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A Collection of Contracts, Correspondence and Associated Material Concerning the Post-War French and German Publication History of the Novels of P.G. Wodehouse: From the Archives of Wodehouse's French Translator and Agent, Benoit de Fonscolombe

V.p.: V.p., V.d.

A small quantity of contracts and correspondence, holograph, typed, and duplicated. Some age-toning and historical letter-folds, but a very well-preserved collection.


Although a regular correspondent with Wodehouse immediately after the war and through the 1950s, Benoit de Fonscolombe [1917-2012] is rarely cited in Wodehouse biographies, and then only ever described as Wodehouse's French translator. He was much more than that. In the early 1940s De Fonscolombe was contracted to translate Wodehouse's middle-period work for the French market, and later became Wodehouse's sole literary representative in France and Germany. Contracts and correspondence present in this archive show that Wodehouse gave de Fonscolombe complete power of attorney, allowing him to make all print publication decisions in both countries without any need to consult his client. In addition, De Fonscolombe's commission was 50% of all proceeds. It seems likely these arrangements, generously weighted in de Fonscolombe's favour, were agreed by Wodehouse in the knowledge that, immediately after the war, sale of his work in Europe might prove to be a sticky commercial proposition. The broadcasts he made on German radio during his internment had resulted in a severe backlash in Britain, with some politicians and newspapers accusing him of treason, and after the war he never set foot in England again. Rehabilitation of one's reputation (and one's sales) after such a catastrophic misjudgement clearly didn't come cheap.

De Fonscolombe's first translation of a Wodehouse novel was Hot Water, first published in London by Herbert Jenkins in 1932. De Fonscolombe's version was published in France with the title Sous Pression by Nouvelles Editions in 1944. According to a letter dated 2 April 1942 from the German publishers Tauchnitz (present in this collection), de Fonscolombe had written to them on 11 March that year seeking to secure French translation rights for the book. He was referred to Wodehouse himself who, the letter says, was then to be found at the Hotel Adlon in Berlin, Wodehouse's address for nearly two years after his release from internment in 1941. The contract (present in this collection) was signed by Wodehouse and de Fonscolombe at the Hotel Bristol in Paris on 24 September 1942. A similar contract for translation rights to Jeeves and Thank You, Jeeves, also present in this collection, was drawn up by hand and signed by both parties on 20 November 1944.

Shortly after the war, de Folonscombe became not just Wodehouse's translator, but his sole French representative. In a letter from Wodehouse's UK literary agent A.P. Watt dated 31 December 1945 (present in this collection), Peter Watt acknowledges de Folonscombe's letter of 18 December: 'I had already heard from Mr. Wodehouse that you were interested in the possibility of buying the French bookrights in all his available works...'. on 27 October 1945, Wodehouse signed a contract signing over all rights to Hot Water to de Fonscolombe (see Item 1(iv)), and the translation rights to a further four titles followed in 1946. In a letter of 18 July 1947 [see 3(i) below] A.P. Watt confirmed de Fonscolombe as Wodehouse's sole representative of his literary affairs in France.

The archive contains:

1. Correspondence from Wodehouse to de Fonscolombe concerning French translation rights, 1942 to 1950:


i) Typed contract, dated 24 September 1942 and signed by both parties, transferring French translation rights for Hot Water (Sous Pression) to de Fonscolombe;

ii) Handwritten contract (in de Fonscolombe's hand), dated 20 November 1944 and signed by both parties, transferring French translation rights for Thank You, Jeeves (Merci, Jeeves) to de Fonscolombe;

iii) Handwritten receipt, in de Fonscolombe's hand and signed by Wodehouse, dated 27 October 1945 and referring back to monies due as an advance against the publication of Sous Pression on 7 October 1943.

iv) TLS and signed contract from Wodehouse to de Fonscolombe, in French, both dated 27 October 1945, signing over all rights to Hot Water to de Fonscolombe;

v) TLS in French to de Fonscolombe, 12 March 1946, assigning to him French translation rights to Young Men In Spats, Blandings Castle, Ukridge Eggs, and Beans and Crumpets: ('Il est entendu que vous êtes seul accrédité pour juger au mieux de mes interets en cette matière...');

vi) TLS and two copies of the signed contract, in French, to de Fonscolombe, 25 March 1947, assigning to him all rights except cinema rights to Thank You, Jeeves;

vii) TLS to de Fonscolombe, 6 September 1950, discussing The Small Bachelor (...'It was done in America as a silent film, somewhere about 1929. I should imagine that the talking rights, especially in France, are quite free. I think you could safely go ahead and sell it...') and discussing life in New York, his new home ('...We are now settled in n apartment on the top (twelfth) floor of a building in Park Avenue, which is the Avenue Foch of New York. We moved in a year ago and shall be here for another four years...').

2. 13 items of ALS and TLS correspondence from de Fonscolombe to Wodehouse, 1947 to 1959, discussing matters relating to the French publication and theatrical presentation of Wodehouse's work.

3. 64 items of correspondence from Wodehouse's UK literary agent A.P. Watt to de Fonscolombe, discussing translation and publication arrangements of several Wodehouse titles on mainland Europe, 31 December 1945 to 16 July 1957.

Included in this correspondence is the original TLS from Peter Watt to de Folonscombe, 18 July 1947, agreeing de Fonscolombe's new role in Wodehouse's literary affairs in France: 'I am glad to be able to tell you that I have now received Mr. Wodehouse's instructions from New York and he has asked me to say that he is only too glad to leave the agency of his affairs in France in your good hands.'

4. A small quantity of contracts and correspondence between Folonscombe and French publishers relating to the publication of Wodehouse's books in French, dating between 1945 and 1961.

The correspondence includes:

i) Original typed contract, 6 August 1943, for the French-language publication of Sous Pression (Hot Water). Signed By de Fonscolombe on behalf of Wodehouse, and Fernand Sorlot;

ii) Original typed contracts between C.I.C.A.L., and Jean Froissart and Editions Le Portulan, signed and initialled by de Fonscolombe and relevant parties. (These contracts were negotiated before de Fonscolombe's departure from C.I.C.A.L. to become Wodehouse's sole representative in France);

and correspondence between de Fonscolombe and the French publishers Hachette, Editions Amiot-Dumont, Vent du Large, as well as typed authorisation from Wodehouse to act on his behalf.

5. A small quantity of contracts and correspondence between Folonscombe and German publishers relating to the publication of Wodehouse's books in German, dating between 1942 and 1959.

6. A folder of contemporary press cuttings, reviews of a number of Wodehouse titles published in France in the late 1940s.

A comprehensive collection of material covering Wodehouse's publication history in France and Germany immediately following the Second World War, from the archives of his sole literary agent in the region.



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