“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, late June, 1921, 74 Gloucester Place, Marylebone, London

Harriet Shaw Weaver, 44, publisher and owner of the Egoist Press, is somewhat relieved after reading the letter from Irish novelist James Joyce, 39, living in Paris, one of the writers she has been supporting for years.

A bit ago, two other writers she supports, Englishman Wyndham Lewis, 38, and American Robert McAlmon, 26, had both mentioned to her that their mutual friend Joyce uses some of the money she sends to him to fund a “lavish” lifestyle, meaning most evenings he ends up quite drunk. And she thought that she has been helping out his family.

Wyndham Lewis

Harriet is no prude. She is an active suffragist and has used her family inheritance [her maternal grandfather did quite well in the cotton trade] to support writers and artists, through the Egoist magazine and now her Egoist Press, as well as personally financing many creative individuals. She published excerpts from Joyce’s Ulysses in her magazine even though they had to be printed abroad because English printers wouldn’t touch the “obscene” text.

Early issue of The Egoist

But she wrote to Joyce earlier this month to express her concerns about his drinking.

Harriet is pleased with his response.

Joyce writes that there are lots of rumors about the way he lives. He’s a spy. He’s addicted to cocaine. He’s lazy. And mad. And even dying.

Joyce describes the technique he is using to write the scandalous novel Ulysses

I have not read a work of literature for several years. My head is full of pebbles and rubbish and broken matches and bits of glass picked up ’most everywhere. The task I set myself technically in writing a book from 18 different points of view and in as many styles, all apparently unknown or undiscovered by my fellow tradesmen…would be enough to upset anyone’s mental balance. I want to finish the book and try to settle my entangled material affairs. After that I want a good long rest in which to forget Ulysses completely. I now end this long rambling shambling speech having said nothing of the darker aspects of my detestable character.”

However, at the end of the letter, Joyce confesses about his drinking,

Yet you are probably right.”

Harriet is not sure. She and Joyce have been corresponding almost daily since she published his novel Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man four years ago. Once she has begun to support an artist, she has never wavered.

But should she continue to invest her capital in an Irishman who drinks so much?

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume I covering 1920 is available on Amazon in print and e-book versions. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This summer I am talking about The Literary 1920s in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at the University of Pittsburgh. In the fall I will be giving presentations about writers’ salons in Dublin and London before the Great War in the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.

If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and e-book formats.

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