On this day…14 April

On 14 April 1918 Harriet Weaver visited Virginia and Leonard Woolf.

Weaver’s purpose in visiting the Woolfs on Sunday 14 April 1918 was to find out if they would be willing to print Joyce’s Ulysses using the printing press they had recently set up. In the end, the Woolfs decided that Joyce’s book was too long to print using their handpress.

Harriet Weaver had been encountering problems with printers who were refusing to print all of Joyce’s text. The printers were worried that they might be prosecuted of obscenity if they printed what Joyce wrote, and Weaver hoped to get around this problem by finding a private press to do the printing. It was TS Eliot who suggested that the Woolfs might print Ulysses using their handpress, and Weaver arranged to visit them at Hogarth House on 14 April 1918.

Virginia and Leonard Woolf moved into Hogarth House, 34 Paradise Road, Richmond, south west London, in 1915 and set up their printing press and publishing house under the name Hogarth Press in 1917. They worked the press themselves: Leonard managing the printing, and Virginia setting up the type. Their first publication, Two Stories, appeared in July 1917 with irregularly spaced words and blotches of ink, but they soon began to master the techniques. The Hogarth Press mainly published works by the Woolfs and other authors associated with the Bloomsbury circle.

Harriet Weaver arrived for the meeting bearing a brown paper parcel that contained the typescript of Ulysses, such as it was at that stage. This piece of “dynamite,” as Leonard Woolf called it, was put in the top drawer of a cabinet in the sitting room. It is clear from Virginia Woolf’s account in her diary that she expected something different from the editor of the Egoist magazine. Woolf remarked on Miss Weaver’s mauve suit and grey woollen gloves, and described Weaver’s table manners as being those of a “well bred hen.”

The Woolfs seemed struck by the difference between their mild-mannered guest and the contents of her magazine and of the brown paper package she had brought with her. Virginia wondered how this woman had ever managed to come in contact with the writers she was publishing in the Egoist, and how their “filth” came to issue from her mouth. Recollecting the scene again after Joyce’s death, she remarked on the incongruous contrast between the content of Joyce’s indecent pages and the spinsterly missionary who brought the brown paper parcel to the Woolfs’ tea-table. According to her biographer, Weaver was hurt and angered by Woolf’s comments when she read them later, particularly Woolf’s comments on her grey woollen gloves!

It was not until a month after this meeting that Virginia Woolf wrote from her country retreat at Monk’s House in Sussex to say that the book’s length – which she estimated at 300 pages – would take two years to print using their handpress. She added that she had instructed the servants at Hogarth House to send the manuscript back to Weaver. When she received it, Harriet sent a curt acknowledgement to the Woolfs.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Lidderdale, Jane, & Mary Nicholson: Dear Miss Weaver – Harriet Shaw Weaver 1876-1961, London: Faber & Faber, 1970.

Woolf, Virginia: A Writer’s Diary – Being Extracts from the Diary of Virginia Woolf, edited by Leonard Woolf, Mariner Books: (1954) 2003.

—: The Diary of Virginia Woolf, vol. I, 1915-1919, edited by Anne Olivier Bell, with an Introduction by Quentin Bell, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1979.

More information about the Hogarth Press here.