Sunday, 20 January 2013

Dear Miss Weaver: Part II


“Life can be about following the threads that turn up unexpectedly and lead one on to discoveries which might have been missed. Right now, I feel excited to be given a chance to follow an old thread which has just been renewed. These threads are unpredictable, significant in unusual ways, beacons like blue butterflies. They can take us to places unexplored, and nurture a passion for living in our uncertain world.” 

 ― Wendy Weaver, great niece of James Joyce's patron: Harriet Shaw Weaver

January 18, 2013  

Wendy Weaver looks over her great aunt's 1919 publication: The Egoist
When I first started writing my blog "My Journey with James Joyce" I set out to chronicle the steps I'd taken to understand and appreciate the greatest novel of the 20th century: Ulysses. 

I didn't expect to be taking any new journeys. 

But yesterday, I hopped into my car and travelled to an arts centre in the west end of Toronto to meet the grand niece of James Joyce's patron and publisher: Harriet Shaw Weaver. 

Before I tell you about our wonderful meeting, let me share some background:

*  *  *  *  * 

In my last post, I recounted how Wendy Weaver and I first connected.  My sister, Cindy, who manages the Neilson Park Creative Centre in Toronto, told some friends about my blog.  One of the artists at the centre, Wendy Weaver, was excited to hear about it, and told Cindy that her great aunt was James Joyce's publisher. Within minutes, Wendy and I were speaking on the phone and we really hit it off.  

Her great aunt, Harriet Shaw Weaver was the editor and financial backer of The Egoist, a London periodical magazine described as the major magazine of modernism. Long ago, Wendy came to own a rare edition of The Egoist containing a serialization of the tenth chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses. 

Wendy and I sent emails back and forth over the next few days. I told her that first-edition Ulysses have sold for well over $100,000 (and a pristine signed edition once went for over $460,000) -- and The Egoist was likely of significant value; after all, it pre-dates the first-edition Ulysses by two years! It was one of only 400 printed, and it was the last edition of The Egoist ever published.

Though Wendy was well aware of the significant value of this treasure, she made it clear to me that her intention was to donate it to a worthy university or museum -- and she asked for my help in finding a good home for it.  

*  *  *  *  * 

Yesterday, when I entered the Neilson Park Creative Centre, I was taken to a room where Wendy and my sister (and a special guest, who I'll tell you about in a later post), were bent over a table examining an extensive Weaver family tree.

Wendy came prepared. Arranged on one of the tables was a series of books about her great aunt and James Joyce, and on another table was a collection of correspondence, newspaper articles and photos of Harriet Shaw Weaver and Joyce. 

Although we hadn't met before, Wendy and I recognized each other immediately, and gave each other a big hug -- just as if we had been friends for years. 

She shared a series of wonderful stories about travelling to the U.K. as a 12-year-old girl to visit her "Aunt Hat" -- a wealthy yet austere British woman. As one of the earliest feminists and suffragettes who published banned material, Harriet Shaw Weaver often found herself on the wrong side of the law.  Wendy spoke about how Aunt Hat and her sisters were once imprisoned for chaining themselves to a light-post to protest injustice. Wendy went on to tell us about how they worked out a system to talk to each other by tapping out morse code on the pipes in their cells.  

After getting to know each other a little better, Wendy brought out an envelope containing the hidden treasure.  Inside was a document encased in a folder and wrapped in wax paper. Wendy unsheathed  The Egoist, which was in excellent shape; perhaps, a little rough around the edges, but the magazine was uncreased,  and its pages were very readable.   
                 Wendy Weaver's original edition of The Egoist - Dec. 1919
We saw that T.S. Eliot was listed as the "Assistant Editor" of The Egoist -- and laughed about how the great writer played second fiddle to Aunt Hat. The edition contained an article by Eliot called "Tradition and the Individual Talent II" -- and it also included an original poem by the well-known poet William Carlos Williams called "Chicago". 

A close up of The Egoist's Table of Contents
Then Wendy donned a pair of surgical gloves and gingerly turned the pages of The Egoist to the section that contained Ulysses. We had chills as we saw the pages opened up to the word "Ulysses."

Inside The Egoist
The excerpt was from the beginning of the chapter known as Wandering Rocks -- one of my favourites. It's at the heart of Ulysses -- the 10th of eighteen chapters -- containing a series of nineteen short vignettes of major and minor characters as they meander through Dublin.

Wendy and I read aloud the first few paragraphs of the chapter and delighted in Joyce's prose and the way he manufactured verbs. As we continued to read on we cross-checked the text of The Egoist against the text of a published edition of Ulysses that I brought along, and it didn't take long for us to notice some differences. It looked like James Joyce had added sentences to Ulysses after the excerpt from The Egoist was published.

After spending a half hour or so looking through the magazine, we put it away, and Wendy and I discussed donating the treasure to a museum or university.

"You know, Wendy, you could easily sell The Egoist and pay off part of a mortgage or something," I said. 

But Wendy was resolute -- she said she was the last of the line of Weavers, and wanted to donate the magazine to an institution that would appreciate its true value.  It's what her great aunt would have wanted.

At the end of our meeting, I told Wendy that it was ironic that we were in a room that was decorated with images of blue butterflies. We both laughed when I told her that the world's most striking blue butterfly is known as the Ulysses Butterfly.  

The Ulysses Butterfly
Later that day, Wendy sent us a lovely note sharing her views on our first meeting.  You'll see that I've quoted a section of it at the beginning of this blog.  In it, Wendy made reference to tying up loose threads (after all, she is a "weaver") and finding rare treasures, like a blue butterfly.

At the end of the day, I realized how fortunate I was to see an original edition of The Egoist, a literary treasure. Yet I recognized that the real treasure for me was meeting Wendy. She's a kind, creative and unselfish person with creative energy and an artistic flair. I'm certain that Wendy and I will work together to find a good and fitting home for The Egoist

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