Ulysses in plain covers

James Joyce has a special place in the story of Albatross Books.   The very first Albatross, published in 1932 was ‘Dubliners’ by Joyce, and in some ways the connection goes even further back than that, to the point when Max Wegner became General Manager of Tauchnitz in 1929.   By that point, Tauchnitz was living on past glories and had lost most of its earlier dynamism.  Wegner set about shaking it up.  Amongst other things, a search through the file found correspondence from Joyce 10 years earlier about plans for Tauchnitz to publish ‘A portrait of the artist as a young man’.  It had never appeared.   Wegner arranged for it to be published, and it finally appeared in May 1930 as Tauchnitz volume 4937.

Tauchnitz 4937  Albatross 1 Dubliners

Other Joyce books might well have followed, but Wegner’s changes at Tauchnitz were too much for the Board, which forced him out by mid-1931.   It was a catastrophic decision.  Wegner played a key role in the establishment of Albatross the following year as a rival to Tauchnitz, and by 1934 the new firm had effectively taken over the old one.   It seemed fitting that ‘Dubliners’ became the first Albatross book, rather than the 5000 and somethingth Tauchnitz.

But Wegner and John Holroyd-Reece, the head of Albatross in Paris, had other plans in mind for Joyce as well.  After ‘Dubliners’, it was natural to look next at ‘Ulysses’, which had been published in Paris 10 years earlier and reprinted several times, but was effectively banned in the UK.   For the ‘Albatross’ edition, it was revised by Stuart Gilbert, at Joyce’s request, and carries a note saying it ‘may be regarded as the definitive standard edition’.   That’s a substantial claim for a notoriously complex book that has been plagued by errors and misprints, but I think it’s fair to say that many people still regard this edition at least as an important one in the book’s publishing history, if no longer the definitive one.

Albatross 43 Ulysses 1  Albatross 44 Ulysses 2

The two volume Odyssey Press edition of Ulysses

But is it really an Albatross?  It doesn’t immediately look like one, published in two volumes in almost plain covers, and bearing the imprint of The Odyssey Press.  It does though have the standard size of an Albatross and the layout of the books is almost identical to other Albatross Books.   It has the typical blurb in three languages on the cover, the same style of title page and copyright notice at the front and the characteristic Albatross colophon at the back, showing it uses the same typeface, the same paper supplier and the same printer as other Albatross Books from that period.

In practice The Odyssey Press (as the name might suggest) was an imprint set up specially for this purpose by Albatross, presumably because they were concerned that the book might not be consistent with the brand image they were trying to create for Albatross. They used the same imprint a few months later for publication of ‘Lady Chatterley’s lover’ as well – another book that at the time was banned in Britain. In some ways this feels like an excessively cautious approach to us now, but modern publishers too are concerned about establishing and protecting their brand image, so we shouldn’t judge them too harshly.

Ulysses publicity leaflet front

Marketing leaflet for Ulysses inserted into copies of the Albatross edition of ‘Dubliners’

And in reality it was an Albatross – indeed very specifically it represented volumes 43 and 44 of the Albatross Modern Continental Library. Those volume numbers never appeared on the book and Ulysses didn’t feature much alongside other volumes in Albatross marketing, so the numbers are missing from most Albatross lists of titles, but there’s no doubt that that’s what they were. Lady Chatterley’s Lover similarly appeared in plain covers, but was allocated volume number 56 in the Albatross series.


Posted on December 9, 2014, in Vintage Paperbacks and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 1 Comment.

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