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  • Paul Léon and the Publication of The Mime of Mick, Nick and the Maggies
  • Luca Crispi (bio)

Getting James Joyce's works published during his lifetime was always a complicated—and, for most of his career, an unrewarding—enterprise.1 Many of the obstacles that had to be overcome were related to the daring experimentalism of his writing, which often challenged moral and aesthetic boundaries, but the writer, his agents, as well as his many publishers created a variety of other difficulties that also had to be surmounted before Joyce's works ultimately appeared in print. As a struggling and relatively unknown writer, he was often his own best advocate,2 but (on the advice of H. G. Wells) Joyce was pleased to retain the services of James B. Pinker as his literary agent in April 1915.3 While he conceded a year later that "no doubt Mr Pinker is a better man of business than I am (LI 95),"4 Joyce later seemed to relish criticizing Pinker for his lack of initiative and for his unresponsiveness to Joyce's numerous letters asking for news and, more to the point, royalties. Writers have the right to expect that their agents will negotiate beneficial contracts on their behalf, but Joyce had to realize that Pinker's half-hearted attitude was quite understandable given that his books were difficult to place and that the financial return for the writer and agent hardly seemed worth the effort, especially before Sylvia Beach's Shakespeare and Company published Ulysses in 1922. Up to that point, Harriet Shaw Weaver's Egoist Press was the only one of Joyce's publishers who bothered to pay him his royalties in full and on time.5

Soon after he had arranged the publishing contract for Ulysses in April 1921, Joyce wrote Weaver one of his many letters of complaint about his agent and other publishers:

I would probably have spared myself a great deal of profitless worry if I had forced Mr Huebsch's hand three months ago [about publishing [End Page 125] Ulysses in America]. I perceived a few minutes after my meeting with him that he considered me an embarrassing person and my books bad sellers but could not make up his mind to take a definite step. I may say that it is a year and a half or perhaps more since he forwarded me my royalties on my novel, my play or my stories. It seems strange that there should be no sales, however small. I am glad that you intend to make the arrangement you so promptly and kindly suggest without the intervention of Mr Pinker. If I thought that the matter was passing through his hands I should again give way to dejection.6

The arrangement Weaver proposed was to consolidate Joyce's other earlier works under the Egoist Press imprint in England.7 Just a few months later, after he had corrected the first setting of proofs for Ulysses, Joyce continued to vent his grievances to Weaver:

About three months ago I received a note of four lines from Mr Pinker to which I replied by a note of no lines at all—which is shorter still. I think it would be well if Ulysses makes my name to unify my publishers. Mr Mathews and Mr Richards are two bores quite as incompetent as my agent and swindlers into the bargain. Perhaps they could be induced to turn over their rights and remainders of copies to you. The former never paid me any royalty on either edition, from the later I got about £10 in as many years. Mr Huebsch began rather well but has changed his mind whether he sends any royalties to Mr Pinker or not I don't know. Perhaps he does. I daresay my agent will hold them up until I reply to his fourlined note of challenge.

(See LI 168.)8

Throughout his life Joyce usually trusted his own business acumen and rarely had much confidence in his agents' enterprise or skills; and, with hindsight, he was often right. He also had a propensity to negotiate his own deals with publishers, thereby depriving his agents of...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1538-4241
Print ISSN
1049-0809
Pages
pp. 125-161
Launched on MUSE
2020-01-30
Open Access
No
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