On this day…12 July

On 12 July 1920 Joyce visited Shakespeare and Company for the first time.

Having met Sylvia Beach for the first time on 11 July, Joyce paid her a visit at her bookshop, Shakespeare and Company on the rue Dupuytren, on Monday 12 July 1920. The name Shakespeare and Company was to become forever associated with Joyce as the imprint under which Ulysses was finally published in 1922.

In her autobiography, Sylvia Beach gives a wonderful description of Joyce walking up the hill towards her bookshop in his blue serge suit with his hat on the back of his head, wearing a pair of not-very-white tennis shoes and twirling his ashplant as he walked. The ashplant reminded her of Stephen Dedalus. Despite his shabbiness, Joyce always appeared distinguished, she thought.

When he entered the shop on that first visit he spent a while looking at her photographs of Whitman, Poe and Wilde, and at two Blake drawings. Sitting in an armchair, he explained that it was Pound who persuaded him to come to Paris, but that he now had to find somewhere to live, and some means of looking after his family, and also had to finish Ulysses. His plan was to teach English and he asked if she knew anyone who might want lessons.

Discussing his writing, he told her that he wrote mainly at night, after finishing any English lessons he had to give. The result, he claimed, had been a strain on his eyes. Beach asked if he had considered dictating and he said no. He explained that he wrote by hand even though it slowed him down. Otherwise, he thought, he would write too fast. He said he liked to see his work develop word by word as he wrote it.

As part of her bookshop, Beach ran a lending library. Members paid a fee and were allowed to take out one or two volumes for a fortnight at a time. Joyce asked if he could join, and took a copy of JM Synge’s Riders from the Sea from the shelf, saying he would like to borrow it. He told her that he had made a translation of it and had been involved in a production of it in Zurich. Different from other members of the library, Joyce took out dozens of books at a time, and sometimes kept them for years.


Sources & Further Reading:

Beach, Sylvia: Shakespeare and Company, New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1959.

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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