On this day…17 May

On 17 May 1921 John Quinn sent photostats of some pages of ‘Circe’ to Joyce.

The reason for this was that the husband of one of Joyce’s typists was so disgusted by what he read that he burnt the manuscript his wife was typing. Joyce had already sent the original of the manuscript to Quinn and had no other manuscript of his own from which to reconstruct the burnt parts, so he had to ask Quinn to send him the missing pages.

Joyce felt that Circe herself was punishing him for what he had written, and he called it the ‘cursed’ Circe chapter. Most of the typists Joyce was using were helpful amateurs, but the results were not always helpful. In one case, the typist couldn’t bring herself to type in certain words, and so she left gaps where the words had to be filled in afterwards. Another could only type an hour or so each evening after getting a full-time job. In fact, Joyce claimed that ‘Circe’ had been typed on so many different kinds and colours of paper, and on so many different typewriters that it was a horrible thing to behold!

One typist had to give up typing the episode when her father, Dr Livisier, a famous Paris doctor, had a heart attack, and after this incident the manuscript was given to Mrs Harrison to type. At six o’clock on 8 April 1921 Mrs Harrison arrived at Joyce’s apartment in an agitated state to inform him that her husband, who worked at the British Embassy, had burnt part of the manuscript.

Apparently, she had left some pages on a table where her husband found them. After reading them, he tore them up and burnt them. Joyce told Quinn that this was followed by hysterical scenes in the house and on the street. From what she was able to tell him, Joyce couldn’t make out how much had been destroyed. Mrs Harrison told him she had hidden the rest, and she left, promising to return in an hour with everything.

As it happened, she didn’t return until the next day, leaving Joyce in suspense overnight. When she arrived with the package containing the remainder of the manuscript, Joyce realised that luckily only about six or seven pages had been destroyed. They covered the later part of the episode, from the time Bloom leaves Bella Cohen’s brothel to the beginning of the quarrel with the soldiers.

In addition to the ‘Circe’ manuscript, Joyce had also given Mrs Harrison copies of the Little Review and of the ‘Oxen of the Sun’ typescript to help her in preparing the typescript of ‘Circe.’ Despite writing to her, Joyce still hadn’t got these back three weeks later, and he was trying to track her down where she worked in the hope that her husband hadn’t burnt these things too.

Since Joyce had already sent the manuscript to John Quinn in New York, he had only his notes to work from to try and reconstruct the missing pages, and so he wrote to Quinn asking him to send the relevant pages back. Perhaps fearing the curse of Circe, Quinn instead had photostats made of the pages and sent them to Joyce on 17 May.


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.