75 Years Since First Authorised American Ulysses !
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Random House 1934 by Stacey Herbert
The first authorised American edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses was published by Random House on Thursday 25 January 1934. The run-up to this publication is an extraordinary story, and the following is an account of how it came about.
Original documents referred to in this account come from The United States of America v. One Book Entitled Ulysses by James Joyce – Documents and Commentary – A 50-Year Retrospective,edited by Michale Moscato and Leslie le Blanc, with an Introduction by Richard Ellmann, published by University Publications of America, Inc. 1984.
The history of Ulysses in the United States begins with the serialization of the book in the Little Review magazine, edited by Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap. Several issues of the Little Review containing parts of Ulysses were seized by the US postal authorities on the basis that they contained obscene material. This eventually drew the attention of John S. Sumner of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who took a case against the editors of the Little Review and against the book Ulysses. As a result, a complete ban on the publication of Ulysses was introduced in 1921 and the importation of Ulysses into the United States was prohibited. Anderson and Heap were fined $50 each, and the humiliation of having her fingerprints taken by police was something that Margaret Anderson never forgot.
The first edition of the complete novel was published by Sylvia Beach at her bookshop Shakespeare and Company in Paris in February 1922. Using the same printer’s plates, John Rodker made a second imprint in October for the Egoist Press in London, and shipped 400 copies to America where they were confiscated by customs authorities. Over the next decade, many copies of Ulysseswere sold in Paris to American visitors who smuggled them back into the United States. The ban itself piqued people’s interest in the book, creating still more demand for ‘illicit’ copies of the book.
Samuel Roth, a notorious publisher of erotica, capitalised on this by publishing excerpts from Ulysses in his Two Worlds Monthlymagazine. Then, in 1929, he pirated a facsimile of the most recent Shakespeare and Company edition. This edition was not authorised by Joyce, or by Sylvia Beach who controlled world rights to Ulysses. The printer was also unconcerned about the literary merits of the text and so the text was particularly corrupt. An international protest was organised against Roth’s piracy, and this gave added impetus to the campaign to have the American ban onUlysses lifted. Joyce wanted an authorised and textually correct edition to be published in America so that he could claim copyright over his work.
At the same time, Sylvia Beach was anxious to recoup some of her investment in Ulysses and initially refused to agree to an American edition on the grounds that it would reduce potential sales of Shakespeare and Company’s editions. However, when one of Joyce’s friends accused her of standing in Joyce’s way by not freeing up the rights, she immediately wrote to Joyce renouncing all rights in Ulysses and other works by Joyce. Relations between Beach and Joyce were soured by this, but in her memoirs, Beach wrote philosophically: “…after all, the books were Joyce’s. A baby belongs to its mother, not to the midwife, doesn’t it?”
Once Joyce had control over the rights, he set about looking for potential publishers in America. Ben Huebsch of Viking Press, who had published American editions of Joyce’s other works, offered to publish Ulysses, but withdrew his offer after the ban. Boni and Liveright (who published Eliot’s The Waste Land in 1922) also declined to publish it. Then, at the beginning of 1932, Joyce heard from Robert Kastor (Giorgio Joyce’s brother-in-law who was then acting as Joyce’s agent) that Bennett Cerf, President of Random House, had offered to publish Ulysses. Cerf arrived in Paris in February 1932 to negotiate with Joyce and Kastor, and a contract was signed at the end of March. Joyce wrote a letter to Cerf, detailing some of the problems that had beset the publication ofDubliners and Ulysses, and this letter was later incorporated into the Random House editions of the book.
There were two possible strategies considered by Cerf to deal with the continuing ban on Ulysses. One strategy was to go ahead and typeset the book, print, publish and distribute it and wait for the government to challenge the publication in court. If the outcome of the case was not successful, however, this would have been an expensive strategy, with the costs of setting, printing, and distributing the book added to the costs of an unsuccessful court case. Instead, Cerf opted for a different strategy. Shortly after the contract with Joyce was signed, Cerf contacted Paul Léon who acted on Joyce’s behalf, and instructed him to prepare a copy ofUlysses to be sent to Random House in New York. Léon was to paste into the book copies of favourable opinions and critical reviews of the book. The reason was that, in the first trial ofUlysses, the court refused to admit such reviews as evidence in the case and so the main defence that the book was a work of literary significance and not intended to be obscene was hampered. Cerf and his attorney’s knew that the actual book seized by Customs would have to be admitted into court as evidence and therefore any reviews which formed part of the book would have to be admitted as well.
