[I wrote this research essay as an undergraduate. I plan to return to it and revise after completing the episode guides]
Sylvia Beach, Shakespeare & Company, and the Publication of Ulysses
I. Sylvia Beach and Company
In 1901, Reverend Sylvester Woodbridge Beach, the Beach family’s ninth minister, answered a call to spiritually guide Americans on the Left Bank of Paris (Beach 4). Although the nature of this work kept Sylvester, his wife Eleanor, and their three teenage daughters primarily around other Americans, the Beaches fell in love with Paris over the course of these three years. The family moved back home in 1904 when Sylvester was called to pastor the First Presbyterian Church in Princeton, where he had received both his undergraduate and theological degrees (Beach 3, 6). Sylvia would later wonder in her memoirs if living on Library Place “influence[d] [her] choice of career in the book business” (Beach 6-7). The Beach sisters befriended the presidential children of Woodrow Wilson, Grover Cleveland, and James Garfield, who were members of Pastor Beach’s congregation (Beach 7). However stimulating Princeton must have been, the family remained drawn to France and often traveled there singly or together. They would each return to Paris on numerous occasions, and Sylvia would forever change the city’s already rich literary history. In 1917, her interest in contemporary French literature called her to Paris, where she would remain for the remainder of her life.
Sylvia learned that she could find a particular literary review at La Maison des Amis des Livres, a bookshop on rue de l’Odeon. On her first visit there, Sylvia met Adrienne Monnier, the “stoutish” French woman with beautiful “blue-gray” eyes who owned and operated the shop (Beach 13). They took an immediate liking to each other and expressed mutual admiration for their respective nations and languages (Beach 12). As their relationship blossomed into a lifelong love, Adrienne introduced Sylvia to Valery, Gide, Larbaud, and the other prominent French writers of the day. Sylvia was the only American to participate in the world of French literature during this period and developed a vision for a bookshop of her own: a branch of La Maison des Amis des Livres in New York exposing the United States to the French writers and literature for which she had developed such deep admiration and respect (Beach 14, 15). While her available funds were insufficient for a venture of this scale in New York, in Paris the dollar was strong, the rent was cheap, and she found a vibrant interest in American literature among French writers and artists. Consequently, Sylvia’s vision of a French bookshop in New York became an American Bookshop in Paris (Beach 15).
After acquiring the lease for 8 rue Dupuytren, she filled her shelves with all the books she could afford, laid “black and white Serbian rugs on the hardwood floor” (Fitch 42), and decorated her walls with Whitman manuscripts, Blake drawings, letters written by Oscar Wilde, and photographs of these and other great writers of past and present. In the window, she displayed works by Shakespeare, Chaucer, Eliot, Stein, and Joyce. On November 19th, 1919, the doors of Shakespeare and Company finally opened. Sylvia “didn’t really expect to see anybody that day”, but “the shutters … were hardly removed … when the first friends began to turn up. From that moment on, for over twenty years, they never gave [her] time to meditate.” (Beach 20, 21)
Sylvia wisely foresaw the inability of her Left Bank customers to afford the expensive hard-backed books; much of her business came from the rack of American and British literary magazines, including the Egoist, the Nation, the Transatlantic Review, the Dial, the Little Review, The New English Review, and Playboy (Beach 20, 21). The defining institution of Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company, however, was her lending library. New members filled out a large card with name, address, “the date of subscription, the amount of subscription plus the deposit, and, of course, the title of the book he or she took out”, which he or she could keep for two weeks (Beach 21). Sylvia used neither card catalogue nor index, so members had to search for themselves to find the titles they desired.
Shakespeare and Company became famous in the United States, and most expatriates visited the shop soon after arriving in Paris. Gertrude Stein was the first American writer to visit the shop when she and Alice B. Toklas came on March 16th, 1920 (Fitch 54). Ezra Pound, the acknowledged leader of the modernist movement, joined the lending library in the summer of 1920 and used his skills as a carpenter to repair one of the shop’s chairs (Beach 26). Robert McAlmon, “the most popular member of ‘the Crowd’” (Beach 25), wandered in daily and, like many others, even had his mail sent “c/o of Shakespeare and Company” (Beach 25). As a result, Sylvia served the writers of the Lost Generation as postmaster in addition to bookseller, librarian, hostess and friend. While kept extremely busy, she delighted in the daily occurrences of meeting “someone whose work [she] had seen in the Little Review or the Dial” (Beach 23). McAlmon led many of these newcomers to the shop.
