Letter from Sylvia Beach to Harriet Shaw Weaver about James Joyce and Finnegans Wake, 1927


This letter provides an insight into the relationship between James Joyce and his two patrons, the Paris-based publisher and bookseller Sylvia Beach, and London-based editor and publisher Harriet Shaw Weaver. Beach and Weaver played the roles of friends and champions, publishers and financiers, facing down outraged critics, legal rulings and printers who refused to take on Joyce’s work.

Dated 14 November 1927, the letter was written from Beach to Weaver as Finnegans Wake was being serialised in transition, a Parisian avant garde magazine, where it appeared under the title Work in Progress. Joyce had asked Beach to forward a copy of the November issue of transition to Weaver so that she could make additions and corrections to her copy of the text.

At the crux of the letter, however, Beach acts as an intermediary between Joyce and Weaver, who had openly expressed doubt over the direction Joyce was taking with Finnegans Wake. Beach writes that Joyce, ‘seems very unhappy because the new work doesn’t please you for whom it is being written. He wouldn’t mind about anybody else not liking it’. Although Weaver maintained an allegiance to Joyce, and acted as his literary executor after his death, their difference of opinion ultimately fractured the relationship.

Harriet Shaw Weaver Papers

The letter 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 Finnegans Wake.

Full title:
Harriet Shaw Weaver Papers: Correspondence, literary and business papers. Vol. V (ff. 233). 1927-1929.
14 November 1927; whole volume 1927–29, Shakespeare and Company, 12 rue de l'Odéon, Paris
Manuscript / Letter / Ephemera
Sylvia Beach
© Estate of Sylvia Beach.
Usage terms
Creative Commons Attribution Non Commercial licence
Held by
British Library
Add MS 57349

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