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Passeurs de la littérature des États-Unis en France, 1917-1967 (2)

Open Water Jumping: Clearing Obstacles in the Negotiation of French Rights to The Black Stallion

Cécile Cottenet


Créé par Walter Farley, L’Étalon noir est sans doute resté dans les mémoires comme l’un des plus célèbres animaux de la Bibliothèque verte, collection publiée par les éditions Hachette. Réédités à maintes reprises, les nombreux titres de la série ont atteint avec le temps des chiffres de vente considérables. L’histoire de l’introduction de cette série en France au lendemain de la Deuxième Guerre mondiale, et de son inclusion dans cette bibliothèque de littérature jeunesse, est méconnue. Dans les coulisses des négociations transatlantiques, se dessine le récit de discussions âpres et complexes entre auteur, directeur de collection et agents, qui dévoile le rôle joué par ces médiateurs longtemps oubliés par l’histoire littéraire. Dans une perspective d’histoire du livre, et fondé sur les archives de l’auteur, cet article propose d’éclairer ces longues négociations qui s’étendirent de 1941 à 1964.

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1Generations of French readers certainly remember the joy of reading the adventures of Black, the wild stallion tamed by young Alec, between the green covers of Hachette’s Bibliothèque verte. One of several juvenile series dedicated to animals pitted as faithful companions for readers coming of age, the Black Stallion series thrilled children over several decades after World War II. Yet few will remember the name of its author, Walter Farley; or imagine the hurdles that Hachette had to painstakingly overcome to obtain the French rights to the series, ultimately turning the volumes into some of the best-selling titles in the Bibliothèque verte. Indeed, while the first two volumes in the series, The Black Stallion and The Black Stallion Returns, were originally published in the United States in 1941 and 1945 respectively, the French translations came out some 15 years later, in 1957, to be subsequently included in the popular Bibliothèque verte only in 1964. This belated publication, especially when contrasted with the publication of the same titles in other European countries, naturally spurs the following question: why did it take so long?

2The answer lies in large part in the transatlantic negotiation of the French rights to these volumes. Based on the study of Farley’s correspondence with his US agents, and the latter’s correspondence with their French co-agent, Jenny Bradley, this article proposes to shed light on a difficult mediation, viewed from the perspective of publishing history. While the narrative of these negotiations naturally outlines a financial rationale, it also reveals a cultural barrier as US agents, authors and publishers seem to have had difficulty understanding overseas markets in the 1950s. Given that Farley’s foreign rights were all marketed by his agents, a cogent question is raised as to whether literary agents were in fact instrumental in either delaying, complexifying or easing negotiations in this particular matter.

3Although the specificity of children’s literature should definitely be acknowledged when analyzing the reception of such texts, this analysis is not one of reception but proposes to consider the conditions of the transatlantic circulation, in other terms, the intermediary part of the route. In doing so, I will focus on elements common to other literary genres, outside the realm of juvenile fiction. I chose to concentrate on the first two volumes as their publication in the Bibliothèque verte ultimately led to the inclusion of all the other volumes in Hachette’s collection. Therefore, I wish to suggest an analysis of two interconnected points that stand out in the history of these negotiations: the first, admittedly obvious, issue is financial, and possibly the main reason for the delay of publication. The second point, in fact partially revealed by the bickering over advances and royalties, is the misunderstanding of foreign European markets, especially of the French market. To overcome both hurdles, Farley depended on the skills of his US agents, and perhaps even more, on those of their co-agent in France, Jenny Bradley.

The success of The Black Stallion

  • 1 This amount is calculated on the basis of the 10% royalty paid to his agent of the time, Gertrude A (...)
  • 2 The series continued with Son of the Black Stallion published in 1947, and Black Stallion and Satan(...)

