Rumors are flying around New York City that a group of con men are planning to print cheap, bootleg copies of the scandalous new novel Ulysses by Irish writer James Joyce, 40.
These literary pirates plan to take advantage of the fact that 400 copies of the banned book were destroyed when they arrived in this country from the publisher in Paris, American bookstore owner Sylvia Beach, 35. Booksellers here would love to get their hands on some copies, which are going for as much as $100 each on the black market. Some are even being smuggled over the border by an American book lover who commutes to work in Canada.
Ulysses by James Joyce, first edition
One of Beach’s American friends has written to her, lamenting,
It is too absurd that Ulysses cannot circulate over here. I feel a bitter resentment over my inability to read it.”
In his law offices, attorney John Quinn, 52, who has helped to fund the publication and promotion of Ulysses, knows that getting an injunction against these literary thieves would be too expensive. They’d pass the printing plates on to more thieves in a different state and he’d spend all his time getting injunctions, state after state.
Quinn does have a creative solution, however. If he were to alert his nemesis, John Sumner, 46, the head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice [NYSSV], that copies of the book that Sumner himself—and the court—have deemed obscene are indeed circulating, Sumner would put the time and effort into tracking down the gangs and stopping publication before the counterfeit copies hit the streets.
How ironic. Sumner was the guy Quinn fought in court to keep Ulysses legal.
The U. S. Customs authorities are trying to confiscate every copy of the novel that enters the country and then store them in the General Post Office Building. The local officials appeal to the Post Office Department in Washington, D. C., for instructions about what to do with the 400 copies of this 700-page book they are storing. The Feds respond that the book is obscene and all copies should be burned.
So they are.
New York General Post Office
Some copies of Ulysses do make it safely into the States, shipped from London where they had been taken apart and wrapped in newspapers. These are from the second edition, published this fall in Paris by the Egoist Press, owned by Joyce’s patron, Harriet Shaw Weaver, 46.
Ulysses by James Joyce, second edition
When Harriet learned that at least 400 copies had been burned in New York, she simply ordered up 400 more.
Back in March, when the first major review of Ulysses appeared in The Observer—which considered the novel a work of genius, but concluded,
Yes. This is undoubtedly an obscene book.”
—a concerned citizen passed the clipping on to the Home Office, which contacted the undersecretary of state requesting the names and location of any bookstores selling Ulysses. Weaver also thinks they have sent a detective to follow her as she personally makes deliveries to each shop which has ordered copies to be sold under the counter only to special customers.
The Home Office also became aware of much more negative reviews of Ulysses, which led the undersecretary to call it “unreadable, unquotable, and unreviewable.” He issued instructions that copies entering the country should be seized, but his order is only provisional, and he doesn’t have a copy himself to read. So the Home Office requests an official opinion from the Crown Protection Service (CPS),
In the meantime, a British customs officer, doing his duty, takes a package from a passenger who landed at Croydon Airport in London, and, recognizing it as the banned Ulysses, flips to page 704 to see why. He confiscates the book on orders from His Majesty’s Customs and Excise Office, but the passenger complains that it is a work of art, praised by many reviewers, and on sale in bookshops in London as well as Paris.
Customs and Excise keeps the book but sends it on to the Home Office for a ruling.
This copy of Ulysses makes its way through the bureaucracy and finally lands on the desk of Sir Archibald Bodkin, 60, Director of Public Prosecutions at the CPS and scourge of the suffragettes whom his officers had routinely arrested and abused.
Sir Archibald Bodkin
Bodkin only had to read the final chapter to issue his decision. Which he did two days before the end of 1922:
I have not had the time nor, I may add, the inclination to read through this book. I have, however, read pages 690 to 732. I am entirely unable to appreciate how those pages are relevant to the rest of the book, or, indeed, what the book itself is about. I can discover no story, there is no introduction which might give a key to its purpose, and the pages above mentioned, written as they are as if composed by a more or less illiterate vulgar woman, form an entirely detached part of this production. In my opinion, there is…a great deal more than mere vulgarity or coarseness, there is a great deal of unmitigated filth and obscenity…It is filthy and filthy books are not allowed to be imported into this country.”
In Paris, at the bookstore where it all began, Sylvia Beach is selling increasing numbers of Ulysses every day. Customers who come in asking for it leave with copies of all Joyce’s books.
By the end of the year, James Joyce is her best seller, beating out William Blake, Herman Melville, and, one of Sylvia’s favorites, Walt Whitman.
Sylvia Beach and James Joyce
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA, and on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Early next year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute at the University of Pittsburgh, and about The Literary 1920s in Paris and New York City at the Osher program at Carnegie-Mellon University.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.