Well, she lost that bet.
American ex-patriate Sylvia Beach, 34, owner of this bookstore, had sent a subscription form to legendary Irish playwright, George Bernard Shaw, 65, in London. His former secretary had assured Sylvia that the irascible old man is quite generous. So Sylvia kindly asked him if he would like to subscribe in advance for one of the deluxe editions of the novel, Ulysses, by his countryman James Joyce, 39, which she is planning to publish this fall.
Joyce has never liked Shaw, referring to him as “a born preacher.” He warned Sylvia that the answer will be no. So they bet on it. A silk handkerchief for Beach if Shaw says yes; a box of Voltigeur cigars for Joyce if Shaw says no.
Sylvia Beach and James Joyce
Today she receives a letter saying that Ulysses, which Shaw has read excerpts of in the Egoist magazine, is “a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilization…but a truthful one.” He assumes Beach herself must be
a young barbarian beglamored by the excitements and enthusiasms that art stirs up in passionate material, but to me…it is all hideously real.”
Shaw compares Joyce’s work to making “a cat cleanly by rubbing its nose in its own filth.”
He ends by saying,
I am an elderly Irish gentleman,..If you imagine that any Irishman, much less an elderly one, would pay 150Fr for a book, you little know my countrymen.”
Sylvia pays up to Joyce.
To raise more money for the publication of Ulysses, and the support of Joyce, Sylvia has written once again to one of his patrons, Irish-American New York attorney John Quinn, 51, pleading,
I give him everything I can spare but as you may imagine my shop has not been in existence long enough to support [Joyce’s] family of four people as well as myself…It is up to all of us who want the most important book of today to appear to come to the help of its author.”
This only angers Quinn, so he checks with another of Joyce’s benefactors, American poet Ezra Pound, about to turn 36, in London. Quinn says he’ll send the money if Pound thinks Joyce really needs it, but
I’ll be damned if I’ll do it because Miss Beach asks for it.”
Pound assures him that Joyce isn’t starving. Quinn doesn’t send the money.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I and II covering 1920 and 1921 are available in print and e-book formats on Amazon. For more information, email me at email@example.com.
At the end of the month I will be talking about Writers’ Salons in Dublin and London Before the Great War in the Osher Lifelong Learning program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
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 versions.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.