Unsung Champion of Literature Blanche Knopf Finally Gets Her Due

Tom Blunt in Signature:

ScreenHunter_1948 May. 20 19.09There are two versions of the Blanche Knopf story. The first is one of triumph, documenting the calculated risks taken by the publishing maven to carve out paths for otherwise-neglected authors who would ultimately shape 20th-century culture and change the book business forever. America’s Harlem Renaissance, hard-boiled detective genre, and fascination with Europe’s sexual freedom can all be traced back to Mrs. Alfred A. Knopf’s business gambits, which in most cases sprang directly from her personal interests, or those of her close friends.

The second version is a tale of what might have been. How differently would Mrs. Knopf’s life and career have turned out if her husband had truly made her an equal partner in their business, as he promised when they were young newlyweds? To what greater heights might the company have flown if Mr. Knopf hadn’t vetoed some of her more risqué choices? Might Blanche have eventually summoned enough independence to go her own way if the couple’s gradual estrangement hadn’t nudged her toward a diet pill habit that slowly destroyed her health and eyesight? And perhaps most regretfully: how many more women might have felt called to work in the publishing world if Alfred hadn’t relentlessly downplayed Blanche’s involvement at every turn, only begrudgingly admitting his wife’s contributions long after her death in 1966?

These questions arise several decades too late to make any difference to Mrs. Knopf, and if it wasn’t for Laura Claridge’s new biography The Lady With the Borzoi, they might never have been posed at all.

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