Sunday, 13 January 2013

Dear Miss Weaver: Part I


“Dear Miss Weaver... The task I set myself technically in writing a book from eighteen different points of view and in as many styles, all apparently unknown or undiscovered by my fellow tradesmen, that and the nature of the legend chosen...would be enough to upset anyone’s mental balance."

 ― James Joyce on Ulysses, in a letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, 24 June 1921

James Joyce's patron: Harriet Shaw Weaver
My sister Cindy was on the phone and she sounded excited. 

"Hi Michael, I've shared your blog with some friends and artists at the centre," said Cindy, who manages a creative arts centre in Toronto.  "One of them just told me she's related to James Joyce's publisher, and she thinks she still has some original James Joyce materials in her house."

"She's a wonderful artist and she's here with me right now," said Cindy.  "She wants to speak with you -- will you say hello?" 

"Yes," I said. "Yes, I will, yes." 

Cindy passed the phone to the woman, and a warm friendly voice greeted me.  

"I'm so pleased that you're writing a blog about James Joyce.  My great aunt was Harriet Shaw Weaver and she knew James Joyce very well," said the woman (who I'll refer to as Ms. Weaver). 

"James Joyce used to write Aunt Hat letters all the time asking for money, and it was funny how he always began each letter with the exact same words: Dear Miss Weaver," she said.

Ms. Weaver added that she wasn't sure, but she may still have an old copy of the Egoist magazine that her Aunt Hat gave her.  

The Egoist was a London literary magazine that Harriet Shaw Weaver published between 1914 and 1919. Because of the controversial nature of Joyce's books, Joyce had trouble finding anyone who would publish them. Harriet Shaw Weaver recognized Joyce's genius and set up the Egoist Press for the purpose of serializing A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.  She did this at her own expense, and ultimately became Joyce's patron.  Over the years, she began serializing portions of Ulysses as well.   (For more information about Harriet Shaw Weaver click here.)

The next day, Ms. Weaver sent Cindy an email with news about the Egoist:

"Just found my old copy of it, dated Dec 1919, Harriet is the editor, asst. TS Eliot, Contrib. ed. Dora Marsden.  It contains what could be a chapter of Ulysses, at least there are about 5 pages of Ulysses - X.  The whole thing, No. 5 Vol VI is brown and tattered but readable.  Wonder if Michael knows where, if anywhere, this should go????  Cheerio.  Such a relief to find it."

Wow, a hidden treasure!  She found a 1919 copy of the Egoist, the journal that serialized Ulysses before the novel was actually published.  The edition of the Egoist contained portions of the Wandering Rocks chapter.  An original first edition Ulysses in pristine condition can go for hundreds of thousands of dollars -- and this magazine predates the first edition!   

Ms. Weaver told me that she was considering donating her copy of the Egoist to a worthy museum or charity, and she asked me to help her find a good home for it.  

Over the next week, Ms. Weaver and I emailed back and forth, and she liked the way that I started off each email with words "Dear Ms. Weaver" -- echoing the way Joyce addressed his letters.  

I told her I'd be happy to do some research for her on the copy of the Egoist.  I discovered that her edition of the Egoist was the last ever published, and was one of just 400 copies. 

I contacted Mike Groden, a Professor of English at The University of Western Ontario, one of the world's foremost experts on James Joyce.  (You can read about Mike here). Mike and I have corresponded on-and-off for years, and have met to share stories about our mutual passion for James Joyce.  

Mike was delighted to hear about the discovery of an edition of the Egoist, but he seemed even more excited to hear that a relative of Harriet Shaw Weaver was living in Canada.  Mike and I discussed some appropriate museums and universities for Ms. Weaver to consider -- he even offered to connect Ms. Weaver with a James Joyce scholar who likely knew Harriet Shaw Weaver personally.  

Ms. Weaver and I agreed to meet for coffee later this week.  She loved the idea of appearing in my blog, and promised to bring a copy of the Egoist with her so I could take a photo of it for an upcoming post.    

Considering this blog is about a serialized magazine...I've decided to write the story in several parts.  I'll report back on my meeting with Ms. Weaver in a future post, and hopefully will include a photo or two. 

To be continued...


Thanks for the nice feedback on my last post "Leo for a Day" about how Joyce employed several different writing styles in the Oxen of the Sun chapter of Ulysses -- and kudos to those of you who noticed that I switched to a different writing style halfway through my post as a tip-of-the-hat to James Joyce.  It seemed like the Joycean thing to do. 

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