In the winter of 1921, Ernest Hemingway found his way to Shakespeare and Company, and he describes Sylvia and her bookstore in A Moveable Feast:
On a cold, windswept street, this was a warm, cheerful place with a big stove in winter, tables and shelves of books, new books in the window, and photographs on the wall of famous writers both dead and living. The photographs all looked like snapshots and even the dead writers looked as though they had really been alive. Sylvia had a lively sharply sculptured face, brown eyes that were as alive as a small animal’s and as gay as a young girl’s, and wavy brown hair that was brushed back from her fine forehead and cut thick below her ears and at the line of the collar of the brown velvet jacket she wore. She had pretty legs and she was kind, cheerful and interested, and loved to make jokes and gossip. No one that I ever knew was nicer to me. … She was delightful and charming and welcoming and behind her, as high as the wall and stretching out into the back room which gave onto the inner court of the building, were shelves and shelves of the wealth of the library. (Hemingway 39)
Hemingway writes with such high regard about no other individual. His outpouring of complimentary descriptive diction such as “warm,” “kind,” “delightful,” “charming,” “welcoming,” “interested,” “nicer,” and “cheerful” (twice) captures the allure of Sylvia’s character. Indeed, this passage may represent one of very few where Ernest Hemingway belabors a point. His repeated use of the conjunction “and” indicates his inability to express adequately his admiration for Miss Beach. The four instances of the related words “lively”, “living”, and “alive” certainly reveals the excited energy of a young writer finding his heaven in a friendly bookstore on the Left Bank.
He recalls being “very shy” (Hemingway 39) on that first visit to Shakespeare and Company, yet Sylvia made him feel sufficiently comfortable to remove his shoes and socks and display “the dreadful scars covering his leg and foot” (Beach 78). While Hemingway did not bring enough money with him to join the lending library, Sylvia let him borrow Tolstoy’s War and Peace and Dostoevsky’s The Gambler and Other Stories anyway, telling him to “pay whenever it’s convenient” (Hemingway 40). Hemingway returned later that afternoon with his first wife, Hadley, to pay for the subscription and the books.
Sylvia, in turn, “felt the warmest friendship for Ernest Hemingway from the day [they] met” and considered him her “best customer” (Beach 77). She remembers seeing him reading magazines and books in the corner of the shop nearly every morning (Beach 77) and describes Hemingway as an “exceptionally wise and self-reliant” (Beach 79) young man with a “deep, deep voice” (Beach 78) and “the true writer’s temperament” (Beach 81). Sylvia and Adrienne suspected that Hemingway was “trying his hand at writing fiction,” but they had to wait months before he offered to read them his work.
Hemingway read us one of the stories from In Our Time. We were impressed by his originality, his very personal style, his skillful workmanship, his tidiness, his storyteller’s gift and sense of the dramatic, his power to create – well, I could go on. (Beach 81)
Sylvia was certainly not alone in her praise of Hemingway’s early prose. Perhaps more than any other figure of the modernist movement, his crisp, true style profoundly changed the way we write the English language.
Through the help of their mutual friend, James Joyce, Sylvia saw through Hemingway’s carefully constructed façade.
I am going to say this whether Hemingway shoots me or not – I have always felt that he was a deeply religious man. Hemingway was a great pal of Joyce’s, and Joyce remarked to me one day that that he thought it was a mistake, Hemingway thinking himself such a tough fellow and McAlmon trying to pass himself off as the sensitive type. It was the other way around, he thought. So Joyce found you out, Hemingway! (Beach 78)
In this way, the writers of the Lost Generation formed a unique community around Sylvia Beach and her bookshop where they could share the emerging ideas of modernism and know each other on highly personal levels.
