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  • "Built with glue and clippings":Joyce, Clipping Bureaus, and the Art of Recycling
  • Dipanjan Maitra (bio)

On 22 April 1915, Joyce wrote to Grant Richards from Venice: "It is possible that your press clipping agency has overlooked the two notices in question. I shall perhaps write to my brother and ask him to search the files of the 'Freeman's Journal' and of 'Sinn Fein.'"1 "[Y]our press clipping agency"—a phrase easily lost in a letter where Joyce was trying his hardest to see Dubliners into print, secure "dramatic rights" for Exiles, and make arrangements for the publication of A Portrait all in the shadow of World War I—were nevertheless words known to most men, if not all, in Europe and the United States in 1915. They were certainly known to many working-class women. Clipping agencies had become popular in the 1880s in France and England and were rapidly exported to the United States when one of the early pioneers, Henry Romeike (1855-1903) decided to expand his business in 1887. These agencies gathered press clippings for their clients for a price. Like many celebrity artists and public figures of the time, Joyce and his entourage soon became subscribers. As a result, he amassed an enormous collection of press-cuttings (over 3,000) now scattered across holding institutions in the United States, England, and Ireland.2 Joyce's clippings show his growing stature as an artist in the public eye. As the letter to Richards shows, he was aware of clipping agencies and their role at least as early as 1915. His more direct involvement with bureaus, however, began slightly later in 1917 when British postal surveillance forced Harriet Shaw Weaver to become a client of Durrant's Press Cuttings in London. She subscribed to multiple bureaus from London and supplied Joyce with press cuttings for the remainder of his life. Weaver was not alone in this, though, since, in Paris, Sylvia Beach subscribed on Joyce's behalf from at least 1926 onward. Even Paul Léon subscribed to press-cutting agencies for mentions of Joyce.3 The surviving clippings are in more than ten languages from about five continents. Despite their reach, however, few studies have taken into account the role of these clipping bureaus in shaping Joyce's work.4 In this essay, I will discuss the circumstances that inspired this remarkable collecting practice and its impact on the production of Joyce's texts. Significantly enough, Joyce's subscription to clipping agencies coincides with the rise of celebrity culture and [End Page 135] tabloid journalism, which magnified the bureaus' popularity.5 How did these clipping agencies function? Now hailed as a "steampunk version of Google," press-cutting agencies employed special readers, mostly women, to speed-read manually hundreds of newspaper articles every day.6 These readers looked for keywords requested by their clients and then isolated news items. The press-cuttings were swiftly mailed to the client with a receipt that usually provided the name of the newspaper, date, and place of publication. Thus in 1915, if Joyce was looking for specific reviews of Dubliners, a press-cutting agency would have been his best bet.

By 1915, Joyce had successfully negotiated with Richards to publish Dubliners and was told by the publisher that early reviewers had, despite their reservations, "almost without exception, spoken very well of the book"; thus he became increasingly interested in collecting, copying, and circulating press reviews of the collection.7 His interest in press reviews of his work went back to his first publication, Chamber Music with Elkin Mathews.8 Joyce collected reviews of the book and, according to Ellmann, employed a printer in Trieste to have them copied and sent to Richards "for insertion in copies [of Dubliners] sent to the press" (LettersII 332, n3).9 While Joyce seems to have gathered press reviews primarily to circulate them among influential reviewers to generate further publicity, they also came in handy during more urgent moments. John McCourt notes that when, in September 1914, war protocols dictated Joyce's teaching position at the Scuola di Commercio Revoltella be suspended until further notice, he wrote to the Royal Lieutenancy to have himself...