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Wendy Weaver pores over a 1919 copy of the Egoist magazine in which James Joyce's Ulysses was first serialized (Moe Doiron for The Globe and Mail)
Wendy Weaver pores over a 1919 copy of the Egoist magazine in which James Joyce's Ulysses was first serialized (Moe Doiron for The Globe and Mail)

How much is a 92-year-old magazine with an historic excerpt worth? Add to ...

The paper is yellowing and tattered at the edges, and Wendy Weaver turns the pages of the old magazine very gingerly until she comes to the headline she is looking for: “Ulysses by James Joyce.”

“It looks like something I could crumble up and put on my cereal,” Weaver jokes, but the Toronto woman is deeply proud of her family connection to The Egoist, the London magazine that risked censorship in 1919 to publish excerpts of Ulysses, the stream-of-consciousness novel set during a single day in Dublin and quickly recognized as the defining work of modernist fiction.

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Weaver is a distant relation to Harriet Shaw Weaver, the editor whose name appears on the front cover of The Egoist and Joyce’s indispensable patron. Wendy’s grandfather, whose family immigrated to Canada in the 1870s, was Harriet’s first cousin and Wendy had long heard stories about “Aunt Hat” cranking out copies of The Egoist in a sister’s basement. Only recently, however, did she bother to dig out a copy she knew she had tucked away somewhere. What she discovered was the December, 1919, edition of The Egoist, the final number to include an excerpt of Ulysses, covering a few pages of the 10th chapter, known as Wandering Rocks.

“I knew I had it, but I had forgotten its exact location,” Weaver said, explaining how she was encouraged to hunt out the family memorabilia by Michael Sherman, a Toronto writer and Joyce fan who maintains a blog about the Irish writer.

Weaver, a retired teacher and counsellor, has taken up painting at the Neilson Park Creative Centre in Etobicoke where Sherman’s sister Cindy is the manager. When Cindy Sherman mentioned that her book club was going to try reading the notoriously dense Ulysses under her brother’s guidance, Weaver suggested that she might have some memorabilia that a Joyce aficionado would like to see.

Watching Weaver turn the pages of The Egoist, Michael Sherman could not be more enthusiastic: “That chapter is the centre of Ulysses,” he explained as he tried to remember not to touch the paper. “It is a series of vignettes of people crisscrossing Dublin. It’s like a movie.”

Scholars say the magazine, which could publish only certain sections of Ulysses for fear of obscenity charges, is of great historical and cultural interest, if probably not worth much on the open market.

“We are really talking about it as an object; as an object, it is a fascinating thing,” said Canadian Joyce scholar Michael Groden, who teaches at the University of Western Ontario in London, Ont. “ I have never held The Egoist in my hands.”

Digital facsimiles of The Egoist in university libraries and, of course, Ulysses in book form both make the text widely available (if much disputed because of differences between editions). The Little Review in New York was the first publication to serialize the novel until it was stopped by obscenity charges in 1920 when it included a passage that describes the main character, Leopold Bloom, masturbating. The novel was finally published in Paris in 1922, but it remained banned in Britain and the United States until the 1930s.

First editions of Ulysses sell for around $100,000 to $150,000 or more if they can be traced to important owners. “[Harriet] Weaver’s own copy is priceless,” said Anastasia Herbert, an American Joyce scholar and director of Ithys Press in Dublin.

Copies of the two magazines in which Ulysses was serialized are much rarer: “They just don’t make it through time. People throw them away,” Herbert said, agreeing with Groden that Wendy Weaver’s copy of The Egoist is particularly interesting because it can be traced back to her famous relative.

Still, neither scholar thinks that it is worth much money: A complete set of The Egoist issues containing sections of Ulysses and Joyce’s earlier book, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, sold at Sotheby’s in 2004 for £5,400 (about $8,500).

Wendy Weaver is not interested in selling the magazine, which also includes an essay by its associate editor, T.S. Eliot, and a poem by William Carlos Williams, but is considering donating it to a library or university.

She has never read Ulysses – “I’ve opened it many times and then get sort of discouraged,” she said – but has always been aware of how important her cousin’s role was as Joyce’s early publisher, editor, critic and financial supporter. She met Harriet Weaver twice during family trips to England, once when she was 12 and too sick with the flu to really enjoy the visit, and another when, as a recent university graduate in 1960, she encountered a very old lady. “I was so full of pride, but you could barely get her to say anything,” she recalled.

Wendy Weaver was left with the distinct impression that her aging relative, who died in 1961 at the age of 85, had impoverished herself to support Joyce. It’s a conclusion that Herbert suspects may be accurate: Harriet Weaver, who had inherited family money, gave Joyce about £1.5-million during her lifetime, almost $2.5-million in Canadian currency today and a huge sum for the time. Asked about her politics, Harriet Weaver once told a friend that she was “redder than your dress.”

“I’m sure she had her own opinion of [Joyce’s] profligacy and the less attractive sides of his character, but she kept those to herself and continued to support him as a great artist,” Herbert said.

Groden adds that Harriet Weaver’s gift to literature was not only her support of Joyce but also her decision to donate the many notes, manuscripts and first editions he had gratefully inscribed for her directly to the British Museum, where they could be studied by scholars. (Other early Joyce editors and supporters sold theirs, often because of financial need.)

“She is considered a kind of saint for what she did for Joyce,” he said.

Wendy Weaver remembers her mainly as the subject of great family stories: Harriet, her sister, Maud, and her sister-in-law, Muriel, were all suffragettes and family lore had it that they were arrested for their work trying to win the vote for women. In jail, they were given a bar of soap each and told to break it in half: One part was for the body, the other was to scrub the cell.

Her family also believed that issues of The Egoist were printed in the basement of the house of Anglican bishop Campbell Hone, to whom Maud was married, because no printer would take the project. Under British law at the time, not only a publisher but also a printer could be found guilty of obscenity, and The Egoist’s printer would not print Ulysses. That was why it was first serialized in the United States in The Little Review, while Harriet Weaver published only safe excerpts in her magazine.

Wendy Weaver thinks that her copy of the magazine was probably passed on to her by her father, who had become close to his British cousins when he fought in Europe during the First World War.

Today, she delights in the Joycisms she finds in the yellowing magazine – “a band of satchelled schoolboys … all raised untidy caps …” – but is keen to find it a good home: “I want to get rid of it before it self-destructs,” she said.

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