Tag Archives: Norah Cordner James

From Hemingway to Lennon and back again…

I’ve spent the last several months slowly reading my way through The Letters of Ernest Hemingway: Volume 4. A friend of mine had sent me an article back in April 2020 that talked about some of the letters between Hemingway and his U.K. publisher, Jonathan Cape Publishing, contained in the book.

Jonathan Cape publishing was founded in London in 1921 by Herbert Jonathan Cape and his partner Wren Howard.  They would publish many notable and award winning authors, including: Robert Frost, Ian Fleming and James Joyce. The publishing house still exists today and is an imprint for Penguin/Random House.

In 1925, Jonathan Cape became Ernest Hemingway’s U.K. publisher and would publish the British editions of Hemingway’s In Our Time in 1926, followed by The Sun Also Rises, Men Without Women, A Farewell to Arms and Death in the Afternoon. But Hemingway was very open about his hatred of the publishing house’s namesake. Cape would often make edits and publish Hemingway’s works without asking the author’s permission, something Hemingway was very strict about. Once Hemingway was done writing and editing a book that was it. It was finished. Period. He hated changes of any sorts, especially when they tried to remove “dirty” works or rewrite scenes that were of the deeply intimate type. Many publishers, including his own would warn him that his books could be censored due to the questionable language, but he insisted that the words remain exactly as he wrote the or the whole story would go to hell.

On page 363 of The Letters of Ernest Hemingway dated 12 September 1930 from Ernest to Jonathan Cape, Ernest is busy discussing royalty payments & publishing details, along with his successful hunting expeditions (he was in Montana at the time) and writing his latest book. Paragraph 4 (out of 5) of the letter reads as follows:

With best wishes for the season, – it seems Christmas weather; snowing hard in the mountains – to you and to Mrs. Cape and, if you see her, to Norah James, and to Mr. Wren Howard-

Norah Cordner James worked for Jonathan Cape overseeing the advertising for his firm from 1921-1929. Though this is the only time in all the 5 volumes of Hemingway’s letters that Norah is mentioned, there is no doubt Hemingway would have known about her work at Cape, since he often would remark to his publisher how horribly Jonathan Cape was advertising his books, even insisting that certain ads were to be taken down or reworded.

Norah was born in Hampstead, England in September 1895, would go on to be famous author herself after leaving Jonathan Cape Publishing. Her first book, The Sleeveless Errand, garnered a lot of publicity when it was immediately banned in England for being obscene before it even hit the shelves in 1929.

In 1939, Norah wrote her autobiography – I Lived in a Democracy. In this book, she says her family moved to St. John’s Wood in 1912 when she was 17. They were the 5th family to occupy the house at 3 Abbey Road…or as it has come to be known – Abbey Road Studios. One particularly amusing story Norah tells about her time living in the house, goes like this: Once my father refused to leave his room for twenty-four hours and I caught Mother throwing little packages of sandwiches into his window from the window in the passage above.

The Cordner-James’ moved from Abbey Road in 1920 and there would be two more owners of 3 Abbey Road before Gramophone would purchase the 103 year old house on Friday, June 28, 1929 and turn it into a recording studio. On June 6, 1962, The Beatles – John, Paul, George and Ringo strolled through the doors for the very first time to audition for George Martin.

In 1964, while The Beatles were busy becoming the greatest band the world has ever known, their leader, John Lennon published his first book – In His Own Write. His publisher was Jonathan Cape.

 

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