Sitting in the backroom of Librairie Six, his friend’s bookstore and art gallery, English poet and publisher John Rodker, 27, is pretty sure he has everything organized for the big day tomorrow.
John Rodker surrounded by publishing friends
In a little more than a month he has managed to pull together the publication of a second edition of the scandalous novel Ulysses by Irish-expat in Paris James Joyce, 40, the day before the copies arrive from the Dijon-based printer Darantiere.
Back in England, Rodker had been approached by one of Joyce’s many benefactors, Harriet Shaw Weaver, 46, publisher of Joyce through her Egoist Press and Egoist magazine.
Weaver has bought the British rights to all Joyce’s work, and she is eager to publish a second edition to follow up the debut of Ulysses this past February, published by the Left Bank bookshop Shakespeare and Company, owned by American ex-pat Sylvia Beach, 35.
Ulysses has been banned in America and confiscated in the UK, so Harriet has determined that the best approach is to have all the production, promotion and administrative work done in Paris, and then ship the books out to other, less tolerant, countries.
Rodker is a good choice for this assignment as he has already founded Ovid Press to publish limited editions, and, as a Conscientious Objector during the Great War, is willing to take risks for his principles.
Joyce, Beach and Weaver look at this second edition as an opportunity to correct the more than 200 typographical errors they’ve found in Shakespeare and Company’s 700-page original. However, rumors are circulating that pirates in the States are hurrying to bring out unauthorized editions. Weaver knows she has to work faster than originally planned. So—no corrections.
From this backroom office Rodker has mailed out flyers trumpeting the publication and then processed the orders. The plan he and Weaver concocted to service the UK customers involves him sending a bulk shipment to a collaborative wholesaler in London who will unbind them, pull them apart, shove sections inside British newspapers to avoid confiscation and tariffs, and then send them to the States via a merchant ship with a first mate who has agreed to serve as their smuggler. The American wholesalers will put each clandestine copy back together and deliver it to middlemen and booksellers.
Weaver will finance the whole operation, including £200 for Rodker’s services.
Rodker’s next step is to receive the shipment of 2,000 copies—complete with typos—from Darantiere tomorrow.
Ulysses, published by the Egoist Press
About a half hour’s walk across the Left Bank, in the basement of the Hotel Verneuil, Rodker’s partner in crime, critic Iris Barry, 27 (actually Sylvia Crump from Birmingham, UK), has set up shop to handle the fulfillment function for individual orders.
In this small room she has gathered rolls of brown parcel paper, piles of mailing labels, scissors and string. When the books arrive tomorrow, she will wrap and tie up each one individually, write out the address of the brave person in America who has ordered it, and then take Ulysses to the nearby post office in groups of four or five and send them off with a prayer that each will be delivered to its buyer before U. S. Customs starts confiscating them.
In London, Miss Weaver has decided to handle the delivery to local individuals and bookstores herself. Those copies will be sent by Rodker to a private mailing firm. When the Egoist Press receives an order from a bookshop, Harriet plans to pick up the copies from the mailing company and take them—discreetly—to the store which placed the order. There they will keep Ulysses behind the counter until a special customer requests a copy.
Gloucester Place, Marylebone
Although Weaver’s lawyers have advised against it, she is going to keep some copies of Ulysses in her office and her home. Her wealthy family has always supported Harriet’s work for liberal causes but cannot imagine why she is interested in publishing smut. Her brother-in-law laments,
How could she? How could she? An enigma! An enigma!”
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA and on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early next year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, and about The Literary 1920s in Paris and New York City at 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 also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.