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The Tender Hour of Twilight: Paris in the '50s, New York in the '60s: A Memoir of Publishing's Golden Age Hardcover – January 3, 2012

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Editorial Reviews


I knew Dick Seaver as a friend and fellow wrestler; he was later my publisher at Arcade. As a wrestler, Dick had strong hands. I didn't know him in the '50s, when he was a young editor in Paris, where he read (and first wrote about) Beckett, or in the '60s, when he published Burroughs's Naked Lunch at Grove Press in New York. But some of the stories in this memoir are the ones Dick told over dinner--falling in love with his wife, Jeannette, on New Year's Eve, 1953; meeting Robbe-Grillet, who was 'charming and witty, with a soupçon of malice lurking not far from the surface'; taking Beckett to a Mets doubleheader in New York; correcting a flawed English translation of Genet's Our Lady of the Flowers in Paris; even escorting Genet through the hazards of the '68 Democratic Convention in Chicago. It was only after Seaver's death that he was revealed to be Sabine D'Estrée, the translator of the 'infamous' Story of O, though many of his friends knew--or we had guessed. (The 'infamous' word, said with a smile, is Seaver's.) Dick was loved for his exemplary life in literature and envied for his remarkable and cherished family--I mean both his actual family and the extended family of fiercely beloved writers Dick Seaver so passionately looked after. I remember and miss those strong hands. (John Irving)

Richard Seaver was a glamorous and cultured publisher who lived in Paris in the 1950s, where he befriended Samuel Beckett and Eugene Ionesco, and in New York in the 1960s, where he led the fight against censorship and championed William Burroughs, Henry Miller, and D.H. Lawrence. Fluent in French and Spanish, he acted as an important conduit between European and American literature. He was what every writer would want his editor to be: urbane, loyal, sensitive to aesthetic values, and fierce in his defense of freedom of speech. This honest, companionable book is an eloquent testament to his exciting life. (Edmund White)

Richard Seaver played a vital role in America's discovery of France and vice versa in the years after World War II. This fascinating memoir of his career as an editor is crammed with unexpected appearances of such notables as Ionesco, Genet, William Burroughs, Buster Keaton, and Henry Miller. Who knew that Samuel Beckett once played tennis with Barney Rosset in East Hampton? Edited by Seaver's widow Jeannette, The Tender Hour of Twilight finally brings into focus the career of this much-loved and influential impresario. (John Ashbery)

Dick Seaver's career as a legendary editor and can only be enhanced by this wonderful memoir, which begins in Paris in the fifties with his exciting pursuit of the elusive and as yet unknown Samuel Beckett and would prosper with distinction for another half-century in New York City. A very valuable contribution to the history of American literary publishing by a great editor who turns out to be an excellent writer, as well. (Peter Matthiessen)

How much to be learned! Publishing can sweep everything into its net: wife and children, house and home, fame and fortune, not only the attentions but the minds and hearts of the very monsters who wrote the books. The all-consuming powers of Print became young Seaver's lens on the human race, identical with his ambitions, longings, disgusts, even, surprisingly, his fulfillments. No relief, no reward: the editorial conscience its own Reckoning. The story, the drama told better here than any version I know: funnier, sadder, truer. (Richard Howard)

Seaver's memoir is a captivating read. It takes courage to remain creative in an increasingly problematic and vulnerable industry. I, along with so many others, am grateful for Seaver's life-long faith in literature. His commitment to authors has my deepest admiration. (George Soros)

A fantastic read! In his memoir, Seaver displays a remarkable recollection of important moments both in Paris and New York. His discernment in discovering new literary voices in both continents afforded us here, in America, the opportunity to read what otherwise we would have missed. (Ellsworth Kelly)

This book reminds us how much Dick Seaver is missed, and how lucky we--publishers, writers, readers, literature itself--were to have had him in our lives. The Tender Hour of Twilight is as fascinating, as insightful, and as generous as the man himself. (Daniel Okrent)

For those of us who treasure fresh modern writing, Richard Seaver's memoir gives us a portrait of the passion, adventure, and care that resulted in one of America's great publishing houses--Arcade Publishing. Along the way he creates snapshots of Samuel Beckett, Jean Genet, Jean-Paul Sartre and William Burroughs, among others. A graphic, riveting book. (Daniel Talbot)

This is a riveting memoir, perhaps because not even the generosity and grace with which Dick Seaver wrote it can obscure the enormous part that he himself played in--not to mention the courage of an unerring appreciation he brought to--the fight to open America's censorious gates to a brave new universe of post-war writers. It was Seaver, more than anyone I knew, who manned the barricades so that the rest of us could read. He was the translator who gave us Becket; the editor who gave us William Burroughs and Jean Genet; the warrior who gave us Henry Miller and Sade and The Story of O. As often as not, he was all three. He was also, as anyone who reads The Tender Hour of Twilight will discover, quite a formidable writer himself. I was fortunate to have known him. I count myself even more fortunate now that I know him better. (Jane Kramer)

The Tender Hour of Twilight is a brilliant memoir--lucid, informative, funny and poignant. Dick's distinctive voice, his prodigious memory, his instinctive, visceral appreciation of avant garde literature, and his contributions to our literary culture are on rich display. It's a pleasure and a privilege to read his invaluable recollections of two decades of publishing on both sides of the Atlantic. Certainly twentieth-century literature would not have been the same without his editorial acumen. (Sybil Steinberg)

Richard Seaver was a remarkable man and a supremely important and courageous publisher in the post-world war period of international publishing. Most publishers are grounded in their own culture, not Dick. As this book shows, he has left a big mark on modern publishing. (Matthew Evans, Baron Evans of Temple Guiting, former publisher of Faber and Faber, Ltd.)

