The Artist as a Young Man: Letters of James Joyce

An Irish novelist born in 1882, JAMES JOYCE had a greater influence upon twentieth-century literature than any other novelist of our time. He spent his boyhood in Dublin, was educated in Jesuit schools and colleges, and at the age of twenty broke away from family and church to live and write as a free lance on the Continent. The heartbreaking difficulties which he encountered in seeking to get his work published are revealed in these letters. This is the first of two installments which the Atlantic is privileged to draw from Letters of James Joyce, edited by Stuart Gilbert, soon to be published by the Viking Press.


JAMES JOYCE’S career at University College, Dublin, was marked by his break with his Catholic background and his emergence as a writer. In May, 1899, token he was seventeen, he refused to join a protest against the heresy of Yeats’s Countess Cathleen.On January 20, 1900, he read a paper onDrama and Life" before the Literary and Historical Society; his essay on “Ibsen’s New Drama” (When We Dead Awaken) was published in the Fortnightly Review for April, 1900; a pamphlet, “The Day of the Rabblement,”attacking the parochialism of the Irish Literary Theatre, was written in October, 1901.

After receiving his degree the following October, Joyce considered attending medical school in Dublin, but decided to study in Paris instead.

Dear Lady Gregory: I have broken off my medical studies here and am going to trouble you with a history. I have a degree of B.A. from the Royal University, and I had made plans to study medicine here. But the college authorities are determined I shall not do so, wishing I dare say to prevent me from securing any position of ease from which I might speak out my heart. To be quite frank I am without means to pay my medical fees and they refuse to get me any grinding or tuitions or examining— alleging inability — although they have done and are doing so for men who were stuck in the exams I passed. I want to get a degree in medicine, for then I can build up my work securely. I want to achieve myself — little or great as I may be — for I know that there is no heresy or no philosophy which is so abhorrent to the church as a human being, and accordingly I am going to Paris. I intend to study medicine at the University of Paris supporting myself there by teaching English. I am going alone and friendless — I know of a man who used to live somewhere near Montmartre but I have never met him — into another country, and I am writing to you to know can you help me in any way. I do not know what will happen to me in Paris but my case can hardly be worse than it is here. I am leaving Dublin by the night boat on Monday 1st December and my train leaves Victoria Station for Newhaven the same night. I am not despondent however because I know that even if I fail to make my way such failure proves very little. I shall try myself against the powers of the world. All things are inconstant except the faith of the soul, which changes all things and fills their inconstancy with light. And though I seem to have been driven out of my country here as a misbeliever I have found no man yet with a faith like mine.

In Paris ,Joyce quickly abandoned his medical studies and began to write.


20 February 1906 Trieste
Dear Mr. Grant Richards: I am glad that you are pleased with Dubliners. As for the terms you offer me I may say that perhaps it would be best for me to put myself in your hands. I am sure that you will deal with me as generously as you can. As a matter of fact my future work in which you seem to be interested is largely dependent on an improvement of my financial state. I have written nearly a thousand pages of a novel [A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, at this stage Stephen Hero] but I have little leisure, comfort or prospects for continuing it.
I should like to know when you propose to publish the book, in what form and at what price. If you will let me know I can send you the last story I have written — unless perhaps you have as superstitious an objection to the number thirteen as you seem to have with regard to Ireland and short stories in general.

26 April 1906 Trieste
Dear Mr. Grant Richards: You tell me that the printer to whom you sent my story Two Gallants before you read it yourself refuses to print it and therefore you ask me either to suppress it or to modify it in such a way as to enable it to pass. I cannot see my way to do either of these things. I have written my book with considerable care, in spite of a hundred difficulties and in accordance with what I understand to be the classical tradition of my art. You must therefore allow me to say that your printer’s opinion of it does not interest me in the least. Moreover, I cannot alter the passages which are marked in blue pencil in the story Counterparts nor can I suggest any other word than the word ‘bloody’ for the story Grace.
I intended to send you today the fourteenth and last story of the book, A Little Cloud, which is now ready. I shall not do so, however, until I hear from you in reply: and I am also retaining the MSS of the two stories which you sent me. If in your next letter you tell me that you can see your way to print my book as I have written it and that you have found a printer who will endanger his immortal soul to that extent I shall then send you the three stories together. If you decide differently you can send me back the other eleven stories and we can consider the matter at an end. Naturally, I should be sorry if our relations ended in such a way. It would be almost a disaster to me but I am afraid the service which you ask me to do for your printer’s conscience is not in my power.

