Posted by: Ann Myers | April 28, 2010

Other People’s Letters, Part 3

On April 8, 2010, SCRC hosted a dramatic reading of a selection of letters from our collections. The event was planned and emceed by Abigail Wheetley, and we thank everyone who was able to attend. For those who were unable to attend, and for those who would like to revisit something they heard that evening, we will be posting transcriptions of the letters and introductions to them over the next few weeks.

We continue this series with a series of letters from James Joyce to his editor.

Letters to His Editor

James Joyce MSS 73

What we have next is a dramatic battle of industry vs. art. James Joyce was an Irish writer and poet, widely considered to be one of the most influential writers of the 20th century. He is best known for his landmark novel Ulysses, and is also the author of Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Finnegan’s Wake. This particular piece is made up of letters from a very impoverished Joyce who is struggling to make ends meet teaching and tutoring and occasionally taking a banking or clerical job. His hope is to have a book published, and this is an account of the tragedy of getting his heart’s desire.

James Joyce letter

Dear Mr. Grant Richards,

I am surprised to have had no word from you about my books. I am anxious to know what you have decided to do about them. You will easily understand my anxiety. I hope and pardon any importunity. The English post from Vienna was destroyed by fire some few days ago. Is it possible that anything of mine suffered? I shall be glad if you will write to me before the 24th prox as on that date I leave this address and your letter might go astray. I have added a story to Dubliners and would have added another, perhaps, had I not been in such incertitude about the fate of the first twelve.

Faithfully yours,

Jas A. Joyce

Mr. Grant Richards,

I am sending you by this post the story Two Gallants. It is to be inserted between after the race and The Boarding-House. I am sending it to you so that time may be saved in case you think of bringing out the book soon.

Faithfully yours,

Jas A. Joyce

Dear Mr. Grant Richards,

I hardly know what you wish me to write as a description of the book .I sketched it for you in former letters but perhaps you want a complete description. The only thing I could think of was to ask my brother to write a short account of the book and this I now enclose you.

As for the appearance of the book I am content to leave it to your judgment. I would not like the book to be too slim in form. On one point I would wish you to be careful. I would like the printer to follow the manuscript accurately in punctuation and arrangement. Inverted commas, for instance, to enclose dialogue always seemed to me a great eyesore.

You have asked me to tell you what I am doing and what my prospects are. I am an English teacher here in a Berlitz School. I have been here for sixteen months during which time I have achieved the delicate task of living and of supporting two other trusting souls on a salary of L 80 a year. I employed to teach young men of this city the English language as quickly as possible with no delays for elegance and receive in return tenpence for every sixty minutes so spent. I hope these details will not bore you as much as they bore me. In any case I give them to you only because you have asked me for them.

I return you the contract signed by me. I hope you will write to me as soon as possible so that the date of appearance and form of the book may be soon agreed on. I have sent you a story Two Gallants and propose adding one more story to the book. I have written part of it and can promise that it will be ready during March.

Faithfully yours,

Jas A. Joyce

Dear Grant Richards,

I am obliged to you for your letter and copy of the contract. You suggest I should write a novel in some sense autobiographical. I have already written nearly a thousand pages of such a novel, as I think I told you, 914 pages to be accurate. I calculate that these twenty-five chapters, about half of the book, run into 150,000 words. But it is quite impossible for me in present circumstances to think the rest of the book much less to write it. This novel also has the deject of being about Ireland.

Faithfully Yours

Jas A. Joyce

Dear Mr. Grant Richards,

I am sorry that in reply to my letter you have written one of so generalizing a character. I do not see how you can expect me to agree with you about the impossibility of publishing the book as it is. Your statement that no publisher could issue such a book seems to me somewhat categorical. You must not imagine that the attitude I have taken up is in the least heroic. The fact is I cannot see much reason in your complaints. You complain of Two Gallants, of a passage in Counterparts and of the word “bloody” in Grace. Are these the only things that prevent you from publishing the book? The word, the exact expression I have used, is in my opinion the one expression in the English language which can create on the reader the effect which I wish to create. Surely you can see this for yourself? Is it not ridiculous that my book cannot be published because it contains this one word which is neither indecent nor blasphemous?

You say it is a small thing I am asked to do, to efface a word here and there. But do you not see clearly that in a short story above all such effacement may be fatal. You cannot say that the phrases objected to are gratuitous and impossible to print and at the same time approve of the tenor of the book. I must say that these objections seem to me illogical. Why do you not object to the theme of An Encounter, to the passage “he stood up slowly saying that he had to leave us for a few moments &c..”? Why do you not object to the theme of The Boarding House? Why do you omit to censure the allusions to the Royal Family, to the Holy Ghost, to the Dublin Police, or the Lord Mayor of Dublin, to the cities of the plain, to the Irish Parliamentary Party &c? As I told you in my last letter I cannot understand what has been admired in the book at all if these passages have been condemned. What would remain of the book if I had to efface everything which might give offence? The title, perhaps.

You must allow me to say that I think you are unduly timid. There is nothing “impossible” in the book, in my opinion. You will not be prosecuted for publishing it. When the contract was signed I thought everything was over: but now I find I must plunge into a correspondence which, I am afraid, tends only to agitate my nerves.

