Skip to main content

Helen and Kurt Wolff papers

 Collection
Call Number: YCGL MSS 16

Scope and Contents

The Helen and Kurt Wolff Papers consist of correspondence, manuscripts, printed material, and personal papers documenting the professional lives of Helen and Kurt Wolff through their affiliations with Kurt Wolff Verlag, Pantheon Books, and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich. The collection spans the years 1888-1994, with the bulk of the material dating from the late 1950s to the early 1990s.

The collection is housed in 89 boxes and organized into eight series: Correspondence, Kurt Wolff Verlag Papers, Pantheon Books Papers, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Papers, Writings, Subject Files, Personal Papers, and Additional Material. Boxes 81-89 contain Oversize, Restricted Fragile, and Restricted Fragile Oversize material.

Series I, Correspondence , is organized into two subseries: General Correspondence and Third Party Correspondence.

General Correspondence, housed in boxes 1-46, consists predominantly of professional correspondence with authors, publishers, and translators, though correspondence can also be found with friends, editors, literary agents, periodicals, and organizations. There are both correspondence files and "working files" for certain authors and publishers. The working files include incoming and outgoing correspondence with Kurt and Helen Wolff and other staff members of Pantheon or Harcourt, third-party correspondence, enclosures, and other material.

Helen and Kurt Wolff are well known for publishing literary and scholarly work of European authors, and many of their foreign authors are represented in the Correspondence series. Larger files exist for those authors for whom multiple titles were published by Pantheon or Harcourt. They include Joy Adamson, Hermann Broch, Max Frisch, Günter Grass, Julien Green, Uwe Johnson, Jan Morris, Iris Origo, Amos Oz, Boris Pasternak, and Georges Simenon. There is also correspondence with the scholars Karl von Frisch, Karl Jaspers, Konrad Lorenz, Erwin Panofsky, and Josef Pieper. There are small files for many other writers and scholars. Files with original incoming correspondence exist for W.H. Auden, Martin Buber, Alfred Leo Duggan, Umberto Eco, T.S. Eliot, Carl Gustav Jung, Ryszard Kapuscinski, and György Konrád.

Americans represented in the series include Anne Morrow Lindbergh, whose Gift from the Sea (1955) was a huge popular success for Pantheon, Donald Harington, Thomas Merton, Henry Miller, Dorothy Norman, Norman Holmes Pearson, and Ruth Fuller Sasaki.

In addition to the authors' files, there are large files of internal Pantheon and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich correspondence. These files document the book acquisition and production process. The Harcourt correspondence, the largest file in the series at 60 folders, dates from 1961-93, with the bulk of the correspondence dating from the 1960s. Correspondence in the early 1960s consists chiefly of letters between Kurt and Helen Wolff and Harcourt President William Jovanovich. By the 1980s, following the death of Kurt Wolff and the retirement of William Jovanovich, the correspondence consists of letters between Helen Wolff and other Harcourt staff, inter-office correspondence, and third-party correspondence. There are also 30 folders of correspondence with Jovanovich dating from 1961-94.

There are 32 folders of internal Pantheon correspondence dating from 1947-60. The bulk of the Pantheon correspondence dates from the late 1950s, during which time there are almost daily letters and memos between Kurt Wolff and other staff, chiefly Gerald Gross, dealing with the status of manuscripts and books under consideration or in production. Separate correspondence files do also exist for Gross and other Pantheon staff and board members. There is correspondence with Kyrill Schabert, James Holsaert, Wolfgang Sauerländer, Nathan Levin, and John Lewis. Correspondence with board members Nathan Levin and John Lewis in the early 1960s concerns the termination of the relationship with Pantheon.

There is correspondence with numerous European and domestic publishing firms. The larger groups of correspondence can be found with foreign firms: the British firms Curtis Brown, Faber and Faber, Harvill Press, Secker & Warburg, and William Collins Sons & Co.; French firms Editions du Seuil and Gallimard; several German firms, including Carl Hanser Verlag, Luchterhand Verlag, Piper Verlag, S. Fischer Verlag, Verlag Heinrich Scheffler, and Verlag Klaus Wagenbach; Italian firms Feltrinelli editore, Edizioni il Polifilo, and Stamperia Valdonega; and the Spanish firm Editorial Seix Barral.

