11 November 2007

Gerald Kersh. Jews Without Jehovah, 1934.

Gerald Kersh. JEWS WITHOUT JEHOVAH. Wishart & Co., London, 1934.

Current Selling Prices
$650-$1000 /£320-£500

Gerald Kersh's first book. London writer with a good and enthusiastic collector base, some of his books (esp the short stories) have fantasy elements and are noted in Bleiler. He lead a fairly rackety life, sometimes 'in the cush' from movie deals etc., but often broke or pursued by the taxman. We catalogued a small archive of of his letters and books (bought in auction at Godalming, Surrey in 2000)- the description gives some idea of the writer, it is written by our occasional cataloguer Martin Stone:
10 autographed letters, 26 typed signed letters and 1 telegram, with envelopes, 1000 words plus in toto, 1946 - 1965, London, Mexico, West Indies, and Canada, all to an infatuated female admirer (married). The first 11 letters unfold heated postal flirtation, with Kersh’s sometimes hesitant priapism occasionally bursting free: “Just received the lock (sic) of girdle of chastity - just you wait”; “Naturally you’re frustrated my lamb! Is such an elegantly - organised concatenation of flesh, blood, nerves and sensibilities made to caress itself in day - dreams”; “We’ll probably meet soon and make love to each other, or something” etc, etc.
Despite the primary carnal thrust of these letters, Kersh manages to discuss a number of other matters less at the forefront of his mind - a tussle with an octopus off Barbados, the sending of bogus billets - doux on dirty postcards to the editor of “The People”, who had published unflattering photos of him; his work in progress, problems with the taxman, etc. The final letter, 15 years later, has a more formal tone, although a carbon - copy of a long adulatory letter by his admirer makes clear she remains available.
Together with two original signed and inscribed photos, somewhat creased and worn, and three signed and inscribed books: Brain and Ten Fingers: Heinemann, 1944, 1st edition. Cloth rubbed and marked, good+ (amorous inscription.) Faces in a Dusty Picture: Heinemann, 1944, 2nd edition. Hinges cracked, cloth worn: about good only.An Ape, A Dog and a Serpent: Heinemann, 1945, 1st edition. Cloth worn at edges, damp spotted; good only. An amusing and illuminating archive of one of the prime-movers of the school of modern London proletarian realists - and a big lecher to boot. £500.'
It sold but not with alacrity. Born in 1911, Kersh began to write at the age of 8. After leaving school he worked as, amongst other things, a cinema manager, bodyguard, debt collector, fish & chip cook, travelling salesman, French teacher and all-in-wrestler all the while writing and attempting to get published. He finally managed to get his first novel 'Jews Without Jehovah' published in 1934 but in this autobiographical tale of growing up in an impecunious Jewish family in the East End of London he had not sufficiently concealed the identities of some of the characters and a member of his family sued for libel: as a result the book was quickly withdrawn and is now damned hard to find. He had more luck with his novel of the London underworld 'Night and the City' which was published in 1938 and has been filmed twice, most notably with Richard Widmark in 1950 although there is also a 1992 version with Robert de Niro in the lead role. It contains many memorable characters like Lipsky, Liquid Finger, Phil Nosseross, Anna Siberia, Adam the sculptor, and Figler, whose notebook carries “a lifetime of tortuous research in the snake haunted hinterland of questionable commerce… a kind of Kabbalah of buying and selling”. The Jewish Chronicle notes 'Kersh’s creations almost resemble Sholem Aleichem’s, but are far darker in hue.'

VALUE? No copies on the web at present, they are said to go through Ebay now and then and are possibly traded amongst enthusiasts without dealers being involved. Xeroxes of the novel are passed around between fans as there are a handfull of library copies in the British Interloan system (possibly cracked at the spine.) In November 2000 a signed copy (pictured above) sold in the $600 range. Despite the suppression it is not Kersh's rarest book, at the Yahoo Kersh group a collector notes - '...in terms of frequency of appearance for sale on ABEBOOKS. I've seen 3 copies up forsale on ABE in the past 2 years. Of course, all 3 were sold before I got there. Battle of the Singing Men has only come up once, and only the paper version. Private Life of a Private and the HB edition of Battle of the Singing Men/Selected Stories have never come up for sale at all. The Michael Joseph true first editions of Night and the City and I Got References have also never come up for sale. The Wishart edition of Men Are So Ardent has only come up once.'

Harlan Ellison is a collector and it is noted on his site he needs 'Jehovah' and also 'I Got References.' He calls Kersh the 'Demon Prince of Literature.' Anthony Burgess was a big fan calling 'Fowler's End' the greatest comic novel of the century. It is said that less than 50 copies of 'Jehovah' were sold before its withdrawal, but of course the withdrawn copies are not necessarily destroyed and sometimes find their way back on to the market. Even the 3rd edition Ulysses where 499 of 500 were said to have been seized and destroyed by customs turns up fairly regularly (possibly from Customs agents taking the book home--the last we copy we had came from Dover.) [ W/Q ** ]
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