Rare vinyl recording of Joyce reading from Ulysses to be auctioned

1924 recording is the only known audio of writer reading from his masterpiece

James Joyce. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images’

James Joyce. Photograph: Hulton Archive/Getty Images’


An extremely rare vinyl recording of James Joyce reading from Ulysses is to be auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York next month.

Dating from 1924, the crackly recording of Joyce enunciating his prose is the only known audio of the writer reading from his masterpiece.

The Ulysses recording was produced as a private venture by Sylvia Beach, who published the book two years earlier.

Listen to Joyce

None of the eventual copies went on sale but were given to Joyce for distribution among his family and friends, apart from two which Beach kept at her Shakespeare & Company bookshop in Paris.

For the recording, Joyce read from a section of the Aeolus episode which takes place in the offices of the Freeman’s Journal, one of the main nationalist newspapers of the day.

Because of his failing eye sight, Joyce was forced to memorise the entire section which apparently led to a number of failed takes before a satisfactory recording was cut.

The 12-inch acoustic recording, signed and dated by Joyce, was the first of 20 pressings, of which only two others are said to remain.

It is being sold as part of an auction of rare books and literary memorabilia on June 11th next, with guide price of $15,000-$20,000.

The record, which has apparently never been removed from its sleeve let alone played, was described by Sothebys as a “true Joyce rarity”.

“This copy and the one offered in the Horowitz catalogue are the only examples we have been able to trace being offered in the last 30 years.”

“Our research indicates there are perhaps no more than two or three unbroken copies of this record extant and even shattered examples are almost unheard of in commerce,” the auction house said.

The first mention of the recording seems to be in a 1935 Beach catalogue of Joyce material, where it was recorded with the following note: “Phonograph record of a reading by James Joyce from Ulysses pages 136-137, recorded by His Master’s Voice on one side only....Signed James Joyce, Paris, 17 November 1926 (date of recording). Only remaining copy of the 30 that were made.”

However, the date of recording and claim that only 30 were pressed differs from the note she later wrote on the label of another example: “Only 20 copies were made of this record S.B.”

Next month’s auction also features a rare first edition, first printing of The Great Gatsby by F Scott Fitzgerald with the author’s notes transcribed in the margins, which has a guide price of $100,000-$150,000.

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