23 June 1906 Trieste
Dear Mr. Grant Richards: I have received the manuscript safely. For the next few days I shall be engaged on a translation but during next week I shall read over the whole book and try to do what I can with it. I shall delete the word ‘bloody’ wherever it occurs except in one passage in The BoardingHouse. I shall modify the passage in Counterparts as best I can. Since you object to it so strongly. These are operations which I dislike from the bottom of my heart and I am only conceding so much to your objections in order that Two Gallants may be included. If you cannot see your way to publish it I will have only wasted my time for nothing. As for the fourteenth story A Little Cloud I do not expect you will find anything in it to object to. In any case I will send it back with the others, as you direct me.
Some of my suggestions may have seemed to you rather farcical: and I suppose it would be useless for me to suggest that you should find another printer. I would prefer a person who was dumb from his birth, or, if none such can be found, a person who will not ‘argue the point.’ But let that pass.
Your suggestion that those concerned in the publishing of Dubliners may be prosecuted for indecency is in my opinion an extraordinary contribution to the discussion. I know that some amazing imbecilities have been perpetrated in England but I really cannot see how any civilised tribunal could listen for two minutes to such an accusation against my book. I care little or nothing whether what I write is indecent or not but, if I understand the meaning of words, I have written nothing whatever indecent in Dubliners.
I send you a Dublin paper by this post. It is the leading satirical paper of the Celtic nations, corresponding to Punch or Pasquino. I send it to you that you may see how witty the Irish are as all the world knows. The style of the caricaturist will show you how artistic they are: and you will see for yourself that the Irish are the most spiritual race on the face of the earth. Perhaps this may reconcile you to Dubliners. It is not my fault that the odour of ashpits and old weeds and offal hangs round my stories. I seriously believe that you will retard the course of civilisation in Ireland by preventing the Irish people from having one good look at themselves in my nicely polished looking-glass.


In August, 1909, Joyce returned to Ireland for a visit. At the beginning of September, he signed a contract for the publication of Dubliners by Maunsel & Co. in Dublin, and then returned to Trieste. The following July, Maunsel & Co., suddenly fearful because of the candor of Dubliners, abandoned the publication of the book, and the sheets were destroyed.

19 September 1912 Trieste
Dear Yeats: ... I suppose you will have heard of the fate of my book Dubliners. Roberts refused to publish it and finally agreed to sell me the first edition for £30 so that I might publish it myself. Then the printer refused to hand over the 1000 copies which he had printed either to me or to anyone else and actually broke up the type and burned the whole first edition.

Through Yeats’s intercession Joyce was brought into communication in 1913 with Ezra Pound. There is no question of the importance of the part played by Mr. Pound — and by The Egoist magazine with which he was so closely and, dynamically associated — in bringing Joyce to the notice of the more literate public. As early as March, 191b, in a letter to Amy Lowell he spoke of Lawrence and Joyce as “the two strongest prose writers among les jeunes.”

In January, 1914, Grant Richards agreed to publish Dubliners, and did so on June 15.


