William A. Bradley Literary Agency

Authored By: Laurence Cossu-Beaumont

This Press profile is an edited excerpt from Laurence Cossu-Beaumont's article, "“They paved the Atlantic with books”: William and Jenny Bradley, literary agents and cultural passeurs across borders", Transatlantica [Online],  1| 2023 https://journals.openedition.org/transatlantica/?lang=en. For more information about the Bradley agency, see the full article on the Transatlantica website. 

The Bradley agency-a bridge between France and the United States-is a fascinating albeit neglected object of study. The exploration of the agency’s archival papers and correspondences helps trace a commercial, as well as intellectual route when it comes to literary and cultural exchanges. It also connects local spaces (the salons of the Left Bank or soirees on the Ile Saint-Louis) to global dynamics (the Atlantic crossings of people, books and ideas). The archives at the Harry Ransom Center (Austin, Texas) and the Institut Mémoire de l’Edition Contemporaine (IMEC, Caen, France) shed light on these two key scouts, negotiators, fiscal advisors, translators, and on the many tasks taken on by William and Jenny Bradley, two cultural intermediaries who have remained hidden behind the scenes in the decades they acted as literary agents.

Janet Flanner’s image of William Aspenwall Bradley (1878-1939) and Jenny Serruys Bradley (1886-­1983), “paving the Atlantic with books” accurately epitomizes the lifelong work of the French-American couple who founded the first literary agency in Paris in 1923.[1] Its long list of clients on both sides of the Atlantic included Henry Miller, Theodore Dreiser, Anita Loos, William Faulkner, Raymond Chandler, Richard Wright and Gertrude Stein, and Colette, Paul Valery, Andre Gide, Andre Malraux, Albert Camus and Antoine de Saint-Exupery, to name a few. But this does not suffice to capture the many contributions of the two agents to literary and cultural history and to the French-American relationship.

In France, the Bradley agency pioneered the institutionalization of a new intermediary in the author-publisher relation during the interwar period, at a time when the book industry was undergoing significant changes pertaining to the increased circulation of books in the French market. This took place in the context of the rise of recently established houses, founded at the beginning of the new century, such as Grasset (1907) and Gallimard (1911), that ushered in the era of best sellers-or in the words of Grasset “the era of the hundred thousand” copies. While Grasset’s access to recognition is remembered as being associated to his publishing of the French scandalous adultery passion narrated in Le Diable au corps by Raymond Radiguet (1923), the young publisher had, shortly before, engineered a publicity stunt with the publication of the French Canadian narrative of Maria Chapdelaine : récit du Canada frangais by Louis Hemon (1921), a posthumous novel and unexpected best-seller for Grasset (Mollier, 2015 309). Hemon is one of the French authors William Bradley brought to his business partner, Macmillan who published an English translation of Maria Chapdelaine the same year. In 1924, Macmillan subsequently published The Journal of Louis Hemon, negotiated and translated by William Bradley himself. In other words, Bradley served as the intermediary helping to consolidate the financial base of relatively young firms like Grasset, while simultaneously contributing to the business of American publishing houses.

The Bradleys’ sales volumes increased in the interwar years thanks to both more coordination amongst publishing companies (with purchasing centers and coordinated circuits of distribution) and more competition between them (Chartier and Martin, 1986; Mollier, 2008). In this context, several Parisian publishing houses, eager to find new authors, developed editorial collections devoted to foreign literature, notably those then managed by younger more innovative heads such as Fayard and Stock.[2] Unsurprisingly, the Bradley agency accompanied these ventures into English-speaking literature as the literary agent’s business gradually took on a larger scope. As of the early 1930s, Bradley acted not only as a scout for American publishers but just as much as an intermediary for the French publishers. The agency thus negotiated most of the significant transactions for Gallimard’s « Du monde entier » collection (1931), Fayard’s « Univers » series (1931) and Stock’s « Cabinet Cosmopolite » (1921). With more companies in the French environment, more foreign literature published and along with it, more authors to be attended to and more translations to be supervised, the intermediation of a literary agency like the Bradleys’ became more legitimate. Fayard’s « Univers » series was launched with two masterpieces, Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain (translated as La Montagne magique in 1931) and Theodore Dreiser An American Tragedy (translated as Une Tragedie americaine in 1932). While the former would actually become the Bradley agency’s client after the Second World War, the latter signed an exclusivity contract with William Bradley in 1932, whereby the agent received ten percent of his client’s revenues. The Paris agent secured a four-book contract for Dreiser with Fayard, an unheard of deal at the time, and a sizable 10,000 francs advance for An American Tragedy (Bradley). With Fayard, Bradley also negotiated Sinclair Lewis’s Elmer Gantry (1932), this time obtaining 6,000 francs.

