On 24 August 1926 Joyce received a typescript of the German translation of Ulysses.
The German translator, Georg Goyert, sent the typescript of his translation to Joyce and then arrived in Ostend, where Joyce was on holidays, to work with him on the translation.
Goyert had been chosen in a competition to find a translator for Ulysses. His translation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (Jugendbildnis: Roman) had been published in April 1926 by Rhein-Verlag, the Swiss-based German publishing house owned by Daniel Brody.
Joyce spent four days working through the translation with Goyert in Ostend, but they only managed to cover 88 pages. With the translation due to be published in October, Joyce felt things were being rushed, and claimed that it was full of the most absurd errors and gaps. He even threatened to write a disclaimer to the German press if the publisher didn’t allow more time. Brody agreed to push back the deadline, and Joyce and Goyert met again in Paris to continue the revision. By March 1927 Joyce was working through the proofs of the translation.
The publication of the translation was heralded in Germany with an article by Ivan Goll, Rhein-Verlag’s Paris agent, in the Literarische Welt magazine in June 1927 in which Joyce was declared ‘the Homer of our time’! Only 1000 copies of the luxury three-volume translation were published in the middle of October 1927, with another 100 copies distributed to the press. The publishers had concerns about a possible ban on the book, so the book was available only by subscription and subscriptions were limited to people over twenty-five years of age with a serious interest in literature. Artists, lawyers and doctors, however, could subscribe without restriction!
In November, Joyce wrote to thank Brody for sending him a copy of the book, and told him that it was very handsome and very tastefully done. Despite these congratulations, Joyce was not happy with the translation. The first edition sold out within three weeks and plans were made for a second edition with more revisions to the text. The second edition of three thousand copies was published in 1930 and was subject to the same subscription rules as the first edition.
In addition to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses, Goyert also translated Dubliners (Dublin: Novellen, published in 1928) and Anna Livia Plurabelle (published in 1946).
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.
Mitchell, Breon: James Joyce and the German Novel, 1922-1933, Athens: Ohio University Press, 1976.
Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.
Weniger, Robert: ‘James Joyce in German-speaking Countries: The Early Reception 1919-1945,’ in The Reception of James Joyce in Europe – vol. I Germany, Northern and East Central Europe, Geert Lernout & Wim Van Mierlo (eds), London: Thoemmes Continuum, 2004.