transition’s transitions through the 1920s & 30s

 

With names like Egoist, Blast & Gargoyle, the titles of little magazines rarely seemed to have much to do with what was in them. Little magazines are literary magazines of the early 20th century which can be defined as “a magazine designed to print artistic work which for reasons of commercial expediency is not acceptable to the money-minded periodicals or press.” [1] transition Literary Journal was one of these magazines, and was published from 1927-1938 in Paris for an English reading audience. The Simon Fraser University Library has three copies of transition, issues 7, 8 and 9, in their special collections. I chose to focus primarily on issue 7, although most research conducted is about the journal as a whole, or about the genre of little magazines. Initially, I was intrigued by transition’s size, as it differs greatly from traditional magazines, but as I looked further into the magazine it was clear little magazines can tell you a lot about the publishing industry in the early 1900’s. transition’s composition, the works inside and the history of its publication all tell a tale of who was reading and why the magazines struggled to stay afloat.

How did the magazine change through the 11 years it was published? Why did they stop publishing transition in 1938?

transition was founded by Eugene Jolas in 1927 and was published through 1938.  Quite a few little magazines had very short lives; both Secession and Gargoyle depended on the funds of their editors and sponsors; respectively each failed within eight issues and a year and a half of their inaugural issues. [2] transition had a very long life in comparison to many of the other little magazines of the 1920’s for several reasons. At the time (and oddly enough, this is similar to today) many Little Magazines relied on capital from other, wealthier, sources in order to begin, or possibly even finance, the whole project. [3]  It was not until, Jolas’s wife, Maria Jolas’s autobiography came out in 2004 that it was learned she was the financial backer for transition; her father had passed away in 1924 and left her financially independent, later making transition and her schooling possible. [4] It took 80 years for the truth to come out; it was never mentioned once between Jolas’s autobiography or Dougald McMillan’s full-length book about the magazine. [5] This fact does, however, explain part of why the transition went through three publishing phases. [6]

Originally, transition was published on a monthly basis from April 1927 to March 1928. The work which went in to proof-reading and translating the writing was time consuming and costly, as was gathering the material. Jolas decided it was necessary at this time to decrease publication frequency, and they then entered their second phase. [7]  In 1928 they began, with issue thirteen, publishing transition on a quarterly basis.  This phase lasted through eight issues total, two of which were double issues, before Jolas announced “With this number I bring to a close the direction of transition over a period of three years. I am now suspending the magazine indefinitely, as I can no longer afford the expenditure of time and labor necessary to its preparation.” [8]  Although he did not mention money, it is likely that this was a factor as well, especially with Black Tuesday having taken place eight months prior to his announcement.

The third phase for transition began in 1932, approximately two years after Jolas initially stopped publishing, as a “prospectus appeared for further numbers of the magazine, to be published by the Servire Press in The Hague.” [9] Only seven issues total were published between 1932 and 1938, although it had initially been expected that transition would be semi-annual. [10]  Jolas stopped translating texts in these later issues, eventually relocated to New York after a fall-out with Servire Press, and published several more issues sporadically before 1938. [11] Up until 1939, Jolas had been working to ensure the completion and publication of James Joyce’s Finnegan’s Wake, and amidst some drama in relation to payments for transition from the distributor, he seemed to lose his drive. No more issues were ever produced of the magazine. [12]

Where was the primary audience for transition located?

English language little magazines received some attention in Paris, which is where transition was published. In fact, many little magazines were published in Paris at this time by Expatriates. This is important for several reasons; first, it is estimated that post World War I, there were approximately 25,000 Americans in Paris. [13] Jolas was also a columnist for The Paris Tribune, where French, German and English little magazines were reviewed. transition issue one was reviewed in The Paris Tribune as well, with two reviews of differing opinions;

(transition) was commended in one review by Robert Sage, the future co-editor of transition: ‘this new literary magazine is joyfully devoid of gags and shackles,’; but belittled in another, entitled ‘A Transitional Phenomenon’ by Alex Small: ‘Here is the most ambitious effort of the young, and, in the usual sense, most unsuccessful writers of the exiles. [14]