II. The Epic of Modernism
Ezra Pound persuaded James Joyce to move to Paris and join this community in the summer of 1920. Within Shakespeare and Company’s characteristically American social atmosphere, “Joyce alone was formal – excessively so” (Beach 41). He went by “Mr. Joyce” and insisted on calling Sylvia and Adrienne “Miss Beach” and “Miss Monnier” (Beach 41). The community of writers who spent time at the bookshop embraced Joyce from the moment of his arrival in Paris; they revered him as the leader of their artistic movement and the main character in the epic of modernism. Most were fascinated by A Portrait and some simply referred to him as “God” (Fitch 304), but their manner towards him was one of friendliness rather than of veneration” (Beach 40). Like nearly everyone else, Sylvia regarded Joyce as her intellectual hero, and the two got along well from the first time they met. She writes in her memoirs that she “knew no one so easy to talk with” (Beach 37) and “thought he must have been very handsome as a young man” with his beautiful eyes “deep blue with the light of genius in them” (Beach 36).
He spoke “with a care for the words and the sounds – partly, no doubt, because of his love of language and his musical ear but also…because he had spent so many years teaching English” (Beach 36). They were interrupted during this first conversation when
a dog barked, and Joyce turned pale; he actually trembled. …He had been afraid of dogs since the age of five, when one of ‘the animals’ had bitten him on the chin. Pointing to his goatee, he said that it was to hide the scar. (Beach 37)
Sylvia’s comfortable demeanor seems to immediately compel literary giants to discuss their scars.
The very next day, James Joyce visited Shakespeare and Company and expressed to Sylvia his problems of providing for his family and finishing Ulysses (Beach 38). He had spent his life savings on the move to Paris and needed a steady source of income, so Sylvia offered to send anyone asking for help with languages to Professor Joyce. “Languages apparently were Joyce’s favorite sport,” and he spoke at least ten: English, Italian, French, German, Greek, Spanish, Dutch, Norwegian, Swedish, Danish, Yiddish, and also knew Latin and Hebrew. He only found time to work on Ulysses at night after teaching his lessons and was “beginning to feel the strain on his eyes.” (Beach 38)
Sylvia had noticed abnormalities in Joyce’s right eye the evening before, and he drew a tidy diagram to explain the operation he had had to treat his glaucoma. Despite the obvious difficulties of this affliction, he “always wrote by hand … to see his work as he shaped it word by word.” He had been writing Ulysses for seven years and told Sylvia that he hoped to finish the book after he got his family settled in Paris. She asked about his ongoing battle with the strict censorship laws in Britain and the United States. He told her that “the news from New York was alarming” but that “he would keep [her] informed.” (Beach 39)
The news to which Joyce alluded was perhaps more disastrous than alarming. A copy of the Little Review containing the “Nausicaa” episode of Ulysses inadvertently fell into the hands of a prominent attorney in New York, and the Society for the Suppression of Vice filed two official complaints: one against the Little Review for the publication of obscenity and a second against the Washington Square Bookshop for distributing it (Rainey 47). The United States Post Office withheld delivery of the Little Review “pending the outcome of a hearing scheduled for 4 October” (Rainey 47). Mr. John Quinn, a brilliant Irish-American attorney and the original patron of Ulysses, organized the defense (Beach 39, Rainey 47). He succeeded in getting the charges against Washington Square Bookshop completely dropped and also managed to change the venue of the trial from Special Sessions, where three unsympathetic judges would hear the case, to a trial by jury, where he thought he thought his argument would stand a much better chance. Despite these minor victories, Quinn remained skeptical that the Little Review could win and resorted to a strategy of postponing the trial in order to buy “enough time to get the book in print” (Rainey 47).
But the printing of Ulysses alone posed an enormous challenge. Joyce assumed that he would publish his new book in the same way that he had published A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in 1916: Ben Huebsch would issue Ulysses in the United States before sending the unbound pages to Harriet Weaver, whose Egoist Press would issue the English edition (Rainey 45). The well known legal issues surrounding Ulysses impeded this plan, especially in England, where the law held both the publisher and the printer accountable for issues arising from publication (Rainey 45). Most printers would only undertake the printing of the book if Joyce were to make significant changes to the text, which he absolutely refused to do. In the spring of 1919, Miss Weaver, Joyce’s unofficial agent, met an Irishman who strongly admired Joyce’s earlier work and happened to operate the Pelican Press. He initially agreed to publish Ulysses as written, but a year later, after reading the later episodes, he would “reluctantly but firmly decline” (Rainey 46). At this point, John Rodker, a poet, literary critic, and manager of the small Ovid Press, proposed a publication of Ulysses in Paris as a limited edition. When Rodker received the “Nausicaa” and “Oxen of the Sun” episodes, he, too, would withdraw his offer after realizing that “his artisanal handpress was no match for so vast a project” (Rainey 47).
