amazing moment in literary history. Girodias deserves much merit in the annals of Twentieth Century literature. This reader merely scratches the surface but it is a good introductory volume for readers of erotica and subversive literature. It would make a good starting point for a person interested in the stuff that doesn't get taught in schools which is truly the stuff that needs to be read. --George Schaefer via amazon.com

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