In an interview for Ransom Center Magazine, Dr. Clare Hutton explores how the exhibition, Women and the Making of Joyce’s Ulysses, investigates the important and largely unacknowledged role of women in helping Joyce’s novel gain widespread notoriety and success—including Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap, Harriet Shaw Weaver, and Sylvia Beach.
Harry Ransom Center: Can you tell us a little bit about your research at the Ransom Center and how the Center’s collections supported the exhibition and your work.
Clare Hutton: As a researcher interested in the works of James Joyce, it’s true to say that the Ransom Center has one of the world’s best Joyce collections, and extraordinary range of first editions of Ulysses (1922), a big collection of correspondence, a big collection of ephemera associated with the publication of Ulysses, and with Joyce’s life more generally. The page proofs of the first edition. And so, of course, it actually owns all of Joyce’s books as preserved in 1914, what’s known as the trust library. I came here to review everything, and to see what the possibilities of looking at that material would bring to my research.
Why this exhibition is important and why now?
In essence, this exhibition has quite a simple argument behind it, which is that women were crucial to the making of Joyce’s work. And that, without the formative, facilitating work done by women, Joyce, probably would not have been able to realize the achievements of Ulysses. And it looks at both the kind of emotional support that’s given by people from Joyce’s family—notably his wife, Nora Barnacle, but also his mother, his aunt, two sisters—so covering emotional and psychological support on the personal side. And, then professional support from women associated with the book trades, and looks in some detail at the women associated with the book trades operating on both sides of the Atlantic, in Britain, and in the US, and then also, obviously, towards the end of the process in France with the famous Sylvia Beach.
How did you notice that these women were absent in the narrative of Joyce?
I came to the question really, through being interested in how the text came together. Because Ulysses is such a huge book—it is 260,000 words, and no one writes 260,000 words in a year—it took Joyce eight years to write Ulysses. And I was very interested in the idea of the work kind of building up incrementally and being written in different places and under different circumstances.
There’s a big difference between, you know, starting Ulysses during the First World War, then writing it in Zurich, which was neutral. And then again, writing it in Paris, you know, in the 1920s. So, in a sense, the book evolves differently in those three places. But of course, it’s a Dublin book as well.
So I was just interested in how the book came into being and that leads you fairly quickly to women behind the scenes, particularly, you know, two American women—Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap—who are the editors of The Little Review in the US, in New York, where the work is first serialized from 1980 to 1920. So I began really, with the American context for what is widely regarded as the world’s most famous Irish novel. And to me, it was just ironic that this very famous Irish novel was published first in America and had an American readership. I thought it was really surprising that it was written so specifically about Dublin—and just one day in Dublin—but it was actually published in New York. I was just so surprised by that—and that it was published by women.
I think the American connection to such an iconic piece of Modernist literature is a surprise to so many people. It’s unfortunately a surprise to many to find out the significant role women played in the launching of this literary work. There’s so much you can learn here, you would certainly walk away from this exhibition with a perspective you may have not considered before.
What will people see when they visit the exhibition and what are some highlights?
One of the first things you’ll see is a really remarkably pristine copy of the first edition of Ulysses published on the second of February 1922. And, it’s luminous. And that particular copy is really interesting because it was kept by Beach, in her shop, right up till 1941. And then the Nazi occupation of Paris happened, and she had to close shop very hurriedly. And this was one of the copies that was saved. So it’s got quite an interesting history. Lots of extraordinary correspondence with Joyce’s mother, from Aunt Josephine, some lovely family portraits of Joyce, of Nora. And then you move into the publishing story properly, where you’ve got The Egoist and Harriet Shaw Weaver. An amazing, lovely, portrait photograph of Weaver on the wall, which has got a very kind of deep gaze in it. The Little Review section, then Shakespeare and Company, and finally you can look at kind of legacy of what happens after Ulysses. And, you know, see how the publication of Ulysses impacted these women.
