On this day…31 March

On 31 March 1916 Joyce agreed to Pound’s proposals to get around printers’ objections to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

The publication of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in serial form in the Egoist magazine had been completed in September 1915. But all plans to publish it in book form in England failed as one publisher after another, and one printer after another, rejected it.

A Portrait had been offered first to Grant Richards, the publisher of Dubliners, but he rejected it in May 1915, claiming that there would be no audience for it in wartime. After that it was rejected in turn by Martin Secker, Duckworth, T Werner Laurie, and by Duckworth for a second time after John Lane had urged them to reconsider it.

In November 1915 Harriet Weaver announced that, if all else failed, the Egoist would publish it, despite never having published a book before. But even while it had been appearing in serial form in the Egoist magazine, the Egoist’s printers had refused to print some sentences. Joyce only realised this when he received the January 1915 issue in July 1915 (after it had been delayed by wartime postal services) and noticed that several sentences from the end of chapter IV of the book were missing.

At the end of 1915, DH Lawrence’s book The Rainbow had been banned for obscenity and copies of the book had been confiscated and burnt. This made English publishers and printers even more wary of works that might be considered in any way obscene.

Ezra Pound, who had been doing everything he could to promote Joyce’s work, was frustrated by the problems created by the English printers and the Rainbow trial. He vented his anger in the article ‘Meditatio’ in the Egoist of 1 March 1916, where he said that it was impossible to produce literature in England and America because of printers’ objections.

On 16 March 1916 he wrote to Joyce with proposals for getting around the printers’ objections. The idea was that the Egoist would have the book printed with blank spaces wherever the printers found objectionable material. The missing passages would then be typewritten onto good quality paper and pasted into the blanks in the printed books. Pound said he would do it himself if he had to in order to get the book published.

By this time, seven different English printers had refused to print Joyce’s text as he had written it and so, on 31 March 1916, Joyce wrote to his agent, JB Pinker, to say that he would agree to Pound’s proposals in order to get the book published as soon as possible.

A Portrait was finally published by Ben Huebsch in New York at the end of December 1916. Huebsch then had additional sheets printed and these were sent to England early in 1917. These sheets were bound and published as the English edition of A Portrait on 12 February 1917 by the Egoist Press, thus avoiding any problems with English printers’ objections. There was no prosecution for obscenity.


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.

Pound, Ezra: Pound/Joyce – The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce, with Pound’s Essays on Joyce, edited and with Commentary by Forrest Reid, London: Faber & Faber, 1968.