James Joyce
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Joyce's Rhyme and Reasons Under the Hammer

Irish Times
MICHAEL PARSONS
December 11, 2010
An auction in Dublin next week includes a copy of James Joyce's poem The Holy Office, which has a pre-sale estimate of €15,000 to €20,000. The sale will also include letters between Joyce and close friend Thomas Keohler.
An auction in Dublin next week includes a copy of James Joyce's poem The Holy Office, which has a pre-sale estimate of €15,000 to €20,000. The sale will also include letters between Joyce and close friend Thomas Keohler.

A COPY OF the earliest surviving published work by James Joyce is to be sold at auction in Dublin next week. The single sheet of paper, measuring about 11 by 8 inches, is typed with the poem The Holy Office and has a pre-sale estimate of €15,000 to €20,000.

Rare books auctioneer Mealy’s says the 96-line poem is “the earliest publication by Joyce of which we have definite evidence” and “the rarest by far of all Joyce’s publications”.

A spokesman said “no more than three or four copies are known to survive”. The poem was probably printed in Pola (a town now known as Pula in Croatia), the Austro-Hungarian imperial naval base on the Adriatic’s Istria peninsula where Joyce briefly lived from November 1904 to March 1905.

In printing jargon the document is known as a “broadside” – a large sheet of paper printed on one side only.

The satirical poem was written in 1904, shortly before Joyce left Ireland, and is regarded as an attack on the cultural establishment in Dublin of that era. It suggests that he considered his role as a writer to be a sort of “vicar-general” and that he would use his “holy office” to purge the failings of a “clique” of writers and artists whom he despised.

The copy being sold is from the estate of Thomas Keohler a close friend of Joyce, who lived in Rathmines, wrote poetry and worked for the printing firm Hely’s. Two letters written by Joyce to Keohler from Paris in 1937 are also being sold (estimate €6,000-€9,000). Mealy’s said “letters from James Joyce are extremely rare as the vast majority are now in public collections”.

The items are included in a sale of rare books, periodicals, maps and manuscripts to be held at the Berkeley Hotel in Dublin next Tuesday, December 14th. The sale also features first editions of Ulysses and Dubliners and an “extremely scarce” recording, on a 12-inch Bakelite record, of Joyce reading from Finnegans Wake .

In one of his letters to Keohler, Joyce wrote about the experience and recalled the record had been “made under very unfavourable circumstances, the BBC officials having made no preparation in the studio, never having heard of me, of course, and regarding it as a family record”. The record has an estimate of €2,500 to €3,500.


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