Correspondence with publishing firms commonly addresses possible titles, copyright and publication rights, book terms and production, marketing, and translations. The correspondence with the British firm Faber and Faber, for example, spans the years 1959-81, with the bulk of the correspondence dating from 1961-64. In early letters Faber and Faber editor Peter du Sautoy recommends books by various authors, including William Golding, Peter Weiss, and Jan Morris. Numerous letters from 1961 follow on a cooperative publication of Abschied von den Eltern by Weiss (translated as The Leavetaking). Letters cover terms, obtaining rights from the German publisher, Suhrkamp Verlag, and the effort to find a translator. Similar letters in 1962-63 address the publication of Cities by Jan Morris. Letters reveal the cooperative effort made by publishers to identify possible titles: identifying unrepresented work, in the case of Golding, obtaining first English language translation rights to a foreign work, in the case of the 1961 Suhrkamp title by Weiss, or publishing an established author, in the case of Jan Morris.

In a letter to the National Endowment for the Arts, dated May 9, 1983, Helen Wolff indicates that the best translation work tends to be done by the "writer-translator." Not surprisingly, the larger translators' files include writers and devoted translators, Max Hayward, Ralph Mannheim, Willard Trask, and Richard and Clara Winston.

Other noteworthy correspondents in the series include Hannah Arendt, Kurt von Faber du Faur, and Aniela Jaffé, editor of Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections.

Third-Party Correspondence, housed in box 46, consists of all loose third-party correspondence. The bulk of these third-party letters probably came to Helen and Kurt Wolff as enclosures and, over time, were separated from the original letters. The subseries is arranged alphabetically by correspondent.

Correpondence is chiefly in English and German, with some French and Italian. Enclosures, such as third-party letters, writings, photographs, and clippings, are identified in folder notes. Correspondence spans the years 1903-94, with the bulk of the material dating from the late 1950s to the early 1990s.

Series II, Kurt Wolff Verlag Papers , housed in box 47, is arranged alphabetically by type of material. There are financial statements, a logo design and a list of Kurt Wolff Verlag titles, and several printed items, including clippings, a bookmark, invitation, letter-head, postcard, publicity, and signed card.

Series III, Pantheon Books Papers , housed in boxes 48-53, is organized into three subseries: Writings, Financial and Legal Papers, and Other Papers.

Writings, housed in boxes 48-49, is arranged alphabetically first by author and then by title. Materials include drafts, marked printed versions of foreign and non-English language editions, reader reports, and printed publicity and reviews. There are corrected typescript carbon drafts for several chapters of Carl Gustav Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections and marked printed versions of Marcel Jouhandreau's Chronique Maritales and Monsieur Godeau Marié. Many authors who published with Helen and Kurt Wolff at Pantheon moved with them to Harcourt and published books with the "A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book" imprint. This is not the case with Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections and Grass's The Tin Drum, both published by Pantheon in 1963. Work on Jung's book dates back to the late 1950s, when Helen and Kurt Wolff were still with the firm. There are reader reports and/or clippings for other titles, including work by Joy Adamson, Hermann Broch, Boris Pasternak, and Giuseppe Tomasi di Lampedusa.

Financial and Legal Papers, housed in boxes 50-53, are subdivided for Contracts, Inventories, Loose Notes Removed from Statements and Auditors' Reports, Minutes, Statements and Auditors' Reports, and Other Records. There are contracts with authors, publishers, and editors, as well as with Helen and Kurt Wolff, the latter dating from 1942-59. Financial records include bi-annual statements and auditors' reports for the years 1948-1960. Statments provide a running summary on the assets, liabilities, profits, losses, and royalties of domestic and foreign accounts.

Other Papers, also housed in box 53, is arranged alphabetically by type of material. Noteworthy records here include lists of book and manuscript submissions, lists of Pantheon titles, and material relating to European trips and book projects.

Series IV, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Papers , is organized into three subseries: Writings, Financial and Legal Papers, and Other Papers.

