On 1 August 1911 Joyce wrote to King George V.
The reason for the letter was the changes that Maunsel & Company were demanding in references to Edward VII and Queen Victoria in the story ‘Ivy Day in the Committee Room.’
Part of the passage in question had originally referred to Victoria as Edward’s “bloody ‘owl mother,” and claimed that Edward was an old man by the time she finally died and the throne passed to him. Grant Richards objected to the use of the word ‘bloody’ here and elsewhere in Dubliners, and Joyce reluctantly agreed to remove it from this passage.
By the time Dubliners went to Maunsel & Company, the passage had been changed again and now referred to Edward’s “bloody old bitch of a mother” keeping him from the throne. George Roberts for Maunsel & Company objected to this, and Joyce replaced the entire phrase with the words “old mother” instead. Roberts, however, felt this was ineffective, and asked Joyce to rewrite the paragraph entirely, which Joyce refused to do.
Growing impatient with Roberts’ demands, Joyce pointed out that his English publisher Grant Richards had not demanded such changes when Edward was still alive and on the throne, and that he could not understand such demands coming from an Irish publisher now that Edward was dead. Joyce offered several other ways of dealing with Roberts’ objections, but these too were refused.
Finally, on 1 August 1911, Joyce wrote to King George V, Edward VII’s son, enclosing a proof of the story with the relevant passages marked, and asking if George found it offensive to the memory of his father. Ten days later Joyce received a reply from the King’s private secretary saying that it was “inconsistent with rule” for the King to offer any opinion on such matters, and returning Joyce’s proofs.
Armed with this reply, Joyce wrote a letter to the press, outlining his experiences in trying to get his book published in England and in Ireland. He quoted the reply he received from Buckingham Palace, and also quoted the entire contentious passage, figuring that, if it was published in the newspapers, Roberts could not continue to object.
Though Joyce sent the letter to several newspapers, only Sinn Féin published the letter in full. The Belfast Northern Whig also published it, but without giving the passage from the story. Despite all of Joyce’s efforts, Roberts continued to object.
Sources & Further Reading:
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.