4Walter Farley was one of a group of authors who made horse stories very popular in the aftermath of the war. As the trade journal Publishers Weekly noted in its October 25th, 1947 issue, “[b]ooks about horses and dogs are reported so frequently that if science books were not also pretty popular, one would think there was a reaction among children against the atomic age” (2073). Scholar Christine Doyle suggests that Farley differed, however, from many of the authors of the well-established subgenre of animal stories: while the success of his stories was presumably helped by the actual real-life victories of race horses such as Seabiscuit in the 1930s, other writers, such as Mary O’Hara with the Flicka trilogy, Rutherford Montgomery with his Golden Stallion series, or Marguerite Henry did not make racing into a central element, but rather wrote the Western conventions into their texts. Walter Farley’s success began in 1941, with the publication by Random House of The Black Stallion, which brought the author over $700 in royalties in the very first year of its publication.1 By the time he published the sequel in 1945, he had earned over $ 3,000 in royalties, and a contract for translation of the first volume in Italian had been drawn up with the Office of War Information for inclusion in a local children’s series, which suggests that Farley’s stories could be considered light propaganda material promoting the American way of lifeindeed, along with many children’s books of the period.2

5Farley believed his books “carried” Random House’s juvenile list, along with the best-selling Dr. Seuss books. By 1947, he had sold over 285,000 cumulated copies of his first three books, and by 1954, the total sales for the first of his books supposedly amounted to “over a million and a quarter” copies (Random House sales [1954?]; circular promotion letter 1954). US Publishers had been late in realizing the boon of children’s literature in the United States before World War II, but the founding in 1945 of the Children's Book Council, a promotional and information center as well as a trade organization, attested to the growth of this particular sector (Tebbel). The expansion of children’s departments, as Random House’s directed by Louise Bonino, and the actual founding of specialized houses boosted sales after World War II, with titles selling over 40,000 and sometimes rising to 100,000 copies. According to Tebbel, the rise was so significant that by 1955, the trade journal Publishers Weekly, awed at the number of children’s series in the United States, decided to establish a distinct best-selling list for juveniles. Farley and his Stallion series had certainly both contributed to and benefitted from this incredible phenomenon.

  • 3 Between 1950 and 1955, Gardner was listed in the category of “most translated author”, i.e. authors (...)

6By 1954, a sales-promotion circular letter was designed conjointly by Farley and his US agents, Elizabeth Ingersoll and Madeleine Brennan, with a view to increasing European publishers’ interest in his books. It emphasized how Farley’s sales figures in the United States were not only unique in the juvenile field, but in fact quite comparable to those of 1943 Pulitzer prize winner Upton Sinclair, and even more spectacular, “10,000 times better than Erle Stanley Gardner’s sales (Circulation promotion letter, 1954). This, if accounted for, was no mean feat, taking into consideration the huge popularity of the creator of the Perry Mason series, whose print runs with Bantam paperbacks rose to 1 million, and who was moreover regularly listed among the top 10 best-selling translated authors (Luey).3 Certainly the popularity of the horse stories exceeded the domestic market, as exemplified by the excellent sales of Farley’s first two titles in Sweden15,000 copies of The Black Stallion were sold by publisher Bonnier in the first two years after publication, and 12,000 copies of the second volume, The Black Stallion Returns, in its first year (Circular promotion letter, 1954). Foreign rights to several of the titles in the series were rapidly negotiated in several European countries, with contracts drawn as early as 1946 in Holland, 1947 in Czechoslovakia, 1948 in Finland or 1952 in Sweden, some 5 to 10 years before the publication of The Black Stallion and its sequel in France.

  • 4 On the position of The Yearling within children’s literature, see Moisy.

7This delay does not seem to be due to any reluctance to publish US juveniles on the part of French publishers: in fact, if 1950s criticism of the massification and Americanization of the genre is to be believed, France quite welcomed these texts (Boulaire 183-198). Nor was it due to any lack of enthusiasm for horse stories: as explained by French scholar Marc Soriano in 1964, the relation between young people and animals in many juvenile texts of the period was considered the perfect example of a “friendship compact and mutual understanding between man and animal.” In fact, many other horse stories were published in French children’s series in the 1950s, including several Henry Larom titles in Hachette’s Bibliothèque de la jeunesse (Au galop cowboy, 1951; Un poney des Rocheuses, 1956; Le Mystère du ranch, 1953), as well as titles by French writer George Catelin, usually set in South America (Sous le vent de la pampa, 1953, in the first Bibliothèque verte series, or El Pajaro, also in 1953, in Bibliothèque de la jeunesse). These stories seem to have presented a universal appeal, in the vein of other international bestsellers such as Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s The Yearling (Jody et le faon) and Mary O’Hara’s My Friend Flicka, both published in France in 1947, or yet again Elizabeth Goudge’s 1946 best-selling The Little White Horse, published in 1951 on the other side of the Channel.4 Complementary to the publishing industry, the successful importation of westerns and the release of several horse-focused stories on the French silver screens in the 1940s and post-war years must have helped to sell such stories: 1950 saw the release in France of several horse stories such as National Velvet (1944) starring Mickey Rooney and the very young Liz Taylor, Red Stallion (1947) or The Red Pony (1949) based on Steinbeck’ story, followed in 1953 by the French adaptation of René Guillot’s Crin blanc directed by Albert Lamorisse.

