Obituary: Carol Brown Janeway (1944–2015)

Obituary: Carol Brown Janeway (1944–2015)

Carol Brown Janeway, editor, publisher, translator and irreplaceable figure in international publishing for nearly half a century, passed away on 3rd August 2015.

She made her name selling rights in international bestsellers such as Donna Tartt’s The Secret History; nurturing the careers of John Updike and E O Wilson; and publishing historians such as Simon Schama, Daniel Goldhagen and Maya Jasanoff. Never one to suffer a fool, Carol would be brisk, often comically patronising to some and wise, warm and lovingly loyal to others. She was profoundly affected by what happened in Europe during the generation before hers, and emigrated to the US determined to show an English-reading world that European literature mattered, in particular championing German literature and modern history books in particular.

Carol Janet Brown was born in Edinburgh on 1st February 1944, the second daughter of Robin Brown and Kathleen Neely. Educated at St George’s School and spotted by the headmistress as a girl with academic potential, she matriculated aged 18 and read Modern and Medieval Languages at Girton College, Cambridge, graduating with a first-class degree.

In the mid-1960s she moved to London, working for John Farquharson Ltd. One author she worked with closely in this period, and did so for years, was George MacDonald Fraser.

In 1969 she married and moved to New York. Robert Gottlieb of Alfred A Knopf had suggested she call him; when she did, he offered her a job. “I’ve always believed in giving people jobs, not jobs to people,” he said. Knopf celebrates its centenary this year, and Janeway worked for the company for nearly half of that. Its chairman, Sonny Mehta, remarked on her death: “She was an esteemed figure here and abroad, and for 45 years, central. Authors loved her, agents respected her and foreign publishers trusted her. I hasten to add, she was a formidable deal-maker.”

Publishing is an amateur profession, dividing those who see in it a career and those who find a vocation. For Janeway it was unquestionably the latter. Like a secular Mother Superior, she wove as close a circle around her from anyone from any country interested in books as the hair she tightly tucked up in a bun, searching out who thought what of whom, who was doing well, and who was doing less well. Ceaselessly curious and caring, a dozen or so friends became an extended family in her later life. Many with long-standing relationships—like Gottlieb and Mehta (who had met her in the 1960s and recalled her “fierce intelligence” above all else), and Christopher MacLehose, the late William Miller, Philippa Harrison, Carmen Callil, the late Peter Carson, as well as many others in Europe, inter alia the late Karl Blessing, Woody and Maria Campbell, Roberto Calasso, Alexander Fest, Gianni Ferrari, Daniel Keel, Margit Ketterle, Michael Krüger, Anna Leube, Luiz Schwarcz and Mizzi van der Pluijm—constructed a world of intimates who (usually) got along, sharing as they did her taste and values.

A great one for tradition and organised rhythm in life, for the last 12 or so years, she would holiday with same friends at the annual Schubertiade in Austria. She would sit at the Hessischer Hof, knowing with whom she would have breakfast, lunch, drinks, and dinner (one lucky chap was allowed all). In life there are those who drink and those who don’t: Carol Janeway did both but, in the words of one editor, “could drink every man round this table under this table”.

Translating became an identifiable arrow to the quiver of her talents. Her first was of Lothar-Günther Buchheim’s Das Boot in 1975. Other work included most famously Bernhard Schlink’s The Reader, as well as Hans-Ulrich Treichel’s Lost, Sándor Márai’s Embers, Thomas Bernhard’s My Prizes, Ferdinand von Schirach’s Crime and with Daniel Kehlmann’s Measuring the World, Fame and, most recently,  F: A Novel.

Janeway was also responsible for publishing dozens of authors in English including Böll, Kertesz, Mann, Donoso, Klima, Mishima, Morante, Musil and Süskind. Her passion for music led her to publish Sir John Eliot Gardiner, Sir Georg Solti, and one book she published with huge passion and pride: Schubert’s Winter Journey by Ian Bostridge.

In 2013 she was awarded the inaugural Friedrich Ulfers Prize, for translations of German literature. That evening, Kehlmann said that “to be translated by Carol is a privilege you can neither buy nor apply for”. A year later, she was awarded The James H Ottaway Award for the Promotion of International Literature.

Carol Brown married William Janeway in 1969, and divorced nine or so years later. She married Erwin Glikes—a publisher at Basic Books and The Free Press—in 1990, but it was too brief: he died in 1994, and tears would well in her eyes for more than a decade after his death when she remembered him.

Carol had a talent for friendship, a love of family: Christopher MacLehose was an usher when she first married and was present when her ashes were interred in Bamburgh with those of her parents. She is survived by her elder sister, medievalist Dr Ann Hughes.

Knopf is holding a reception in Janeway’s memory tonight at 8 p.m. at the Atrium in Hessischer Hof.