Writings, housed in boxes 54-64, is arranged alphabetically first by author and then by title. Materials include drafts, marked printed versions of foreign and non-English language editions, reader reports, printed publicity and reviews, photographs, and lists. There are corrected drafts of manuscripts by Bryher, Günter Grass, Uwe Johnson, Henri Michaux, and others. There is also a corrected typescript draft of Anne Morrow Lindbergh's introduction to Saint-Éxupery's Wartime Writings, 1939-1944. In many cases only clippings are present. There are clippings for popular Harcourt titles by Italo Calvino, Umberto Eco, Grass, Amoz Oz, and Georges Simenon, as well as for books by Giorgio Bassani, Tahar Ben Jelloun, Max Frisch, Ryszard Kapuscinski, György Konrád, Stanislaw Lem, Jan Morris, and Boris Pasternak. There are also a number of reader reports by Helen Wolff and others.

In the Writings series titles are usually identified by their English language title only. Original titles are noted when drafts or marked printed versions of earlier editions are present, as is the case for Uwe Johnson's Anniversaries, first published as Jahrestage, and when reviews or reader reports refer to the foreign language edition. Most titles represented in the series were published by Harcourt, though there appear to be a few manuscripts and reader reports for rejected books and manuscripts. See, for example, Arno Schmidt's Republica Intelligentsia. The bulk of the writings date from the 1980s.

Financial and Legal Papers, housed in boxes 65-66, is subdivided for Contracts, Royalty Statements, and Other Records. There are contracts, chiefly photocopies, with authors, publishers, and translators. Helen and Kurt Wolff's contracts with Harcourt date from 1961-83. The Royalty Statements provide bi-annual breakdowns for royalties for the years 1981-93 for Harcourt publications and subsidiary agreements. The statements for Harcourt publications provide the following: "Helen and Kurt Wolff Book" titles, book price, number of copies sold, amount received, royalty rate, and amount payable. The statements for subsidiary agreements provide: title, author, number of copies sold, and amount payable.

The Other Papers subseries, housed in boxes 67-68, includes subdivisions for Manuscripts, Translation Project records, and Other Papers. There are three notebooks, arranged chronologically, identifying manuscripts under consideration in the early 1960s. The notebooks identify author, title, publisher, agent, reader and, in some cases, additional notes regarding correspondence, the decision on whether or not to publish, and terms. The Translation Project consists of correspondence, evaluations, and translation samples for applications to a program sponsored by the National Endowment for the Arts in 1983. The Other Papers subseries is arranged alpbabetically by type of material and includes publication lists for Harcourt titles and reader reports by Helen Wolff and others.

Series V, Writings , housed in boxes 69-76, is organized into three subseries: Writings of Kurt Wolff, Writings of Helen Wolff, and Writings of Others.

The Writings of Kurt Wolff, housed in boxes 69-72, is organized into sections for Radio Broadcasts and Other Writings and arranged alphabetically by title within these sections. In general, the writings consist of essays on writers and publishing. The radio broadcasts, conducted in the early 1960s with the "Norddeutscher Rundfunk Nachtprogramm," "Bayerischer Rundfunk," and "Westdeutscher Rundfunk Kulturelles Wort," include essays on Carl Sternheim, Franz Kafka, Karl Kraus, Andreas Lou-Salomé, and Expressionism. The essays include background materials, research notes, and corrected holograph and typescript drafts. The Other Writings section includes additional essays on Boris Pasternak, Rabindranath Tagore, and publishing. Many of these essays appeared posthumously in journals and in German and English language compilations, Autoren, Bücher, Abenteuer (Berlin: Wagenbach, 1965) and Kurt Wolff: A Portrait in Essays and Letters (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991).

The Writings of Helen Wolff, housed in box 73, is arranged alphebetically by title. There are corrected typescript drafts of articles on publishing and translating and several drafts of commemorative reminiscences on authors, friends, and colleagues, including Heimito von Doderer, Hannah Arendt, Uwe Johnson, Heinrich Scheffler, Georges Simenon, and Richard Winston.

The Writings of Others, housed in boxes 74-76, is arranged alpbabetically first by author and then by title. The subseries consists chiefly of clippings of printed versions of articles, though there are holograph and typescript drafts of writings by Amyas Ames, Melville Cane, Victor Emil Freiherr von Gebsattel, Friedrich Gundolf, and others.

