On 12 October 1922 the Egoist Press published its edition of Ulysses.
Harriet Weaver’s Egoist Press edition of Ulysses, published in association with John Rodker in October 1922, was effectively the second printing of the first edition of Ulysses, published by Sylvia Beach under the imprint of Shakespeare & Company in February 1922. Intended primarily for the English market, almost 1000 copies of the Egoist Press edition were seized and destroyed by customs officials on both sides of the Atlantic.
Fearing prosecution for obscenity several English printers had earlier refused to print Joyce’s Ulysses for Harriet Weaver, and by the end of August 1920 it was clear to her that any English publication of Ulysses would have to be printed elsewhere. In May 1921, a month after Sylvia Beach agreed to publish Ulysses, the Egoist Press announced that it would bring out an edition of Ulysses as soon as Beach’s edition was fully subscribed.
The Egoist Press had been set up by Harriet Weaver to publish Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man after English publishers and printers had refused to handle it. The pages of A Portrait were printed in America, where it was first published at the end of 1916. The pages were then shipped to England where it was published by the Egoist Press in 1917. The plan for Ulysses was similar: to use Maurice Darantiere’s plates for the first edition of Ulysses to print a new edition that would be published by the Egoist Press, London, and intended for distribution in England.
John Rodker, a poet and proprietor of the Ovid Press, was a regular contributor to the Egoist magazine, and was to act as agent for the Egoist Press in Paris. Rodker, who had taken over from Ezra Pound as foreign editor of the Little Review, had first discussed the possibility of publishing Ulysses with Joyce back in July 1920, shortly after Joyce arrived in Paris from Trieste. At the time, the Joyces were staying in a flat given to them by Ludmila Bloch-Savitsky, French translator of A Portrait, whose daughter Marianne was Rodker’s third wife.
The Egoist Press edition consisted of 2000 numbered copies, plus 100 unnumbered copies for press and publicity. Given that it was printed from the same plates, it was almost identical to the first Shakespeare & Company edition though slightly smaller in format. It had not been possible to make additional corrections to the plates, but an 8-page list of errata was laid into the book (though this list was not ready for some of the early copies). Priced at £2 2s, the first printing of 2000 copies sold out within just four days. The generous agreement with Joyce was that he would receive an advance of £200 and 25% of the royalties until the costs had been covered, after which he’d receive 90%.
Weaver was aware there was still a danger of legal action being taken against Ulysses in England, though no legal challenge had yet been made. For this reason, the Egoist Press edition, like Shakespeare & Company’s, was a private edition, available only to subscribers. Rodker distributed the book by post from his Paris office and through a London mailing agency. Harriet Weaver also kept copies at the Egoist’s London offices (and at her home, in case the offices were raided) and she distributed them by hand to booksellers who sold them from under the counter.
It’s not certain how many copies of this edition were shipped to America (where Ulysses had already been banned), but it seems that US customs authorities seized between 400 and 500 copies, almost all of which were eventually destroyed. To replace them, Rodker had a further 500 copies printed late in January 1923, effectively the third printing of the original Shakespeare & Company edition. This printing included some corrections that had been made to the original plates (though new mistakes also crept in at the same time). One copy of this printing was sent by post to Harriet Weaver, and the remaining 499 copies went by sea to England.
Following the seizure of a copy of Ulysses at Croydon Aerodrome in England in December 1922, English customs authorities decided to ban importation of Ulysses. The 499 copies were confiscated when they arrived at Folkestone, and though it was presumed that all of these were subsequently destroyed, some copies appear to have survived. After this, Ulysses was banned in the UK and, with no prospect of publishing it in England or the US, it fell to Sylvia Beach to continue the publication through Shakespeare & Company.
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, vols II & III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Slote, Sam: ‘Ulysses in the Plural: The Variable Editions of Joyce’s Novel,’ Joyce Studies 2004 Series, No. 5, Dublin: National Library of Ireland, 2004.