On this day…16 February

On 16 February 1922 Joyce inscribed a copy of Ulysses for Djuna Barnes.

This copy of Ulysses was inscribed “To Djuna Barnes, James Joyce, Paris 16 February 1922.” It was not one of the numbered copies of the main publication but one of several unnumbered press copies. In September 1952, when she was living in poverty, Barnes sold the book for $125 to the Houghton Library of Harvard University.

Djuna Barnes (1892-1982) was a New York journalist who moved to Paris in 1921 on an assignment from McCall’s Magazine to report on the Left Bank scene. Among those she interviewed was Joyce, and her article appeared in Vanity Fair in April 1922 under the title: “James Joyce: A Portrait of the Man Who is, at Present, One of the Most Significant Figures in Literature.” The article was illustrated with her own drawing of Joyce.

Barnes had read Joyce’s Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, as well as Exiles, which she had recommended to theatre groups in New York. She had read instalments of Ulysses as they appeared in the Little Review in which works of hers were also published, so she was already quite familiar with his work before she arrived in Paris.

Barnes conducted her interviews with Joyce at the Café aux Deux Magots and in her article she described him as wearing a waistcoat inherited from his father. Amongst other things, Joyce told her that Ulysses was a record of “what a man says, sees, thinks, and what such seeing, thinking, saying does to…the subconscious.” He also told her that he feared that people would take the book seriously, “and on the honour of a gentleman,” he said, “there is not one single serious line in it.”

Joyce, who was usually wary of journalists, seems to have had great respect for Barnes, even asking her advice about his daughter Lucia. For her part, Barnes enjoyed visiting Nora and the children at the Joyce’s apartment, and took to heart some of Joyce’s comments about how to write. Ulysses also had a significant influence on her first novel, Ryder (1928), and she read Joyce’s Work in Progress as it appeared in transition and the transatlantic review, magazines that were publishing her works at the same time.


Sources & Further Reading:

Barnes, Djuna: Interviews, edited by Alyce Barry, Washington DC: Sun & Moon Press, 1985.

Deming, Robert H: James Joyce – The Critical Heritage, 2 vols., London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970.

Herring, Phillip: ‘Djuna  Barnes Remembers James Joyce,’ in James Joyce Quarterly, vol. 30, no. 1, Fall 1992, pp. 113-117.

– -: Djuna – The Life and Work of Djuna Barnes, New York: Viking, 1996.

Scott, Bonnie Kime: ‘“The Look in the Throat of a Stricken Animal”: Joyce as Met by Djuna Barnes,’ in Joyce Studies Annual, 1991, pp. 153-176.

Whitley, Catherine: ‘Nations and the Night: Excremental History in James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake and Djuna Barnes’ Nightwood,’ in Journal of Modern Literature, vol. 24, no. 1 Fall 2000.


For Barnes’ image of Joyce from Vanity Fair 1922 click here