Letter from George Bernard Shaw responding to James Joyce’s Ulysses


This letter was written by the Irish playwright George Bernard Shaw to Sylvia Beach, who had published James Joyce's Ulysses through her bookshop Shakespeare and Company. After receiving a ‘prospectus’ to attract subscribers for the novel, Shaw wrote back to Beach with his views on the novel. He wrote:

‘It is a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilisation; but it is a truthful one; and I should like to put a cordon-round Dublin; round up every male person in it between the ages of 15 and 30; force them to read it; and ask them whether on reflection they could see anything amusing in all that fouled mouthed, foul minded derision and obscenity. To you, possibly, it may appeal as art: you are probably (you see I don’t know you) a young barbarian – beglamoured by the-excitements and enthusiasms that art stirs up in passionate material; but to me it is all hideously real: I have walked those streets and know those shops and have heard-and taken part in those conversations...’

Shaw concedes that Joyce has ‘literary genius’, and later in 1939 the playwright defended Ulysses as a masterpiece.[1]

Shaw’s response highly amused Joyce, and he had this copy made to share with Weaver. Shaw’s original copy of the prospectus is also held by the British Library.

Harriet Shaw Weaver Papers

This collection of material belongs to the Harriet Shaw Weaver Papers, which Weaver bequeathed to the British Library in her will (executed in 1970). Weaver was a publisher, editor and Joyce’s patron. Containing a vast number of letters, cuttings and photographs, the Papers shed light on the lives and work of both Joyce and Weaver.

This volume contains other correspondence, mainly from Joyce, relating to Ulysses.

[1] George Bernard Shaw, quoted by Richard Ellmann, James Joyce: New and Revised Edition (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1983), p. 577.

Full title:
Harriet Shaw Weaver Papers: Correspondence, literary and business papers. Vol. II (ff. 219). 1920-1922
Letter / Transcript / Ephemera
G B Shaw
Usage terms

George Bernard Shaw: © The Society of Authors, on behalf of the Bernard Shaw Estate. You may not use the material for commercial purposes. Please credit the copyright holder when reusing this work.

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British Library
Add MS 57346

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