John Rodker

John Rodker

John Rodker (18 December 1894 – 6 October 1955) was a British writer, modernist poet, and publisher of some of the major modernist figures. He was born in Manchester into a Jewish immigrant family, who moved to London while he was still young.



As a young man he was one of the "Whitechapel Boys", a group including Isaac Rosenberg, Samuel Weinstein and Joseph Lefkowitz (who coined the name in hindsight). From about 1911, when Rosenberg arrived, they began to aspire to literary careers; and in the years before 1914 Rodker was a published essayist and poet, in The New Age of A. R. Orage and elsewhere. Other "Whitechapel Boys" were the painters David Bomberg and Mark Gertler; they all met together at or near the Whitechapel Art Gallery.

During World War I Rodker was a conscientious objector. He went on the run, sheltering with the poet R. C. Trevelyan, before being arrested in April 1917, imprisoned, and then transferred to the Home Office Work Centre, Princetown, in the former Dartmoor Prison. In 1919 he started the Ovid Press, a small press which lasted about a year. It published T. S. Eliot and Ezra Pound (the first edition of Hugh Selwyn Mauberley) and portfolios of drawings by Wyndham Lewis, Henri Gaudier-Brzeska and Edward Wadsworth. That same year Rodker took over from Pound as foreign editor of the New York magazine The Little Review.

In the 1920s he spent time in Paris on the second edition of James Joyce's Ulysses, at that time subject to censorship, and French translations of Joyce. He then set up the Casanova Society, for limited editions. He continued in publishing, on occult subjects under the imprint J. Rodker also, until a bankruptcy in 1932, when (along with other such ventures such as the Fanfrolico Press) his business folded in the Depression. He was included in the 1930 Faber and Faber collection Our Exagmination Round His Factification for Incamination of Work in Progress of Joyceans.

For a period he dropped publishing, concentrating on translation from French literature, and agency work for Preslit, the Soviet overseas literature organ. At this time too he apparently abandoned literary ambitions for himself. In 1937, the centennial of the death of Aleksandr Pushkin, he set up the Pushkin Press, another small press, publishing Oliver Elton's English version of Eugene Onegin and a trickle of other books.

The Imago Publishing Company was a separate and much more substantial venture, set up after Sigmund Freud arrived in 1938 in London. The stocks of Freud's works left when he fled Vienna and the Nazis had been destroyed; Rodker with Anna Freud worked to publish a complete edition. This was done over a dozen years, being finished in 1952. Imago was wound up in 1961.

He was posthumously awarded the Légion d'Honneur by the government of France.


He married three times. His first wife was the writer Mary Butts (1890-1937); they married in May 1918. He already had a daughter, Joan (1915-2010[1][2]), from an earlier relationship with the dancer, Sonia Cohen (1885-1979). His daughter by Mary Butts was called Camilla (1920-2007). The second marriage was to Barbara McKenzie-Smith (1902-1996), a painter, resulting in a son, John Paul (born in 1937), whose name was later changed to John Paul Morrison when his mother remarried. Their friend, Moura Budberg, was asked to be his godmother. The third marriage was to Marianne Rais (died 1984), a Paris bookseller and daughter of his translator Ludmila Savitzky, who survived him. Joan Rodker's son, Ernest Rodker (born 1937), by the actor Gerard Heinz, is British spokesperson for Mordechai Vanunu[3] and a founding member of the Battersea Power Station Community Group.[4]


  • Poems (1914) first collection
  • Hymns (1920) Ovid Press
  • Montagnes Russes (1923) in French translation by Ludmila Savitzky
  • Dartmoor (1926) in French translation by Ludmila Savitzky
  • The Future of Futurism (1926)
  • Adolphe 1920 (1929)
  • Collected Poems, 1912-1925 (Hours Press, 1930)
  • Memoirs of Other Fronts (1932)
  • Poems & Adolphe 1920 (1996) Carcanet Press reissue


  1. ^ Obituary: Joan Rodker, Daily Telegraph, 23 January 2011 (online edition)
  2. ^ Jenny Diski Obituary: Joan Rodker, The Independent, 13 January 2011
  3. ^ Campaign to Free Mordechai Vanunu
  4. ^ Battersea Power Station Community Group.

External links

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