Driveling Idiots from All Over Europe



Joseph Roth, potentially exercised.

Part of a letter from Joseph Roth to Blanche Gidon, his French translator, sent October 11, 1932. Roth, born on this day in 1894, used his letters to vent his spleen, often about money and politics; in this note he rails against French publishing. (“Une heure avec” refers to a regular interview feature in the literary weekly Les Nouvelles Littéraires.) “His actual molten, sun-spotted core,” writes his English translator Michael Hofmann, “flares nakedly in these letters.” Hofmann’s Joseph Roth: A Life in Letters was published in 2012.


Hotel Englischer Hof
Frankfurt am Main
11 October 1932


Dear esteemed Madam,

thank you for your two kind letters. Where the Radetzky March is concerned, I’ve never doubted that publishers of all nationalities are businessmen. What annoys me is that they’re bad businessmen, and that, particularly in France, foreign books are badly paid for, badly translated, and badly sold. I care too much about words for me to be able to look on while my words are twisted and mutilated—merely because a publisher won’t give up the false vanity of continuing to bring out foreign books, nor admit that he doesn’t have deep enough pockets to do it with dignity. When I look at the revolting literary “scene”: that une heure avec, the quasi-Communist Nouvelle Revue Francaise, the stupid “conservative” periodicals in Paris, these snobberies and cliques, prepared to genuflect before each “novelty,” the incomprehensible Joyce, the latest postwar epsilon out of Germany, well: it makes me shudder! The book trade has become a matter of fashion … See: in Germany everyone is unliterary. I don’t get upset if they make idiots of themselves in literary matters. But I care too much about the grand traditions of France for me to be able to bear the way they now make une heure avec with driveling idiots from all over Europe—and on the basis of paid advertisements! I’m used to German barbarity. It’s my own. I live off it. But I can’t get used to French barbarities. It’s enough to make a boche out of me, even though, God knows, I have little aptitude for that …