After postponing the Little Review trial for half a year, John Quinn finally delivered his argument on February 21st, 1921. He “compared Joyce’s technique to that of Cubism and concluded that the work was disgusting but not indecent” (Fitch 76).
When the prosecuting attorney began shouting angrily, Quinn pointed at him and declared that the novel obviously provoked anger, not lust. When the judges laughed, he thought he had won the case. (Fitch 76)
But he had not. The judges forbad the Little Review to publish any further episodes of Ulysses, and soon thereafter Huebsch withdrew his offer to publish the novel.
Joyce was devastated by the bad news and seemed utterly defeated when he made his regular late afternoon visit to Shakespeare and Company. Sylvia describes the events of this March 31st rendezvous in her memoirs:
Joyce came to announce the news. It was a heavy blow for him, and I felt, too, that his pride was hurt. In a tone of complete discouragement, he said, “My book will never come out now.”
All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.
It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked: “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honor of bringing out your Ulysses?”
He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. … Imagine how happy I was to find myself suddenly the publisher of the work I admired above all. (Beach 47)
Thus began Sylvia Beach’s short but illustrious career in publishing.
Following Adrienne’s informed advice, Quinn’s strong suggestion, and Rodker’s initial plan, Sylvia decided to issue Ulysses as a limited and private edition “available only ‘by subscription’ directly from the publisher”(Rainey 48). The publication was not unique in this regard; other works of literature, such as James Huneker’s Painted Veils and D.H. Lawrence’s Women in Love, had been released similarly a few years earlier. However, the private edition of Ulysses did signal a change in that it sought to reflect the lofty modernist ideals of transforming the purchase of a book into a nearly direct act of patronage showing vehement support for Joyce and the literary movement he defined.
The first edition of Ulysses should be viewed, in part, as an attempt to realize an ideal mode of cultural production of the same sort that was being theorized in the contemporaneous Bel Espirit project launched by Ezra Pound, which proposes that thirty people agree to guarantee ten pounds per year to T. S. Eliot. (Rainey 44-45)
The noble ideals of Sylvia’s modernist experiment attempted to bridge the divide between reader and writer through Joyce’s unprecedented role in the publishing process and the modern patronage system of the limited edition.
Sylvia insisted that Joyce have the final say in almost every decision relating to the first edition. She overruled Joyce only when determining the number of copies to be printed. “He thought that if a dozen or so copies were printed there would be some left over. A thousand copies were to be printed, [she] told him firmly” (Beach 48). Her unending faith in Joyce and his vision infused the Shakespeare and Company publication of Ulysses. He spent hours at the bookshop each day during the unique, year-long process of getting his book in print. Working with a genius proved exhausting, but Sylvia remained wholly committed to publishing Ulysses “as Joyce wished, in every respect” (Beach 60).
Darantiere of Dijon, a resilient man from a family of “Master Printers” (Beach 48), agreed to undertake the printing of Ulysses even under the condition that he would not receive compensation until the subscription payments arrived at the bookshop. He brought samples of his paper to Paris, and Joyce personally picked out the types he wanted for his book. Sylvia stipulated that Darantiere provide Joyce with all the proofs he desired, and Joyce claimed to have written 1/3 of Ulysses in the margins of these arrow-scattered pages.
Up to the last minute, the long suffering printers in Dijon were getting back these proofs, with new things to be inserted somehow, whole paragraphs, even, dislocating pages. (Beach 58)
Darantiere warned Sylvia that the problems associated with this practice would incur additional expenses perhaps beyond what she could afford. He suggested limiting the use of proofs, an idea she rejected without pause. Sylvia would make whatever sacrifices were necessary to allow Joyce the freedom to shape his masterpiece.
