On this day…21 November

On 21 November 1931 Joyce wrote about Lucia’s lettrines.

In a letter to Harriet Weaver Joyce wrote about designs for initial capital letters that Lucia had made, and which Joyce hoped would be published. They were later used in publications of Joyce’s works and in an illustrated edition of a poem by Chaucer.

The project of making the lettrines seems to have originated with Joyce rather than Lucia. Joyce admired the illuminated initial capital letters in the Book of Kells and claimed he had pored over their workmanship for hours. He told Arthur Power that some of these letters had the essential quality of a chapter of Ulysses, and that much of his work could be compared to these intricate illuminations.

In his letter to Harriet Weaver in November 1931, Joyce wrote that he had used a ruse to get Lucia to make elaborate initial capitals for each of the poems of Pomes Penyeach. Originally they were sent to Herbert Hughes for use in The Joyce Book, to be published by Oxford University Press, but Hughes told him it was too late and that the book had already been set up for printing.

Joyce then pressed for a special limited edition of Pomes Penyeach using Lucia’s lettrines, first with Caresse Crosby, and then with Jack Kahane and Desmond Harmsworth who published it in October 1932. Limited to only 25 copies, it reproduced a facsimile of Joyce’s handwritten manuscript of the poems with Lucia’s illuminated initial capitals printed using the pochoir stencil technique on Japanese nacre paper, bound in green watered silk with gilt lettering and signed by Joyce. They sold for 1000 Francs or £12 each. (Joyce gave a copy of this edition to the university library in Galway.)

In contrast to Joyce’s enthusiasm for his daughter’s lettrines, Lucia herself seemed unconcerned. When Jack Kahane contacted her at the asylum at Feldkirch in connection with the binding for the book, she said she had nothing to do with the decision and deferred instead to her father or Stuart Gilbert.

At the end of October 1932, Joyce told Frank Budgen that Lucia had completed a whole alphabet of lettrines and that he thought they could be used as illuminations for the twenty-three stanzas of Chaucer’s ABC, the stanzas of which begin with each letter of the alphabet in turn (with the exceptions of J, U and W).

Joyce had tried to impress TS Eliot at Faber & Faber with Lucia’s work, and wrote to FV Morley, one of the directors at Faber, with a proposal for the Chaucer ABC. When that didn’t succeed, he proposed it to John Holroyd-Reece of Albatross Press who in turn contacted the London Catholic publishers Burns & Oates about it.

Holroyd-Reece seemed quite convinced that Burns & Oates would publish it but Joyce got no response to numerous inquiries. Holroyd-Reece also managed to misplace the originals of the lettrines and it took eighteen months before they were finally returned to Joyce. Eventually, the Chaucer ABC was published on Lucia Joyce’s birthday in 1936 by Jack Kahane’s Obelisk Press in a limited edition of 300 copies with an introduction by Louis Gillet.

Lucia also provided an illustration, a tailpiece, and an initial capital for the publication of The Mime of Mick, Nick and the Maggies by the Servire Press in June 1934.


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

Pearson, Neil: Obelisk – A History of Jack Kahane and the Obelisk Press, Liverpool: Liverpool University Press, 2007.

Shloss, Carol Loeb: Lucia Joyce – To Dance in the Wake, New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 2003.