Many of you will be familiar with Victor Gollanczís last name. His publishing company printed some of the finest books of the 20th century - including The Road to Wigan Pier by George Orwell and Lucky Jim by Kingsley Amis - but there is also an intriguing story behind the man himself.
Gollancz (1893-1967) studied the classics at Oxford University and during World War I began his life in publishing when he joined Ernest Bennís firm where he made his name as a high flyer by recruiting writers like Edith Nesbit and H. G. Wells. In 1927, he set up his own publishing house and his career took off.
He signed up Orwell, Ford Madox Ford and Daphne Du Maurier. Orwell was particularly influential at this time, publishing Down and Out in Paris and London, A Clergyman's Daughter and Keep the Aspidistra Flying while with Gollancz.
Gollancz was ahead of this time. He placed full-page adverts for his books in newspapers (very rare for this period) and his designers established a recognizable style featuring powerful typography and yellow dust jackets. Gollancz was creating Ďbrandingí 50 years before marketers embraced the buzzword.
Gollancz sympathized with Communism and fell out with Orwell over the authorís Spanish Civil War account, Homage to Catalonia. He refused to publish the book and Orwell switched to Secker and Warburg, who went on to publish the authorís two most famous novels Ė Animal Farm and Nineteen Eighty-Four.
In 1936, Gollancz was a co-founder of the Left Book Club with the intention of halting the growth of Fascism in Europe and promoting socialism. Every month, Gollancz recommended a left-leaning book and members received the book for a discounted price of two shillings and six pence. The first selection was France Today and the People's Front by Maurice Thorez, a French Communist. The Left Book Club had 45,000 members within 12 months and hundreds of local groups met and debated the books up and down Britain. With Fascism defeated, the Left Book Club was closed down in 1948.
Gollancz also wrote himself and was a very active political campaigner. His 1943 pamphlet Let My People Go lobbied for the Allies to help the European Jews being exterminated by the Nazis in the occupied countries. During this period of time, where the existence of the Holocaust was not accepted by many of the Allied leaders, Gollancz worked ceaselessly for his fellow Jews.
And yet after World War II ended, Gollancz attempted to publicize the poor treatment of the Germans by the victors. He highlighted how German prisoners were kept in what were effectively concentration camps and allowed no more than 1000 calories per day. His 1946 book Our Threatened Values outlined the awful conditions faced by the defeated Germans.
The publisher was knighted in 1965. In 1998, Victor Gollancz Ltd was bought by Orion and it is now a science fiction and fantasy imprint. There appears to be only one biography of Gollancz penned by Ruth Dudley Edwards.