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New Joyce book creates controversy in Zurich

A sculpture of James Joyce beside his grave at Fluntern Cemetary in Zurich

(Keystone)

The Zurich James Joyce Foundation (ZJJF) has found itself at the centre of a row over the new publication of a Joyce letter in book form.

Titled The Cats of Copenhagen, the children’s book has been published and marketed by Ithys Press of Dublin as a limited first edition.

The text is taken from a letter Joyce wrote to his grandson Stephen in 1936 and relates to Joyce’s only known children’s story, The Cat and the Devil, also written to Stephen in a letter.

The original Joyce letter was amongst dozens of personal papers bequeathed to the ZJJF by Hans Jahnke, Stephen’s step-brother, in 2006 on the condition the papers be made available for viewing by the public and research scholars.

But director of the ZJJF Fritz Senn said the foundation was “left in the dark” over the publication of the Ithys Press book and permission to publish was not sought.

He said that while copyright of Joyce’s published works passed into the public domain on January 1, 2012, it remains uncertain whether that includes copyright on unpublished works.

Senn said “somebody” must have copied the text from the manuscript held by the foundation.

Breach of trust?

“We were quite shocked. No matter what the copyright is and we don’t know, the owner has to be asked permission and they basically did it behind our back,” Senn told swissinfo.ch.

“I think reactions have been generally of disgust and shock, and what worries me is a breach of implicit trust, I hate to see every visitor as basically a thief out to grab things.”  

Ithys Press did not respond to an email enquiry from swissinfo.ch as to how it had obtained a copy of the text. But in a statement on its website - in response to the Irish Times which first published details of the controversy – the company insists no copyright over The Cats of Copenhagen exists.

The strongly worded statement by publisher Anastasia Herbert, herself a Joyce scholar, accuses Senn of having “ruffled feathers” and of wanting to prevent artistic and scholarly work by keeping the story hidden.

“As to informing the [ZJJF], this would hardly have made sense, and could well have prevented publication, not through any legal manoeuvre but by pre-empting it in some tawdry manner – a mere hasty transcription would have sufficed to frustrate the production of what is a masterpiece of the book-making arts,” Herbert said.

Book or not?

Ithys Press, which describes itself as a “fine-press” publishing house, brought out its first book in 2011 and aims to publish up to four first-editions per year.

Herbert describes The Cats of Copenhagen – of which 200 copies priced between €300 and €1,200 (SFr363 – SFr1,453) have been printed - as a “carefully crafted tribute” to Joyce the family man.

But for Senn the 240-word story, although “quite charming”, is merely an appendix to The Cat and The Devil.

“It’s not even a story on its own, I don’t think it can stand on its own,” Senn said. “Whether 240 words, even by Joyce, are worth €1,200, that’s another question.”

He said that the foundation had been approached by a German publisher interested in publishing this particular letter but no decisions had been made.

“Once we know, and we don’t, that Joyce’s things are now in the public domain, we could have done something with them ourselves. We don’t want to sit on it, but you don’t take it behind our back,” he said.

Joyce in Zurich

Joyce lived in Zurich for four years from 1915-1919, having arrived from the former Austrian city of Trieste where as a British citizen he was deemed an enemy once war broke out.

Senn said that Joyce developed a fondness for the city, which with its rivers and intimate character despite its size reminded Joyce of his native Dublin. Senn said references to Niederdorf in Zurich’s old town, the River Limmat and to Swiss-German dialect can be found in his writings. 

It was also during this period that Joyce drafted substantial parts of his groundbreaking work, Ulysses. 

“Zurich was quite a strict, puritanical kind of place in those times, which he made fun of,” Senn said. “And he liked drinking. He was never a Guinness person by the way, he drank Swiss white wines and his favourite, they say, was the Fendant de Sion.”

Upon the outbreak of the Second World War, Joyce decided to return to Switzerland with his family and arrived from France in December 1940. He died shortly afterwards in January 1941 and is buried in Zurich’s Fluntern Cemetery.

Zurich James Joyce Foundation

The Zurich James Joyce Foundation was established in 1985 to keep alive the memory and work of the Irish writer.

But the foundation traces its beginnings to the early 1970s when fans of Joyce were able to drum up the necessary financial backing and save the interior of Jury's Antique Bar in Dublin, mentioned in Joyce works, and move it to Zurich where it reopened as the James Joyce Pub.

The foundation describes itself as “a research library, an information centre and an internationally-appreciated meeting place for students, scholars and other readers of Joyce’s works”.

Among its activities are weekly reading groups, seminars and lectures, exhibitions, readings and tours of James Joyce’s Zurich.

The foundation claims to have the most comprehensive Joyce collection in Europe. The collection includes first and rare editions of all Joyce’s works, source and documentary material, translations, and secondary literature. It also holds the bequests of Carola Giedion-Welcker and Hans Jahnke, which contain letters, work notes, photographs and personal documents.

The library has more than five thousand volumes, including Joyce's works in various editions; first editions, illustrated editions and some collectors' items.

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