Pound to Joyce: ‘Wall, Mr Joice, I recon you’re a damn fine writer, that’s what I recon’


December 19, 2013


Pound, who had already been responsible for getting A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man into print, was impressed by the first episode of Joyce’s new novel, Ulysses. For the next three years, Pound was editor, critic, and even censor of Ulysses.
Shortly after A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man started to appear in serial form in the Egoist in February 1914, Joyce started work on Ulysses, a novel he may well have been thinking about since his time in Rome in 1906-7. However, he put off work on Ulysses in favour of his play Exiles, and it was not until June 1915 that the first episode of Ulysses was written.
However, even in April 1917 Joyce still maintained that the only part of it that might be ready for publication was the ‘Hamlet’ chapter, and he was reluctant to see that cut to fit the space available in the Egoistmagazine. He told Pound in June that he had finished the ‘Hades’ episode and was working on ‘Aeolus,’ and by August he was telling Margaret Anderson that he hoped to send some of Ulysses to Pound for the Little Review.
A severe attack of lumbago and glaucoma meant that Joyce had to undergo an eye operation at the end of August, and in mid-October he moved to Locarno to recuperate. The first three episodes of Ulysses were finished there, and sent to Claud Sykes in Zurich for typing. The first episode was then sent on to Pound who hoped to publish it in the Little Review and the Egoist.
In his letter of 19 December 1917, Pound declares that the opening chapter is ‘echt Joice’ and though there was a passage on the third page that made him question it for a moment, he reread it, and could find nothing wrong. There were some words that he wondered about, for instance ‘merry’ in the phrase ‘merrying over the sea,’ but again these were not a matter for concern.
The one thing that seemed to occur prophetically to Pound was that the novel was sure to be suppressed but, he declared, ‘it is damn wellworth it.’ Unwittingly, Pound had a dig at Anthony Comstock, the founder of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, and promoter of a bill that made it illegal to deliver obscene, lewd or lascivious material. It was Comstock’s law and his Society for the Suppression of Vice that got Ulysses suppressed in 1920.
Pound concluded his letter in a voice imitative of an American drawl: ‘Wall, Mr Joice, I recon you’re a damn fine writer, that’s what I recon’… You can take it from me, an’ I’m a jedge.’
Sources & Further Reading:
Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. II edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Pound, Ezra: Pound/Joyce – The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce with Pound’s Essays on Joyce, edited and with Commentary by Forrest Reid, London: Faber & Faber, 1968.

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