Death of a Gentleman Publisher

Lord Weidenfeld, formerly of Weidenfeld & Nicolson, has died, aged 96. One of the last “gentlemen” publishers, his death marks the end of an era. George Weidenfeld was born to middle-class Jewish parents in 1916, in Vienna. He fled Austria during the Nazi period, and established himself in Britain. In 1949, he founded his publishing house, together with the writer and politician Nigel Nicolson. Weidenfeld moved seamlessly between different political, academic, and cultural spheres and was active and interested in many different issues. In publishing terms, one of his most influential decisions was the publication of Nabokov’s Lolita. After a left-leaning early life, George Weidenfeld later became closely attached to Conservative German politicians, and to the conservative German press owned by Springer, for whose publications he wrote regular columns.

Weidenfeld & Nicolson were sold to the American publisher Antony Cheetham in 1991, who renamed the firm Orion, subsequently bought by Hachette. The fate of Weidenfeld’s publishing house illustrates in a nutshell what befell British publishing in the 20th century: the end of individual imprints and publishing houses which were bought up by ever-growing conglomerates. This trend, although still dominant in the 21st century, is actively contested by new independent publishing houses. The death of one of the key founding fathers of early-20th century British publishing – often of Continental descent – highlights the changes within the literary field during the last decades.

For a full obituary, see e.g. this article from The Guardian (link)

An account of his early years in Austria and Britain can be found here: link to Spiegel Online article (in German)