My intentions for creating this web-page are to preserve and present the archives (such as they are) of MODERN LETTERS magazine, a periodical founded by my late friend ROBERT ALUN VERNON (b.New York, 1933, d.Le Havre, 1995) and VICTOR TOWNSEND.
The magazine grew out of the French literary journal "Les Lettres Nouvelles" founded in 1953 by Maurice Nadeau and Maurice Saillet, initially as a direct translation of that pre4stigious revue for the English-speaking population of Paris. However, after several issues, the "editors" of this "hand-me-down for Yanks and Brits who couldn't be bothered learning the language"Vernon and Townsend decided to create a magazine with their own content - and with the blessing of "Les Lettres Nouvelles", set up MODERN LETTERS in October 1960, with a circulation of 1000 copies.
The initial run of the magazine lasted until September 1965 and included contributions from English language writers such as Keith Waterhouse, John Osborne, John Braine, Lawrence Durrell, Anthony Burgess and critics, playwrights and artists such as Kenneth Tynan, Samuel Beckett, Francis Bacon and John Betjemen . Also included were pieces, translated from French (either written especially for MODERN LETTERS or translated from the original French) by Francois Truffaut, Alain Jouffroy, Francis Jourdain,Ernst Jünger, Franz Kafka, Jean Laude, Jean Le Tailleux, Michel Leiris, Malcolm Lowry, Dionys Mascolo, Henri Michaux,Ernest Millard, Henry Miller, Adrienne Monnier, Pierre-Gabriel Monti, Edgar Morin, Jean-Jacques Morvan, Marcel Moussy, Maurice Nadeau,J.-C. Nardal, Georges Petitfaux, Pascal Pia, Claude Pichois.
The journal was forced to close in Setember 1965 due to lack of sales and because of the personal circumstances of Townsend (he had been suffering from alcoholism and opiate addiction for several years and, by the time MODERN LETTERS closed in 1965, war virtually destitute and homeless. Robert Vernon brought his friend back to England to recover and, in February 1966, Townsend and Vernon began work on a theatre revue entitled "Crazy Mule" (a jeux des mots on the Parisian nightcluc 'Crazy Horse').
In 1969, back in Paris and working at the Berlitz school, Townsend decided to "resurrect" MODERN LETTERS, widening its remit, its Modus Operandi to include "everything from pop-music, to fine art, to food and drink, to cinema, to sex, to everything and anything. As long as it is interesting" and MODERN REVIEW returned, first as a bi-monthly publication and then as a (more or less) quarterly, in October 1970, with a new design and, instead of being sold at paper-stands, available by Subscription only.
At first, the demand was minimal, but when Vernon came back on board by issue 3, he called upon his network of writers, agents, journalists and the well-connected and managed to persuade some very illustrious names to contribute. By 1971 there were over 3,000 subscribers throughout France and Europe. The reason for such high demand was the quality and calibre of contributors: Cecil Day Lewis, Dirk Bogarde, Elisabeth Jane Howard, Serge Gainsbourg and Jane Birkin, Samuel Beckett (contributing stage plans and sketches) Anthony Burgess, and Willie Donaldson.
The quality of MODERN LETTERS was matched by the quantity: most numbers of MODER LETTERS averaged between 200-250 pages, unheard of for a literary and cultural magazine. This in turn attracted even more readers and, soon, back issues were being sold for twice the cover price. Townsend described these years (between '71 and '76) as "The Golden years"...
Janvier 13, 1998 JEREMY FISHER