On this day…18 March

On 18 March 1926 Joyce wrote to Harriet Weaver about Samuel Roth publishing Work in Progress.

At the time, Joyce was revising the first three of what was to be four watches of Shaun with the prospect of having them published in Samuel Roth’s Two Worlds quarterly magazine. However, in his letter to Harriet Weaver on 18 March, he expresses his doubts about Roth as a publisher.

Samuel Roth (1894-1974) had first expressed an interest in Joyce’s work in 1921 when he was a correspondent for the New York Herald in England. In the mid-1920s it seems that he had contacted Joyce with a view to publishing parts of Work in Progress in a new magazine he was planning: Two Worlds – A Literary Quarterly Devoted to the Increase of the Gaiety of Nations. Roth paid Joyce $200 for the publication. Though he promised further payments, nothing more was paid.

Five parts of Work in Progress appeared under the title ‘An Unnamed Work’ in Roth’s Two Worlds quarterly, starting with the first edition in September 1925 and continuing in the editions of December 1925, and March, June, and September 1926. This constituted the first American publication of any part of what became Finnegans Wake.

By the time Joyce wrote to Harriet Weaver in March 1926 about Roth, Joyce had heard some disquieting news from Ernest Hemingway. Apparently Roth had confided to Hemingway that he had only suggested publishing Joyce as a way of attracting subscribers to his Two Worlds magazine. Most likely, Roth was hoping that subscribers would be attracted not by Joyce’s reputation as an experimental writer but by his reputation for obscenity. Roth seems to have told Hemingway that having secured his thousands of subscribers he no longer needed Joyce as his subscribers were interested in a very different kind of material – obviously the more salacious material that Roth was associated with.

However, Roth’s interest in publishing Joyce continued. In July 1926 Roth decided to publish a Two Worlds Monthly magazine. Cheekily, he dedicated the first issue to Joyce, but in it he published the first of several extracts from Ulysses without permission or payment. He continued pirating parts of Ulysses in Two Worlds Monthly until October 1927.  Finally, in October 1929, Roth published a pirated facsimile of the 1927 Shakespeare and Company edition of Ulysses, effectively publishing the first complete, albeit illegal, edition of Ulysses in America.


Sources & Further Reading:

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, London: Faber & Faber, 1957; vol. III, edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.

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