On this day…28 July

On 28 July 1924 John Quinn died.

New York lawyer John Quinn was an important supporter of Joyce who also acted effectively as Joyce’s representative in America for a time. Though they had been corresponding from August 1916, they didn’t meet for the first time until 14 July 1921 while Quinn was visiting Paris.

Though not particularly wealthy, Quinn (1870-1924) was an important patron of the arts. He was closely associated with Modernist writers such as WB Yeats, Ezra Pound, TS Eliot and James Joyce, and helped to sponsor them by buying their manuscripts.

Quinn’s first contact with Joyce came in August 1916 when he sent Joyce some money. Quinn paid Joyce £20 for corrected proofs of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and bought the fair copy of Joyce’s play Exiles for £25 in 1917, and Quinn authored a review of A Portrait… that was published in Vanity Fair.

In November 1919 Quinn offered to buy the manuscript of Ulysses. At first, Quinn had not liked the language Joyce was using in Ulysses, but Ezra Pound and WB Yeats convinced him that Joyce was a genius and that Ulysses was his masterpiece. Joyce sent Quinn what he already had as fair copy of Ulysses, and sent the remainder bit by bit as he completed the book while Quinn paid in instalments for it.

At the same time Quinn was also acting effectively as Joyce’s agent in America, particularly in dealings with Ben Huebsch who at that time was planning to bring out the American edition of Ulysses. Quinn also acted as defence lawyer for Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, editors of the Little Review, when they were charged with publishing obscenity. Heap and Anderson, however, didn’t have much faith in Quinn’s defence tactics, and in 1921 they were convicted and fined $50.

Late in 1923, Quinn informed Joyce that he was planning to sell the manuscript of Ulysses, and he offered Joyce a percentage of the price. On 14 January 1924 the manuscript was sold for $1,975 to ASW Rosenbach, $25 less than the reserve price. Joyce was disgusted at the low price and refused Quinn’s offer of a percentage. Quinn suggested that it might be possible to buy the manuscript back from Rosenbach, albeit at a much higher price, but Joyce didn’t even respond to that suggestion.

Joyce did not seem to realise that Quinn was seriously ill and was shocked when he received news of Quinn’s death. On 5 August 1924 Joyce sent his condolences to Quinn’s family. Though Quinn had sold many of his important manuscripts at the auction in 1924, he did not sell everything. Perhaps not considering it very valuable, he had kept a draft of the ‘Circe’ episode that Joyce had sent him as a gift, even retaining the envelope in which it arrived. This ‘Circe’ manuscript is now part of the collections at the National Library of Ireland.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

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

Reid, BL: The Man from New York – John Quinn and his Friends, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1968.


View the Quinn ‘Circe’ manuscript here.