January 16, 2018

Joyce's Birthday Books

On this day in 1922, James Joyce's fortieth birthday, Ulysses was first published. Joyce was very superstitious, and very apprehensive of a hostile reception for the novel that had been seven years in writing and sixteen years in gestation; he chose the birthday publication for luck. Because mainstream publishers had been scared off by the obscenity issue, the first edition was a small press run of only 1000 copies, financed by Sylvia Beach's "Shakespeare and Company" bookstore. In response to nervous notes and cables, the printer made assurances that three copies of the book would be mailed from Dijon on Feb. 1, sure to arrive in Paris on Feb. 2. For Joyce, now in an agony of "energetic prostration," this was an invitation to the postal gods; he prodded Beach to make other arrangements. On Feb. 2, at 7 a.m., she met the Dijon-Paris express, and received from the conductor the delivery of not three but two copies of Ulysses. One went to Joyce, the other went on display in the book shop, where the literati crowded in from 9 a.m. until closing time to see it. Joyce took his copy to a small celebration dinner that evening, emotionally unwrapping it after dessert -- a plain blue cover with white letters, his lucky colors. The dinner companions included Richard and Lilian Wallace a young American couple; seven months earlier Joyce had overheard Mrs. Wallace in conversation repeating "yes" again and again, in different intonations, thereby providing the word which Joyce used to begin, end, and anchor the famous 45-page, 8-sentence, Molly Bloom monologue which concludes the book:
    ...we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
Finnegans Wake was not published on Joyce's birthday, but a bound copy of the book was ready on this day in 1939, and a similar celebration was organized to toast the author and his seventeen years' labor. Joyce's daughter-in-law, Helen, arranged a cake in the shape of all his books, titled and laid in a row; invited by Joyce, she read the last of the Wake aloud:
    So soft this morning, ours. Yes. Carry me along, taddy, like you done through the toy fair! If I seen him bearing down on me now under whitespread wings like he'd come from Arkangels, I sink I'd die down over his feet, humbly dumbly, only to washup. Yes, tid. There's where. First. We pass through grass behush the bush to. Whish! A gull. Gulls. Far calls. Coming, far! End here. Us then. Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thousands-thee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the

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