February 2022 marks the 100th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses. This blog highlights some of the inspiration for Joyce’s influential, if controversial, book and some of the different editions owned by Trinity College.
Inspired by Homer’s Odyssey, Joyce’s Ulysses contains parallels to the Greek classic. The original epic poem tells the story of Odysseus’ journey home from the Trojan war to his wife Penelope. Joyce’s novel follows the movements of advertising salesman Leopold Bloom around Dublin on a single day – June 16th 1904 – before he returns home to his wife Molly.
This ‘livre d’artiste’ – The Illiad and the Odyssey – from the Kessler Collection (Kessler.a.4) is illustrated by Paul Thomas, with an accompanying text by writer Elizabeth Cook. A drawing of a Dublin pub scene, including the figure of Joyce, mirrors the feast held to celebrate the beginning of Telemachus’ journey to seek his father Odysseus.
Between 1918 and 1920, the first chapters of James Joyce’s Ulysses were initially serialised in two literary magazines: The Egoist in London and The Little Review in the United States. At this point Joyce was living in Paris having had an itinerant existence writing and teaching in universities across Europe. Joyce had already caught the attention of notable writers of the time with his earlier work A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916). Writer Ezra Pound, who worked on both magazines and was a champion of Joyce’s work, warned him that his use of strong language and imagery may attract the attention of the authorities.
Indeed Ulysses quickly fell foul of obscenity laws in the United States when it became subject to complaint by the Society for the Prevention of Vice. Graphic descriptions of Leopold Bloom going to the toilet and engaging in sexual acts with his wife Molly along with bawdy language were more than the censors would allow. In 1920 editions of The Little Review were confiscated and in 1921 the editors were put on trial for obscenity. They were found guilty, prohibited from publishing any further material from Ulysses and fined. In London, news of this obscenity case meant that publishers were wary of trying to publish Ulysses in England for fear of prosecution.
Joyce was disappointed by the problems of publishing in the United States and England, but refused to make any changes to his book. When Joyce told expat Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company Bookseller and Lending Library in Paris of the troubles he was having finding a publisher she asked if she could publish Ulysses in France where publishing laws were more liberal. The initial edition of 1000 copies was advertised by prospectus and sold privately by subscription to a distinguished list of readers. The first edition was due in late 1921, but Joyce revised and added to each proof as it came off the press delaying and complicating the process. Portions of the manuscript were destroyed when the husband of a woman who was typing it out grabbed the pages and threw them on the fire. Fortunately John Quinn an American lawyer who had defended the case in the United States had made photostats of the fair copy.
Ulysses was finally published on 2nd February 1922 – James Joyce’s 40th birthday. In London, The Egoist edited by Harriet Shaw Weaver, agreed to buy the printing plates to publish another edition, again by subscription in the hope that private sales would avoid the attention of the authorities. Later that year The Egoist Press edition of 2000 copies was printed with a list of Joyce’s corrections included.
After the first Shakespeare and Company edition of 1000 copies was posted to readers around the world, authorities in England and the United States were alert to the indecent material and subsequent printings were largely burned or confiscated.
Adrienne Monnier, another publisher and bookseller, kept a bookshop La Maison des Amis des Livres close to Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Monnier hosted a lecture in 1921 to bring Ulysses to a French readership. Two hundred and fifty people attended the meeting at which translated extracts were read in French by novelist Valery Larbaud. Joyce’s epic of puzzles and wordplay was a great challenge to the translators who took it on. Monnier, along with Auguste Morel, Stuart Gilbert and Valery Larbaud worked on a full translation with the assistance of Joyce.
This original French translation was published in 1929. This volume (Kessler.b.2) has a fine binding by Jean de Gonet (b. 1950). It is a beautiful example of one of de Gonet’s moulded plastic ‘revorim’ bindings with a grey leather spine.
The ban in the United States was lifted in 1934 after another trial but it was not until 1936 that Ulysses was openly published in England. Once the ban was lifted in the United States new editions appeared. The many corrections and revisions of the text over the years has led to much debate over which version is the most accurate.
A finely-bound, illustrated copy was produced by the ‘Limited Editions Club’ of New York in 1935. Illustrated by French artist Matisse, it was signed by both Matisse and Joyce. Matisse was inspired by six subjects from Homer’s Odyssey and the volume (Kessler.a.34) includes reproductions of his preparatory drawings and sketches.
The ‘Limited Editions Club’ was founded in 1929 by George Macy to publish by subscription finely-made, illustrated editions of classics of world literature and thought. During the depression of the 1930s, Macy was able to support many artists by offering them illustrative work.
While Ulysses remains a challenge to some, it has millions of devotees and has been translated into many languages. Each year Joyce is celebrated on Bloomsday – June 16th – in Dublin and around the world.