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 ** ]


Anonymous said...

I dont know how I know this but Jane Finda collects Kersh -- he would have appreciated that. Garth

lemmo said...

I've purchased 1 copy of Battle of the Singing Men on ABE since 2000, and seen one other. Selected Stories has been offered at least once - I bought it - it has white cardboard covers, not a hardcover. I've bought 3 or 4 copies of Private Life of a Private on Ebay and seen another, some sold as by Kersh and some not. I've bought 3 Michael Joseph editions of Night and the City on ABE, one a first, one a reprint, and one of which was lost in the mail. I've seen 2 copies of the Michael Joseph edition of Men Are So Ardent on ABE, one of which had a damaged dust jacket. I've seen 3 copies of the Michael Joseph edition of I Got References on ABE - I bought the one with the dust jacket. It's hard to get a record of what has appeared on ABE because sometimes items sell very quickly. And, by the way, I actually own copies of every single Kersh title - I may be the first on my block.

Valancourt Books said...

Does anybody have a copy of Jews Without Jehovah's dust jacket that could be scanned and reproduced for a reprint of the novel? We're in the process of republishing a number of Kersh's books...


James D Jenkins
Valancourt Books

Jot101 said...

Lemmo's your man. See above. N

Anonymous said...

My husband is Gerald's nephew and I have been trying to track down a copy of JWJ for the past twenty years with no luck so far!
I am currently collecting as many of Gerald's books as I can for our children. My husband has a massive collection but I would like the children to have their own copies.
It is amazing how many turn up in charity shops and jumble sales in the UK - even pretty rare copies.
We have spoken to many family members who remember the fallout in the family caused by JWJ. When we hear the tales of how aunts,uncles and cousins destroyed their copies it is truly heartbreaking!

lemmo said...

I have a xerox copy of the book and would be happy to recopy at cost. Contact me at blindlemmingchiffon@earthlink.net. I owned a copy, but sadly, had to sell it a while back.

Unknown said...

I have a copy which has just come into my bookshop. It has a jacket and is in pretty good condition.

lemmo said...

Shaun, just to give you an idea of what you have, a copy with the jacket went for auction on eBay a few years back for around $4,000 US. I sold mine, which was in about good condition and had a xerox jacket, for about $2,000 US.

Ruth Badley said...

I would love to know who Anonymous is - Gerald Kersh was my father's cousin. The libel suit was brought by my grandmother, Anne Miller. I have a huge collection of Gerald Kersh's books with my children in mind too, though not a copy of Jews Without Jehovah. I know my uncle had a copy but he has passed away now.

It would be good to make contact - we are clearly related. My son is an artist and was very taken with Gerald's looks. As a teenager he painted a portrait of Gerald Kersh based on the photograph on a dust jacket. It's probably still in our loft.

Charles Blair said...

I visited the collection of Gerald Kersh material in the Gotlieb Center at Boston University in October, 2016. They have 21 boxes of material, but I only had time to examine one box (#2). This happened to include a lot of material by his widow, Flossie (Florence Sochis, born Philadelphia(?), 1911). This included a 1954 letter describing Kersh's acrimonious divorce from Lee Kersh, and a great many items documenting the sad, impoverished years following GK's death--- letters to social agencies, angry correspondence with landlords, etc.
I left transcriptions of some of this material with the Gotlieb center staff.

I also saw a manuscript of a story, "The Womanthrope," with which I was not familiar. This described a physically unprepossessing man of middle east background, the seller of dubious antiques and (I think) the proprietor
of a dilapidated restaurant. He claimed in former times to have had a household of numerous wives--- one of his guiding principles was "sell, never trade." The emphasis was on the women who continued to be fascinated with the man, including an unnamed famous French actress.