Monday 2 February 2015

On James Joyce's birthday

James Joyce was born at 41 Brighton Square, Rathgar, at 6 o’clock on the morning of Thursday 2 February 1882. 

He was baptised on 5 February at St Joseph’s Church, Terenure Road East, when his godparents were his maternal grandmother Ellen McCann, and Philip McCann. His birth wasn’t registered until 20 March, when his name was mis-recorded as James Augusta Joyce (cf Leopold Paula Bloom).

He was the eldest, and clear favourite, of ten children: Stanislaus, Florence, Eileen, Margaret Alice, Eva May, George Alfred, May Kathleen, Charles Patrick, Mabel.

(Note to self: are these siblings anywhere embedded in Finnegans Wake?)

Ulysses was published on the author's fortieth birthday, in 1922.

The agreement with the publisher Sylvia Beach was for an edition of 1,000 copies, and Joyce would get a very generous royalty of 66 per cent of net profits. The original prospectus gave the publication date as 'the autumn of 1921' and offered details of the different versions: 100 on Dutch paper and signed by the author (350 francs); 150 on verge d'arches (250 francs); 750 on plain paper (150 francs).

A signed copy of the Dutch paper edition will today cost you around half a million dollars (plus post and packing) and will be too fragile to handle.

For around £50k you can get the Bodley Head edition from 1936 (one of 100 signed by Joyce, and with Eric Gill's Homeric bow adorning the cover), regarded by many as the most beautiful version. My humble (and unsigned) 1960 Bodley Head edition can be found for a few quid online. There's a Folio Society facsimile edition for a few hundred, if your tastes and budget tend that way.

I think it matters, when reading Ulysses, to have a decent edition, not a budget paperback with the kind of 'perfect binding' that splits and cracks - because (and somebody said this long before me) Ulysses isn't a book to read. It's a book to re-read, and constantly.

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