Random House had retained the services of Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst as attorneys, and they in turn appointed Morris Ernst to defend the case. Ernst, the Alabama-born son of Czech immigrants, had begun to make a name for himself defending censorship cases. Though he was paid only a nominal fee for his work on the Ulysses case, he was contracted to receive a share of the royalties if the case was successful. Cerf too was to receive a percentage of royalties from the book’s American sales, so both of them had a vested financial interest in a successful outcome to the case. Alexander Lindey of Greenbaum, Wolff & Ernst also played a significant role behind the scenes, coordinating and manipulating the defence.
On 27 April 1923 Léon wrote to say that the book had been sent and would arrive in New York on the SS Bremen on Tuesday 3 May. Lindey wrote directly to the Collector of Customs informing him that a copy of the banned book was on its way to New York, adding: “We are transmitting this information to you because we do not want the book to slip through Customs without official scrutiny.” Bennett Cerf later recalled that they even sent an agent to the Customs depot to make sure that the packet was opened and the contents examined and seized. Lindey wrote to Customs again on 6 May but it was not until 13 May that Customs announced that they had seized the book as obscene. Lindey replied on 17 May asking them to forward it to the District Attorney so that the proceedings could start.
However, there followed a considerable delay on the government’s part. The book was passed to Assistant District Attorney Samuel Coleman to determine if they would go ahead with the case. Coleman was a slow but conscientious reader and didn’t finishUlysses until 30 July. While he thought Ulysses was a literary masterpiece, he also thought that it was obscene under the meaning of federal law. He told Morris Ernst that he was reluctant to take proceedings against it, but had decided to pass it to George Medalie (United States District Attorney for the Southern District of New York) for a decision. He also indicated that the book was being passed around the District Attorney’s office so that the staff could get a literary education!
In the meantime, Ernst and Cerf had also been organising support for their case elsewhere. Cerf sent out questionnaires to libraries across America seeking testimonials about Ulysses. The librarians were asked if they had copies of Ulysses, where they had obtained them, and what their estimate of its literary significance was. Cerf also solicited testimonials from newspapers and from noted authors, receiving support from Louis Untermeyer, Theodore Drieser, F. Scott Fitzgerald, and John Dos Passos amongst others. Unfortunately, John Dos Passos’ letter contained a phrase referring to “even the dumbest judge” which Lindey felt would not be suitable for presentation in court. Lindey asked Cerf to write to Dos Passos to secure a “revised opinion, with no animadversions on our courts.”
Even at this stage, Ernst still hoped that the District Attorney’s office would simply decide not to contest the case, and so he was reluctant to put pressure on Medalie to make a decision. In August Medalie indicated that he might have to proceed with the case, but even by late September no decision had been made. Ernst was having the favourable newspaper articles and library testimonials sent to Medalie who had been impressed by a letter of support forUlysses in the New York Times. Ernst suggested that more testimonials and letters of support would be valuable. The urgent need for Joyce to establish copyright was reinforced when, in October 1932, Cerf claimed that he had information to the effect that Joseph Meyers, apparently a notorious book pirate, was planning to print unauthorised copies of Ulysses. This information was passed on to Coleman and Medalie in an effort to get things moving and by 11 November, the District Attorney had made his decision to go ahead with the court case.
From early January 1933, Lindey was watching the assignment list of judges, looking for a suitably liberal judge before whom the case for Ulysses might be put. In the meantime, the attorneys added another element to the defence when Alexander Lindey had yet another copy of Ulysses sent to him from Paris. When he received the book, he wrote to Customs offering to surrender it to them so that he could contest the ‘seizure.’ Once they ‘seized’ the book, Lindey petitioned for it to be released “on the ground that it is a classic.” This form of petition was often used by book collectors and libraries in order to obtain works of literary merit that had otherwise been deemed obscene. As it happened, it was on 16 June (Bloomsday!) 1933, that the Secretary of the Treasury Department allowed this one copy of the book to be admitted to the United States on the basis that it was of sufficient literary merit and that it was not being imported for commercial reasons. The Treasury Secretary’s acknowledgment that the book was of literary merit would later prove important in fighting the obscenity charge against it.