4 March 1914 Trieste
Dear Mr. Grant Richards: I send you herewith the agreement signed by me. I hope you will manage to bring out the book in May as I could push the sale here very well before summer. I take it that if I want other copies (after the 120 copies which I agree to purchase and pay for as soon as they are ready) you will supply them to me on the same terms. You can incorporate the facts in my fair preface.
As regards the inverted comma the high compositors are not to blame: to me they are an eyesore. I think the page reads better with the dialogue between dashes. But if you are persuaded of the contrary I agree to waive the point and let the inverted commas replace the dashes. But I think you ought not to reject my suggestion at once. I think the commas used in English dialogue are most unsightly and give an impression of unreality.
As regards libel actions as I think I told you I offered the manager of the Dublin house to hire a car and go round to the firms named and show them the allusions and ask them whether they had any objection. The manager refused my offer— knowing (as I knew) what would be the result. The excuses put forward day after day are easily seen through and I find it difficult to come to any other conclusion but this — that the intention was to weary me out and if possible strangle me once and for all. But in this they did not succeed.
In conclusion I wish you good success with my unhappy book.

In 1913, Mr. Pound had taken charge of the literature department of The Egoist. In the course of the year Dora Marsden, the proprietor, asked Harriet Shaw Weaver — who was later to become Joyce’s publisher and patron —to take charge of the editing of the magazine on the practical and, business side, and thanks not a little to Miss Weaver’s energy and enthusiasm The Egoist made literary history in that eventful period 1914 to 1919.

11 November 1914 Trieste
Dear Miss Weaver: Many thanks for your kind letter of 21 ult which reached me on the 7 inst. I have now sent on to Mr. John Jaffeé the fourth and also the fifth (and last) chapters of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. I hope you will receive them safely. It is very kind of you to take so much trouble in the matter.
Any letter forwarded to me should be in Italian or German and preferably in open envelope and quite formal.
I hope I shall remain at liberty. Till now the Austrian authorities have not interfered with me in any way.
Allow me to thank you once again for your kindness and to beg you also to give my kind regards to Mr. Pound. . . .


23 March 1915 Venice
Dear Mr. Mencken: I am in receipt of your kind letter of 3 instant. . . .
I am pleased to hear that two of my stories appeared in your magazine. Could you perhaps send me a copy of the number in which they appeared? I thank you also for your good opinion of my book. I gather from your letter that an American edition of Dubliners has been published. Will you please tell me what is the name of the American publisher? I have been cut off from communication with my English publisher since the outbreak of the war and know nothing of this new edition.
A novel of mine A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man has been running in The Egoist (London). The fast instalment will be published, I think, next month. If you wish to consider it Mr. Pound or the editor of The Egoist will be able to give you what information you need. I hope it will come out in book form before the end of the year: but possibly its serial publication in the way you suggest might be arranged so as to be completed before the date of the English publication in book form.
I thank you also for your kind offer to help me to an American audience and hope you will forgive me for asking you to send me the information I desire as it is rather difficult for me for the moment to obtain it in the usual way.

5 April 1915 Venice
Dear Mr. Grant Richards: Mr. Ezra Pound wrote me last week to say that he had handed to you the last chapter of my novel. I hope you will let me have your opinion about it. I presume you have read already the first four chapters.
Mr. H. G. Wells sent me a few days ago a very friendly letter in which he is kind enough to say that ‘he has an unstinted admiration for my work.’ His secretary or agent, as I believe I wrote you, wrote me last month. I have since received from him an agreement by which he proposes to act as agent for the handling of my literary rights (book rights) and dramatic rights. As regards the former I have replied that you hold the right of refusal of them till 15 June 1918 or 1919. Subject to that I should be inclined to accept his offer, though I hope you will publish me as I imagine you wish to do. As regards the latter (dramatic rights) I have decided to accept his offer. I have written a comedy in three acts Exiles and hope he will take over and dispose of its acting rights, the publication in any case falling to you if you care to publish it . But for many reasons I prefer the novel to be published first.
I hope you received safely the press cuttings. Have you not received any notice from the Freeman‘s Journal or from Sinn Fein of Dublin? Perhaps you have in the last few months. If so I shall be very much obliged if you will kindly send me them.