Richard Seaver's memoir reminds us of the days when publishing was an adventure, when editors committed themselves to writers as writers rather than as products. Seaver lived the magic of Paris--the Paris of the garret, the public baths, the all-night cafes, of Beckett, Ionesco, and Sartre. He introduced American readers to a European literature that has now become our canon. He writes quietly, with humor, and through the telling detail, creating a nostalgia for a world which we may not have known but which most of us would surely want to have experienced. (Vincent Crapanzano)

Being with Richard Seaver in Paris and New York, in company with Beckett, Burroughs, Genet, Sartre, Henry Miller, and so many more renegades, is a giddy trip. Seaver, the legendary publisher and translator, a scholar and daring enemy of censorship, takes you to the barricades of literature. His story is incredible. (Arthur Kopit)

From the Inside Flap

Richard Seaver came to Paris in 1950 seeking Hemingway's moveable feast. Paris had become a different city, traumatized by World War II, yet the red wine still flowed, the cafés bustled, and the Parisian women found American men exotic and heroic. There was an Irishman in Paris writing plays and novels unlike anything anyone had ever read--but hardly anyone was reading them. There were others, too, doing equivalently groundbreaking work for equivalently small audiences. So when his friends launched a literary magazine, Merlin, Seaver knew this was his calling: to bring the work of the likes of Samuel Beckett, Eugene Ionesco, and Jean Genet to the world. The Korean War ended all that--the navy had paid for college and it was time to pay them back. After two years at sea, Seaver washed ashore in New York City with a beautiful French wife and a wider sense of the world than his compatriots. The only young literary man with the audacity to match Seaver's own was Barney Rosset of Grove Press. A remarkable partnership was born, one that would demolish U.S. censorship laws with inimitable joie de vivre as Seaver and Rosset introduced American readers to Lady Chatterly's Lover, Henry Miller, The Story of O, William Burroughs, The Autobiography of Malcolm X, and more. As publishing hurtles into its uncertain future, The Tender Hour of Twilight is a stirring reminder of the passion, vitality--even the glamour-- of a true life in literature.


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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 480 pages
  • Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux; First Edition edition (January 3, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0374273782
  • ISBN-13: 978-0374273781
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.5 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (7 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #797,492 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

20 of 22 people found the following review helpful By Judy Karasik on January 15, 2012
Format: Hardcover
This is mandatory reading for anyone who wants to understand how writers and editors work together to create and publish work that's trying to do something original. Richard Seaver, in a memoir edited after his death by Jeannette Medina Seaver, his wife of 55 years (and so often his working partner), tells the story of Paris in the 1950s (Beckett, Ionesco, Genet) and New York in the 1960s (Burroughs, Henry Miller, the censorship battles). His voice pulls you in to an intimate view of how people who are passionate about writing--and who think and live through writing--work together to advance the cause of great new and emerging work--and, as their portfolio builds, to have the great joy of advancing the work of writers they've worked with over the years. Seaver was brilliant, classy, gutsy, tremendously hard-working, and had extraordinary taste and insight and the determination to not only believe in the work he responded to, but to fight for its publication. (He was also himself a writer who never lost his sense of humor, not for a single page, which makes this a really fun ride.) This is also a book about relationships--friendships, the relationships among writers and editors, and the love story between Dick and Jeannette. If you are interested in this period of literature, read it. If you are interested in knowing how that under-financed thing called literary publishing really works, read it. If you want a wonderful read, this is for you.
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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful By D. Crowell on January 19, 2013
Format: Kindle Edition Verified Purchase
Generally I read literary fiction, yet Seavers memorable book is both literary in terms of superb writing as well as a fascinating account of Paris and Parisians post WWII and the literary stars of the era. The book also covers Nyc's literary scene in the sixties and details the riveting battle against censorship waged against Lady Chatterly's Lover, Henry Miller etc. in the process Seaver offers a portrait of the publishing industry both abroad and in the US. Readers who love literature, Paris, NYC publishing stories and a writing style that both compels and entrails, must read this book. History buffs interested in the fifties and sixties will also love this book. Seaver brings Beckett, Sartre, Genet and others to life in a way never done before. Seaver was not only a one of a kind editor and translator but a formidable writer himself. This is noy
T a book quickly forgotten. Don't let the size of the book deter you...the pages fly. Rarely have I read a work of non-fiction with such narrative drive. Can't say enough good things about this book. Savor it!
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Not only is the book a stellar one for its subject, but Richard Seaver's voice made me want to read everything he has ever written or contributed to!
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By John Williams on October 5, 2014
Format: Hardcover
excellent writing and insightful to a major period of writing ... thoroughly enjoyed the book
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