On this day…5 November

On 5 November 1925 Joyce expressed his concerns about Samuel Roth.

Joyce expressed his concerns in a letter to Harriet Weaver on 5 November 1925, but the issue went back further than that. Samuel Roth, better known as a publisher of erotica, had begun to publish extracts from Joyce’s Work in Progress but without Joyce’s permission. It was the beginning of a long struggle between Joyce and Roth over copyright of his works in America.

Joyce’s attention had been drawn to Roth’s plans by advertisements that Roth had placed in prestigious publications such as the Nation in London and the New Republic in New York. The advertisements were for a new quarterly magazine, Two Worlds – A Literary Quarterly Devoted to the Increase of the Gaiety of Nations, published by Samuel Roth ostensibly with Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, and Arthur Symons listed among the editors.

According to the advertisements, the first issue of Two Worlds, to be published on 15 September 1925, was to contain an instalment of a new work by Joyce, with a second instalment following in the next issue. This announcement came as a surprise to Joyce. He had had a letter from Roth back in February 1921 when Roth was in London, but had not replied to it, and had never sent him any manuscript or promised him anything for publication. Ford Madox Ford assured Joyce that he knew nothing of the new magazine beyond what he had seen in the advertisements, and Joyce felt sure that neither Pound nor Symons had anything to do with it either.

Joyce wrote to his agent Eric Pinker asking him to investigate the matter, and on 5 November 1925 he wrote to Harriet Weaver about his concerns. By that time the first issue of Two Worlds had been published containing part of Work in Progress, and on 25 September Joyce had received a letter from Samuel Roth in which he asked Joyce for something to publish. Joyce hadn’t replied to that letter either but had sent a couple of cables to New York to try and find out what was going on. One American journalist had told Joyce that securing such advertisements was very expensive and was normally only possible for magazines with circulation numbers in the thousands. Two Worlds, however, only had a circulation of 450!

We now know that Joyce was, in fact, paid $200 by Samuel Roth but, though Roth promised further payments, nothing more was paid. In all, five instalments of Work in Progress appeared in Two Worlds and represent the first American publication of any part of what was to become Finnegans Wake. Apparently, Roth later confided to Ernest Hemingway that he had only been using Joyce’s name as a way of attracting more subscribers.

Roth later went on to publish Two Worlds Monthly, a magazine of erotica in which he published parts of Ulysses, and he even dedicated the first issue of his new magazine to Joyce. In 1929 he pirated a facsimile of the 1927 Shakespeare & Company edition of Ulysses, thus effectively publishing the first complete American edition of Ulysses.


Sources & Further Reading:

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