Thursday, April 30, 2015

His vine-covered printing house worked overtime

You know how it is when you like a book so much  that you don't want to finish it.
This is how I felt about Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation, by Noel Riley Finch. I it has taken me weeks to read it,  an almost deliberate policy of slow reading.

Sylvia Beach, as many of you will know, was an American woman who lived all her adult life in Paris, and who founded the bookshop Shakespeare and Company in 1919.

She is also known as the publisher of James Joyce's Ulysses, in 1922, when no American or English publisher was willing to do so. Parts of the book had been published in a little magazine in America, and the publishers were charged with obscenity. In England, Joyce's patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, was willing to publish it, but could not find a printer, because they would also be charged with obscenity.

So Sylvia took it on. She wasn't a publisher as such, but ran a bookshop and lending library. But she was the perfect person to publish Ulysses. She's believed that Joyce should be free to complete the book in the way he wanted to, and to is end allowed him an infinite number of proofs. In all, about a third of the length of the book was written on the page proofs, as Joyce improvised and elaborated on what he had already written.

The printer was M Maurice Darantiere, situated in Dijon, a town 150 miles southeast of Paris, known for mustard, and now, Ulysses.

When he received proofs, Joyce gave them to various literary friends, asking for suggestions and associations to keep his text growing:

No book has ever been written in this way. His encyclopaedic expansion sometimes took him through six or eight galleys. His appetite for proofs was insatiable, Sylvia thought. ' Every proof was covered with additional text... Adorned with Joycean rockets and myriads of stars guiding the printers to words and phrases and lists of names, all around the margins.'

.... At first Darantiere cautioned Sylvia: " M Darantiere warned me that I was going to have a lot of extra expense with those proofs. He suggested I call Joyce's attention  to the danger of going beyond my depth, perhaps his appetite for proofs might be curbed. But no, I wouldn't hear of such a thing. Ulysses was to be as Joyce wished, in every aspect." If 'real' publishers followers did her example, she says later, " kit would be the death of publishing. My case was different,"
.... And so.  " his vine-covered printing house worked overtime."

That Ulysses is the kind of book it is is down to Sylvia Beach. No other publisher would have allowed Joyce that kind of freedom. Just as well she wasn't a 'real' publisher.

In a little less than ten years she was to publish eleven editions of Ulysses,  until the book was able to be published in America and Britain. Not only that, she acted as Joyce's agent and banker, found the family accommodation, carried out the large number of tasks Joyce suggested to promote the book, and generally assisted in his life.

After a decade, the association and friendship faded. Sylvia's suffered various setbacks and did not change the energy to keep the Joyce machine going.

But her bookshop continued as a centre of the literary arts in Paris, along with Sylvia's friend and partner Adrienne Monnier's own French language bookshop across the way. She did much  to promote American literature in France, and the writers who became members of her bookshop and friends include Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Ezra Pound, William Carlos Williams. Even Emma Goldman  called in on her way through Paris.

The heyday of the shop was in the twenties. Then came the great crash, and the Second World War. Through the hard times friends rallied round and kept the bookshop afloat, but in 1941, when Paris as occupied by he Nazis and he shop was to be imminently raided, Sylvia closed the shop and hid all the books.

The shop never opened again. But Sylvia Beach continued to enjoy writing and writers, continuing to promote literature. She die at the age of 75 in 1962.

And so my time with this energetic, witty woman, who did so much for writers and writing has come to an end. Before I finished it, I began that sad task of finding another book to read. I have plenty to read, but what?

I drew from the bookshelf The Vivisector, by Patrick White, and the Uncollected writings of Stevie Smith ( now presumably collected in this volume). But my heart and mind as still with Sylvia beac, in Paris in he 20s and 30s.

Of course, there is still re- reading ....

No comments:

Post a Comment