Harriet Shaw Weaver first published James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in The Egoist, where it ran in serial instalments from 1914 to 1915. Portrait, Joyce’s first major work, follows the intellectual, moral and spiritual development of Stephen Dedalus, and his struggle against the restrictions his culture imposes. In 1916 Weaver, a publisher, editor and Joyce’s patron, sought out a printer to produce the novel in book form that would be published by her own Egoist Press.

As these letters reveal, however, the task proved difficult. Weaver and Joyce received a series of rejections before a deal was finally secured with the American publisher B W Huebsch, whose letters are included here. Portrait’s critics found it ‘indecent’, objecting to its use of language (such as ‘ballocks’), its portrayal of sex, and descriptions of bodily functions such as farting. But printers were caught in a difficult situation: by British law, if a book was found objectionable it was the printer – rather than the publisher – who was held responsible.

The Complete Press, writing on 9 February 1916, explains that there are several paragraphs that they cannot risk printing (f. 5r). Two months later on 6 April 1916 William Brendon & Son wrote, ‘we would not knowingly undertake any work of a doubtful character even though it may be a classic’ (f. 18r). Several printers call for Joyce and Weaver to self-censor the text by deleting or reworking certain paragraphs. Weaver, who is often mistakenly addressed as ‘Sir’ in these letters, notes that many more printers simply returned the manuscript without comment (f. 263r).

Also included here is a later letter dated 17 May 1918 from Virginia Woolf, in which she declines to print Ulysses. In April Weaver had approached the Hogarth Press, which Virginia and Leonard Woolf ran from their home, with the first four chapters of Joyce’s second novel.

Who finally printed A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man?

On 2 June 1916, the New York publisher B W Huebsch wrote to Weaver with the news that he would agree to print Portrait, ‘absolutely in accordance with the author’s wishes, without deletion’. Huebsch proposed that, as well as publishing the US edition of Portrait, he would supply Weaver print with a joint publication imprint for British circulation.

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). Containing a vast number of letters, cuttings and photographs, the Papers shed light on the lives and work of both Joyce and Weaver.