8If interest and the market did exist, still several reasons account for the delayed publication of “The Black Stallion” series in France, starting with financial obstacles that plagued US authors of literature and fiction at large.

Financial sticking points

  • 5 On the complex procedures of the Office des Changes in France, see Brault and Cottenet.

9Judging from his correspondence with his agents, attorney and accountant from the early 1950s onwards, Farley was clearly a professional author who paid close attention to his earnings and to the amounts he paid in taxes. For many US authors who were selling their foreign rights in Europe, one problem in the immediate aftermath of the war was precisely the accounting for their earnings abroad: foreign publishers did not remit royalty statements on the same biannual basis as US publishers, and lack of regularity in the issuing of these statements was quite common. Moreover, if agents’ correspondences are to be believed, publishers did not always pay on a regular basis, which may have been due to the slow post-war recovery of European and especially French publishing, or, more simply, to more amateurish accounting on this side of the Atlantic. In addition, monies in foreign currency were being held in European countries due to the dollar gap and strict trade and monetary regulations. In France, several successive monetary policies, rendering the French franc inconvertible, as well as restrictions of importations and exportations regulated through the Office des Changes between 1945 and 1958, had an impact on various trades. Transatlantic negotiations of foreign language rights were thus made more difficult by the Office des Changes’ procedures, instituting tedious administrative formalities for any broker or agent who wished to import goods: these formalities included the filing, in five copies, for an import licence as a prerequisite to requesting an authorization to purchase dollars for payment abroad. This quite often delayed the signing of contracts, and consequently, actual payment of the author or their agent in the United States.5

10Such restrictions, which constrained any transatlantic negotiations, actually warranted the intermediation of local subagents who traditionally handled the sale of rights for a foreign agency and were more attuned to the problematic administrative procedures. Interestingly, but somewhat unsurprisingly, Farley was reluctant to pay the full 10% commission traditionally requested by agents for the whole duration of copyright; at least as early as 1947, he tried to reduce the fees paid to his US agents Ingersoll & Brennan, by limiting their commissions to 10 years, and requesting that the same measure be applied to foreign agents. In November 1947, his agent Elizabeth Ingersoll wrote in defense of her own line of work:

It’s difficult, we know, to estimate the value of an agent which is largely intangible, but tangible services are foreign sales, serialization, and handling of other subsidiary rights. It is impossible for an author to cover all the markets, and publishers charge higher percentages on such rights than agents (Random House, for instance, charges 20% on movie sales, 25% on foreign, etc.). (Ingersoll to Farley, November 24, 1947)

Would Farley ultimately realize the work Ingersoll and Brennan were putting in for him?

  • 6 Gertrude Algase is known for selling John F. Kennedy’s Harvard senior thesis, initially entitled “A (...)
  • 7 One exception in the 1940s was Mary Abbot, agent with McIntosh & Otis, who literally built what was (...)
  • 8 Denyse Clairouin, a translator and an agent, died on March 12, 1945 at Mauthausen where she had bee (...)

