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This report is taken from PN Review 162, Volume 31 Number 4, March - April 2005.

Adventures in the Book Trade Neil Powell

On the dark, wet afternoon of 10 April 19 18, Harriet Weaver, who owned The Egoist, called on Leonard and Virginia Woolf: she wanted to know whether the Woolfs' Hogarth Press would be interested in publishing a new novel by James Joyce called Ulysses. Their books were mostly hand-set, an occupation which, though often therapeutic, is seldom speedy and depends a good deal on the compositor's manual dexterity: 'One has great blocks of type,' wrote Virginia, 'which have to be divided into their separate letters and fonts, and then put into the right partitions, the work of ages, especially when you mix the "h"s with the "n"s as I did yesterday.' That definitely wouldn't have helped. But the Woolfs were heroically prepared to take on Ulysses and for a year they tried, without success, to find a commercial printer who would set it for them: alas, its 'sentiments' proved too 'warm' for anyone to take the risk. And, as Rick Gekoski remarks, 'They certainly couldn't do it themselves, because at Virginia's rate of page setting, I calculate it would have taken just over forty-seven years for them to produce a final text.' Soon, they could get on with setting Poems (1919) by that 'cultivated, polished, elaborate' young man named Mr Eliot instead; while Ulysses would have to wait three more years for Sylvia Beach, of Shakespeare and Company in Paris, whose printer Darantiere of Dijon 'seemed the perfect man for the job, partly (if ...

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