The Birth Of A Masterpiece

Ahead of his Strolling Through Ulysses show on February 4th, Robert Gogan traces the origins of Joyce’s 100-year-old novel.

It is Thursday, February 2 nd 1922. The Dijon-Paris express train is hurrying through the French countryside and is due to arrive in Paris at 7am. A 34-year-old young American woman is waiting at the Gare de Lyons for the train to arrive. She is the owner of a literary
bookshop on the Rue de l’Odéon, selling mainly English books.

She is waiting anxiously to collect a parcel from the train’s conductor; a parcel entrusted to him the previous evening in
Dijon by the printer, Maurice Darantière.
“The parcel is very important. Keep it safe. Give it to the young woman who’ll be waiting on the platform at Gare de Lyons.”
The train arrives; the conductor alights, demonstrably holding the parcel; the woman approaches.
“Mamselle Beach?”
“Yes.”
“I believe that this package is for you. It was entrusted to me by Maurice Darantière for safe delivery to you and I’m happy to have fulfilled my obligation.”
“Thank you.”

It is with great relief that the woman collects the parcel. It contains two copies of a new novel; the first novel she had ever published. And it was oh so important that the books arrive on February 2nd, for it is the 40th birthday of its author and he considers it to be an important omen.

From the moment she had suggested publishing the novel back in April 1921 the young woman’s life had been turned upside down. It had been a very stressful time, constantly trying to appease the whims of the author who insisted on making extensive alterations and additions to the printing proofs, right up to the end of January 1922; then trying to appease the printer who had been growing more and more frustrated at the author’s unreasonable demands. She had been taxed to her limit. But the printer had been accommodating in the end. The additional payment he demanded was a welcome bonus but could hardly compensate for the disruption, pressure and frustration which the author had caused him.

The woman takes a taxi to the residence of the author. He is waiting patiently for her arrival. It has taken him seven years to write this novel and the fateful day has at last arrived.
She gives one copy of the novel to him and hurries to her bookshop with the other. She carefully places the novel in the centre of the bookshop window and allows herself a triumphant smile as the admiring public file into the shop to have a look at the book.

The bookshop is Shakespeare & Company; the woman is Sylvia Beach; the author is James Joyce; and the novel is Ulysses.
A masterpiece is born.

 

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