On this day…1 April

On 1 April 1915 Joyce agreed to have JB Pinker act as his agent.

James B Pinker had established himself in a short time as a very successful literary agent in England. Among his clients were Arnold Bennett, DH Lawrence, Katherine Mansfield, John Middleton Murry, Somerville and Ross, Dorothy Richardson, Rebecca West and, after April 1915, James Joyce.

Pinker, born in 1863, had worked as a magazine editor before setting himself up in 1896 as a literary agent in competition with the firm of AP Watt. In an interview in 1898 Pinker said “My ambition is to have a few clients, and add to the list each year some of the young writers who want help.” He added that he aimed to do the best for everyone on his list of clients: “You must take each one as if he were your only client, see that his work is as good as he can make it, and then run him as if he were the best man on your list.”

In 1915, HG Wells drew Pinker’s attention to the serialisation of Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in the Egoist magazine. On 10 February, Pinker wrote to Joyce asking if he would like him to be his agent. Joyce, who couldn’t get to London (even if he had wanted to) because of the war, replied to ask if Pinker would mind being interviewed by Ezra Pound on his behalf. At the end of March Pound, having spoken to Pinker, wrote to Joyce and told him to sign with Pinker.

Joyce then wrote to Pinker on 1 April 1915, agreeing to have Pinker act as his agent, but also seeking changes in the draft agreement Pinker had sent through Pound. From then until 1939, the firm of James B Pinker & Sons was, at least officially, Joyce’s agent.

However, the difficulty for Pinker was the fact that others had already been acting on Joyce’s behalf. Ezra Pound in particular, but also Harriet Weaver and Ben Huebsch, had been doing what they could to promote Joyce’s name and to get his work into print. Even after Joyce signed with Pinker, the efforts of these others continued, as did Joyce’s efforts on his own behalf with anyone he thought might publish his work. All of these efforts often took over Pinker’s role, and so Pinker often end up simply following instructions from Joyce on who to deal with.

Indeed many of Joyce’s letters to Pinker over the years are simply demands for statements of account, or requests to Pinker to chase up royalties or other payments due to Joyce from one source or another. At the time Joyce was making efforts to break into the American market, and Pinker did not yet have an American office to do this work. In any case, Pinker found it difficult to place Joyce’s material, and though Joyce’s name was an important one for Pinker’s list, Pinker didn’t go as far in cultivating Joyce as he did with clients like Arnold Bennett or DH Lawrence. The result was that by 1921, Joyce had fallen out with Pinker and much of his agent’s work fell to Harriet Weaver instead.

On 8 February 1922 JB Pinker died in New York, and his sons – Eric, James and Ralph – took over the agency. Though Joyce remained on the Pinker agency’s list, much of the work was looked after over the coming years by Sylvia Beach and later Paul Léon. It was not until 29 March 1939 that Joyce finally broke with the Pinker firm.


Sources & Further Reading:

Gillies, Mary Anne: The Professional Literary Agent in Britain, 1880-1920, Toronto: University of Toronto Press, 2007.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.