William A. Bradley Literary Agency, 1923-1982

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French literary agency.

From the description of William A. Bradley Literary Agency Records 1909-1982. (Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center (HRC); University of Texas at Austin). WorldCat record id: 191957092

The William A. Bradley Literary Agency was founded by William A. Bradley and his wife, Jenny Serruys Bradley, circa 1923. At its height, it was the preeminent literary agency in Paris, representing major authors on both sides of the Atlantic, cultivating new talent, and bringing European literature to a larger American audience. Characterized by Gertrude Stein in The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas as the friend and comforter of Paris authors, William Bradley handled the majority of the Paris exiles in the 1920s and 1930s. The Bradleys influenced the shape of modern literature by taking risks on experimental writings at a time when both American and European publishers were hesitant to pursue new and different works.

William Aspenwall Bradley was born on February 8, 1878 in Hartford, Connecticut. He graduated from Columbia University in 1899 and received his masters degree from the same institution in 1900. Bradley began his own literary career in New York, reviewing books for the New York Times and writing a book about William Cullen Bryant for the English Men of Letters series. He was also a translator and well-known for his writings on Appalachian America, having spent most of 1913 in Kentucky with the artist Walter Jack Duncan on a commission from Harper's Magazine . He was art director and literary adviser to McClure, Phillips & Co., and was later associated with the Boston Herald, American Magazine, Delineator, and The University Press .

Born in Ménin, Belgium in 1886, Jenny Serruys was the daughter of a French textile mill owner. One of five children, she grew up with an English governess and in her teens studied English literature at the University of London. She began her literary associations in Paris soon after her schooling. During World War I she served as a nurse for the Red Cross at the front in Paris and lost her first fiancé, a Frenchman, to the war. Jenny helped to run a program called French Homes which arranged for American soldiers to spend their leaves as the guests of French households. It was under this program that she met William Bradley, who appeared at the Serruys's Paris home in 1918 when he was serving in the war. They were married in 1921 and started the agency soon after.

William Bradley (or "Bie" as Jenny and others affectionately called him) had initially secured a job as a European scout for Harcourt, Brace & Company, and later Macmillan & Co. With these contacts, the Bradleys were able to obtain options on French writers for the American firms they had contact with. Their relationship with Alfred and Blanche Knopf, whose publishing house was new at the time, allowed both parties to work together to make French literature available in the United States and vice versa. In 1926, William Bradley was awarded the Legion d'Honneur by the French government for his promotion of French literature both as an agent and a translator.

The Bradleys had a strong marriage, but they were not without tragedy: the couple had a daughter named Marianne, born in June of 1925, who passed away in September 1928 of unknown causes.

The William A. Bradley Literary Agency, situated at their home on the Ile-St. Louis at 18 Quai de Bethune, also served as a literary salon, where they entertained their many friends, including Ernest Hemingway, James Joyce, André Malraux, Gertrude Stein, Alice B. Toklas, and F. Scott Fitzgerald.

The Bradleys' most famous negotiation for a client was for the sale of The Autobiography of Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein's first successful publication. Stein's relationship with the Bradleys went sour over a misunderstanding concerning an American speaking tour in 1934, which she claimed she did not want to do. Stein and William Bradley sparred, and Stein eventually fired the Bradleys as her representatives.

Also notable were the Bradleys' tumultuous dealings with Henry Miller and his book Tropic of Cancer . While William and Jenny recognized Miller's work as genius, the controversial content of the novel made it nearly impossible for the Bradleys to secure an American publisher. The Bradleys persuaded Jack Kahane of Obelisk Press in Paris to accept the novel. Kahane was apprehensive, and it took nearly two years from the book's submission before it was published in September 1934. Bradley later incurred Henry Miller's anger when he suggested that Anaïs Nin should edit her diaries for publication. Miller was insulted that Bradley would suggest any material from Nin's diaries should be cut. Bradley returned Nin's diaries and continued to serve as her agent.

In addition to their close business and personal relationships with Alfred and Blanche Knopf, the Bradleys also had very close alliances with other important luminaries from the business side of the literary world. Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier, noted Paris booksellers, suggested that William and Jenny get to know an Irish author named James Joyce. Jenny Serruys (at that time she had not yet married Bradley) became a friend and quasi-patron of Joyce, loaning him a bed and table--the table upon which he completed Ulysses . Jenny's friendship with James Joyce eventually led to her 1950 translation of Joyce's The Exiles into French. Fellow literary agent Marion Saunders was also a constant source of professional information and camaraderie.

The Bradleys also served as liaisons between publishers and freelance translators and were responsible for maintaining foreign rights for authors in both North America and Europe. Most notably, the Bradley Literary Agency represented Margaret Mitchell's European and Canadian rights for Gone With the Wind, even after Mitchell's death in 1949. Some of Jenny's translators became her close friends, especially Mina Curtiss, who wrote books about Bizet and Proust, and Herma Briffault, the wife of author Robert Briffault.

