James Joyce and Ulysses
On this day in 1934, the U.S. Court of Appeals upheld Judge Woolsey’s earlier ruling allowing James Joyce’s Ulysses into America. This enabled Random House to issue the first U.S. edition, over a decade after Sylvia Beach’s original Paris edition, and after a decade of American tourists had been nervously returning from Europe with their banned copies. As told by Random House editor Bennett Cerf (At Random, 1977), the success of the original case hinged entirely upon these smuggled editions of the novel.
The Random House legal strategy involved delicate timing, as they wanted their challenge to the banning of the book brought to trial while the erudite and liberal-minded Judge Woolsey was in session in New York. It was equally important to somehow get into the court records the views of those famous literary figures — Edmund Wilson, Ezra Pound, Ford Madox Ford, etc. — who had written reviews proclaiming Ulysses to be a masterpiece. Under American law at the time, such outside criticism was not allowed in court; only material actually included within the disputed book could be used as evidence. The Random solution was to take a copy of Beach’s edition, paste the supporting reviews into it, have someone take it over to Europe and then be caught smuggling it back. The appointed day for this criminality turned out to be one of the hottest in the history of New York, the crime more difficult than expected:
The temperature on that dock must have been a hundred and twenty degrees, and the customs people wanted only one thing: to get returning passengers off and get the hell out themselves. They were stamping everything without opening it, saying, “Get out; go on out.” When our man arrived, the customs inspector started to stamp his suitcase without even looking at it. Our agent, frantic, said, “I insist that you open that bag and search it.” The inspector looked at him as though he were an absolute lunatic, and said, “It’s too hot.”
“I think there’s something in there that’s contraband,” our agent said, “and I insist that it be searched.”
So, furiously, the fellow had to open the suitcase. And the agent said, “Aha!” as he produced our copy of Ulysses. The customs man said, “Oh, for God’s sake, everybody brings that in. We don’t pay attention to it.” But the agent persisted, “I demand that you seize this book.”
The inspector called his boss, the boss balked, the agent persisted, and the book, much dog-eared and underlined by a District Attorney looking for pornography, was eventually donated to the Columbia University Library. Many of the passages most heavily marked by the D.A. are in the “Ithaca” section, in which the drunken Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus have come back to Bloom’s house for tea. It is written in a mock-factual, cross examination method, almost as if Joyce had premonitions of the courtroom; this passage is from the later stages, after Bloom and Dedalus have urinated under a “heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit,” and Bloom has gone back inside to bed and wife-and to the knowledge that someone had been there not long before:
What did his limbs, when gradually extended, encounter?
New clean bedlinen, additional odours, the presence of a human form, female, hers, the imprint of a human form, male, not his, some crumbs, some flakes of potted meat, recooked, which he removed.
If he had smiled why would he have smiled?
To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone, whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating In and repeated to infinity.
Written By Steve King