20 April 1915 New York
Dear Mr. Joyce: Two of your stories The Boarding House and A Little Cloud are in the May Smart Set. I am having two copies of the number sent to you by this post. We were unable to take more because the American publisher of ‘Dubliners,’ Mr. B. W. Huebsch of 225 Fifth Avenue, New York, planned to bring out. the book at about this date. Apparently it has been delayed a bit but I assume that Mr. Huebsch still proposes to do it during the spring. The publishing business in the U.S.A. has been hard hit by the war and there arc constant changes of plans among the publishers. I think you are fortunate to get into the hands of Mr. Iluebsch in this country. He is one of the few intelligent publishers in New York.
Mr. Pound sent me cuttings of the first 15 or 20 instalments of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and I read them with much interest but the story, unfortunately, is too long and diffuse for the Smart Set. We do not publish serials but do a whole novel, or rather novelette, in each number. Sometimes it is possible to carve a novelette out of a novel of the usual length but, as I wrote to Mr. Pound, I felt that it would do unpardonable violence to your story to attempt anything of the sort. If you ever have a plan for a novelette, say of 30,000 words, I surely hope that you will let me hear of it. As you may know we also publish an English edition and so we desire both the English and American rights whenever it is possible to get them. In the case of your stories we had to send other stories to England, thus, of course, doubling the expense.
Please don’t hesitate to ask if I can do anything for you here in America; and keep the Smart Set in mind. Mr. Nathan and I took charge of it just as the war began and we have had an uphill battle but it is now, I am glad to say, in good financial condition, paying cash for everything and with both circulation and advertising increasing. It is our aim ultimately to make it the best magazine in America. We want to print all the good novels the other editors baulk at.

On the recommendation of H. G. Wells, who was much interested in Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist which he had read in The Egoist, Joyce took as his literary agent James Pinker.

6 December 1915 Zurich
Dear Miss Weaver: I am writing from the station to save time. Sincerest thanks for your kind proposal. By all means telephone to Mr. Pinker and also lay the matter before your staff and company. I undertake to buy for my account and pay for in advance 50 (fifty) copies at trade price. Is not part of the type still set up? As for the advantages of a regular publisher I have not seen them till now. 26 (twentysix) copies of my book Dubliners were sold in the United Kingdom during the last six months. I have never received any money from either of my two publishers: and I dislike the prospect of waiting another nine years for the same result. I am writing a book Ulysses and want the other published and out of the way once and for all: and correspondence about publishing is too tiresome for my (very lazy) temperament.


22 January 1910 Zurich
Dear Miss Weaver: I telegraphed to you last night: Received twentyfive pounds. [Part payment for serial rights in the Portrait.] Thanks: and hope the telegram reached you safely and quickly. I have no words to thank you for your generosity and kindness. It comes at a moment when it is much needed by me. I am very glad indeed to hear that you have obtained the necessary permission and that you will publish my book if the firm to which my agent has offered it declines it. I shall write to him on the matter at once. This news gave me great joy as J foresaw many years of useless waiting. I shall send a formal receipt for the entire amount and shall wire to you also on receipt of the second remittance. I am glad to hear also that your paper is now in a better financial position than it was and wish you every success in the future.
Please accept once again my sinccrest thanks and the assurance of my regard.

10 March 1916 Zurich
Dear Miss Weaver: I thank you for your kind letter of 3 instant and for the copies of The Egoist (December, January, February). I have written to Mr. Pinker instructing him to draw up the agreement without further delay and to accept uncondition ally, subject to his commission of 10%, whatever terms you propose. As regards proofs, I shall ask Mr. Pound to read them for me or if he cannot perhaps a reader could be found, the fee in the latter case being charged to me. In this way I hope time may be saved. As regards binding 1 have no preference. I leave this and all other details in your hands. I am sorry that you have so much trouble with your printers but I hope that you will find a printer soon so that the book may come out this spring. I am sending this letter express to save time and I am also writing to Mr. Pound. If Mr. Pinker does not send you his agreement at once I shall send you a. blank agreement with my signature so that he can fill it in at your dictation.
If you decide to send me proofs I undertake (if the attack of rheumatism from which I am suffering does not go to my eyes) to return them corrected within one day after receipt of them.

