Posted by: Melissa A. Hubbard | November 4, 2009

Tales Told of James Joyce and the Black Sun Press

One of SCRC’s most renowned collections is its extensive holdings of James Joyce manuscripts, correspondence, and books.  Many of these items came from two very generous donors: Harley K. Croessmann, and Charles E. Feinberg.  However, Joyce material can be found in several of our other collections, the most notable of which is the Caresse Crosby Collection.  Caresse Crosby and her husband Harry founded the Black Sun Press in Paris in 1927, which was dedicated to creating exquisite books containing texts by modern authors, including Ernest Hemingway, D.H. Lawrence, Archibald MacLeish, and Hart Crane.

Harry Crosby was a great fan of Joyce, going so far as to emulate the syntax of Ulysses in his own published memoirs, Shadows of the Sun.  In 1927, Crosby accepted an editorial position for the literary magazine transition, where he oversaw the publication of fragments of Joyce’s “Work in Progress,” which would eventually be published as Finnegans Wake.  The text of Finnegans Wake was particularly difficult for the printer, as Joyce utilized unusual syntax and neologisms throughout.  The image below is a reproduction of a heavily corrected galley proof page for transition.


Caresse Crosby Papers, MSS 140, Series 5

Despite these difficulties, Crosby was happy to publish Joyce’s new work, and several fragments of “Work in Progress” would appear in transition.  In 1929, the Crosbys requested Joyce’s permission to publish three of these fragments in a Black Sun Press edition, entitled Tales Told of Shem and Shaun.  The letter containing Joyce’s affirmative response is preserved in the Crosby collection.  When Roger Lescaret, the Black Sun Press’ printer, set the type for the book, he accidentally created a final page containing only two lines.  This was an unacceptable error for the Black Sun Press, which placed almost as much emphasis on the aesthetics of its books as it did on the text.  Lescaret admitted his mistake to Caresse Crosby, requesting that she ask Joyce to add eight more lines to the end of the book, which would balance the page.  Crosby refused, saying that a literary master could not be asked to alter his text over a printer’s error, and that Lescaret would have to re-set the entire book.  After this encounter, Lescaret appealed directly to Joyce, who wrote the additional lines immediately and without complaint.

Tales Told of Shem and Shaun was published in a deluxe edition of 600 copies.  Harry and Caresse Crosby’s copy, pictured below, is held in SCRC (call no. V. BSP034).





  1. tell me tale: when is the next or any Joyce lecture in LA happening?

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