On July 11, 1920 Irish author James Joyce met Sylvia Beach, an American transplant to Paris who had opened a bookshop called Shakespeare and Company a little under a year before. Shakespeare and Company served as the central social, literary, and financial hub for writers in Paris during the 1920s. Acting as a bookshop, lending library, bank, and post office, Sylvia Beach’s shop was peopled by such writers as Gertrude Stein, Ernest Hemingway, T. S. Eliot, Djuna Barnes, William Carlos Williams, and John Dos Passos. Two years after they first met, the combination of Joyce’s genius and Beach’s adept handling of printers, money, advertising, and Joyce himself, resulted in the publication of Ulysses. The novel was first serialized in the Little Review. The then current editors of the journal were indicted in 1921 on obscenity charges for publishing the Nausicca section of the text, and all hope of publication into novel form seemed to recede until Beach offered to publish it (Dictionary of Literary Biography). On February 2, 1922 the first edition of Ulysses was published in Paris, followed closely by the English first edition on October 12, 1922 by the Egoist Press.
The Burns owns both a first edition as well as a copy of the second printing of the first edition, which belonged to James Joyce himself. The first print run was fairly small and the books are all numbered. This particular book reads in part: “…750 copies on handmade paper numbered from 251-1000. No 773”. The paper is thick, with deckle edges and pale blue wrappers. Plain, with no decoration, the wrappers include the title in large white letters on the front and little else. The book is in good condition, free of markings, with a tight binding and an intact paper cover.
The Burns Library copy of the first English edition, otherwise known as the second printing of the first edition, is in quite different condition. The Egoist Press bought the text plates from the Dijon printer, Maurice Darantiere, so the body of the text looks the same. With another small print run, the book reads, “This Edition is limited to 2000 copies of handmade paper numbered from 1 to 2000. No 1658”. Five hundred of those 2,000 copies were confiscated by New York Postal authorities on the grounds of obscenity. The handmade paper in this edition is a little thinner, though the deckle edges are still present. The paper cover is the same blue with a simple white title, but it shows signs of extended use. The front cover is falling off, having been largely severed from the spine, as has the back cover. The front cover is ripped and folded under and both back and front covers were repaired with Scotch tape at some point in their ownership history. With no notes about previous ownership in the catalog record, it is only known for sure that two people owned this book before Boston College: James Joyce and a C. U. Clark. When Clark purchased the book he wrote the following on the epitaph: “C. U. Clark bought from J. A. Joyce British Museum London”. Whether it was Joyce reading his own work that managed to wear out the cover of the book is unknown, but the cover indicates prolonged use, and hopefully enjoyment, by a reader at some point in time. The pages are unmarked and the binding, though looser than the Paris edition, is still fairly tight. If you are interested in these books or other holdings in the Irish collection, please contact the Burns Library at 617-552-4861 or email@example.com. For more information on the complicated publication history of Ulysses, take a look at the Wikipedia entry for Ulysses or visit Genetic Joyce Studies.
- Rachel A. Ernst, Burns Library Reading Room Student Assistant & Ph.D. student in the Department of English
Fitch, Noel Riley. “Sylvia Beach.” Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 4: American Writers in Paris, 1920-1939.The Gale Group, 1980: 28-37.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1922.
—Ulysses. London: Egoist Press, 1922.