31 March 1916 London
Dear Sir: We are dispatching to you under separate cover the text of Mr. James Joyce’s novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which appeared in serial form in The Egoist and which we have lately decided to publish in book form. Mr. Ezra Pound has already written to you on the matter.
A few deletions were made by the printers, the shorter of which are written out on the pages from which they were deleted (viz. in The Egoist of January 1, 1915 and August 2, 1915); a larger one is enclosed herewith (deleted from the instalment of August 1st 1914). Mr. Joyce declines to give his consent to the publication of the book except according to the original text, i.e. all these deletions must be re-inserted.
The book is of exceedingly high merit and we are anxious for it to come out as soon as possible, but unfortunately are experiencing difficulty in securing a printer willing to print without deletions. However, we are continuing our efforts in this direction and therefore, should you decide you would be willing to undertake the printing and publication in America, we should be glad if you would cable us. In this case we should ask you to send us a number of unbound copies, and the two names could appear as publishers — yours as American publishers, ours as English.
Or in the event of our soon securing a printer here, we should be glad to know whether you could take from us a number of unbound copies, and be responsible for American publication. We should bring out the book here as a six shilling novel which with you I suppose would correspond to $1.50.

14 September 1910 Zurich
Dear Yeats: Ezra Pound writes to me telling me of your kindness in writng a letter of recommendation on my behalf as a result of which a royal bounty has been granted to me (£100). I need scarcely say how acceptable this money is to me at such a time and in such circumstances but, apart from its usefulness, it is very encouraging as a sign of recognition and I am very grateful to you for your friendly and valuable support. I hope that now at last matters may begin to go a little more smoothly for me for, to tell the truth, it is very tiresome to wait and hope for so many years. It seems that my novel will really come out this autumn in New York and London. I am sending the typescript, of my play Exiles (which has already been rejected in Zurich, Berne, Turin and by the Stage Society in London) to Pound who says that Mr. Knoblauch [Mr. Edward Knoblock] will read it. Besides this I am writing a book Ulysses which however will not be published for some years. Possibly the novel and play will engage the attention of my six or seven readers (7 copies of Dubliners were sold in the last six months) until it is ready. Pound speaks of offering the play to some new review Seven Arts, that is, if it is not accepted by Drama (Chicago) where it is being read, I believe. . . .
I hope your own affairs prosper well and that your health is good. I have been away so many years that I know little or nothing about what is published in England. I saw some time before I left Trieste the Italian version of Countess Cathleen in a bookshop and I must say that the few passages which I read I did not like. It is, I think, a great pity that my friend Vidacovich’s version was not published. His rendering of many parts (especially of the long Impetuous heart) was excellent. I do not know where he is now (in Rome, I think) or what became of the translation we made together of Synge’s Riders to the Sea. I read it one night to Mrs. Sainari, a very original actress, and her husband took away the copione to read it again. Vidacovich also tried his hand with me on a version of my story Ivy Day in the Committee Room for the Nuova Antologia but the attempt was a dismal failure.
I have every reason to be grateful to the many friends who have helped me since I came here and I can never thank you enough for having brought me into relations with your friend Ezra Pound who is indeed a wonder worker.


Although she had a great deal of correspondence with Joyce, Miss Weaver did not meet him until August, 1922, when he paid a visit to London after his convalescence from a very severe eye attack. But as early as 1917 Miss Weaver had made her first benefaction, anonymous to begin with, to Joyce, who was then living in Zurich: five hundred Swiss francs to be paid to him monthly “by an admirer. this was followed, in 1924, by the transfer of a large sum of money (the bequest of an aunt) the interest on which, together with royalties and occasional sales of stock, provided a comfortable income for Joyce and his family.

