On this day…3 October

On 3 October 1936 the first British edition of Ulysses was published.

Following on from the successful appeal against the ban on Ulysses in America and the success of the Random House edition there, John Lane’s Bodley Head published Ulysses in an edition limited to 1000 copies, its first publication in its complete form in Britain.

There was still some fear at the time that the book would be prosecuted, and an article in the Law Journal of 16 March 1929 had indicated several heads under which the publication of Ulysses could be challenged in England. Then, late in 1932, Joyce heard that the Prime Minister, Ramsay MacDonald, and his Attorney General, Sir Thomas Inskip, had discussed the book and had decided not to prosecute it if it was published in Britain.

Joyce had wanted Faber & Faber to publish Ulysses in England, and Faber were already considering it even before the American ban on Ulysses was lifted in December 1933. But early in 1934, Faber decided that the time was not yet right in England. Publishers Jonathan Cape and Werner Laurie also decided against it.

Though John Lane agreed to publish Ulysses, he was still cautious about it. He sought the advice of a large number of lawyers and solicitors (which Joyce disparaged as a Committee of Public Safety). The legal advice he got was divided and no definitive opinion was forthcoming, despite which he decided to press ahead with publication.

The plan was to bring out a limited edition of just 1000 copies, 100 copies of which would be a deluxe edition, signed by Joyce. It was also to be expensive: copies of the deluxe edition would sell for three guineas each while the 900 regular copies would sell for 30 shillings each. If that was successful, it would be followed by 3000 copies at fifteen shillings in 1935, and an unlimited edition selling for eight shillings and sixpence in 1936.

In July 1934 Lane’s printers refused to print parts of the book, and Bodley Head had to set up its own printing company, Western Printing Services, to print it. Joyce, impatient with the slow pace of progress, threatened to withdraw, but Lane insisted he was going ahead. The problems between Lane and Joyce were added to when Laurence Meynell, in charge of typography and layout, suggested that Joyce should write descriptive running headlines for the top of each of the recto (right-hand) pages: Joyce refused.

By then publication was scheduled for October 1935 but again Lane demurred, this time claiming that the prosecutor had been particularly vigilant in recent times and that it would be better to wait. Paul Léon, acting on Joyce’s behalf, worked closely with Allen Lane, John Lane’s nephew and later the founder of Penguin Books, to ensure that the book would be the best possible, and Léon was particularly complimentary about the meticulousness of the typesetting. Publication was now expected in 1936 and Joyce corrected the proofs while he was holidaying in Copenhagen in August and September.

The last corrections were made by 3 September and printing of the 900 copies went ahead first because of a shortage of the paper for deluxe edition. The advertising campaign was low-key so as not to attract too much attention from the authorities. Advertisements claimed that this would be the ‘final and definitive edition’ of Ulysses but, despite the meticulousness of Lane’s printers, Joyce spotted mistakes in the appendices straight away, and Lane’s own readers discovered more.

Joyce had been asked to write a preface to the book, but refused, and so the publisher decided to include material in appendices, as had happened with the Random House edition. Among the items included were the International Protest against Samuel Roth’s piracy, Judge John Woolsey’s decision, Morris Ernst’s Foreword to the Random House edition, and a Joyce bibliography.

The binding of the book was designed by Eric Gill who was responsible for the gilt bow that appeared on the front cover. The book was finally published on 3 October 1936. The deluxe 100 copies sold quite quickly but the 900 sold more slowly, and some booksellers still refused to stock the book at all.


Sources & Further Reading:

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

Herbert, Stacey: ‘A Draft for “Ulysses in Print: the Family Tree”: An Installation for the Exhibition “James Joyce and Ulysses at the National Library Ireland,”’ in Genetic Joyce Studies, issue 4, Spring 2004. (View here)

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, vol. III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.

– -: The James Joyce/Paul Léon Papers – A Catalogue, compiled by Catherine Fahy, Dublin: National Library of Ireland, 1992.