Joyce, Shaw, Pound and pence

In the early 1920s, when the soulful and fearless Sylvia Beach was preparing to publish Ulysses at Shakespeare and Company, she sought subscriptions from potential readers, and received among the replies a mighty refusal from George Bernard Shaw. Shaw had read part of Joyce’s book in serial form, and in his letter to Beach he described it memorably as “a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilisation; but . . . a truthful one”. His letter finished as follows:

I must add, as the prospectus implies an invitation to purchase, that I am an elderly Irish gentleman, and that if you imagine that any Irishman, much less an elderly one, would pay 150 francs for a book, you little know my countrymen.

Shaw said elsewhere that he wouldn’t pay three guineas for the book. Joyce, meanwhile, had a bet on with Sylvia Beach that Shaw would not subscribe. Losing the bet meant giving his patron a silk handkerchief; winning it meant receiving a box of Voltigeurs, his favourite cigars. He loved Shaw’s letter to Beach, and sent copies to several friends — including Ezra Pound, to whom he wrote:

if you imagine that the elderly Irish gentleman who wrote it (the letter not the book) has not subscribed anonymously for a copy of the revolting record through a bookseller you little know my countrymen.

Pound was far from satisfied, though, and exchanged about a dozen letters with Shaw on the matter. In March 1921 he grumbled to H. L. Mencken: “Shaw now writes to me twice a week complaining of the high price of Ulysses.” The correspondence ended with Shaw quipping: “I take care of the pence because the Pounds won’t take care of themselves” (also reported as: “I take care of the pence and let the Pounds take care of themselves”).

L–R: Ezra Pound, John Quinn, Ford Madox Ford, and James Joyce. In Pound's rooms in Paris, 1923. Photograph from Cornell University.


Last year I said I had never taken part in Bloomsday — not in any official events anyway. This year is no different, but like Leopold Bloom I’ll be walking around taking in the sights, sounds, and smells of the city (Nora’s Galway, not James’s Dublin). I might bring a Joyce-related book. That will do. If you’re on Twitter, you’ll find me making occasional Joyce-related tweets.

In a tradition I beganagain last year, I’ll finish with a poem — this time a Limerick from the pen of Pound:

There was once a young writer named Joyce
Whose diction was ribidly choice,
And all his friends’ woes
Were deduced from his prose
Which never filled anyone’s purse.

(Pound told Joyce that choice and purse would rhyme perfectly in certain parts of New York.)

14 Responses to Joyce, Shaw, Pound and pence

  1. wisewebwoman says:

    I’ve always loved Bloomsday, particularly in Toronto which I’ll miss this year.
    I wonder if that is Nora’s skirt in the picture?\
    And I’d love to know what Ezra is exPOUNDing on.
    PS Enjoy your walkabout…

  2. Stan says:

    WWW: Bloomsday didn’t mean much to me until I read Ulysses. Now I like to mark the day in some little way. I don’t know what it’s like in Dublin, but I notice quite a lot of cynicism about the activities.

    I wondered if that was Nora’s skirt too, or just an uninhabited something draped on a chair. My guess is that Ezra is expounding on who’ll sit where next.

    Have a happy Bloomfoundland day!

  3. Claudia says:

    What a delighful post (with the one, last year) for Bloomsday. So many fascinating links. A joy to meet Sylvia Beach, and to discover Shakespeare and Company. Sadly, this type of bookstores has disappeared from Toronto. Big chains have taken over.

    My older son’s small appartment looks like the bookstore’s photo. I kid you not. There’s barely space for a twin bed and a computer table. As a mother, I groan. As a book lover, I can hardly wait, from one visit to another, to see what’s piling up on the floor, and under the table.

    Good to see Ford Madox Ford with the writers. I had never heard of him until (2 years ago) I picked up Parade’s End in a Second-Hand Bookshop. He was being compared to Marcel Proust on the cover. A very moving book on the chaotic madness of the First World War. It makes one wonder why the world is still repeating wars when it’s already so clear that they are deeply painful and totally useless.

    Ah! well…Let’s have one for James. Sláinte, Stan!

  4. wisewebwoman says:

    And thank you for the mention of Shakespeare and Co which I visited last May and my daughter visited in February.
    One would have to be pried out with a crowbar. Best. bookshop. ever.

  5. Enjoy the day

    Happy Bloomsday Stan
    It’s good Joyce’s masterpiece
    out of copyright

    Lame but the best I could do!

