The Works of James Joyce

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A Brief Publication History of the First Random House Edition of ULYSSES

By Stacey Herbert



Ulysses by James Joyce

Random House, New York, 25 January 1934

Book Format

The first authorized American edition of Ulysses was wrapped in an attention grabbing, Art Deco, black and red wrapper. The edition included Woolsey’s landmark decision, a letter from Joyce to Cerf on the history of his battles with the censors, and an editorial ‘Foreword’ by Morris Ernst who said of Woolsey’s decision: “The precedent he has established will do much to rescue the mental pabulum of the public from the censors who have striven to convert it into treacle, and will help to make it the strong, provocative fare it ought to be.”

H. Woolf printed 10,300 volumes of 792 pages, on white wove paper, for publication on 25 January 1934, and sold for $3.50. An additional 100 copies were printed first to secure copyright.

Ernst Reichl designed this edition, bound in cream-colored cloth with the author and titled stamped in red and black on the front cover and author, title and publisher stamped in red and black on the spine.

Publication History

James Joyce and his many advocates began soliciting a potential publisher for an American edition of Ulysses in 1918 but it would take two trials, a series of piracies and protests, and a break between the author and his Paris publisher before an authorized edition eventually appeared in 1934.


In early February 1932 Sylvia Beach relinquished her publication rights to Ulysses. James Joyce was now the sole owner of the world rights to the work. As he looked for publishers for an American edition, Joyce stipulated four conditions (none of which would ultimately be followed!): there was to be no preface; the text was to be unabridged and unaltered; the publication was to happen as soon as possible; the text was to be based on the last (the 11th) Shakespeare and Company printing and read by an expert proof reader.

On 14 March 1932 Joyce signed a contract with Bennett Cerf of New York’s Random House to publish Ulysses. At that time Ulysses was still banned in the United States. Cerf then engaged Joyce and Léon in his efforts to bring the issue to trial in the States.

At Cerf’s instruction, Léon pasted favorable opinions of Ulysses into a copy of the book and then posted it to Random House so that it would be seized by Customs and thus the book and literary opinions would be entered into evidence simultaneously. By 18 July, Cerf reported that the book had indeed been seized and Morris Ernst retained for their defense in a trial scheduled for that autumn.

In early spring of 1933, Cerf and Ernst were still waiting for a liberal judge to preside over their case. Finally, on 6 December 1933, after three postponements of the trial, Judge John M. Woolsey ruled in favor of Ulysses. Joyce was amused that the American judge gave even more publicity to the supposed provocative nature of Ulysses by listing the numbers of the pages containing material considered more obscene than any publisher would dare to print. Printing the first authorized American edition began immediately and the book was published just fifty days later on 25 January 1934. Random House also issued a large broadside, “How to Enjoy Ulysses,” as an advertisement and guide to the notoriously difficult work. Cerf had hoped to include in the book a version of Joyce’s famous schema outlining the parallels between Ulysses and Homer’s Odyssey (a copy of which he claimed to have acquired from Joyce’s friend Herbert Gorman). Joyce refused.

Textual Condition

The textual condition of the first authorized American edition is muddled and ironic. After years of legal battles to get Ulysses published in the United States and to protect United States copyright of the work, the New York publisher, Bennett Cerf of Random House, and his attorney Morris Ernst won the case, overturning the ban. Meanwhile, Samuel Roth had twice challenged Joyce’s American copyright. Between July 1926 and October 1927 Roth published unauthorized episodes of Ulysses in the Two Worlds Monthly magazine. Then, when Roth issued the title in book form, pirating the 1929 Shakespeare and Company edition, he effectively issued the first American edition of Ulysses. The Roth edition mimicked the Shakespeare and Company edition though its text was corrupt.

In a strange twist of fate, about three years later, the copy of Ulysses supplied to Random House to set the text for their 1934 edition was a pirated Roth edition, not the last printing of the Shakespeare and Company edition, as Joyce had specified in his negotiations with potential publishers. Many errors in the Random House edition demonstrate its regrettable patrimony. Molly Bloom’s diminutive for her husband is less dear in the Random House and Roth editions where Leopold is “Poddy” not “Poldy” (p. 62, line 14); and sustenance in both editions is ironically transposed into its opposite when “aliment” becomes “ailment” (p. 412, line 39).

The text of the 1934 edition was seriously flawed and it was only in 1940 that Random House proofed it against the Odyssey Press edition for their Modern Library imprint.


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