By late July 1933 the case had been postponed three times. The postponements were mainly the work of the attorneys, but in one instance the case had been postponed because the judge had simply refused to read the book. By July, the hope was that the case would come up in August before Judge John Munro Woolsey who was known to be a liberal. Woolsey, a fifty-six year old graduate of Yale and Columbia Law School, had been appointed a District Court judge in 1929. Described as fat and bald and smoking cigarettes through a long holder, Woolsey was considered a cultivated man, interested in literature and antique furniture. According to Time magazine, he was a collector of pipes, strangely blended tobaccos, and old clocks! He had already been involved in a couple of important censorship trials in 1931 when he ruled in favour of allowing Marie Stopes’ books Married Love andContraception into the United States. In 1933, he had just earned a long vacation after presiding over what had been the longest criminal case in American history to date, a fraud trial that had lasted 109 days! Woolsey was interested in the Ulysses case and with a vacation due, he’d have time to read the book. As Morris Ernst wrote in August: “If Woolsey isn’t sitting, we don’t want to have the papers presented to another judge. Woolsey wants the case…We don’t care how long he takes to read the book.”
By mid-October, however, little progress had been made. Cerf, writing to Léon in Paris, said: “Judge Woolsey is a pretty old man and takes his own good time about matters of this sort.” When Woolsey announced he would take the book with him on vacation, he received an “unbelievable” amount of mail. The judge later revealed that one man had written to him to say Ulysses “was the most precious thing in his life and another man wrote…it had seered his soul.” However, Woolsey still hadn’t finished Ulysses by the time he returned from vacation, by which time he was also trying to read a copy of Stuart Gilbert’s book about Ulysses. Morris Ernst offered to send him other books (Paul Jordan Smith’s The Key to the Ulysses of James Joyce, and Herbert Gorman’s biography, James Joyce: His First Forty Years) in the hope that they would help the case for the defence.
Finally, Judge Woolsey announced he was ready to hear submissions and the case opened in a courtroom on the sixth floor of the Bar Association Building at 42 West Forty-fourth Street on 25 November 1933. Woolsey, perhaps swung by the threat of piracy, seemed inclined to favour Ulysses. He was reported in theNew York Herald-Tribune as saying: “I know that as soon as you suppress anything the bootlegger gets to work…and the profits go into illegal channels… Still there is that soliloquy in the last chapter. I don’t know about that. But, go on with the case.”
Morris Ernst spoke for an hour in defence of Ulysses. He insisted that the fact that so many copies of Ulysses had been smuggled into the country was an indication that people all over America had accepted Ulysses as a classic, and that this was reinforced by the admission of a single copy by the Treasury Department. Added to this was the fact that the book was held in a number of libraries across the country and that it was even the subject of university studies. Samuel Coleman, the Assistant District Attorney, claimed that the book could be considered obscene not because of any intention on the part of the author but because of the effect it had on the reader. He claimed that something was obscene when its primary purpose was to excite sexual feeling, and that whether Joyce intended it or not, the book could be deemed to be obscene.
The literary significance of the book and of Joyce’s use of ‘stream of consciousness’ was important in playing down the charge of obscenity. Morris Ernst described how, while he was making his statement to the judge, he was also thinking about the gold ring around the judge’s tie, and about the portrait of George Washington on the wall, and about the fact that the judge’s black robe was slipping off one shoulder. The judge, rapping his gavel on the bench, admitted that though he had been listening to Ernst as intently as he could, he had also been thinking about the fine Hepplewhite chairs on which the people behind Ernst were sitting!
On several occasions, Woolsey returned to the difficulty he had with the language of the final episode, Molly Bloom’s soliloquy. At one stage, the court erupted in laughter when Woolsey, commenting on the difficulty of understanding much of what Joyce had written in Ulysses, admitted that he had been surprised to find that he understood perfectly those passages that the government claimed constituted the obscene parts of the book. “I tell you,” he said, “reading parts of that book almost drove me frantic. That last part, that soliloquy, it may represent the moods of a woman of that sort. That is what disturbs me. I seem to understand it.”