Series VI, Subject Files , housed in boxes 77-79, is organized into two subseries: Individual and Organizations, and Topics. The files consist chiefly of clippings and printed ephemera on writers and publishers. Clippings include interviews, articles of general interest, brief mentions, obituaries, and publicity and reviews for titles not published by Kurt and Helen Wolff. Publicity and reviews for foreign editions of books published by Pantheon or Harcourt, such as a British edition of an English language translation, are included with the writings for the author in the Pantheon or Harcourt series. Printed ephemera includes publisher's newsletters, catalogs, and commemorative material. In addition, there is some biographical information on authors and notes. Photocopies of clippings are prevalent in this series and, for this reason, copies have not been noted in the box list. Clippings are chiefly in English and German, with some French and Italian.

Series VII, Personal Papers , housed in box 80, is arranged alphabetically by type of material. There are various printed materials, such as brochures and programs, business cards and addresses, clippings, publicity, and catalogs, including the Katalog der Incunabeln-Sammlung Kurt Wolff dating from 1926. Other noteworthy records here include a portrait of Kurt Wolff by Max Ludwig and commemorative material relating to awards honoring Helen Wolff.

Series VIII, Additional Material , housed in boxes 90-91, consists of collection material found following the completion of processing in 2007. There is additional correspondence, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich papers, writings, subject files, and personal papers.

Oversize material, housed in boxes 81-83, includes items from Series II through Series VII. Restricted Fragile Papers and Restricted Fragile Oversize are housed in boxes 84-88 and 89 respectively.

Dates

  • 1888 - 1994

Creator

Language of Materials

Chiefly in German and English; some materials in French and Italian.

Conditions Governing Access

The materials are open for research.

Box 84-89: Restricted fragile material. Reference surrogates have been substituted in the main files. For further information consult the appropriate curator.Restricted Fragile material may only be consulted with the permission of the appropriate curator. Preservation photocopies for reference use have been substituted in the main files.

Conditions Governing Use

The Helen and Kurt Wolff Papers are the physical property of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University. Literary rights, including copyright, belong to the authors or their legal heirs and assigns. For further information, consult the appropriate curator.

Immediate Source of Acquisition

The Helen and Kurt Wolff Papers were acquired through gifts from Christian Wolff in 1996 and 2003.

Associated Materials

Material related to Kurt Wolff acquired through purchase in 1947 is located in the Kurt Wolff Archive (YCGL MSS 3).

Extent

41.71 Linear Feet (91 boxes, including 4 oversize boxes)

Catalog Record

A record for this collection is available in Orbis, the Yale University Library catalog

Persistent URL

http://hdl.handle.net/10079/fa/beinecke.wolffhk

Overview

The Helen and Kurt Wolff Papers consist of correspondence, manuscripts, printed material, and personal papers documenting the professional lives of Helen and Kurt Wolff through their affiliations with Kurt Wolff Verlag, Pantheon Books, and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich.
Series I, Correspondence, consists predominantly of professional correspondence with authors, publishers, and translators, though correspondence can also be found with friends, editors, literary agents, periodicals, and organizations. There are authors' files for Joy Adamson, Hermann Broch, Max Frisch, Günter Grass, Julien Green, Donald Harington, Uwe Johnson, Carl Gustav Jung and his editor Aniela Jaffé, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Konrad Lorenz, Jan Morris, Iris Origo, Amos Oz, Boris Pasternak, and Georges Simenon. Other noteworthy files exist for Hannah Arendt, Kurt von Faber du Faur, and translator Ralph Manheim. In addition to correspondence with various European publishers, there are large files of internal Pantheon Books and Harcourt Brace Jovanovich correspondence, and with individual colleagues, including William Jovanovich, Kyrill Schabert, and Wolfgang Sauerländer.
Series II, Kurt Wolff Verlag, consists of a small group of chiefly printed ephemera, as well as a list of KWV titles. Series III, Pantheon Books Papers, is subdivided for writings, financial and legal documents, and other papers. There are drafts of manuscripts, including corrected typescript carbons of Jung's Memories, Dreams, Reflections, marked printed versions of non-English language editions, reader reports, and printed publicity and reviews. Financial and legal documents include contracts, minutes, and statements and auditors' reports. Other papers include lists of Pantheon titles from 1946-1961.
Series IV, Harcourt Brace Jovanovich Papers, is subdivided for writings, financial and legal documents, and other papers. Materials include drafts, marked printed versions of non-English language editions, reader reports, printed publicity and reviews, photographs, and lists. There are corrected drafts of manuscripts by Bryher, Günter Grass, Uwe Johnson, Anne Morrow Lindbergh, Henry Michaux, and others. Financial records include contracts and royalty statements from 1981-1993.
Series V, Writings, is subdivided for the wiritings of Kurt Wolff, Helen Wolff, and others. There are several essays by Kurt Wolff on writers and publishing that appeared as radio broadcasts in the early 1960s. Subjects include Expressionism, Carl Sternheim, Franz Kafka, Karl Kraus, Lou Andreas-Salomé, and Franz Werfel. The writings of Helen Wolff include corrected typescript drafts of articles on publishing and translating and drafts of commemorative reminiscences on authors, friends, and colleagues, including translator Richard Winston. The writings of others include clippings and printed versions of articles.
Series VI, Subject Files, consists chiefly of clippings on writers and publishers and Series VII, Personal Papers, consists chiefly of printed ephemera.

