Auctions | June 11, 2014

First Edition of <i>Ulysses</i> Smuggled From Paris and Read to Nabokov for Sale at Bonhams

A first edition of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses smuggled out of Paris in 1922 and read aloud to the young Vladimir Nabokov is to be offered at Bonhams Books, Maps, Manuscripts and Photographs sale in London on June 18. It is estimated at £15,000-20,000.

Ulysses was published in Paris by Shakespeare and Co in 1922 though parts of it had appeared in serialised form in The American magazine The Little Review, between 1918 and 1920, before being banned as obscene.  The book was also banned in the United Kingdom until the 1930s and this copy was smuggled into the country by Peter Mrosovsky, a fellow Russian student of Nabokov’s at Trinity College, Cambridge.

Years later, in Strong Opinions published in 1974, Nabokov recalled the moment when he heard passages from Joyce’s work for the first time: "My first brief contact with Ulysses was around 1920 at Cambridge University, when a friend, Peter Mrozovski (sic), who had bought a copy from Paris, chanced to read to me, as he stomped up and down my digs, one or two spicy passages from Molly's monologue... Only fifteen years later, when I was already well formed as a writer and reluctant to learn or unlearn anything, I read Ulysses and liked it enormously."

Nabokov regarded Ulysses as the greatest masterpiece of 20th century prose (the others on his list being Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Bely’s St Petersburg and the first half of Proust’s In Search of Lost Time). He wrote and lectured about it frequently.

The first edition was printed in a total number of 1000 copies, comprising 100 signed copies on Dutch handmade paper, an edition of 150 large paper copies (of which the copy for sale is one), and a regular edition of 750 copies. Despite the handling this copy must have been subjected to, the original wrappers remain intact.

Bonhams Head of Books, Matthew Haley said: “Ulysses is, of course, an iconic work and the opportunity to obtain a first edition of it always creates great interest. This copy’s link to one of the masters of 20th century world literature who, moreover, held the novel in such awe makes it doubly exciting.”