Nonetheless, the case was not simple, and the difficulties Judge Woolsey had with the final part of the book left everyone uncertain as to which way his judgment would go. At the end of the day, Judge Woolsey apologised for having taken so long to bring the case to court in the first place, but announced that he would reserve his judgment.
Ernst and Lindey decided to leave nothing to chance. They quickly prepared a supplementary memorandum setting out their views of the case and submitted it Woolsey on 28 November. Cerf, however, seemed to doubt that the outcome would be favourable. He wrote to Lindey to say that, even if the judgment was not in their favour, Lindey and Ernst still deserved congratulations for their efforts. Writing to Paul Léon at the beginning of December, Cerf could only say that the decision was impossible to predict but they were hoping for the best.
Woolsey delivered his decision on 6 December 1933, in favour ofUlysses. In his decision, Woolsey stated: “I have read Ulysses once in its entirety and I have read those passages of which the Government particularly complains several times… In Ulysses, in spite of its unusual frankness, I do not detect anywhere the leer of the sensualist. I hold therefore that it is not pornographic.” He added: “In many places it seems to me to be disgusting but although it contains…many words usually considered dirty, I have not found anything that I consider to be dirt for dirt’s sake.”
In response to the concern that there was so much sex in Ulysses, Woolsey claimed: “In respect of the recurrent emergence of the theme of sex in the mind’s of the characters, it must always be remembered that his locale is Celtic and his season Spring.” He concluded his judgment by saying: “…whilst in many places the effect of Ulysseson the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be aphrodisiac. Ulysses may, therefore, be admitted into the United States.”
The coincidence that, just the week before, Prohibition had also been repealed in America, was not lost on those involved in theUlysses case. As Morris Ernst put it: “The first week of December 1933 will go down in history for two repeals, that of Prohibition and that of squeamishness in literature. We may now imbibe freely of the contents of bottles and forthright books.” Even Assistant District Attorney Samuel Coleman seemed pleased: “I feel just as Judge Woolsey does about the book,” he said, adding that he thought the result was “a wholesome one.” Cerf told the press that “From the standpoint of literature and freedom of speech, we consider this one of the most important decisions ever rendered.”
Cerf sent a telegram straightaway to Paris to let Joyce know the decision, and the order was given to start preparing the print run of the Random House edition of Ulysses. Cerf announced that the first printing, of 10,300 copies would be ready for publication on 25 January 1934. Cerf asked Ernst to prepare a statement that would be printed in the book as a ‘Foreword.’ It was also decided that Judge Woolsey’s decision would be printed in full as part of the book, along with Joyce’s letter to Cerf of April 1932 detailing the history of his publication difficulties from Dubliners through toUlysses.
Woolsey’s decision was headline news and the publicity was certain to help sales of the book which, priced at $3.50, was expensive for that era of Depression. Random House planned an advertising campaign with posters sent to bookstores all over America. He asked Léon to send some photographs of Joyce that they could copy for publicity material, and Léon in turn asked if it would be possible to send an advance copy to Joyce to arrive in time for 2 February, the twelfth anniversary of the publication ofUlysses, and Joyce’s fifty-second birthday.
As part of their publicity campaign, Random House had dummy versions of the book printed for bookstores to place on display to announce the imminent arrival of Ulysses. The books had the characteristic cover, designed by Ernst Reichl, and a couple of pages of text, but the remainder of the pages were blank. Cerf even promised one of the dummies to Alexander Lindey so that he could show it to his “high-powered” lawyer friends and talk up the imminent publication.
Bennett Cerf had originally planned to publish the so-called schema for Ulysses as part of the Random House edition of the book. The schema had been revealed to Valery Larbaud shortly before Ulysses was published, and had been used by Stuart Gilbert in his book about Ulysses. Cerf felt that it would be an indispensable tool for readers new to Joyce’s book and techniques, but Joyce vehemently refused to allow him to publish it. Instead, Random House prepared a special broadside entitled “How To Enjoy Ulysses.” It gave a basic introduction to the book and an episode-by-episode account of what happens with a few photographs to help readers’ imagination. One of the photographs, ostensibly of the Martello Tower at Sandycove, showed instead a traditional Irish round tower, which must have left a few readers curious as to just where Stephen and Buck are walking around in the first episode!