The appeal to my pocket has not much weight with me, of course I would gladly see the book in print and of course I would like to make money by it. But, on the other hand, I have very little intention of prostituting whatever talent I may have to the public. I am not an emissary from a War office testing a new explosive or an eminent doctor praising a new medicine or a sporting cyclist riding a new make of bicycle or a renowned tenor singing a song by a new composer: and therefore the appeal to my pocket doest not touch me as deeply as it other wise might. You say you will be sorry if the book must pass from your list. I will be extremely sorry. But what can I do? I have thought the matter over and looked over the book again and I think you are making much ado about nothing. Kindly do mot misread this as a rebuke to you but put the emphasis on the last word. For, I assure you, not the least unfortunate effect of this tardy correspondence is that it has brought my own writing into disfavor with myself. Act, however, as you think best. I have done my part.

Believe me, dear Mr. Grant Richards,

Faithfully yours,

Jas A. Joyce.

Dear Mr. Grant Richards,

I am sorry you do not tell me why the printer, who seems to be the barometer of English opinion, refuses to print Two Gallants and makes marks in the margin of Counterparts. Is it the small gold coin in the former story or the code of honor which the two gallants live by which shocks him? I see nothing which should shock him in either of these things. His idea of gallantry has grown up in him (probably) during the reading of the novels of the elder Dumas and during the performance of romantic plays which presented to him cavaliers and ladies in full dress. But I am sure he is willing to modify his fantastic views. I would strongly recommend to him the chapters wherein Ferrero examines the moral code of the soldier and (incidentally) of the gallant. But it would be useless for I am sure in his heart of hearts he is a militarist.

As for my part and share in the book I have already told all I have to tell. My intention was to write a chapter of the moral history of my country and I chose Dublin for the scene because that city seemed to me the centre of paralysis. I have tried to present it to the indifferent public under four of its aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life. The stories are arranged in this order. I have written it for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness and with the conviction that he is a very bold man who has seen and heard. I cannot do any more than this. I have come to the conclusion that I cannot write without offending people. The printer denounces Two Gallants and Counterparts. A Dubliner would denounce Ivy Day in the Committee-Room. The more subtle inquisitor will denounce An Encounter, the enormity of which the printer cannot see because he is, as I said, a plain blunt man. The Irish priest will denounce The Sisters. The Irish boarding-house keeper will denounce The Boarding House. Do not let the printer imagine, for goodness sake, that he is going to have all the barking to himself.

You tell me in conclusion that I am endangering my future and your reputation. I have shown you earlier in the letter the frivolity of the printer’s objections and I do not see how the publication of Dubliners as it now stands in manuscript could possibly be considered an outrage on public morality. These details may now seem to you unimportant but if I took them away Dubliners would seem to me like an egg without salt. In fact, I am somewhat curious to know what, if these and similar points have been condemned, has been admired in the book at all.

I see now that my letter is becoming nearly as long as my book. I have touched on every point you raise in order to give you reason for the faith that is in me. I have not, however, said what a disappointment it would be to me if you were unable to share my views. I do not speak so much of a material as of a moral disappointment. But I think I could more easily reconcile myself to such a disappointment than to the thousand little regrets and self reproaches which would certainly make me their prey afterwards.

Believe me, dear Mr. Grant Richards

Faithfully yours
Jas A. Joyce.

Dear Mr. Grant Richards,

I return you today the MS of Dubliners which you suggested in your letter of 19 June that I should alter at certain points. I have read it carefully from beginning to end and have made the following alterations:

I have rewritten the first story in the book The Sisters and included the last story A Little Cloud which you asked me to send on with the others.

I have corrected a few small errors and re-arranged and renumbered the stories in the middle of the book, so that the book should now consist of fourteen stories in the order in which I have placed them.

I have deleted the world “Bloody” in six places, namely on page 4 of Two Gallants, on page 7 and twice on page 16 of Ivy Day in the Committee Room and twice on page 16 of Grace.

I have deleted the passage you objected to in Counterparts and have rewritten the incident in the way I engaged to do. I will not conceal from you that I think I have injured these stories by these deletions but I sincerely trust you will recognize that I have tried to meet your wishes and scruples fairly. And will as you to write to me as soon as possible after receipt of the MS, in order that I may know definitely what you intend to do. This address will find me until the 28th July.

Faithfully yours

Jas A. Joyce



  1. On the transcripts of Mr Joyce’s correspondence to his editor Mr Richards

    may I point out a whole part of a sentence which is missing and which may mislead readers.

    “dares to alter in the presentment, still more to deform, whatever he”

    should appear after ‘I have written it for the most part in a style of scrupulous meanness and with the conviction that he is a very bold man who…’

    in the second paragraph of the second last letter to Mr. Richards.



    • We should have noted in our introduction that the transcriptions we presented were abridged for performance. Our apologies.

  2. I may be mistaken as I am quoting from a second hand source but from that source it also appears a number of other vital sentences are missing.

    In the same letter, after the sentence “I cannot do any more than this.” These following sentences appear:

    “I cannot alter what I have written. All these objections of which the printer is now the mouthpiece arose in my mind when I was writing the book, both as to the themes of the stories and their manner of treatment. Had I listened to them I would not have written the book.”

    My source is the book ‘John McGahern – Love of the World’ a collection of essays by McGahern.


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