Written by Eleni Loukopoulou, author of Up to Maughty London: Joyce’s Cultural Capital in the Imperial Metropolis
“The metropolis of the British Empire was the place where [Joyce], like many other Irish, aspired to move and publish as a young man and where the majority of his work eventually appeared.”
—Eleni Loukopoulou, Up To Maughty London
In 1994, an English Heritage blue plaque was placed on the wall of 28b Campden Grove in Kensington, London, to commemorate the fact that James Joyce had lived there in 1931. Even if Joyce’s stay in London was short-lived, the blue plaque symbolizes how important the metropolis of the British Empire was to Joyce’s goal of becoming a published writer.
Early on, Joyce hoped to establish his reputation in the London literary marketplace. He first visited the city in 1900, following a common route of aspiring Irish writers. A significant number of journalists were of Irish origin. One of the most successful pressmen of the time was T. P. O’Connor, who was also a prominent figure in the Irish Parliamentary Party. Joyce met him hoping that O’Connor could help him find employment on Fleet Street, the center of the newspaper industry. In subsequent visits, in 1902 and 1903, W. B. Yeats introduced Joyce to a number of literary editors and writers, including Arthur Symons.
Although Joyce eloped with his companion Nora Barnacle to Europe in 1904, London was still vital for his career plans. While he was in Trieste, then part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and now part of Italy, he was constantly approaching London publishers and writers in order to have his work published and disseminated from London. Thanks to the endorsement of Yeats and Symons, and their networks of contacts, London is the place of publication for most of Joyce’s work: Chamber Music, Dubliners, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Exiles. Because the English printers were afraid of prosecution for typesetting a book considered by some to be obscene, Ulysses first appeared in Paris in 1922. Even though Ulysses was banned in England in December 1922, Joyce’s work continued to circulate and be read (within circles both avant-garde and of the literary establishment) during the 1920s and 1930s. His work featured in many edited collections, anthologies, and magazines published in London and England. Joyce’s frequent travels throughout the 1920s and his time in London in 1931 gave him a publishing presence and won him supporters.
Joyce’s decision to buy a London flat with a long-term lease in May 1931 shows a shift in his life: he wanted to abandon Paris, where he was living at the time, and pursue publishing success in London.
While in London, Joyce married Nora. He also re-launched his career thanks to the support of T. S. Eliot, who was a director at Faber and Faber. Eliot oversaw the arrangements for the contract for Joyce’s Finnegans Wake (1939) and the publication and dissemination of pamphlets and books, as well as a gramophone disc with Joyce’s reading of the final pages of Anna Livia Plurabelle. Faber even used a crossword puzzle in London’s Times newspaper to promote Joyce’s work. These activities helped bring about the end of the ban on Ulysses and its legal publication by John Lane in London in 1936.
Joyce’s literary aspirations in relation to London are understandable. The city was the center of the publishing industry of the British Empire and was the place where many Irish, colonial, and American writers—including Ezra Pound and T. S. Eliot—moved in order to pursue literary careers.
For instance, when Pound settled in London in 1908, he frequented artistic salons as well as the British Museum Reading Room where he studied. It was in the museum’s tearoom where Pound and the poet Hilda Doolittle (H. D.), his close American friend, defined the distinctive characteristics of the movement of Imagism in poetry that greatly influenced Anglo-American literature. Pound reported in a 1909 letter to the American poet William Carlos Williams, “London, deah old Lundon, is the place for poesy.” It could be argued that English-language modernism emerged from the gathering of British, colonial, and American writers who found the fertile ground of London a productive space to develop networks that would promote formally innovative literary works. Indeed, in 1914, London’s Poetry Bookshop published Pound’s edited volume of poems, Des Imagistes.
Pound was seen as the moving spirit in London’s avant-garde circles. After he read Eliot’s poem “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock,” Pound arranged for it to be published. He also wrote to Eliot’s parents justifying their son’s decision to pursue a literary career in London, pointing out that Eliot would have wasted his time and energy had he chosen otherwise. It was only through London, he said, that a poet could achieve an international audience.
Like Pound, Eliot studied at the British Museum Reading Room and delved into Aristotelian thought. Eliot also collaborated with prestigious publications such as the Times Literary Supplement and gave well-attended lectures on modern poetry. He worked at the Egoist magazine, which serialised Joyce’s A Portrait and Ulysses, while the Egoist Press published and promoted Eliot’s Prufrock and Other Observations, Wyndham Lewis’ Tarr, and Joyce’s A Portrait.
Most orders of A Portrait during the period 1918–20 came from London, with the prestigious Hatchards—the oldest bookstore in London—placing most of them. The Hatchards even ordered A Portrait for the British Navy ship HMS Monarch. Copies of A Portrait were also ordered by highly successful commercial ventures: the book club run by London’s Times newspaper and Mudie’s circulating library, a private scheme for lending books to members who paid an annual fee. London therefore became both the cradle of modernism and the center of dissemination of modernist works.
When Joyce was in London, he often enjoyed evenings with Irish-Londoners, including the musician Herbert Hughes, the writers Robert and Sylvia Lynd, and the Irish Free State High Commissioner John Dulanty. Among the restaurants they dined at was the Monico by Piccadilly Circus, a favorite haunt of London’s Fin de siècle writers and Kettner’s in Soho, frequented by Oscar Wilde. When Joyce was not in the city he would write to friends about numerous different aspects of the city that he missed, from the pantomime theatre at Drury Lane to London’s luxury menswear shops, which he considered much better than those found overseas. London’s Bond Street, together with Savile Row, famous for their tailoring shops for men’s suits, are mentioned in Finnegans Wake. In fact, the Wake includes extensive references to London’s restaurants, shops, streets, squares, parks, the tube, and major tourist attractions, including the British Museum, which Joyce visited in 1927.
Joyce’s experience of the city is imaginatively recorded in Finnegans Wake through distinctive wordplay and sentence structures. The book’s innovative language also gave him the opportunity to refer to the significant role that the city’s publishing outlets played in his career. For instance, the phrase “his sole admirers . . . with Annie Oakley deadliness” (page 52 line 01) alludes not only to the location of the Egoist’s editorial offices at Oakley House in London, but also to the editors’ admiration for Joyce’s work and the deadlines they used to set him. In Finnegans Wake, his last book, Joyce pays tribute to the city that helped him launch his career and to which he so often returned both physically and imaginatively.
 See Helen Carr, The Verse Revolutionaries: Ezra Pound, H.D. and the Imagists (London: Jonathan Cape, 2009).
 Ezra Pound, The Selected Letters of Ezra Pound, 1907–1941, edited by D. D. Paige (New York: New Directions, 1971), 7.
 See Robert Crawford, Young Eliot: From St Louis to the Waste Land (London: Jonathan Cape, 2015).
Eleni Loukopoulou is the author of Up to Maughty London: Joyce’s Cultural Capital in the Imperial Metropolis. The book focuses on James Joyce’s connections with the literary and publishing networks that flourished in London during the first part of the twentieth century. Her research has appeared in the James Joyce Quarterly, Journal of Modern Periodical Studies, Literary London Journal, and the volumes Irish Writing London and Modernists at Odds: Reconsidering Joyce and Lawrence.