Yet, with all these reviews and talk of the magazine in Paris, the primary audience for transition was wealthy Americans. Out of all “the expatriate little magazines transition received most attention in the US press… transition was quite frequently discussed and made fun of in the news, as the latest example of unintelligible modernist writing.” [15] Jolas, however, used the press to his advantage and in issue seven, the one I am using for this paper, he put a number of reviews in the magazine with the heading “Advertisements.” He then took quotes from some of the reviews and gave them witty titles. An example from page 172 is found below; [15]

Who was the primary audience for transition? What was circulation?

The audience for transition can be determined through several different qualities the magazine had, such as the quality of the paper and how it was circulated, the authors featured, and also the types of ads and art featured in the magazine. The audience for transition was fairly small, as they had circulation of no more than 4,000 copies of any issue, and paid subscriptions never exceeded 1,000 copies. [16] Certain little magazines were clearly of high production value, with eye-catching colours on the covers and high quality paper. transition had high quality paper and high production value, and it was also being sold as a collector’s item very early on. [17] For instance, the first twelve issues were sold as a “limited number of transition sets for 1.50fr or $6.00 unbound plus postage.” [18]  With today’s inflation on the American dollar, this would be $84.71 in 2017. [19] And after the first set was sold, a second set of the first twelve issues was sold at an even higher price than originally with the message: “MOST MAGAZINES ARE WORTHLESS A MONTH AFTER THEIR APPEARANCE. TRANSITION IS THE ONE REVIEW WHOSE BACK NUMBERS INCREASE CONTINUALLY IN VALUE.” This set cost 168 francs or $6.75.  [20] ($95.30 in 2017). [21]

transiton’s ads also help to tell the reader who the audience was. They were always for another publisher, an art gallery or a magazine. The audience for transition were usually English speaking people with enough money not only for literary magazines, but also perhaps enough income to be buying art, or many books. [22] Little magazines also had the nickname “expatriate little magazines” attached to them, as they were produced by people living outside of the US and portrayed an image of travel, leisure activities, art and collecting.  [23] While transition did not feature these types of ads, they were appealing to the same class of people as many of the other little magazines.

  • How was material chosen to be put in the magazine? What famous works and authors were first published in transition? 

Editors of little magazines already had extensive literary networks, but they also needed to ensure they were keeping up social activities in order to secure well-known authors for the magazine. Jolas felt “Editing the review seemed to entail such an alarming amount of social activity that we decided to look for a place outside the capital, preferably well in the country,” [24] presumably just to get anything done. Having celebrity names behind the writing, such as Georgia Stein and James Joyce helped to add credibility to transition and encouraged more reviews of the magazine, and better readership. transition also serialized texts, such as Joyce’s Work in Progress which Jolas later helped him publish as Finnegan’s Wake. [25] This was perhaps the most well-known book ever published in transition. Other credible authors featured were Ernest Hemingway (Three StoriesHills like White Elephants), Kay Boyle (Polar Bears and Others), Samuel Beckett (Assumption, For Future Reference), H.D. (Gift, Psyche, Dream, No, Socratic), and many others. transition also had a small art section in each issue, and Pablo Picasso was one of the most famed artist to ever be featured. [26]

Works Cited:

[1] Bernabas, Simon G. “American Little Magazines of the 1920s and – 1930s – An Introduction.” Language in India 12, no. 1 (January 2012): 589–607.

[2] Rydsjö, Celia Aijmer, and AnnKatrin Jonsson. “Making It News: Money and Marketing in the Expatriate Modernist Little Magazine in Europe.” Journal of European Periodical Studies 1, no. 1 (July 5, 2016): 71.