During this already extremely busy summer of 1921, Shakespeare and Company moved a few streets over to larger premises at 12 rue de l’Odeon directly across from Adrienne’s La Maison des Amis des Livres (Beach 60). Outside the new building, Sylvia flew the Greek flag in honor of Odysseus. This witty gesture inadvertently caused another major problem when Joyce decided that he wanted to use the flag’s lovely blue for the cover of his book. Darantiere had great difficulty finding paper with this unique shade of blue. He finally found the color in Germany, but it was on the wrong type of paper. “He solved this problem by getting the color lithographed on white cardboard, which explains why the insides of the covers were white.” (Beach 63)
Typing the “Circe” episode represented the next challenge in this epic endeavor. “Nine typists had failed in the attempt” (Beach 63) to “decipher the Joycean signs” (Beach 64), and Joyce himself gave up and “left it in [Sylvia’s] hands” (Beach 64). She enlisted volunteer after volunteer to type a few pages and was making steady progress when calamity struck: one volunteer’s husband threw the manuscript into a fire. Luckily, Mr. John Quinn had been purchasing installments of the manuscript from Joyce for years, but he adamantly refused to send it to Paris or to allow someone to copy it. Quinn eventually allowed the pages to be photographed and the printing continued. (Beach 65, Fitch 80). Demonstrating his characteristically Irish belief in superstitions, “Joyce concluded that all the trials of the typists were a result of the numbers of the year adding up to thirteen (1 + 9 + 2 + 1 = 13)” (Fitch 80).
Later in this year, the bad luck extended beyond the art and into the artist as Joyce once again strained his eyes and suffered an extremely painful attack of iritis (Beach 66). His specialist made plans to operate immediately, but Joyce wanted a second opinion from Sylvia’s American oculist, Dr. Louis Borsch (Beach 67). Dr. Borsch deemed an operation necessary but feared that Joyce could lose all sight in his right eye if he had the operation while it remained inflamed. Joyce completely agreed with this prognosis and entrusted Silvia’s friend with the care of his “gray owl eyes of Athena” (Beach 39). During his recovery from the eventual operation, Joyce astonished Sylvia with his memory exercises. During one of her frequent visits to the clinic, he asked her to please bring “The Lady of the Lake.”
The next time I went to see him, I had the “Lady” with me. “Open it,” he said, “and read me a line.” I did so, from a page chosen at random. After the first line, I stopped, and he recited the whole page and the next without a single mistake. (Beach 71)
Sylvia was thoroughly convinced that Joyce had memorized everything he had ever read. Also during these visits, she would deliver him his mail and read it to him, inform him of Darantiere’s progress in Dijon, and relay messages from his friends at Shakespeare and Company (Beach 71). Some of these friends even fought in the battle of Ulysses. Robert McAlmon volunteered to type forty pages of the novel, and “Ezra Pound made a sensation when he deposited … a subscription with the signature of W. B. Yeats on it” (Beach 51). Hemingway, though, would make the most significant contribution to the publication project.
As American authorities confiscated and destroyed many copies of Ulysses upon their arrival in New York, Sylvia realized that some people did not share her assumption that a privately obtained book could not harm public morals. Laws against obscenity still applied to a Ulysses subscription, and she needed a way to get the books into the United States. Hemingway said, “‘Give me twenty-four hours,’ and the next day he came back with a plan” (Beach 87). Sylvia would pay for Bernard B., “a most obliging friend” of his, to rent a studio in Canada, where there was no censorship against Ulysses (Beach 87). She would send copies of the novel to the Canada address, and Bernard would then transport hundreds of the large books in his pants across the ferry and into the United States.