  6. Stan says:

    Thank you Claudia, I’m glad you enjoyed it. Your reaction to your son’s apartment (one p — this confused me too when I began learning French!) reminds me of my mother’s when she visits. Books everywhere, towering to toppling point. I don’t want to go overboard with links, but I know you’ll appreciate this view from inside Shakespeare and Company, and you might also enjoy a browse of the store’s own website, or some of the links collected on Wikipedia.

    (Edit: I linked to the photo on Twitter and received the following clarification: “Today’s bookshop is unrelated to Sylvia Beach’s shop, which was over on rue de l’Odéon. George Whitman just took the name.”)

    War is one of the main causes of war. We’re still trying to wake up, grow up, and learn to live with ourselves and each other. We’re running out of time, but at least in the meantime there are powerful consolations, an infinitude of wonders in books and outside them, for the sane among us. Sláinte!

    WWW: My pleasure. During my brief stay in Paris I didn’t make it to Shakespeare and Company, which may have been an subconscious ploy to ensure my return to the city. (In Prague I frequented Shakespeare and Sons, maybe by way of compensation!) Galway is blessed with Charlie Byrne’s, but sadly Kenny’s bookshop moved online a few years ago.

    Jams of The Poor Mouth
    At last you’ll see Ulysses
    Back with the people.

    Many happy returns!

  7. Michele says:

    Unfortunately, the accent that inspired Pound’s choice/purse rhyme is hard to find in contemporary New York City. Choice/purse, earl/oil and my favorite, toity-toid ‘n toid (33rd Street & 3rd Avenue), are all dying out. Years ago an elevated subway — the “Third Avenue El” — ran up and down Third Avenue in Manhattan. Run-down bars, tenements, strip joints and crime flourished in its shadow. I knew two boys who grew up on the corner 33rd Street; both were Irish and from troubled homes. One became a scholar and the other a street urchin. I’ll let you guess which spoke of toity-toid ‘n toid. (The city tore down the old El in 1955 — Wikipedia recounts its history here:

  8. Stan says:

    Michele: The accent deserves a comeback. I grew up hearing the adenoidal “oi” in gangster films and TV cartoons, and it seems such an iconic pronunciation, with its boids and Noo Joisey. Even when it’s caricatured. Toity-toid ‘n toid is just wonderful. I think that the short slice of NY history in your comment contains the makings of a novel or a screenplay…

  9. Yvonne says:

    I once did stringer work for a New York journalist who came to Dublin to write a piece on Bloomsday. I came to the conclusion then that the public celebration was hokum.
    But I guess it’s in the eye of the beholder because later when I went to Trieste I visited cafes and bars and streets associated with Joyce and enjoyed that hugely. Central Trieste is much less changed than Dublin and in the early mornings a mist rolls in off the Adriatic that makes the city seem even older and more mystical. Trieste could get into your blood!

  10. Claudia says:

    Many, many thanks for the extra links to the bookstore. I can’t believe that Shakespeare and Company will send me a newsletter. The inside view is fantastic. I’m hesitating to email it to my son. He might try to compete….À ta santé, cher ami!

  11. Sean Jeating says:

    For sure much more than today’s weeding
    I did enjoy twice reading
    this fine piece of writing
    that I found delighting
    and which is straightways leading

    me towards the end: Good nighting.

  12. Tim says:

    I didn’t click any links, so I didn’t realise until reading the comments that Shakespeare and Company is a bookstore. Now the post makes more sense! I appear to be the least internationally educated amongst your readers, Stan. At least I have heard of Ezra Pound; though my recollection of anything to do with his life is so incredibly cloudy, I couldn’t tell you anything about him.

  13. Stan says:

    Yvonne: Yes, I suppose it depends. The celebrations seem like fun in many ways, though a certain level of pretension is inevitable. I’ve never been to Trieste, but it looks and sounds lovely.

    Claudia: You’re very welcome. It does look like an amazing bookstore! ‘He might try to compete’ — this is the danger. Incurable book collectors just think to themselves, “Oh well, at least it’s not as crowded as…”

    The insistence of weeds can torment
    Even more than a book out of print,
    But a Limerick so fine
    With a full extra line
    Does console and delight and content.

    Tim: In a first draft of the post, I included a parenthetical clause to clarify that Shakespeare and Company was Beach’s Parisian bookstore. The line was too crowded, though, so I dropped the clarification — for better or worse.

  14. John Cowan says:

    The New York accent as a whole is not dying out, although some features of it, like the CHOICE/NURSE merger, have become strongly recessive (they pretty much only appear among older folks). In particular, the most important “feature”, which is that people from outside the city despise it, is still going strong. It’s the only one of the old Eastern Seaboard city accents that never got a real foothold in the hinterland.

    But here in the core, we still wawk the wawk and tawk the tawk.

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