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Rare James Joyce Letters Detail Author’s Search for a ‘Ulysses’ Publisher

An American collector has paid a stunning price to acquire two hand-written letters penned by Irish author James Joyce. The unnamed collector picked up the pair of letters for $24,650.68, which is more than $12,000 per sheet of paper. 

Why so much? The letters are considered particularly rare and valuable because they both discuss Joyce’s magnum opus, Ulysses, and his place in literature. Most of Joyce’s letters deal with a much different subject matter – his pornographic letters to Nora Barnacle are famous. Joyce did not share work details nearly as freely as his sexual fantasies, making these new letters a very rare find.

The first letter appears to be addressed to an Irish admirer, who Joyce thanks for his “kind words” about Ulysses. Joyce mentions that he’s having difficulty finding an UK publisher for the book. He also mentions that he’s been ill, which has delayed the process further. The note was penned in 1918, a key year in Joyce’s career: Ulysses had just begun to be serialized in The Little Review, an American journal, and it had already been the target of many objections due to its graphic content.

The letters show “just how much pressure Joyce was under at the time,” Mark Traynor, the managing director of Dublin’s James Joyce Centre, told the Guardian. “He was under considerable stress both financially and in terms of his health.”

The serialized version of Ulysses ran until 1920, and the entire book was published by American Sylvia Beach’s famous bookstore Shakespeare & Company in Paris in 1922.