[3] Aijmer Rydsjö, Celia, and AnnKatrin Jonsson. Exiles in Print : Little Magazines in Europe, 1921-1938. Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften, 2015. http://site.ebrary.com.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/lib/sfu/reader.action?docID=11139541.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Monk, Craig. “The Weight of Forty-Four Pounds: Commercial Publishing Houses and Transition Magazine in the 1930s.” American Periodicals: A Journal of History & Criticism 25, no. 1 (2015): 80–93.

[7] Ibid.

[8] Ibid.

[9] Ibid.

[10] Ibid.

[11]  Monk, Craig. “Eugene Jolas and the Translation Policies of Transition.” Mosaic : A Journal for the Interdisciplinary Study of Literature; Winnipeg 32, no. 4 (December 1999): 17–34.

[12] Monk, Craig. “The Weight of Forty-Four Pounds: Commercial Publishing Houses and Transition Magazine in the 1930s.” American Periodicals: A Journal of History & Criticism 25, no. 1 (2015): 80–93.

[13]  ed. by Geoffroy, Christine and Richard Sibley. “’Brits and Americans in Paris: From Travelling Elite to Foreign Colonies 1855–1937’, in Going Abroad: Travel, Tourism, and Migration: Cross-Cultural Perspectives on Mobility.” Newcastle: Cambridge Scholars (2007): 13–27.

[14] Rydsjö, Celia Aijmer, and AnnKatrin Jonsson. “Making It News: Money and Marketing in the Expatriate Modernist Little Magazine in Europe.” Journal of European Periodical Studies 1, no. 1 (July 5, 2016): 71.

[15] Jolas, Eugene. Transition Literary Journal. Vol. 7, 1927.

[16] Leick, Karen. “Popular Modernism: Little Magazines and the American Daily Press.” PMLA 123, no. 1 (2008): 125-39. http://www.jstor.org.proxy.lib.sfu.ca/stable/25501831.

[17] Rydsjö, Celia Aijmer, and AnnKatrin Jonsson. “Making It News: Money and Marketing in the Expatriate Modernist Little Magazine in Europe.” Journal of European Periodical Studies 1, no. 1 (July 5, 2016): 71.

[18] Ibid.

[19] “Calculate the Value of $1 in 1929.” Accessed February 24, 2017. http://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/inflation.php?amount=1&year=1929.

[20] Rydsjö, Celia Aijmer, and AnnKatrin Jonsson. “Making It News: Money and Marketing in the Expatriate Modernist Little Magazine in Europe.” Journal of European Periodical Studies 1, no. 1 (July 5, 2016): 71.

[21] “Calculate the Value of $1 in 1929.” Accessed February 24, 2017. http://www.dollartimes.com/inflation/inflation.php?amount=1&year=1929.

[22] Rydsjö, Celia Aijmer, and AnnKatrin Jonsson. “Making It News: Money and Marketing in the Expatriate Modernist Little Magazine in Europe.” Journal of European Periodical Studies 1, no. 1 (July 5, 2016): 71.

[23] Ibid.

[24] Ibid.

[25] Ibid.

[26] “Literary Magazine.” Wikipedia, January 15, 2017. https://en.wikipedia.org/w/index.php?title=Literary_magazine&oldid=760108458.

 

One Reply to “transition’s transitions through the 1920s & 30s”

  1. Intriguing! You’re going to find a TON of scholarship on little magazines of the early twentieth century, so you may find it useful to keep narrowing your questions as you learn more about this topic. People discuss the materiality and design of little magazines, the intellectual networks produced through their pages, the politics of their editorial practices, their self-positioning in relationship to mainstream publishing, and more. I encourage you to find a way into this big research area via stuff that really interests YOU about the history of magazine publishing.

    As for the re-publication piece, I would push you to think more broadly about what might be entailed in recirculating ‘transition.’ Is content the only thing you can recirculate? What about form? Politics? Publics? And if you DO want to recirculate content, what other media might it work in? Don’t limit yourself prematurely to idea of digitizing or reissuing the magazine. Maybe think instead about what kinds of publishing you’d like to experiment with!

Leave a Reply