Panel: In the shadow of Maurice Edgar and Gaston — Forgotten mediators and literary canon(s) in the 20th century

deadline for submissions: 
January 17, 2022
full name / name of organization: 
53 ème Congrès de l’Association Française d’Études Américaines (AFEA)
contact email: 

As illustrated even recently by the French magazine America, the « special » relation between France and US literature is long-standing. In the World Republic of Letters (2004 for the English translation), Pascale Casanova developed the idea of Paris as a “Greenwich meridian” of world literature while emphasizing the importance of “[t]he great, often polyglot, cosmopolitan figures of the world of letters [who] act in effect as foreign exchange brokers, responsible for exporting from one territory to another texts whose literary value they determine by virtue of this very activity” (21). Described in such economic terms, the process of canonization in which these “exchange brokers” participate cannot be disconnected from the French literary and publishing fields where ‘brokers’ and professional publishing intermediaries interact. And yet, many of these intermediaries remain in the shadows. The case of William Faulkner, first acclaimed in Paris in the 1930s, before achieving fame in his home country a decade later, is perhaps the most famous – and mythical – example of the role the French literary and publishing fields played in canonizing US literature. Literary history, and publishers’ archives, reveal that this was the result of the combined work of his translator (Maurice Edgar Coindreau), his publisher (Gallimard), literary prescribers (Valéry Larbaud and André Malraux, who respectively authored the French prefaces to Sanctuary [1934] and As I Lay Dying [1933]); and eventually of critics, including Sartre who anointed Faulkner a genius, alongside novelists Dostoevsky, Kafka, Stendhal, and Dos Passos. Not as well known in this capacity, other “passeurs/ mediators” also worked at importing and canonizing Faulkner and countless other US authors—Michel Mohrt, for Gallimard’s Foreign Rights department, Jean Paulhan, one of Coindreau’s first contacts at the NRF in the early 1930s, or literary agent William A. Bradley, to name but a few. Viewing literature in the 20th century from historical and economic perspectives, this panel will seek to identify within the publishing world some of these forgotten French or expatriate mediators, their role in the canonizing of US literature in France, and possibly later in the United States, their interaction with one another, their influence on and role in local and transatlantic networks both in the French and US publishing fields. Inarguably, all did not “discover” authors, and in many cases, US canonization had in fact preceded, and led to, their importation to France. While a particular focus will be placed on publishers, editors (book, series, or review editors), critics, and literary agents, other professions will also be considered.

The organizers wish to bring together a diversified array of case studies, both in terms of the ethnicity and gender of authors and mediators, and of literary genre. Speakers are also encouraged to explore French print culture outside of Paris.

Proposals (abstract of 300 to 400 words + short bio-bibliography) are to be sent to Cécile Cottenet ( ) and Peggy Pacini ( no later than January 17th, 2022.