In a Paris Review interview, Philip Larkin talks about meeting T.S. Eliot in the offices of the publisher, Faber and Faber. Larkin, not a Faber author at the time (he became one when Faber published The Whitsun Weddings in 1964), refers to the old offices of the publisher at 24 Russell Square in London as “that magic address!”
Larkin — arguably England’s greatest post-war poet and someone who had once said that he was intimidated by Faber’s exacting standards — gave the interview in 1982 when he was at the height of his fame, eight years after the publication of High Windows, his most memorable work. And yet, even then, the magic and the allure of Faber seemed to hold him in thrall.
It has been a bit like that with writers and readers all over the English-speaking world for decades now. It’s hard to pin down exactly what evokes that response, but the enchantment has held good. It could be that Faber, a proud independent publisher in a market dominated by giant conglomerates, continues to back its hunches and produce quality, quirky, daring and original work, letting its commercial successes bankroll the risk-taking to which most publishers are becoming increasingly averse.
It could be the stories of its origin, of how Eliot built its list and brought on board an array of literary superstars (or brought on board an array of writers who later turned into literary superstars), of finding and nurturing talent from W.H. Auden to Milan Kundera to Kazuo Ishiguro to Hanif Kureishi. It could be something about its ff logo, a visual mnemonic that translates into a watermark of quality and success.
The last, of course, is not entirely true, because Faber does publish duds, as any publisher would. It is worried, like any publisher in the time of the credit crunch, about its bottom line. (Stephen Page, its current chief executive and publisher, has a background in sales and marketing.)
But the point is that the cachet — and the perception — endures. You can sort of see why when you look at its first offerings on its 80th anniversary. (More are forthcoming as the year-long celebration continues.)
Faber Poetry Classics (each available for Rs 350) showcases, with special anniversary covers and (mostly) fresh introductions, selections from Eliot, W.H. Auden, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, John Betjeman and W.B. Yeats.
Then there is a box set of debut novels, reissued as Faber Firsts with new, beautiful covers. It is an impressive list: Cover Her Face by P.D. James; The New York Trilogy by Paul Auster; The Buddha of Suburbia by Hanif Kureishi; The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath; Lord of the Flies by William Golding; The White Castle by Orhan Pamuk; A Pale View of Hills by Kazuo Ishiguro; Such a Long Journey by Rohinton Mistry.
I have most of the titles, but looking at the covers, I’d buy several of them again. At Rs 250 each, it is a steal.