On this day…15 November

On 15 November 1922 Joyce discussed Ulysses with Sylvia Beach.

Beach had written to Joyce days earlier with several complaints about issues connected with the publication of Ulysses. Her complaints were various but all were symptomatic of the way she felt that she, as the publisher of Ulysses, had been disregarded by Joyce and his friends.

Joyce wrote to Harriet Weaver on 13 November saying that he had received a lengthy letter from Sylvia Beach which he found upsetting. The letter concerned the second edition of 2000 numbered copies of Ulysses, published on 12 October 1922 in the name of John Rodker for Weaver’s Egoist Press in London. This edition was printed in France to get around the refusal of English printers to print the book, but was ostensibly the first edition published in England.

Beach’s anger may have been stoked by a letter Joyce sent her from Nice at the end of October giving her several instructions, including how to advertise the second edition in the window of Shakespeare and Company, and pointing out problems with press copies. The latter problem seems to have led to Joyce asking Harriet Weaver to have rubber stamps made with ‘PRESS COPY’ and ‘UNNUMBERED PRESS COPY’ on them to prevent free press copies of the book being mistaken for actual copies.

Beach made several complaints about the second edition in her letter and in the meeting with Joyce on Wednesday 15 November 1922. It seems that she objected to having to promote sales of an edition about which, she felt, she had not been properly informed and which was impacting on her own edition of the book. Joyce chose to blame John Rodker for this, but also felt that Rodker had more important things to do.

Another complaint was that the second edition was so similar to the first that the former might be mistaken for the latter, and that Beach might even be subject to prosecution for selling a ‘bogus’ edition, one that had claimed to be exclusive but wasn’t. Joyce dismissed this by claiming that though Darantière had printed both editions from the same plates, the second edition was different in size and weight, and was clearly marked as the second edition. On his return to Paris from Nice on 14 November, Joyce’s train had stopped in Dijon long enough for him to meet Darantière on the platform and Darantière assured him that, apart from the first 350 copies, the first edition wasn’t in fact unique and therefore reproducing it was not in some way diluting an exclusive edition.

Beach also claimed that Paris booksellers had threatened to boycott Ulysses since they felt she had palmed off a ‘bogus’ first edition of Ulysses on them. To counter this, Joyce sent his seventeen-year-old son Giorgio and his friends to some of the main bookshops to ask about Ulysses. Brentano’s, he discovered, had one copy of the first edition for sale at 850 francs and said copies were rare. Terquem’s had no copy of the first edition, but had two copies of the second, selling at 200 francs each. Galignani’s had one copy of first edition but were sold out of second. Giorgio reported back that there was no sign of any angry attitude about second edition among the booksellers.

Writing to Weaver on 17 November about his meeting with Beach, Joyce said that he was concerned not to leave things as they were as hundreds of people visited Beach’s and Monnier’s bookshops and that he didn’t want unfavourable rumours being spread among them. He wished that she hadn’t written as she had, but in the end he also acknowledged that he might, possibly, be partly to blame.


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

– -: James Joyce’s Letters to Sylvia Beach, 1921-1940, edited by Melissa Banta & Oscar A Silverman, Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 1987.