11The details of the first phases of negotiations between Walter Farley, his US agents and their local French correspondent clearly evince the financial sticking points that delayed the drawing up of contracts. In 1944, Farley left his then US literary agent Gertrude Algase6 to work with Elizabeth Ingersoll and Madeleine Brennan, who had founded their agency in 1939. Theirs did not particularly specialize in juveniles, as indeed very few agents in the 1940s apart from McIntosh & Otis were willing to take the risk of nurturing authors of children’s books who might be a long way before producing best-sellers.7 Before 1949, Ingersoll & Brennan had unsuccessfully attempted to market Farley’s books abroad through the Paris-based Bureau Littéraire Denyse Clairouin.8 In February 1949, the Bureau Littéraire informed Ingersoll and Brennan that they were “passing on” Farley’s series to the Bradley agency for negotiation with French publishers (Schebeko to Linscott, February 17, 1949). Both Bureau Littéraire and Jenny Bradley acted as co-agents, that is as “local” literary intermediaries between US or British agencies and French publishers. Although much remains to be uncovered about the role, identity and business of French co-agents in the mid-20th century, it is safe to say that by 1949, Jenny Bradley and her competitor Michel Hoffman negotiated a large majority of French rights for foreign, and especially US publishers, as Laurence Cossu-Beaumont demonstrates in her contribution to this special issue (2023b). The William Aspenwall Bradley agency, founded in Paris around 1924, had been a Franco-American concern from the start; after the death of William in 1939, the agency was masterfully headed by his Franco-Belgian wife, Jenny (Cossu-Beaumont). Contrary to Hoffman who did not care much for negotiating juvenile textspresumably for lack of financial returnsBradley was relatively successful, selling rights to Henry Larom’s pony stories to Hachette, or to some of Australian author James M. Downie’s horse books to Éditions Bourrelier in 1948. Larom, incidentally, was also represented by Ingersoll & Brennan, who quite possibly saw the relevance of moving negotiations with Bradley on account of the similarity of the stories.

12A first moment in the story of the transatlantic negotiations for “The Black Stallion” titles unfolded between December 1949, when Jenny Bradley was first solicited by Ingersoll & Brennan, and the spring of 1951. Bradley reported Hachette’s interest in three of Farley’s titles, The Black Stallion, The Black Stallion Returns, and Black Stallion and Satan, although Louis Mirman, editor of the Bibliothèque verte, then expressed a preference for a second series of books by Farley, the Island Stallion, featuring another horse, Flame. Although Brennan had initially sought Bradley’s advice, she soon appeared intent on bypassing the French co-agent and on negotiating directly with Mirman. We can surmise that she was thus attempting to cut out the intermediary who, according to the professional ethics of agents, would obtain a 50% share of the commission. When Hachette’s initial offer was made for The Island Stallion (1948), featuring a 6% royalty on the retail price, Farley, who was adamant that Hachette open with The Black Stallion, replied that he would not consent to a royalty under 10%.

13The letters exchanged between Brennan and Farley in the Spring of 1951 reveal the US agents’ gradual assessment of the French market, with which they seem to have been utterly unfamiliar heretofore. Founded in 1939, the agency had presumably not handled many foreign rights contracts, and if truth be told, the interest of many US agentsas well as US authors and publishersin foreign rights markets would only really develop in the wake of World War II. In fact, transatlantic negotiations continued to be considered by US publishers and agents as something of a hassle. Having established, with the help of Bradley and through other channels, that Hachette was indeed the best publisher for a proper launching of Farley in France, they then resolutely turned to Bradley with something of an unusual offer, suggesting the pressure they were bearing from the author: instead of splitting the standard 15% commission on foreign rights two-ways, as was customary, they extended to grant her the entire commission on the first book she would sell, then 10% on subsequent sales of Farley’s titles (Brennan to Bradley, April 26, 1951). Still, they remained mistaken about standard French royalties on juvenile texts, believing that they might ultimately obtain 15%, or at the least 10%, while Hachette proved reluctant to rise above 6 or 8% (Brennan to Farley, April 27, 1951).

14The years between 1952 and 1956 were filled with back-and-forth negotiations between Bradley, Ingersoll & Brennan, and Farley. Among various sticking points were Farley’s emphasis on getting 15% “at some point” on the royalty scale, and his undaunted wish to see the volumes published individually, and not as part of a series. At long last, Hachette gave in to Farley’s demands, and contracts were drawn for individual publication of the first two volumes on August 1st, 1956; in 1957, they were published respectively as L’Étalon noir and Le retour de l’Étalon noir.

