By Colm Kelpie
BBC News NI
James Joyce met publisher Sylvia Beach in 1920 shortly after he
moved to Paris
In the spring of 1921, Paris bookseller Sylvia Beach boasted about
her plans to publish a novel she deemed a masterpiece that would be
"ranked among the classics in English literature".
"Ulysses is going to make my place famous," she wrote of
James Joyce's acclaimed and challenging novel, written over seven years in
three cities depicting the events of a single day in Dublin.
And it did.
On 2 February 1922, Beach published the first book edition of
Ulysses, just in time for Joyce's 40th birthday.
Stylistically dense in parts, it tells the stories of three central
characters - Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom and his wife, Molly - and is now
celebrated as one of the world's most influential texts.
TS Eliot, writing in 1923, believed Ulysses was "the most
important expression which the present age has found".
But the path to publication was not a smooth
one. The novel sparked controversy and was greeted with revulsion by many -
even among some in the literary community.
Parts had been serialised by US magazine
Little Review in 1920, resulting in an obscenity trial that concluded with the
editors being fined and ordered to cease further publication. It was also
censured in Great Britain.
Beach, the owner of Shakespeare & Company
on the Rue Dupuytren, was determined to have it published in book form, which
she did, bankrolled in part by her own money on the promise of subscribers.
Writing about the task at the time, she said
she had to "put every single centime aside to pay" the book's
Prof Keri Walsh, director of the Institute of
Irish Studies at New York's Fordham University, says Beach's decision to
publish turned her into a "culture-hero of the avant-garde".
"There was a sense that people knew that this was going to be one of the defining books of modernism, so she understood that she would assure her own place in literary history by being the publisher of it," Prof Walsh tells BBC News NI.
Joyce and Beach first met in 1920, not long
after he moved to Paris.
He had long left Ireland in self-imposed
exile, living in Trieste, Zurich and the French capital.
Beach described that meeting as a powerful
moment, says Prof Walsh.
"Joyce was very tired at this point. He
had spent so much time fighting to finish Ulysses, and get through [World War
One] and survive, he felt she could provide some sort of stability and support
for him and his family," she adds.
"She was much more than a publisher - a
banker, agent, administrator, friend of the family. For a very long time that
relationship worked well."
But following disputes over publishing rights,
the relationship between Joyce and Beach soured and the latter ultimately ceded
the novel's rights, writes Prof Walsh in The Letters of Sylvia Beach.................