William Bradley died unexpectedly on January 10, 1939. Within days of his death, Jenny resumed operation of the agency, retaining William A. Bradley as the firm's name. Soon after, Paris and the rest of Europe were in the throes of World War II, and Bradley's business slowed down considerably.

The business continued to flourish into the 1950s and 1960s, when Jenny Bradley represented such figures as James Baldwin, Blaise Cendrars, James Hadley Chase, Arthur C. Clarke, Richard Wright, John and Helen Erskine, Patricia Highsmith, and Jean Paul Sartre. When Jenny was not hard at work in Paris, she often vacationed at her home in Cap d'Antibes in the south of France, accompanied by her dog, Kertsch.

Jenny ran the agency until her death in 1983 at the age of ninety-seven.

From the guide to the William A. Bradley Literary Agency Records TXRC06-A20., 1909-1982, (The University of Texas at Austin, Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
creatorOf William A. Bradley Literary Agency Records TXRC06-A20., 1909-1982 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf William A. Bradley Literary Agency, 1923-1982. William A. Bradley Literary Agency Records 1909-1982. Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
creatorOf William A. Bradley Literary Agency Records TXRC06-A20., 1909-1982 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
associatedWith Alfred A. Knopf, Inc. corporateBody
associatedWith Bibesco, Marthe, 1886-1973 person
associatedWith Bibesco, Marthe, 1886-1973. person
associatedWith Boyle, Kay, 1902- person
associatedWith Bradley, Jenny Serruys. person
associatedWith Bradley, Jenny Serruys. person
associatedWith Bradley, William Aspenwall, 1878-1939 person
associatedWith Céline, Louis-Ferdinand, 1894-1961 person
associatedWith Charteris, Leslie, 1907- person
associatedWith Chase, James Hadley, 1906- person
associatedWith Clemenceau, Georges, 1841-1929 person
associatedWith Colette, 1873-1954 person
associatedWith Crowley, Aleister, 1875-1947 person
associatedWith Doyle, Arthur Conan, Sir, 1859-1930 person
associatedWith Dreiser, Theodore, 1871-1945 person
associatedWith Duncan, Isadora, 1877-1927 person
associatedWith Fitzgerald, F. Scott (Francis Scott), 1896-1940 person
associatedWith Ford, Charles Henri. person
associatedWith Ford, Charles Henri. person
associatedWith Ford, Ford Madox, 1873-1939 person
associatedWith G. P. Putnam's Sons. corporateBody
associatedWith Hall, Radclyffe. person
associatedWith Hall, Radclyffe. person
associatedWith Harper & Brothers. corporateBody
associatedWith Highsmith, Patricia, 1921- person
associatedWith Houghton, Mifflin and Company. corporateBody
associatedWith Huddleston, Sisley, 1883-1952 person
associatedWith Hugnet, Georges, 1906-1974 person
associatedWith Imbs, Bravig, 1904-1946 person
associatedWith Irish, William, 1903-1968 person
associatedWith Irish, William, 1903-1968. person
associatedWith J. B. Lippincott & Co. corporateBody
associatedWith J.B. Lippincott & Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Joyce, James, 1882-1941 person
associatedWith Knopf, Alfred A., 1892-1984 person
associatedWith Knopf, Blanche W., 1894-1966 person
associatedWith Lewis, Sinclair, 1885-1951 person
associatedWith Lifar, Serge, 1905- person
associatedWith Lifar, Serge, 1905-1986. person
associatedWith Macmillan & Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Macmillan & Co. corporateBody
associatedWith Miller, Henry, 1891- person
associatedWith Mitchell, Margaret, 1900-1949 person
associatedWith Nabokov, Vladimir Vladimirovich, 1899-1977 person
associatedWith Nijinsky, Romola de Pulszky. person
associatedWith Nijinsky, Romola de Pulszky. person
associatedWith Pound, Ezra, 1885-1972 person
associatedWith Random House. corporateBody
associatedWith Rouault, Georges, 1871-1958 person
associatedWith Sartre, Jean Paul, 1905- person
associatedWith Stein, Gertrude, 1874-1946 person
associatedWith Stravinsky, Igor, 1882-1971 person
associatedWith Toklas, Alice B. person
associatedWith Toklas, Alice B. person
associatedWith Waugh, Evelyn, 1903-1966 person
associatedWith Wright, Richard, 1908-1960 person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Authors, English--Correspondence
Authors, French--20th century
Literature, Modern--Translations
Publishers and Publishing
Publishers and publishing--France
Authors, American--20th century
Authors, English--20th century
Literary agents
Authors and publishers

Corporate Body

Active 1923

Active 1982





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