  • 9 See for comparison the undated draft for a Circular Sales Promotion letter [1954?], claiming that “ (...)
  • 10 For average scales in the United States, see Collins; for average French scales in the aftermath of (...)

15The first obstacle that plagued the negotiations were obviously the financial terms first suggested by Farley and his agents in quite a usual form of bargaining, that slowly turned into outright demands that even his US agents seemed uncomfortable with. Taking into consideration the difficulty for many US authors at the time to assess, and even, obtain the monies negotiated by publishers and agents abroad, we may understand why Farley would argue; and Hachette’s initial 1953 offer for The Island Stallion, taken as a model offer, with no advance and a fixed 6% royalty on the retail price, does look stingy when compared with the royalty scale Farley was commanding in the USA.9 Clearly unaware of the standard market for juvenile texts in Europe, Farley went on to propose a standard contract for any and all foreign publishers, requesting a guaranteed printing of 10,000 copies, and a sliding royalty scale of 10% on the first 5,000 copies sold, 12,5% on the next 5,000, and 15% above 10,000 copies (Circular promotion letter, [1954?]; Farley to Brennan, August 27, 1954). While this seems to have been the average US scale for general fiction at the time, on the other side of the Atlantic, most French middle-sized publishers would rarely consider the 15% point, and certainly not for children’s books.10

16In the Summer of 1954, the evidently flustered Farley wrote to Madeleine Brennan:

As to royalty scale, I want something comparable to what we have with Random House or nothing at all. I feel our attitude should be that we are not selling a “Larry and the Undersea Raider” or even Hank’s “Mountain Pony”, etc., etc. We’re offering the best-selling horse series (or perhaps any other kind of series, I don’t know but you could check) in America. What happened here can happen there. What Random House has made on these popular books can be made by Bonnier’s, etc., etc. That should be our thinking in drumming up any future foreign business, and in any drawing of contract. (Farley to Brennan, August 27, 1954)

These lines interestingly shed light on the author’s self-image as an important author, certainly better than Henry [“Hank”] Larom. They also suggest that Farley held quite a narrow view of European markets and practices, which was further confirmed by the 1954 sales-promotion circular letter he pushed to mail indifferently to European publishers interested in his books.

17This circular letter indeed includes a curious “yardstick” by which Farley intended to induce publishers to up the ante. Clamoring the success of Swedish publisher Bonnierwho had been able to extend 15% and had achieved great sales for the first two titleswas, in Farley’s mind, likely to encourage others to do the same. This raises a series of remarks: first, Farley knew that manufacturing costs differed from one country to another, which had an impact on the financial terms offered; and yet supposedly he did not take into account the possible cost of translation. Second, the letter seems to suggest that all European publishers might align with the proposed royalty scale, no matter what their actual market might be: certainly, the sheer number of young readers differed from the United States to Sweden, and from Sweden to France.

18These appear as obvious signs that Farley and his US agents, by the mid-1950s, were not apprised of either the economic realities of the juvenile markets in distinct European countries, or of actual distinctions in publishing between countries in Europe. The importance of the role of European co-agents in such negotiations is here all the more salient: crucial intermediaries between US agents and European publishers, they were not only essential in working out the financial specifics of the negotiations, they also acted as pedagogues of sorts, contributing to a better understanding of overseas markets. In point of fact, when she received the draft of the circular letter intended for European publishers, the usually diplomatic and cordial Jenny Bradley succinctly warned Brennan against antagonizing publishers in France:

I am afraid that the idea of circularizing it [the sales-promotion letter] would not bring the results you and the Author would expect as our Publishers would greatly resent it. To be quite frank, I know of very few houses whom it might really interest to undertake the launching of an author under such conditions. I mean, firms who would have the necessary funds and the outlet. (Bradley to Brennan, March 9, 1955)

19Bradley went on to give the example of Robert Laffont’s separate series for the Hopalong Cassidy stories, which had been a failure. This was not the only time Bradley would prove useful to Ingersoll & Brennan in painting the reality of the French market to the agents. Ultimately, Hachette would raise their offers and top most other European publishers, rising to 15% royalties after 50,000 copies sold and a $1,000 advance on each title.

