Dubliners in Brisbane

In this guest blog, Dr Tony Thwaites charts the chequered history of the first edition of James Joyce's seminal work Dubliners, a copy of which is held in the Woolcock collection, administered by the Fryer Library.

Front cover of James Joyce's Dubliners showing publisher as Grant Richards

'Richards 1914.' The name of the publisher and the date on the verso of the title page to the Fryer Library's first edition hide a rather long and tumultuous road to publication.

Joyce had announced the project to his friend Con Curran as far back as July 1904. By February 1906, the well-known London publisher Grant Richards had accepted the stories: quite a coup for a relatively unknown writer to get his book placed with the publisher of Shaw and Housman. They signed a contract in March. Between acceptance and contract, however, something happened that would set in train a long delay. Joyce completed another story, 'Two Gallants,' and once the contract was signed sent it along to Richards for inclusion. Richards sent it along directly to the printer, apparently trusting his young author enough not to read it beforehand.

The printer refused to set it. The 'gallants' of the story's title are two con artists, Lenehan and Corley, who both turn up as bit parts in Joyce's later novel, Ulysses. Corley gets his money by seducing young women and leeching off them, and he demonstrates this by getting his latest conquest to steal money from her employer. There are implications that he might have driven at least one woman to prostitution. That was enough for the printer, who knew that the law of the time would hold the printer as open to prosecution for obscenity as the publisher. He marked up the offending passages, as well as a couple of incidents that, newly sensitised, he'd now seen in other stories, and sent the lot back. Richards returned the story to Joyce in April, with a cover letter that asked for changes, including the removal of the word 'bloody' from 'Grace.'

Joyce's response was remarkable. Instead of making any concessions, or even trying to reassure Richards and the printer, he pointed out a host of other passages they seem to have missed, and asked them why they hadn't found them objectionable as well. The matter continued to and fro with neither party giving way, until in 1906 Richards gave Joyce a clear 'no.' Joyce looked elsewhere. Elkin Mathews would publish Joyce's slim book of verse, Chamber Music, in 1907, but turned Dubliners down. In 1909, the Dublin publisher, Maunsel and Company, agreed to take on the stories. Maunsel's George Roberts, who would become notorious for his bad treatment of his authors, offered Joyce a good set of terms, only to show signs of cold feet and yet more delays the year after that. Improbable as it may seem, given that some of the publishers' and printers' objections had been to the attitudes a number of the stories' characters had to the monarchy, Joyce even wrote to King George V, who of course refused to intervene. By September 1912, the Maunsel proof sheets had been destroyed, and Joyce was back where he started. He approached Martin Secker, and even returned cap in hand to Elkin Mathews to suggest that he would be willing to pay all the expenses of publication out of his own pocket. Mathews refused. Joyce wrote again in despair to Grant Richards.

And this time it worked. In January 1914, almost eight years after he'd first expressed interest in the stories, Richards agreed to publish them. Dubliners appeared in June that year: this is the edition held in Fryer. Joyce had made a few concessions. There were some small cuts, and significantly, he gave in to Richards' house style, which replaced Joyce's idiosyncratic use of the long dash (the French tiret) to indicate direct speech with the more common English inverted commas -- 'perverted commas,' as he would later call them. (The Penguin edition would still be using that convention as late as 1966.) But something good had come out of the delay and the long years of frustration. In those years, the ten stories Joyce announced to Curran and the twelve he first sent Richards had grown to fifteen. Among those new stories was what is now the final and by far the longest of the collection, 'The Dead,' added in 1907, and one of the great glories of the short story in the language.

Further Reading

Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (revised edition: Oxford: Oxford UP, 1982); and Richard Ellmann (ed.), Selected Letters of James Joyce (London: Faber, 1975).

About Tony

Tony Thwaites is Senior Lecturer in Literature and Cultural Studies. His research interests include modernist literature (particularly James Joyce), literary criticism and theory (particularly questions of poststructuralist theory) ; Freud, Lacan and psychoanalysis; narratology; philosophy and its interfaces with literature (particularly Derrida, Badiou, Žižek). Current research also includes a book on Lacanian theory of narrative, and a book on Lacan's work in the 1960s.

Last updated:
4 February 2020