HELEN WOLFF (1906-1994) and KURT WOLFF (1887-1963)

Helen and Kurt Wolff were involved with publishing for most of the 20th century. Kurt Wolff established the Kurt Wolff Verlag in Leipzig in 1913 and Pantheon Casa Editrice in Florence in 1924 and, after immigrating to the U.S. in 1941, Kurt and Helen established Pantheon Books in New York in 1942 and the "Helen and Kurt Wolff Book" imprint with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich in 1961. Kurt Wolff died in an automobile accident in 1963 and Helen Wolff continued at Harcourt until her death in 1994.

Summary information on Kurt and Helen Wolff is available in the standard print and online biographical resources. A biographical sketch of Kurt Wolff is available in the Kurt Wolff Archives (YCGL MSS 3), and a profile of Helen Wolff is available in the August 1982 issue of The New Yorker. More detailed information may be found in Kurt Wolff's Autoren, Bücher, Abenteuer: Betrachtungen und Erinnerungen eines Verlegers (1965), Briefwechsel eines Verlegers, 1911-1963 (1966), and Kurt Wolff: A Portrait in Essays & Letters (1991).

The following chronology provides dates for key events and publications:

1887 March 3, Kurt Wolff born in Bonn, Germany to Dr. Leonhard Wolff and Maria Marx

1906 July 27, Helen Mosel born in Ueskueb, Macedonia to Louis Mosel and Josephine Fischhof

1909 Kurt Wolff joins Ernst Rowohlt Verlag

1913 Kurt Wolff establishes Kurt Wolff Verlag in Leipzig

1919 Kurt Wolff Verlag moves to Munich

1924 Kurt Wolff establishes Pantheon Casa Editrice in Florence

1927 Helen Mosel works at Kurt Wolff Verlag

1933 March 28 Kurt Wolff and Helen Mosel marry

1933-35 Live in Nice, France

1935-39 Live on farm outside Florence

1939 Move to Paris

1940 Move to New York

1941 Establish Pantheon Books in New York

1945 Publish The Death of Virgil by Hermann Broch

1955 Publish Gift from the Sea by Anne Morrow Lindbergh

1958 Publish Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak

1959 Move to Locarno, Switzerland

1961 Resign from Pantheon Books

1961 Launch "A Helen and Kurt Wolff Book" imprint with Harcourt Brace Jovanovich

1963 Kurt Wolff dies in automobile accident in Germany; Helen Wolff moves back to New York

1994 March 29 Helen Wolff dies

Processing Information

The Helen and Kurt Wolff Papers contain material formerly classed as Uncat ZG MS 12 and Uncat ZG MS 33.
Title
Guide to the Helen and Kurt Wolff Papers
Author
by Michael L. Forstrom
Date
2006
Language of description
Finding aid written in English

Revision Statements

  • 2010-02-10: Transformed with yale.addEadidUrl.xsl. Adds @url with handle for finding aid. Overwrites @url if already present.
  • 2007-08-13: beinecke.wolffhk.xml converted for compliance with Yale EAD Best Practice Guidelines with brbl-migrate-01.xsl (mr2007-08-13).
  • 2007-03-08: PUBLIC "-//Yale University::Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library//TEXT (US::CtYBR::::[HELEN AND KURT WOLFF PAPERS ])//EN" "wolffhk.xml" converted from EAD 1.0 to 2002 by v1to02.xsl (sy2003-10-15).

Repository Details

Part of the Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library Repository

Contact:
P. O. Box 208330
New Haven CT 06520-8330 US
(203) 432-2977