“I don’t want cheap editions or paperbacks, and the volume sales that might go with them.” (Farley to Brennan, March 17, 1954)

20Today, when we think of the longevity of the “Black Stallion” titles in the Bibliothèque verte, Farley’s insistence on publishing his books not in one of Hachette’s series but individually is baffling. Together with financial terms, Farley’s wish to publish his books as “individual best-sellers” and not in a series, was certainly an obstacle in the way of the publication of the “Black Stallion” books in France, and of their success. Judging from his correspondence with Brennan, Farley seems to have considered the Bibliothèque verte as offering only cheap editions and would rather forgo the chance of large sales, than risk diminishing his (imagined?) status as author. On March 17, 1954, he wrote to Brennan on the negotiating with Hachette: “I repeat I’d like the best or nothing at all […]. This kind of thinking may not be applicable to foreign countries but what we have here is my only yardstick and I think it wise to stay with it” (Farley to Brennan, March 17, 1954). It should be stated that Farley had refused to lease television, radio or other subsidiary or cheap edition rights in the United States. Perhaps the cheap paper used to manufacture the volumes in the Bibliothèque verte was a cause for worry; still, the author’s bad judgment seems to stem from his “only yardstick” and misunderstanding, or outright ignorance, of conditions abroad.

  • 11 On authorship of the Nancy Drew/“Alice” stories and their portrayal of feminist girl sleuth, see Ro (...)

21Several scholars have established the superiority of Hachette in the French juvenile publishing sector in the mid-20th century (Piquard; Bauland). In fact, less than a handful of important French publishers translated and published juveniles in France, as Farley’s agents would soon find out: besides Hachette, Flammarion, Deux Coqs d’Or and Nathan were the main actors in the field (Brennan to Farley, March 27, 1951). Nevertheless, the French market for children’s books experienced an unprecedented growth in the 1950s and 1960s, with Hachette in the lead. In 1950, sales for their Bibliothèque verte series were considered excellent, and along with its sister series, the Bibliothèque rose, founded in 1856, clearly “spearhead[ed] the development” of the publisher (Heywood 2016a). Hachette’s considerable leverage was also due to their command of their own distribution system, the Messageries Hachette, and to their large investment in rotary presses, which allowed them to print massively. By the end of the 1950s, the average print run for “big” authors in these series was estimated between 80,000 and 130,000 copies, as compared with 23,000 for most other publishers (Heywood 2016). By the mid-1960s, after renewing the template of their juvenile series, the children’s department was producing a million volumes per month. Assuredly, Hachette was the only publisher who could then manage this level of production (Heywood 2016a). To further understand the importance of the two series, to this technical prowess should be added the “anglophile” turn taken by the then thirty-year-old Bibliothèque verte, when Louis Mirman became its chief editor in 1953. In fact, the large success of the Bibliothèques verte and rose hinged on their proportion of imported fiction (Heywood 2016b). Mirman, who had begun his career as a translator, brought on many English teachers to work as translators on the staff. When Enid Blyton was the almost indomitable star of the Bibliothèque rose, the Nancy Drew volumesknown as the “Alice” stories in Francewere certainly the big sellers in the Bibliothèque verte, and would continue to fascinate young readers well into the 1980s. Even the name of the “author,” Caroline, or Carolyn Keenein fact a pseudonym for the writers who penned the stories for the Stratemeyer Syndicatewas Frenchified into Caroline Quine.11 By 1967, among its more than 120 titles, the Bibliothèque verte included a great number of translations of US fiction that would make up a large part of the mid- to late 19th-century French children’s canon of juvenile literature: from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women (1924, with new editions in 1946 and 1952), Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin (1929, new edition in 1958), James Fenimore Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans (1935, new edition in 1962), to Jack London’s White Fang (1945, new edition in 1959), Mark Twain’s Huckleberry Finn (1951), Ernest Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (1955) and Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings’s The Yearling (1961).

