Wolff, Kurt, 1887-1963

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Kurt Wolff had been Franz Werfel's publisher from 1912 to 1923. Helen Wolff (née Mosel) was Kurt's second wife. Helen and Kurt were good friends of Alma Mahler and Franz Werfel. The Wolffs, together with their son, Christian, emigrated to the U.S. in 1940 or 1941.

From the description of Correspondence to Alma Mahler and Franz Werfel, ca. 1941-1963. (University of Pennsylvania Library). WorldCat record id: 155864842

Kurt Wolff, publisher, was born in Germany; he established Kurt Wolff Verlag in 1913 and Pantheon Books in 1942.

From the description of Kurt Wolff archive, 1907-1938. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 702131707

In writing about Kurt Wolff shortly after the purchase of his early papers in 1947, Curt von Faber du Faur, curator of the Yale Collection of German Literature, had this to say about his old friend:

"Not every literary generation enjoys the privilege and the benefits of

being fostered by an ideal type of publisher, who in one person

combines great business acumen with broad scholarship and the requisite

love of the fine arts; who carries in his heart a great spiritual

tradition which enhances his judgment and sharpens his skills to detect

the true values in the present and preserve them for the future. In

the Germany of recent years this ideal was personified by Kurt Wolff.

During the second and third decades of the present century he gathered

about himself virtually all the leading spirits of the younger

generation of authors. Most of the outstanding names of this period

passed through the portals of his publishing house to recognition and

fame; or at least felt themselves honored to have gained the renown of

his imprint for one or more of their works. There was scarcely an

author who failed to correspond with this keen-visioned publisher who

so soon gained for himself the reputation of a tried and true sponsor

to his literary friends. It is for this reason that the literary

archives of the firm Kurt Wolff, recently acquired by the Library,

contain in fact the epistolatory heritage of the spiritual center of

the Germany of that period. (YULG 23:1, 1948, 25)

Kurt Wolff was born in 1887 in Bonn, into a musical household where Brahms was a frequent guest. His first activities as a publisher date from around 1909, when he was studying German literature at Leipzig. There he joined Ernst Rowohlt's fledgling publishing firm, which had been founded the year before. Office space was rented from the Offizin W. Drugulin, well-known for its bibliophile productions. A close relation quickly sprang up between the two firms; the Drugulin Drucke series was in fact overseen by Kurt Wolff.

Rowohlt left the firm in 1912; he joined the S. Fischer Verlag and subsequently established his own publishing house after World War I. In 1913 Wolff changed the name of the old Rowohlt Verlag, of which he was now sole proprietor, to the Kurt Wolff Verlag. When Wolff was called up for military service during the war, the operation was capably run by Georg Heinrich Meyer, many of whose letters will be found among the Yale papers. Wolff returned in 1916.

These early years of the Kurt Wolff Verlag were marked by rapid expansion, undoubtedly due to Wolff's ability to seek out and attract interesting authors and Meyer's genius for advertising. There were highly successful series, such as Der jüngste Tag, 86 volumes of which appeared between 1913 and 1921. A close connection was established with the Verlag der weissen Bücher, which published the influential literary periodical Die weissen Blätter . In 1917, both the Verlag der weissen Bücher and the Hyperion Verlag were acquired by Wolff. A survey of the author list in this register will demonstrate the truth of Faber's statement, cited above, that Wolff was able during these years to gather to himself the leading spirits of the day. There were Expressionists (Benn, Heym, Toller, Trakl), Dadaists (Ball, Hülsenbeck, Tzara), and, presaging Kurt Wolff's interest in art publishing, a number of artists (Gauguin, Grosz, Klee, Kokoschka, Kollwitz, Kubin, Masereel). Correspondence with numerous prominent literary figures is to be found in Kurt Wolff's files: Gerhart Hauptmann, Hesse, Kafka, Karl Kraus, Else Lasker-Schüler, Heinrich and Thomas Mann, Rilke, Werfel, and Wedekind, to name just a few. Nor is the list strictly German, for the collection contains letters by such writers as Gorky, James Joyce, Rabindranath Tagore, and H. G. Wells.

After the war, Kurt Wolff turned more and more toward publishing collected editions rather than new works, toward art publishing, and to the pursuit of his bibliophile interests. In 1920 a close connection with the Ernst Ludwig Presse in Darmstadt was established, and in 1924 Kurt Wolff founded the Pantheon Casa Editrice in Florence, with Hans Mardersteig of the Officina Bodoni as guiding light to the new enterprise.

In 1930, in the wake of personal stress (overwork and divorce) and business difficulties, Kurt Wolff withdrew from publishing. Between 1933 and 1935 he lived in Nice, where a son, Christian, was born to him and his second wife, Helen Mosel. In 1935 the family acquired a farm outside Florence, where they began an experiment in self-sufficiency. In 1939 they moved to Paris. Although the ensuing political events split the family temporarily (Kurt Wolff was incarcerated briefly, the child was sent to the safety of a convent school at La Rochelle), they managed to reunite themselves, escape across the Spanish border, and immigrate to the United States in 1940.

