On this day…1 September

On 1 September 1876 Harriet Shaw Weaver was born.

Weaver grew up in a conservative Anglican family, educated by a governess until she was eighteen. Her parents would not allow her to go to university, but she later took courses at the London School of Sociology and Social Economics, and at the London School of Economics. Despite her wealthy conservative background, Weaver had a social conscience and became involved in social work and the suffragette movement.

She was a subscriber to the Freewoman, a suffragist magazine edited by Dora Marsden and Mary Gawthorpe, and later supported it financially. The magazine was renamed the Egoist in 1914 and Weaver succeeded Marsden as editor. Through the involvement of Ezra Pound, the magazine became associated with the avant garde of literary modernism and published writers such as Joyce, TS Eliot, and Wyndham Lewis.

The Egoist began serialising A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man on 2 February 1914, and Weaver struggled with problems with printers and wartime postal restrictions in order to publish Joyce’s first novel. Her advance royalty payments were important at a time when Joyce had very little money, and in February 1917, shortly after her Egoist Press published A Portrait of the Artist in book form, she began giving him gifts of money.

Initially she gave him £200 a year during the war, but later she placed a large amount of money in trust on his behalf, the interest from which would give Joyce a guaranteed income for life. Joyce’s spendthrift habits combined with his health problems and the illness of his daughter Lucia meant that he soon started eating into the capital sum as well. Despite her dislike of his drinking and her feeling that he could live more cheaply, Weaver continued to support him throughout his life, and used her own money to support his family after his death.

The Egoist attempted to serialise Joyce’s Ulysses but again ran into problems with printers, and by 1919, with higher costs and fewer subscribers, Weaver decided to close the magazine down. She continued her efforts on Joyce’s behalf, first to find an English publisher for Ulysses, and then to import copies of the book printed in France into England, but without success.

As Joyce began work on his new book, he involved Weaver from the start, first as his typist and then as his archivist. Though Weaver feared he was wasting his talent on this new book, she pledged her continuing support and tempered her own feelings in order to assuage his anxiety. In addition to helping Joyce, Weaver also tried to help his daughter Lucia, bringing her to London to stay with her for a period in the 1930s. Joyce’s letters to Weaver, whether written by himself or by Paul Léon on his behalf, are full of Joyce’s ailments and complaints and family problems, and often seem to have been aimed at inducing suitably sympathetic responses from Weaver.

Apart from her support for Joyce, Weaver continued to support various social causes and was a member of both the Labour Party and the Communist Party, and after she moved from London to Oxford, she helped out at the Communist Party’s bookshop there. She heard the news of Joyce’s death on the radio on 13 January 1941, and immediately sent money to Nora. Weaver soon became Joyce’s executrix and the administrator of Joyce’s estate. Later she became Lucia’s guardian, and had Lucia transferred to St Andrew’s in Northampton where Lucia lived the rest of her life.

Throughout the 1940s and 50s Weaver dedicated a lot of time to the management of Joyce’s estate and to providing assistance to Joyce scholars. She donated her collection of Finnegans Wake material to the British Library, and gave the manuscript of A Portrait of the Artists as a Young Man, and the copy numbered number one of the first Shakespeare and Company edition of Ulysses to the National Library of Ireland. She also donated Joyce material to the National Book League.

In the 1950s Weaver moved to Saffron Waldon where she died on 14 October 1961.


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.

More on the Egoist magazine here.