First edition copy of James Joyce’s seminal modernist novel
The history of Ulysses in print is almost as labyrinthine as the story itself. The Egoist Press edition of Joyce’s great masterpiece has been called the second printing of the first edition, which was published by Shakespeare and Company earlier in the same year. This is the first English edition. When the Shakespeare and Co. first edition sold out within a few months, the Egoist Press purchased the original printing plates from Sylvia Beach, the initial publisher. Printed in Dijon by the printers who had created the plates, the title page makes the following curious claim: ‘Published by the Egoist Press, London, by John Rodker, Paris.’ A private edition – like the Shakespeare and Co. edition – it was limited to 2,000 copies on handmade paper. Some 500 of those copies were confiscated by New York Postal authorities on the grounds of obscenity. This volume is number 1936.
Joyce famously declared that if Dublin was ever destroyed it could be reconstructed from the pages of his great novel Ulysses. The Dictionary of Irish Biography tells us that Joyce gave “infinitely subtle attention to the subjectivity of an insignificant Dubliner called Bloom” and by doing so “created one of the greatest figures of twentieth-century fiction, and the novel has been permanently altered by what he did.”
Some critics were not convinced that the book provided any real insight into the city of Dublin. Bernard Benstock asserted that Joyce’s novel was “no more about Dublin than Moby Dick is about a whale.” Knowing too much about Dublin “might indeed be dangerous in attempting a balanced reading of Ulysses.” However, as Ian Gunn and Clive Hart show in their book, James Joyce’s Dublin, some familiarity of Dublin life (for example, the tramways) is essential to understanding certain episodes in the novel: “had Joyce tried to do no more than represent his native city so completely that it could have been reconstructed from the pages of Ulysses, the novel would have been a sterile undertaking.” Instead Joyce gave us “a verbal equivalent of matter, an imaginary space in which to wander”.