Random House had an extra 100 copies of the book printed in addition to the actual print run of 10,300 so that they could be used to secure Joyce’s copyright. On 17 January 1934, Cerf told Léon that he had received the first copies of the new book, and that he was sending six to Joyce straight away. He asked if Joyce would sign two copies, one for Cerf himself and one for Donald Klopfer, Cerf’s partner at Random House. He also informed Léon that advance sales of the book had reached 12,000 which he considered really phenomenal for a book costing $3.50.
Following a massive effort, the book was published on schedule on Thursday 25 January 1934, just fifty days after Judge Woolsey’s decision. Not only was it the first authorised American edition ofUlysses, it was also the first in any English-speaking country, since the book was still not legally available in England or Ireland. It was an instant bestseller. It had reached its sixth printing by February 1934, and by April, Random House had sold 35,000 copies. In the period from the first publication in 1922 up to the last Shakespeare and Company edition, only 30,000 copies had been sold, which meant that, in just three months after publication, the American edition had more than doubled the total sales of Ulysses to date. In addition, a drawing of Joyce by Marcel Mauler adorned the cover of Time magazine on Monday 29 January 1934 and a lengthy article inside gave readers an insight into what to make of Joyce’s Ulysses.
However, there was something of a down side to the publication. The text of Ulysses that had been given to the printers was not, as Joyce wanted, the most recent Shakespeare and Company edition. In fact, what the printers had used was the corrupt text of Samuel Roth’s pirated edition of the book. Roth’s piracy looked just like Shakespeare and Company’s, and carried Shakespeare and Company’s name, but had in fact been entirely set in America by a careless printer. Some of its mistakes were certainly bound to confuse early readers. On the very first page of text, for instance, where Buck Mulligan, laughing to himself, went over to the parapet, the printers omitted the word “to” with the result that he went over the parapet instead, still laughing to himself. Unfortunately, this remained the text of the Random House edition until it was revised and corrected in 1940.
Without wanting to put a damper on the celebrations and the rush to bring out the first authorised American edition, Lindey wrote to Cerf reminding him that the government had 90 days in which to appeal Woolsey’s decision, and sure enough, the government lodged its appeal at the last moment on 16 March 1934. Three copies of the new Random House edition of the book were sent to the United States Circuit Court of Appeals as part of the appeal submissions.
The appeal was finally heard in May 1934 before three judges: Judge Augustus N. Hand, and Judge Learned Hand (who were cousins) and Presiding Judge Martin T. Manton. During the hearings, Martin Conboy, the United States Attorney, read parts of the book to the court, including those parts that the government considered most obscene. At the time, there were two young women in the court and, as the New York Daily News of 18 May recorded: “One of the young women gasped and dashed for the door, her cheeks flaming. The other, a determined young lady in a smart brown ensemble, stood her ground and remained throughout the reading.”
The verdict on the appeal was not announced until 7 August 1934, and upheld Judge Woolsey’s decision by a two-to-one verdict, with the two cousins in agreement and the Presiding Judge dissenting.Ulysses was in the States to stay!
After the appeal verdict was issued, there was still one small matter that had to be resolved. With Judge Woolsey’s decision upheld, Bennett Cerf was entitled to get back the copy of Ulyssesthat had been sent from Paris and that had been seized by Customs back in May 1932. At first, the copy of the book couldn’t be located. It was supposed to have been returned to the Collector of Customs after the trial and appeal were over, but had been sent inadvertently to the Collector of Internal Revenue instead. After a bit of a search, it finally arrived by post at Bennett Cerf’s office at Random House on 1 November 1934. Cerf wrote to Alexander Lindey: “The famous copy of Ulysseshas just been received. It is torn practically to tatters, but we will try to patch it up sufficiently to make it worth a presentation to Columbia Library.” On 21 May 1935, Cerf sent this copy of the book to Dr Hellmut Lehmann-Haupt, Librarian at Columbia. He pointed out that the copy was in poor condition as everybody in Customs had spent some time reading it, and that the District Attorney had even gone to the trouble of marking all the ‘pornographic’ lines with heavy crosses. Cerf concluded his letter by saying: “This marking will undoubtedly be of great help to Columbia students who, I hope, will have a chance to examine this volume in the years to come.”
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