One of Kurt Wolff's principal advisors and supporters in the United States was the curator of Yale's German Literature Collection, Curt von Faber du Faur. Faber offered Kurt Wolff $7,500 as a kind of matching grant: Wolff was to raise an equal amount in order to establish himself anew in business. This he did: Pantheon Books was founded in 1942, at first on the proverbial shoestring but soon attaining a large measure of success. Kurt Wolff had the good fortune to meet Paul Mellon, for whom he published the well-known Bollingen Series. Best-sellers followed: Anne Morrow Lindbergh's Gift from the Sea and the American edition of Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago (1958), for instance. Books like Broch's The Death of Virgil (1945), while undoubtedly not financial successes, showed Wolff's continuing dedication to what he deemed to be worthwhile and timely literature.

In 1959 Helen and Kurt Wolff moved to Locarno. By 1961, however, it proved too difficult to manage the firm from abroad, and they resigned from Pantheon Books, which was acquired by Random House. William Jovanovitch subsequently proposed to the Wolffs that they should oversee a special imprint within Harcourt, Brace, Jovanovitch. The proposal was accepted, but not long after the launching of Helen and Kurt Wolff Books, Kurt Wolff was tragically run down and killed by a truck during a visit to Germany in 1963. Helen Wolff continued with Harcourt, Brace, and Jovanovitch until her retirement, overseeing Helen and Kurt Wolff Books until her death in 1994.

