Initially a small firm specialized in editing plays, its founder, Simon Lévy, who had recently arrived from Lorraine where he was a peddler, would run the business with his youngest son, Michel.
This latter quickly proved to be an exceptional editor. He is not yet twenty when he publishes Théophile Gautier; some of the most prestigious names of 19th century literature are soon to follow: Dumas, Baudelaire, Flaubert, Hugo, Sand, Lamartine, Stendhal and Nerval.
In 1858, he would revolutionize the publishing industry with the creation of the collection “1 Franc.” For the first time ever, serious literature is made available to the general public at an affordable price. Authors, both aspiring and established, want to be published in the hugely successful collection.
But Michel Lévy’s literary vision went beyond the publication of novels. He would print Tocqueville’s debut work, L’Ancien Régime, as well as works by Guizot, Sainte-Beuve and the entire body of work of Ernest Renan – a highly-profitable intuition. Renan’s La Vie de Jésus was one of the all-time bestselling works of the 19th century.
In 1875, Michel Lévy dies of a massive heart attack at the age of fifty-three. His brother Calmann finds himself at the helm of a publishing house with a stellar literary reputation and a list of prestigious authors.
Renamed Calmann-Lévy, the publisher would live up to his brother’s reputation, however, energetically seeking out new talent: By 1879, the names of Anatole France, Pierre Loti and Villiers de l’Isle-Adam have been added to the publisher’s list.
Following Calmann’s death in 1891, his sons Paul, Georges and Gaston each take over the company, in turn.
Les Plaisirs et les Jours, Marcel Proust’s first novel, as well as the novels and poems of Tristan Bernard and Anna de Noailles are published at the time. Pierre Loti and Anatole France have become world famous names; Calmnann-Levy has the exclusive publishing rights to their works.
Some of the most famous foreign authors of the first part of the century are also represented by the publishing house, including Luigi Pirandello, Maxime Gorki, Henry James and Gabriele d’Annunzio.
In 1940, sixty-five-year-old Gaston Calmann-Lévy is imprisoned for being a Jew; his sons have joined de Gaulle in London. Under German-appointed new management, Calmann-Lévy is rechristened “Éditions Balzac,” its publications to be approved by the occupying forces.
After the Liberation, the publishing house takes back its true name. A period of growth ensues with the creation, namely, of several new collections.
The collection “Translated by” uncovers the likes of authors such as Hermann Hesse, Joseph Roth and Elia Kazan, as well as the French novelists Romain Gary, Roger Bordier (Prix Renaudot, 1961) and Suzanne Prou (Prix Renaudot, 1973).
Raymond Aron, one of the publisher’s post-war consultants, will found the collection “Liberté de l’esprit” in 1947, promoting authors wary of ideologies of any kind and united by their firm belief in civil society.
The collection quickly gains an international following with works by Raymond Aron, Jules Isaac, Arthur Koestler and Václav Havel.
In a similar vein of intellectual freedom, Roger Errera goes on to found the collection “Diaspora,” committed to the study of the Jewish question within the historical, political, cultural and religious context. The works of authors such as Hannah Arendt, Léon Poliakov and Robert Paxton are published here.
Likewise, Calmann-Levy has supported the Holocaust Memorial since 2005, publishing noted scientific papers and essays that have helped bring new insight to our understanding of the Holocaust.
Yet the prestigious history of Calmann-Levy has in no way overshadowed current and future publishing plans. The recent evolution of the company underlines our continued involvement with the exploration of new fields.
Recent publications include works by novelists Gérard Mordillat (Grand Prix RTL Lire 2005) and Barbara Constantine, bookstore best-sellers, but also works of foreign fiction, including Abraham B. Yehoshua (Prix Médicis Étranger, 2012) and Howard Jacobson (Booker Prize, 2010).
Calmann-Lévy has also been a precursor in crime fiction, having translated works by Ruth Rendell and Patricia Cornwell, as well as the entire body of work of Patricia Highsmith. Following in the footsteps of their illustrious predecessors, renowned authors such as Donna Leon and Donato Carrisi are being published today.
The collection “Robert Pépin Introduces” is dedicated to works by new authors such as Lee Child, Roger Smith and Michael Connelly, named Chevalier de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres in 2012, for his remarkable body of work. (www.robert-pepin-presente.fr)
Particularly committed to the study of history, Calmann-Levy has published the works of Antony Beevor and Simon Sebag Montefiore.
The publisher has developed an impressive list of non-fiction authors, including David Dufresne, Ali Amar and Michel Laval (Prix d’Académie, 2013, awarded by the Académie Française). Other works for the general public include La Revanche des nuls en orthographe and Le Livre Femen.
A staunch defender of the environment, Calmann-Levy has published the works and the autobiography of renowned French ecologist Nicolas Hulot.
Our most recent collection ORBIT, with the Hachette Book Group, is dedicated to publishing alternative world and fantasy works.
The collection “France de toujours et d’aujourd’hui” celebrates the multifaceted reality of regional France, publishing the novels of Jean Anglade, Jean-Paul Malaval, Françoise Bourdon, Antonin Malroux and a host of others, following – in the tradition of its founding fathers – an eclectic course set by high standards, current events and the expectations of present day readers. (www.france-de-toujours.fr)