What is are a few must-see items in the exhibition for a Joycean scholar or enthusiast?
A must-see for a Joycean scholar is what’s called the Beach Editions Notebook. It’s a tiny little notebook in which Sylvia Beach meticulously kept a record of the monies received for each copy of the first edition. It just gives you a really strong sense of her administrative energy and labor. It’s tiny, with little neat handwriting. It gives you a sense of how hard she works to bring the book into being and it feels rather precious as an object. When you see it you think “wow,” you know how much work went into this!
The other must-see is the 1923 Accounts Page from the British Library. It’s a carbon typescript that But what it shows is exactly how much money Harriet show Weaver had given to Joyce by 1923. And it’s quite an eyewatering sum of 23,000 pounds! And that is equivalent to well over a million and a half dollars in today’s terms. It’s just so surprising to see the figure written out in black and white. So although it’s only a kind of tiny, little scrappy piece of TypeScript, it just tells this huge story of committed financial support for Joyce’s labor as an author.
Weaver clearly came into significant sums of capital herself and then had a desire to lead a modest life and was quite she didn’t need to live in luxury, and she saw the level of Joyce’s financial need. Joyce had a wife and two children. Weaver lived on her own. So, in essence, she had inherited a fortune which she didn’t feel as though she needed and she believed in Joyce’s genius, and so she gave the money to him. And so in that sense, it was an altruistic act of patronage.
Tell me about the women primarily represented in this exhibition.
The women who are primarily represented in the exhibition are the women from the book trades, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, who were the editors of The Little Review. Sylvia Beach, proprietor of Shakespeare and Company and publisher as the first edition of Ulysses in book form. And Harriet Shaw Weaver, editor of the egoist and Joyce’s financial patron. Weaver wanted to publish Ulysses in her publication, The Egoist, but didn’t succeed, save a few little bits and pieces. And Anderson and Heap wanted to publish Ulysses in their journal, The Little Review, and did succeed in publishing the first 13 chapters. So, in essence, what they are all publishers.
Why do you think Ulysses continues to be so impactful 100 years later?
It’s a unique novel, which appeals to many different types of readers. Many different types of readers from many different places, and for many different reasons. Some people are drawn to it because of the kind of classical substructure—the Homeric parallel. Some people are drawn to it because of the kind of vivid psychological realism. Some people are drawn to it because of its radical, stylistic innovation. Some people are drawn to it because of its specificity around Dublin and Irish politics and nationalism, and the 16th of June, 1904. I think in essence, the reason it’s still read and it’s still really very popular, is because the characterization is so vivid. And the language—there is nothing really quite like Joyce for lyricism.
To me, the style is very compelling and passionate and important. I mean, it is also true that it makes literary history that Joyce really quite successfully takes issue with the idea of the novel as a form, and sort of reanimates the novel as a form. I think it’s true to say that he invents the modern novel and invents the modern reader. So, it’s, it is a landmark work. I don’t think the novel is ever quite the same again after Ulysses.
Read the series: Women and the Making of Ulysses: A History in 10 Objects.
How does this exhibition change the narrative about Joyce’s masterpiece?
One of the things the exhibition does, which I think is really interesting and moving, even to someone who knows the materials quite well, is it brings the disparate parts in the story together. You have to remember that the women behind Ulysses were geographically dispersed. They didn’t know each other. They didn’t interact with one another. Heap and Anderson were in New York, publishing The Little Review. Weaver was in London, publishing The Egoist and beach was Sylvia Beach was in Paris, opening Shakespeare and Company, her English language learning library and bookshop, when Joyce began writing Ulysses. These people didn’t know each other. And then you’ve got you know, Nora Barnacle, Joyce’s partner, and you’ve got Joyce’s family in Dublin. You’ve got deep pockets of material support from women in separated geographical locations. One of the things that’s innovative and important about the exhibition is it brings all of those stories together. And all of the documents which tell those stories are brought together for the very first time in history to see the pattern of female support as it spans across the UK and America.