Weaver, Harriet Shaw (1876–1961)

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Weaver, Harriet Shaw (1876–1961)

English publisher who championed the publication of James Joyce's Ulysses in 1922 . Born Harriet Shaw Weaver in 1876 in Frodsham, Cheshire, England; died in 1961 in Saffron Walden, near Cambridge; daughter of Frederick Poynton Weaver.

Harriet Shaw Weaver was born in Victorian England in 1876, the sixth of eight children, and raised according to the tenets of the Church of England. Until the age of 18, she was taught by a series of governesses, and supplemented her education by attending lectures and traveling. Weaver volunteered to work for Dora Marsden 's new venture, the magazine The Freewoman, which Marsden had founded in 1911. Financial troubles caused the magazine to fold, although Weaver revived it as The New Freewoman, and again as The Egoist, assuming editorship of the last incarnation in 1914. Marsden eventually handed full control to Weaver, although the two women remained in contact.

Weaver's interest in avantgarde novelists quickly drew her to the work of Irish writer James Joyce. She began serializing Joyce's A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man until 1915, when Joyce determined to publish it in hardcover. After three publishers in London rejected the manuscript, Weaver proposed to reorganize The Egoist into a book press in order to publish the work herself. However, this plan was thwarted by England's strict obscenity laws, which held printers accountable for setting in type any "morally questionable" material. Undeterred, Weaver took the manuscript to B.W. Huebsch in the United States, and guaranteed its distribution in England. When he published it at the end of 1916, Weaver became the figurehead publisher early the next year.

Joyce received advances for the serial rights—£50 on publication and £25 more from Weaver—but Weaver ended up financing the author in much larger amounts, despite his frequent bouts of drunkenness and his infamous ability to deplete formidable amounts of money with impressive speed. According to W.G. Rogers, Weaver's commitment to Joyce is difficult to explain, given the fact that she did not even meet the man until 1922. However, she was known to have a keen sympathy for those who were injured or ill, and Joyce, who had an uncanny instinct for finding people who would sacrifice their finances to his art, seemed to exploit this tenderness by providing Weaver with an ongoing account of the details of his seriously deteriorating eyesight.

By 1918, Joyce had progressed well with his novel Ulysses and had a pressing need for a publisher. Its frank sexual content compelled Huebsch to require certain cuts in the manuscript, but Joyce refused to be censored. In 1919, Weaver attempted to interest Leonard and Virginia Woolf of the Hogarth Press in the manuscript, but without success. Fearing for Joyce's state of mind in the midst of the delay, Weaver mailed him £200 as an advance on the publication, which still had no immediate future.

A breakthrough finally occurred when Weaver and Sylvia Beach , owner of Paris' Shakespeare and Company book shop, approached Maurice Darantière, a printer in Dijon, France. Joyce was now kept busy, working 17 hours a day to prepare copy for the printer. After the first edition appeared in Paris in 1922, Weaver began to coordinate the proposed English edition with Darantière. The publication history in itself was constantly eventful: serialization in Margaret Carolyn Anderson 's Little Review was stopped by court action in America; copies were burned on the docks in England; and a pirated serialization was protested by many of the world's intellectuals. It was not until a 1933 court decision declared that it was not obscene that Ulysses was published in the United States.

Throughout the duration of the project, Joyce was careful not to offend his benefactor, as Weaver was his source of ready financial security. Prior to meeting him in July 1922, she had already given him £8,500 and a house in the country. A year after they met, she provided another gift of £12,000. Although reports of Joyce's profligate ways disturbed her, she is reported to have promised him additional sums which she expected to inherit. His demands on her were endless, as he required her to do his press notices, write his thank-you notes to various people, process checks and tend to the needs of his increasingly mentally ill daughter Lucia Joyce . As the interest from the endowment fund she had given him rapidly depleted and he began to burrow into the principal, Weaver timidly suggested that he leave the nest egg untouched. For a short time he did, but as he returned to this trough, he made it clear to Weaver and her solicitors that he did not care for their interference. Notes Rogers, it was perhaps to her advantage that some distance separated her from Joyce.

Joyce died during World War II, and his wife Nora Joyce died in 1951. They left behind a sorely troubled daughter Lucia, who required constant attention. Weaver took on the burden of her care as Joyce's literary executor. The British courts appointed Weaver receiver for Lucia, and she also managed Joyce's vast estate. As old age descended upon her, Weaver eventually relinquished many of her responsibilities as well as original manuscripts from Joyce to the British Society of Authors. The one responsibility she would not give up was the care of Lucia, for whom she faithfully provided a home and nursing attendants. She eventually placed Lucia at St. Andrew's in the care of a godchild.

During the 1930s, Weaver's support for the British Labour Party grew into an interest in Communism. She ultimately joined the Communist Party, working at routine tasks in one of their neighborhood offices. Rogers suggests that Weaver's devotion to Joyce extended to a concern for the general welfare of society, and can best be expressed through Karl Marx's dictum, "From each according to his abilities, to each according to his needs." During the blitz in World War II, she withdrew to Oxford to live with a friend. Her final move occurred when she went to live in the home of her brother's widow in Saffron Walden not far from Cambridge. She died there in 1961.


Rogers, W.G. Ladies Bountiful. NY: Harcourt, Brace & World, 1968.

Judith C. Reveal , freelance writer, Greensboro, Maryland

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Weaver, Harriet Shaw (1876–1961)

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