At the outset of the entire publication process, Darantiere printed a prospectus for potential subscribers with “excerpts from articles by those critics who had spotted Ulysses on its first appearance in the Little Review”, a small picture of Joyce, a blank subscription form, and details of the 1000 copy publication, including the price of the three different issues of the book:
100 on handmade Dutch paper, signed by Joyce 350 francs, $30
150 on Verge-d’Arches paper 250 francs, $22
750 on ordinary paper 150 francs, $14
To put these figures into context, “one could manage to live in Paris for less than twenty-five dollars a month” during the early twenties, and “even the cheapest issue [of the book]… represented half a month’s rent for a studio in a moderately priced part of the city” (Rainey 63, 64). In this way, subscribing to Ulysses represented a significant commitment which many of Joyce’s fans could not afford to make. When a normal publication would only have earned Joyce royalties of fifteen to twenty percent, Sylvia gave Joyce the exceptionally generous royalty percentage of 66%. As most of the money that came to Shakespeare and Company went directly into the author’s pockets, all subscribers simultaneously became modernist patrons and capitalist investors (Rainey 64, 69).
Ezra Pound convinced his parents to subscribe by assuring them in a letter that he didn’t “know any sounder investment (even commercially) than the first edition of Ulysses” (Rainey 71). The investment proved wise. Despite the extensive measures the United States authorities took to discourage interest in Ulysses, they proved grossly unsuccessful as demand for the book far exceeded the 1000 copy supply. As a result, an atmosphere of capitalist speculation shattered the idealistic intentions of Sylvia’s modernist experiment. Rather than measuring the quality of the ideas contained within a book’s covers, people began to determine the worth of literature in terms of its monetary value. The vast majority of the first edition subscriptions were purchased by speculators and rare book dealers who re-sold the book at a higher price. The cheapest of the three issues of Ulysses sold in New York for as high as fifty dollars, an explosion of 350% from the original price (Rainey 69). Joyce, concerned that speculators were making large profits off his own “big investment” (Beach 96), became consumed by a desire for a large publication in the United States.
Joyce left Sylvia to deal with “the difficulties of delivering copies of the first edition” as he met with Harriet Weaver in London to arrange a two thousand copy second edition “published by John Rodker for the Egoist Press” (Beach 96). Although very few of these copies escaped the watchful eyes of the British and American authorities upon their landing in Dover and New York, Joyce’s shift away from Sylvia as the sole distributor of Ulysses indicated the beginning of the end of their relationship as author and publisher.
III. The Decline of the Sylvia-Joyce Partnership
Joyce’s incessant demands transcended the details of the Ulysses publication. From the beginning of his time in Paris, he lived a luxurious lifestyle of dinner in expensive restaurants, fine clothing for himself and his family, and frequent vacations despite the fact that his already exceptionally generous royalties could not support such extravagance.
Joyce’s labors and sacrifices far exceed his earnings – a sad thing with genius. Joyce’s expenses always exceeded his income and he had moments of panic. And so did Shakespeare and Company. People imagined, perhaps, that [Sylvia] was making a lot of money from Ulysses. Well, Joyce must have a magnet in his pocket that attracted all the cash Joycewards. (Beach 201)
He kept a small notebook tracking the sums of money he borrowed from friends since his days as a student at the Hotel Cornielle. Soon, the Shakespeare and Company cashbox became his regular source of income and Sylvia his sole lender. She noticed that “the borrowers efforts to adapt his demands to the resources of the lender were pathetic” and that “the sums were going to and not fro” (Beach 75).
The money Joyce borrowed took the form of advances on his royalties, while Sylvia was already extremely hard pressed to finance the running of her bookstore and the printing, not to mention her own modest living expenses. In an unpublished draft of her memoirs, she comments that his “one sided business methods are the least admirable of the Joycean character,” and in a letter to her sister she offers her most scathing criticism of Joyce:
It’s all bumps when you’re working with him. I prefer peace and being with the people who have some human sense of the existence of others. He thinks, like Napoleon, that his fellow beings are only made to serve his ends. He’d grind their bones to make his bread. (Fitch 326)
Her endless sacrifices were made less for this “great lovable but merciless man” and more for the genius of the literature he created.