From the guide to the Kurt Wolff archive, 1907-1938, (Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn Broch, Hermann, 1886-1951. Hermann Broch archive, 1872-1990 (inclusive) 1930-1951 (bulk). Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Rowohlt, Ernst, 1887-1960. Correspondence with Franz Werfel, 1912-1913. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Wolff, Helen, 1906-1994. Helen and Kurt Wolff papers, 1888-1994. Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Alfred Schutz papers, 1925-1979 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Kahler, Erich, 1885-1970. Erich (Von) Kahler papers, 1906-1968. University at Albany, University Libraries
referencedIn Hermann Broch archive, 1872-1990s, 1930-1951 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Kurt von Faber du Faur Papers, 1923-1966 Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
referencedIn Faber du Faur, Curt von, 1890-1966. Kurt von Faber du Faur papers, 1923-1966. Stanford University. Department of Special Collections and University Archives
creatorOf Unruh, Fritz von, 1885-1970. Correspondence with Alma Mahler and Franz Werfel, 1914-1959. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Baynes, Cary F. Cary F. Baynes papers, 1952-1974. Library of Congress
creatorOf Kraus, Karl, 1874-1936. Correspondence from Franz Werfel, 1911-1916. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
creatorOf Pantheon Books. Letters, 1943-1964, to Lewis Mumford. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Hannah Arendt Papers, 1898-1977, (bulk 1948-1977) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
creatorOf Wolff, Kurt, 1887-1963. Kurt Wolff archive, 1907-1938. Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn George Grosz papers, 1893-1981 (inclusive) 1919-1959 (bulk). Houghton Library.
referencedIn Henel, Heinrich. Heinrich Henel papers, 1929-1966. Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Kurt Wolff Verlag. Correspondence : with Franz Werfel, 1912-1938. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
referencedIn Bollingen Foundation Records, 1927-1981, (bulk 1945-1973) Library of Congress. Manuscript Division
referencedIn Schuyler, Steven. Steven Schuyler papers relating to Kurt Wolff and Hermann Broch, 1943-1991. Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Schutz, Alfred, 1899-1959. Alfred Schutz papers, 1925-1979. Yale University, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
referencedIn Sachs, Paul J. (Paul Joseph), 1878-1965. Papers, 1903-2005. Harvard University Art Museum
referencedIn Bollingen Foundation. Bollingen Foundation records, 1927-1981 (bulk 1945-1973). Library of Congress
referencedIn Arendt, Hannah, 1906-1975. Hannah Arendt papers, 1898-1977 (bulk 1948-1977). Library of Congress
referencedIn Helen and Kurt Wolff papers, 1888-1994 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Kurt Wolff archive, 1907-1938 Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
creatorOf Wolff, Kurt, 1887-1963. Correspondence to Alma Mahler and Franz Werfel, ca. 1941-1963. University of Pennsylvania Libraries, Van Pelt Library
Role Title Holding Repository
Relation Name
correspondedWith Arendt, Hannah, 1906-1975. person
associatedWith Ball, Hugo, 1886-1927. person
correspondedWith Baynes, Cary F. person
associatedWith Becher, Johannes Robert, 1891-1958. person
associatedWith Benn, Gottfried, 1886-1956. person
associatedWith Blei, Franz, 1871-1942. person
correspondedWith Bollingen Foundation. corporateBody
associatedWith Borchardt, Rudolf, 1877-1945. person
associatedWith Broch, Hermann, 1886-1951. person
associatedWith Brod, Max, 1884-1968. person
associatedWith Brody, Daniel. person
associatedWith Brody, Daniel. person
associatedWith Dauthendey, Max, 1867-1918. person
associatedWith Edschmid, Kasimir, 1890-1966. person
associatedWith Eulenberg, Herbert, 1876-1949. person
associatedWith Faber du Faur, Curt von, 1890-1966. person
associatedWith Gauguin, Pola, 1883-1961. person
associatedWith Gorky, Maksim, 1868-1936. person
associatedWith Grosz, George, 1893-1959. person
associatedWith Gundolf, Friedrich, 1880-1931. person
associatedWith Hasenclever, Walter, 1890-1940. person
associatedWith Henel, Heinrich. person
associatedWith Hesse, Hermann, 1877-1962. person
associatedWith Heym, Georg, 1887-1912. person
associatedWith Huelsenbeck, Richard, 1892-1974. person
associatedWith Joyce, James, 1882-1941. person
associatedWith Kafka, Franz, 1883-1924. person
associatedWith Kahler, Erich, 1885-1970. person
associatedWith Kirchener, Ernst Ludwig, 1880-1938. person
associatedWith Klee, Paul, 1879-1940. person
associatedWith Kolb, Annette, 1870-1967. person
associatedWith Kollwitz, Käthe, 1867-1945. person
associatedWith Kraus, Karl, 1874-1936. person
associatedWith Kubin, Alfred, 1877-1959. person
associatedWith Kurt Wolff Verlag. corporateBody
associatedWith Kurt Wolff Verlag. corporateBody
associatedWith Kurt Wolff Verlag. corporateBody
associatedWith Landauer, Gustav, 1870-1919. person
associatedWith Lasker-Schüler, Else, 1869-1945. person
associatedWith Lichnowsky, Mechtilde, 1879-1958. person
associatedWith Mahler, Alma, 1879-1964. person
associatedWith Mann, Heinrich, 1871-1950. person
associatedWith Mann, Thomas, 1875-1955. person
associatedWith Mardersteig, Giovanni, 1892-1977. person
associatedWith Masereel, Frans, 1889-1972. person
associatedWith Meidner, Ludwig, 1884-1966. person
associatedWith Meyer, Georg Heinrich. person
associatedWith Meyer, Georg Heinrich. person
associatedWith Meyrink, Gustav, 1868-1932. person
associatedWith Mohrenwitz, Lothar. person
associatedWith Mühsam, Erich, 1878-1934. person
associatedWith Pantheon Books. corporateBody
associatedWith Pinthus, Kurt, 1886- person
associatedWith Puttkamer, Annemarie v. person
associatedWith Puttkamer, Annemarie v. person
associatedWith Rilke, Rainer Maria, 1875-1926. person
associatedWith Rolland, Romain, 1866-1944. person
associatedWith Rowohlt, Ernst, 1887-1960. person
associatedWith Sachs, Paul J. (Paul Joseph), 1878-1965. person
associatedWith Scheerbart, Paul, 1863-1915. person
associatedWith Schickele, René, 1883-1940. person
associatedWith Schutz, Alfred, 1899-1959. person
associatedWith Schuyler, Steven. person
associatedWith Schwabach, Erik Ernst. person
associatedWith Seiffhart, Arthur. person
associatedWith Seiffhart, Arthur. person
associatedWith Sternhelm, Carl, 1878-1942. person
associatedWith Tagore, Rabindranath, 1861-1941. person
associatedWith Toller, Ernst, 1893-1939. person
associatedWith Trakl, Georg, 1887-1914. person
associatedWith Tzara, Tristan, 1896-1963. person
associatedWith Unruh, Fritz von, 1885-1970. person
associatedWith Walser, Robert, 1878-1956. person
associatedWith Wassermann, Jakob, 1873-1934. person
associatedWith Wedekind, Frank, 1864-1918. person
associatedWith Wells, H. G(Herbert George), 1866-1946. person
associatedWith Werfel, Franz, 1890-1945. person
associatedWith Wolff, Helen, 1906-1994. person
associatedWith Wolfskehl, Karl, 1869-1948. person
associatedWith Zech, Paul, 1881-1946. person
associatedWith Zuckmeyer, Carl, 1896- person
associatedWith Zweig, Arnold, 1887-1968. person
associatedWith Zweig, Stefan, 1881-1942. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Germany
Subject
Publishers and publishing--Germany
Authors and publishing--Germany
Authors, German--Archives
Dadaism
Expressionism
Authors and publishing
Publishers and Publishing
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1887-03-03

Death 1963-10-21

Germans

German

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