“Such Friends”: 100 years ago, February 14, 1921, New York City, New York

Margaret Anderson, 34, founder and publisher of the literary magazine The Little Review, is disappointed. As is her partner, the magazine’s editor, Jane Heap, 37.

Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap

They were not happy about being served with papers last year for publishing “obscene” excerpts from Ulysses, the latest work in progress by Irish novelist James Joyce, just turned 39. And they are grateful that their lawyer, art collector John Quinn, 50, is not charging them a fee for all the work he has been doing.

But here they are in the New York City Court of Special Sessions and Quinn’s main argument is that no one would understand Ulysses anyway, so how can it be obscene?!

Quinn started off alright by presenting Joyce’s reputation as a respected man of letters, but when one of the judges asked how that was relevant, Quinn dropped it. He put a few well-known writers on the stand, but they just testified that the novel wouldn’t corrupt readers.

Anderson has called Ulysses “the prose masterpiece of my generation.” She and Heap want the defense to be that it is great literature and should not be suppressed.

Quinn will have none of that. He has already told Anderson that the case is unwinnable and he has no intention of appealing a guilty verdict. And he doesn’t think they should have published such material in a magazine anyway, because it is sent through the mails. Quinn has been trying to convince Joyce to agree to a privately published book, which couldn’t possibly be prosecuted.

Playing to the three-judge panel, Quinn seizes on the anger of the lead prosecutor:

There is my best exhibit. There is proof that Ulysses does not corrupt or fill people full of lascivious thoughts. Look at him! He is mad all over. He wants to hit somebody. He doesn’t want to love anybody. He wants somebody to be punished. He’s mad. He’s angry. His face is distorted with anger, not with love. That’s what Joyce does. That’s what Ulysses does. It makes people angry. They want to break something. They want somebody to be convicted. They feel like prosecuting everybody connected with it, even if they don’t know how to pronounce the name Ulysses. But it doesn’t tend to drive them to the arms of some siren.”

Anderson feels that the whole scene is surreal. When the prosecutor is about to read out one of the main offending passages from Ulysses’ “Nausicaa” section, one of the judges actually says that Anderson (ignoring Heap) should be excused from the room as she is a young woman. Quinn points out that she is the one who published that passage. The judge says that she can’t possibly understand the significance of what she is publishing.

Oh, yes I do, thinks Margaret.

Court is recessed for one week so the judges can read the full “Nausicaa” episode.


In another New York City courtroom, American self-published poet and general drifter Robert McAlmon, 25, is marrying English writer Annie Winifred Ellerman, 26, known by her adopted name, Bryher.

Newlyweds Bryher and Robert McAlmon

The couple met through friends at a Greenwich Village party just recently. Bryher explained to McAlmon that she is from a very well-to-do British family. But they are holding on to her rightful inheritance until she gets married.

So, if they get married, they can take the money and move to Paris! McAlmon figures this sounds like a pretty good deal.

“Such Friends”:  100 Years Ago… is the basis for the book, “Such Friends”:  The Literary 1920s. Volume I, covering 1920, is available on Amazon in print or e-book formats. For more information, email me at kaydee@gypsyteacher.com.

This summer I will be talking about The Literary 1920s in the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute programs at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.

Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon in both print and e-book versions. Later this month I will be talking about Perkins, Fitzgerald and Hemingway in the OLLI program at CMU.

 If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s