In 1927, Ulysses found another fight in the United States when Samuel Roth printed a full page advertisement for his publication of a “‘new unnamed work’ by James Joyce” – the pirated Shakespeare and Company eighth edition. Infuriated that he was being robbed by a literary scalawag, Joyce took Roth to court, and in order to bolster his prosecution, he wrote up a contract on stamped official paper that formally acknowledged Sylvia’s exclusive ownership of the worldwide publishing rights to Ulysses. This document, signed by Sylvia and Joyce on December 9th, 1930, stipulated that she would
abandon the right to said work if, after due consideration such a step should be deemed advisable by the author and the publisher in the interests of the AUTHOR, in which case, the right to publish said work shall be purchased from the publisher at the price set by herself, to be paid by the publishers acquiring the right to publish said work. (Beach 203)
In his determination to put an end to the piracy of his masterpiece, Joyce asked his agent in London, James Pinker, to once again shop Ulysses around to publishers in the United States. Initially, Pinker could only tempt offers from Heubsch, who would only agree to print a censored edition, and publishers of erotica.
Joyce made decisions in 1930 and 1931 that “estranged him from his most faithful supporters, including Sylvia, Harriet Weaver, and Samuel Beckett, and moved him into the final phase of his life – a more lucrative, but relatively joyless decade” (Fitch 301). The air between Sylvia and Joyce became uneasy during these years. On a few rainy afternoons, he came into the shop and laid his wet umbrella across the books on her table. On another occasion, Sylvia accidentally knocked some reviews of Ulysses off the table; “when she did not pick them up, he imagined she was challenging him to do so” (Fitch 325). Despite the strains on their relationship, glimpses of their past friendship appeared from time to time. For instance, on February 2, 1232, the 10th anniversary of Sylvia delivering the first copy of Ulysses into Joyce’s hands, he sent her ten white lilacs tied with a Greek blue bow.
Joyce continued to live his life of luxury without respect to the tight financial constraints brought on by the Great Depression. Although Sylvia had secured agreements for second printings of Ulysses in French and German as well as first printings in Polish and Czech, Joyce’s lifestyle required enormous sums of money. By February of 1931, he had spent a total of 13,000 francs in advances from Shakespeare and Company and requested more on a regular basis. Sylvia’s economic inability to satisfy his demands frustrated him, and his writing suffered as his entire creative focus shifted towards publishing new editions of his past works in order to secure more royalty income.
In response to learning that the cultural atmosphere in the United States had changed enough by the early thirties for a possible lift of the ban on his book, Joyce became intent on achieving an American copyright and the “wealth, law, and power” (Fitch 302) that would accompany a major American publication of Ulysses. There would be no American edition until Random House “offered Joyce $2,500 ($1,000 at signing, $1,500 at publication) and a 15% royalty” (Fitch 328) for “a small $2.50 edition … and a $1.00 Modern Library edition.
IV. The End of an Era
Out of her love for Adrienne, Shakespeare and Company, and Paris, Sylvia refused to return to the United States during the Nazi occupation despite the pleas of the American Embassy and her family. Shakespeare remained extremely busy during this period as many Parisians took refuge from the desolate circumstances in the city by visiting her shop and reading her books. One afternoon in 1941, a
high ranking German officer, who had got out of a huge gray military car, stopped to look at a copy of Finnegan’s Wake that was in the window. Then he came in and, speaking perfect English, said he would buy it. “It’s not for sale.” “Why not?” My last copy, I explained. I was keeping it. For whom? For myself. He was angry. He was so interested in Joyce’s work, he said. Still I was firm. Out he strode, and I removed Finnegans Wake from the window and put it away. (Beach 216)
This same officer returned two weeks later demanding to purchase the book. When Sylvia again refused, he told her that he would return later that day to confiscate all of her belongings. Sylvia and her many friends immediately set to work at preparing for the officer’s return. They moved all of Sylvia’s books, photographs, and furniture to the empty apartment on the third floor. The neighborhood carpenter took down the empty shelves, and a local house painter covered over with white paint the Shakespeare and Company façade. In two hours time, all evidence of the most important little bookshop of the twentieth century, indeed of all literary history, had been erased from existence. The era of Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company had come to an abrupt close, and Paris wouldn’t see anything like it for another ten years.
Beach, Sylvia. Shakespeare and Company. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1959.
Fitch, Noel Riley. Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: a History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties. Penguin Books, 1988.
Hemingway, Ernest, and Hemingway Seán A. A Moveable Feast: the Restored Edition. Scribner, 2010.