This is only a sample of the transactions the Bradley agency was involved in during the interwar period within the competitive context of the domestic expansion of book markets and of the further acceleration of transatlantic literary exchanges (Kaestle and Radway). The Bradley archives also reflect the positioning of Paris as an international capital for English­ speaking artists. Expatriates James Joyce, Henry Miller and Gertrude Stein were indeed supported by the Bradleys for the writing of Ulysses (1924), Tropic of Cancer (1934) and The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas (1933), as well as for the publication of their masterpieces in English-in Paris for Joyce and Miller. Popular literature also came to be distributed through these new collaborative networks with Anita Loos’s Gentlemen Prefer Blondes being sold to Gallimard by Bradley on behalf the agency Curtis Brown.[3] With bilingual negotiations, came a rising number of partners, such as the author’s original agent and publisher interacting with their counterparts abroad, and the translator(s); and more complex money transfers and fiscal returns emerged. As a result, the need for a single and competent liaison became pressing and Bradley was both readily available and proactive. As a scout, translator, co-agent for publishers, sub-agent for agencies in New York and London (such as Curtis Brown), and agent for his own clients, Bradley grew a sizable business in the 1920s with little competition at home until Michel Hoffman founded his own agency in Paris in 1934 (Cottenet). Existing studies about literary agents and the networks they participated in show that the rise of the profession in nineteenth century Britain responded to similar conditions of modernization and internationalization of the publishing industry that are found for Bradley’s own trajectory and environment in interwar Paris (Barnes; Gillies; Joseph).

The Bradleys also provided financial and editorial support to some key figures of the Harlem Renaissance, such as James Baldwin and Claude McKay. Before the war, Claude McKay had been close to the Bradleys when he lived in France. Their editorial collaboration further testifies to the complex roots and routes of canonical African American pieces such as Banjo and to a mediation that took more than one form for the literary agent. In that instance, William Bradley was not just instrumental in bringing a book and series of books to a new audience and organizing the contracts, translation and promotion for the author outside of his linguistic and national realm. The itinerary of a celebrated Harlem Renaissance novel like Banjo started in Marseille, its genesis and publishing history reveal. Indeed, Bradley was insistent that McKay should do away with his project of a collection of short stories to focus on a novel. McKay subsequently turned one of the early short stories he had drafted into a full novel, Banjo. The business recommendation of the literary agent who was primarily concerned with his client’s contract opportunities with Harper and the work exchanges that ensued throughout 1927 and 1928 are thus part of the cross-border and cross-cultural meaning of Banjo, Bradley travelling South on numerous occasions to meet McKay and offering feedback on early versions, while securing a generous deal with Eugene Saxton at Harper. The transnational dimension of Banjo’s narrative has been delved into by literary scholars because of the encounters of African American and Caribbean characters on the shores of Marseille. But the Bradley-McKay correspondence further situates McKay’s 1920s œuvre within a mediating process that contributed to building publication trajectories across borders. In that sense, the Harry Ransom archival papers bring a new dimension to the “cultures in motion” that Book History can also contribute to mapping (Rodgers et al.)

In addition to their professional venture in the international publishing business, William and Jenny Bradley contributed to circulations of a different nature, also transatlantic, but unfolding in the smaller perimeter of Parisian salons. In a 1970 interview for a documentary on Gertrude Stein, Jenny Bradley is featured vividly recalling the early 1920s and Saturdays at Alice Toklas and Gertrude Stein’s, as well as her own soirees on the Ile Saint-Louis on Fridays (When This You See). She evokes Ernest Hemingway’s preposterous gaucherie in her chic salon, his hairy chest and open shirt, his “enormous feet” and heavy hiking boots on her coffee table. With other interviewees, such as Janet Flanner and French surrealist poet and publisher Georges Hugnet,[4] Jenny Bradley gives life to the ambiance at Gertrude Stein’s rue de Fleurus: Alice Toklas’s embroidered chairs uniquely designed by Picasso, Toklas’s exquisite sandwiches and most importantly the encounter between Stein and Hemingway.

There were some epics fights such as when, Jenny Bradley recounts, Stein telephoned William Bradley in the middle of the night so he would reach out to Hemingway on her behalf after she kicked him out. Nevertheless, the yet unpublished novelist was forever inspired by Stein (Hemingway). In return, working as an assistant editor for Ford Madox Ford, founder of the Transatlantic Review, Hemingway pushed for the publication of extracts from Stein’s The Making of Americans in the review (Stein 261-264). Ford, a dear friend of William Bradley’s, had set up shop on the Ile Saint-Louis too, 29 quai d’Anjou, at the same address as two other Paris-based English language publishing ventures: Contact Press, founded by Robert McAlmon and Three Mountain Press, founded by William Bird. The former printed Hemingway’s first ever publication, Three Stories and Ten Poems (1923) and the latter printed and published the collection In Our Time (1924). Hemingway’s narratives thus circulated in Paris, before Boni Liveright issued an augmented volume of the short stories in 1925 for the American market. Stein had also been supported by McAlmon for her publications (Making of Americans, 1925) and by William Bradley in her attempt to establish her own publishing house, Plain Editions, as an outlet for her oeuvre. The hardships of Gertrude Stein, who in the 1920s was only published within these Parisian modernist circles, would end in 1933 when William Bradley convinced Harcourt to publish The Autobiography of Alice B. Tolkas. The narrative became a best-seller that opened a path to stardom for Stein in her home country (Bradley).