22Still, explaining her client’s decision, Madeleine Brennan wrote to Bradley that Farley hoped to find a European publisher who would see him “not as a possible member of a string of juvenile writers, but as an individual best seller capable of earning as much as any other best seller, adult or juvenile (Brennan to Bradley, October 13, 1954). While one can easily understand that Farley wished to be recognized as an author in his own right, and not as a formulaic popular writer churning out texts by the hour, he certainly undermined his chances of being sold, and read, in France. Jenny Bradley’s reply to Brennan after some six years of negotiation did not conceal her irritation, when she evoked how “Hachette would like to have this long standing [sic] matter settled.” The French co-agent also evinced, as she often did in these negotiations, her expertise on the French market:

You ask me to tell you what I think of your proposal concerning Walter Farley’s books. Frankly, I think there is some confusion in your mind between what you call “an individual best seller” and a Juvenile series which cannot be sold in the same way. By refusing to be published in one of Hachette’s series, Mr. Farley looses [sic] the reputation of such a series, as they all have a large and very good following throughout the world. (Bradley to Brennan, November 8, 1954)

  • 12 These figures do not take into account the guaranteed sales in 1957, 1965 and 1966. It should be no (...)

23In 1955, Bradley again represented to Farley’s agents how Hachette were offering “him the reputation and the splendid distributors’ organization of their house” (Bradley to Brennan, May 2, 1955). In this respect, the sales figures for The Black Stallion and The Black Stallion Returns before AND after their inclusion in the Bibliothèque verte, respectively in 1965 and 1966, seem to prove Bradley right: both titles went from average annual sales of 750 (L’Étalon noir) and 440 (Le Retour…) to over 13,000 and 11,500 respectively once they had entered the prestigious children’s series (Hachette sales figures).12


24The details of the lengthy negotiations for the French rights to these two titles bear testimony to the endurance and obstinacy of several intermediaries: Hachette editor Louis Mirman, French co-agent Jenny Bradley, and Farley’s US agent, Madeleine Brennan. The pedagogical work of literary agents, as much as their business acumen, is particularly highlighted in this case: the correspondence reveals the progressive enlightening” of US agents on the French market, as they moved from quasi-utter ignorance to a finer comprehension of the strengths and weaknesses of publishers abroad. Farley’s misconceptions of publishing abroad are certainly understandable in the early to mid-1950s, when the transatlantic trade in copyrights was still relatively disorganized. Given the part played by his agents, it is altogether ironic to reflect that throughout the period, he would obtain from Ingersoll & Brennan that they agree to reduce their commission on domestic sales to 5% instead of the customary 10%, reflecting how little he thought of the service they were actually doing him, yet retained the 15% commission on foreign rights. By 1959, once again considering that he might quit the agency, he did at last allow his agents some form of recognition when he wrote his lawyer George Gross: Better to try and make it work with I&B since I feel I can use an agent […]. Another thing is that they’re selling more than enough foreign rights to compensate for commissions they make on U.S. sales” (Farley to Gross, August 19, 1959).

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COTTENET, Cécile. Literary Agents in the Transatlantic Book Trade. American Fiction, French Rights, and the Hoffman Agency (1944-1955). New York: Routledge, 2017.

DOYLE, Christine. “Flicka and Friends: Stories of Horses and of Boys who Loved Them.” Children’s Literature Association Quarterly, vol. 33, no. 3, 2008, p. 280-303.

HEYWOOD, Sophie. Pippi Longstocking, Juvenile Delinquent? Hachette, Self-Censorship and the Moral Reconstruction of Postwar France. Itinéraires, vol. 2, 2015-2016. Accessed 9 June 2023.

HEYWOOD, Sophie. Modernising and moralising: Hachette’s mass-market fiction series for children, 1950s-1960s.Strenæ, vol. 11, 2016. Accessed 9 June 2023.

LUEY, Beth. “The Organization of the Book Publishing Industry.” A History of the Book in America, vol 5: The Enduring Book, Print Culture in Postwar America. Eds. David Paul Nord, Joan Shelley Rubin, and Michael Schudson. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009, p. 29-54.