9 April 1917 Zurich
Dear Pound: Many thanks for yours of 26th ult. which arrived only the morning. Owing to the delay and the fact that I have nothing ready, I am sending you an accompanying note, as you wish. I sent three pieces of verse in December, I think, to Poetry (Chicago) through my agent, but heard nothing more of them. If they have not been and will not be published, would you take them in reversion? As regards stories I have none. I have some prose sketches, as I told you, but they are locked up in my desk in Trieste. As regards excerpts from Ulysses, the only thing I could send would be the Hamlet chapter, or part of it —which, however, would suffer by excision. If there is anything else I could do — perhaps a simple translation or review — will you tell me? I shall be glad to do it, though I am quite sure that, with your usual friendliness, you exaggerate the value of my poor signature as a ‘draw.’ I have been thinking all day what I could do or write. Perhaps there is something if I could only think of it. Unfortunately, I have very little imagination. I am also a very bad critic. For instance, some time ago a person gave me a twovolume novel to read, Joseph Vance. I read it at intervals for some time, till I discovered that I had been reading the second volume instead of the first. And if I am a bad reader I am a most tiresome writer — to myself, at least. It exhausts me before I end it. I wonder if you will like the book I am writing? I am doing it, as Aristotle would say, by different means in different parts. Strange to say, in spite of my illness I have written enough lately. . . .
I am rather tired for I have been correcting misprints in my novel. There are nearly four hundred. No revise was sent to me. This in view of a possible second edition during the century. The announcement on the last page of The Egoist is a pious exaggeration— so Miss Weaver writes.
In any case I am better. Please write to me about your review. I shall go on writing, thanks to the kindness of my unknown friend and also of Mr. Quinn. [John Quinn was a New York lawyer who offered Joyce £20 for the corrected proof sheets of the American edition of the Portrait of the . Artist.]

10 July 1917 Zurich
Dear Mr. Quinn: .A few lines in reply to your very kind letters addressed to my wife. She thanks you sincerely for your interest in my tiresome illness. On receipt of the first I wrote to my agent about the corrections, but now I see you have received them safely. I shall look forward to your next letter containing the opinion of the eye specialist you allude to.
As regards my play Exiles, I note that you have received now the MS of the first act. It is a waste of time to write to London for the typescript. Any publisher you approve of (precedence, however, being given to Mr. Huebsch, whether he is entitled to it by contract or not) may set it up and publish it. It will be published in London during the autumn by Mr. Grant Richards. If you do not wish the printers to use your MS it can be typed first — charge of typing being to my account. When I correct the English printed proofs I shall ask Mr. Richards to forward them to New York to you also, and these will serve as a control. As regards production, anyone who wishes to produce it can do so. If the person is reasonably honest I suppose he will pay me something. If he is not honest, a contract will not make him so. All monies should be paid to my agent, Mr. James Pinker, Arundel Street, London, so that he may deduct his 10% fee therefrom. The only point on which I insist is that the play be printed or produced as I wrote it.
... I also wish to make it clear that the play is not to be offered to anyone for consideration unless he undertakes to give his opinion definitely in three weeks. Ten years of my life have been consumed in correspondence and litigation about my book Dubliners. It was rejected by 40 publishers; three times set up, and once burnt. It cost me about 3,000 francs in postage, fees, train and boat fare, for I was in correspondence with 110 newspapers, 7 solicitors, 3 societies, 40 publishers and several men of letters about it. All refused to aid me, except Mr. Ezra Pound. In the end it was published, in 1914, word for word as I wrote it in 1905. My novel was refused by every publisher in London to whom it was offered— refused (as Mr. Pound informed me) with offensive comments. When a review decided to publish it, it was impossible to find in the United Kingdom a printer to print it. I write these facts now once and for all because I do not want any correspondence of the same kind about my play— I mean from publishers or impresarii. I want a definite engagement to publish or produce by a certain date, or a refusal.
My novel has been reviewed in certain European papers in Paris, Amsterdam and Russia. Financially it is, like my other books, a fiasco — 450 copies sold to date in the United Kingdom, equivalent to a sale of about 28 copies in all Switzerland.

(To be concluded)