The Bradleys thus not only served as intermediaries for publishers in a transatlantic business and as go-betweens for other literary agencies, but they were also the architects of social and artistic connections. While mostly invisible in the history of American expatriates in the interwar period and of modernist Paris, they appear, in the archival material, at the center of many artistic networks. As such, William Bradley can be viewed as homme double, a figure identified by Christophe Charle for the nineteenth-century intermediaries in the literary, theatre or art world. Their occupation as writers, critics, contributors and founders of reviews, theater directors, editorial directors, Charle argues, was an interface between the artistic sphere and the public (Charle, 1992). The Bradleys were also translators themselves and their professional legacy as agents and translators (of Paul Valery for William Bradley, of James Joyce or Israel Zangwill for Jenny Bradley) may be of interest for translation studies. Thus established as more than just utilitarian professionals and intermediaries within the industry, the Bradleys can be viewed as mediators between languages, between continents and cultures, between highbrow and middlebrow culture, allowing publishing obstacles to be unveiled and the border between art and society to be bridged.


[1] The Bradley Agency is considered the first literary agency in Paris although a few ventures had been launched in the nineteenth century such as the Agence generale de la Litterature started by George Sand’s secretary Emile Aucante. These were, however, short-lived and by no means international, and fell short of the Bradleys’ successful commercial endeavor (Mollier, 1988 411).

[2] The Librairie Artheme Fayard or Fayard had long been established in France (1857) but by the turn of the century it was run by the publishing family’s second generation whose idea it was to start « Univers », their foreign literature collection. Stock’s history was also rooted in eighteenth and nineteenth century acquisitions and family legacies, but the latest development in the interwar period was the 1921 purchase of the bankrupt house by Maurice Delamain and Jacques Boutelleau (known as Jacques Chardonne) who decisively turned to foreign literature with the collection « Cabinet Cosmopolite ».

[3] Gentlemen Prefer Blondes was first refused by Fayard in a 1926 letter to Bradley. The agent then successfully sold the novel, on behalf of the Curtis Brown literary agency, to Gallimard for yet another collection « Les Livres du Jour » (1928-1933), aimed at a more general public than Gallimard’s other highbrow series. The French translation, Les Hommes preferent les blondes (1928), remains the best-selling book in this collection. Robert Aron at Gallimard served as Bradley’s interlocutor for the 1927 negotiations of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and of its sequel But Gentlemen Marry Brunettes (Bradley).

[4] Georges Hugnet was one of the founders of the Editions de la Montagne. He translated and published Stein’s extracts from The Making of Americans (as La Fabrication des Americains, 1929) as well as Dix Portraits (translated with Virgil Thomson in 1930).

Works Cited

Barnes, James P. “Thomas Aspinwall: First Transatlantic Literary Agent.” The Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, vol. 78, no 3, 1984, p. 321‑31

Bradley, Jenny Serruys, et William Aspenwall Bradley. William A. Bradley Literary Agency: An Inventory of Its Records at the Harry Ransom Center. Austin: Harry Ransom Center. norman.hrc.utexas.edu/fasearch/findingAid.cfm?eadid=00300. Accessed March 11 2021

Charle, Christophe. “Le temps des hommes doubles”. Revue d’histoire moderne & contemporaine, vol. 39‑1, no 1, 1992, p. 73‑85.

Chartier, Roger, Henri-Jean MARTIN, eds. Histoire de l’édition française. Tome IV, Le livre concurrencé, 1900-1950. Paris: Promodis, 1986

Cottenet, Cécile. Literary Agents in the Transatlantic Book Trade: American Fiction, French Rights, and the Hoffman Agency. New York: Routledge, 2017

Flanner, Janet. “Letter from Paris.” The New Yorker, 9 February 1929

Gillies, Mary Ann. The Professional Literary Agent in Britain, 1880-1920. Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007

Hemingway, Ernest. A Moveable Feast: The Restored Edition. 1964. London: Arrow Books, 2009.

Joseph, Marrisa. Victorian Literary Businesses: The Management and Practices of the British Publishing Industry. Cham: Palgrave Macmillan, 2019.

Kaestle, Carl F., and Janice Radway, eds. A History of the Book in America. Volume 4, Print in Motion: the Expansion of Publishing and Reading in the United States (1880-1940). Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009.

Mollier, Jean-Yves. L’argent et les lettres : histoire du capitalisme d’édition (1880-1920). Paris: Fayard, 1988

Mollier, Jean-Yves. Édition, presse et pouvoir en France au XXe siècle. Paris: Fayard, 2008.

Mollier, Jean-Yves. Une autre histoire de l’édition française. Paris: La fabrique éditions, 2015.

Rodgers, Daniel T., Bhavani Raman, and Helmut Reimitz, eds. Cultures in Motion. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2014

Stein, Gertrude. The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1933