NIÈRES-CHEVREL, Isabelle. “Études de réception et littérature de jeunesse : quelques aspects spécifiques.” L’Esprit créateur, vol. 49, no. 1, 2009, p. 84-97.

MOISY, Amélie. The Yearling: A Cracker Family Romance.” Histoires de famille et littérature de jeunesse : filiation, transmission, réinvention ? / Family Stories and Children’s Literature: Parentage, Transmission or Reinvention? Eds. Rose-May Pham Dinh and Virginie Douglas. Bruxelles: P.I.E-Peter Lang, 2020, p. 237-252.

PIQUARD, Michèle. L’Édition pour la jeunesse en France de 1945 à 1980. Villeurbanne: Presses de l’ENSSIB, 2004.

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Archival sources

BRADLEY, Jenny, letter to Madeleine Brennan, Nov. 8, 1954, Bradley-Hoffman Papers, HOF C.334D3, IMEC.

BRADLEY, Jenny, letter to Madeleine Brennan, March 9, 1955. Bradley-Hoffman Papers, HOF C.334D3, IMEC.

BRADLEY, Jenny, letter to Madeleine Brennan, May 2, 1955, Bradley-Hoffman Papers, HOF C.334D3, IMEC.

BRENNAN, Madeleine, letter to Walter Farley, Mar. 27, 1951, Walter Farley Papers, Box 29, Folder 1, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

BRENNAN, Madeleine, letter to Jenny Bradley, April 26, 1951, Walter Farley Papers, Box 29, Folder 1, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

BRENNAN, Madeleine, letter to Walter Farley, April 27, 1951, Walter Farley Papers, Box 29, Folder 1, Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Columbia University Library.

BRENNAN, Madeleine, letter to Jenny Bradley, Oct. 13, 1954, Bradley-Hoffman Archives, IMEC, HOF C.334D3, IMEC.

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1 This amount is calculated on the basis of the 10% royalty paid to his agent of the time, Gertrude Algase. See Walter Farley, letter to his accountant, George Gross, Sept. 16, 1952.

2 The series continued with Son of the Black Stallion published in 1947, and Black Stallion and Satan, in 1949. For more on children’s literature as vehicles for propaganda, see Boulaire.

3 Between 1950 and 1955, Gardner was listed in the category of “most translated author”, i.e. authors with at least 20 annual translations in different countries, by the Cercle de la Librairie (“Études sur l’Index Translationum,” IMEC).

4 On the position of The Yearling within children’s literature, see Moisy.

5 On the complex procedures of the Office des Changes in France, see Brault and Cottenet.

6 Gertrude Algase is known for selling John F. Kennedy’s Harvard senior thesis, initially entitled “Appeasement at Munich,” which came out under the title Why England Slept in 1940.

7 One exception in the 1940s was Mary Abbot, agent with McIntosh & Otis, who literally built what was possibly the first literary agency juvenile department.

8 Denyse Clairouin, a translator and an agent, died on March 12, 1945 at Mauthausen where she had been deported. Her agency continued to operate after the war, first headed by agent Suzanne Hotimsky, then by Mme Renaud de Saint-Georges. Marie Schebeko became its representative for English-speaking countries.

9 See for comparison the undated draft for a Circular Sales Promotion letter [1954?], claiming that “Mr. Farley commands from his US publisher on books priced at $2.00 a royalty paid only to very few adult bestsellers, retailing from $3.50$5.00.”

10 For average scales in the United States, see Collins; for average French scales in the aftermath of the Second World War, see Cottenet, Chapter 4.

11 On authorship of the Nancy Drew/“Alice” stories and their portrayal of feminist girl sleuth, see Roblin.

12 These figures do not take into account the guaranteed sales in 1957, 1965 and 1966. It should be noted that similar annual average sales are reached for titles of another of Farley’s series, Flamme cheval sauvage (1964), Flamme et le pur sang (1964), and Flamme part en flèche (1965), published directly in the Bibliothèque verte.

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Cécile Cottenet, « Open Water Jumping: Clearing Obstacles in the Negotiation of French Rights to The Black Stallion »Transatlantica [En ligne], 1 | 2023, mis en ligne le 01 juin 2023, consulté le 02 octobre 2023. URL : ; DOI :

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