On 16 January 1927, Joyce wrote about the progress of his international protest.
The protest was about the anomalous copyright situation of Ulysses in America where the ban on publishing Ulysses continued but where Samuel Roth had been able to pirate Ulysses, apparently with impunity, while Joyce couldn’t assert his rights.
The protest was drafted by Ludwig Lewisohn and Archibald MacLeish at Joyce’s instigation, and they circulated it to a wide number of notables soliciting their signatures. However, in his letter to Harriet Weaver on 16 January 1927, Joyce complains that with just two weeks to go, he still had not heard from WB Yeats, T Sturge Moore, and James Stephens. On the other hand, he told her he was particularly pleased that Albert Einstein had signed: “I feel greatly honoured by Einstein’s signature, given so quickly and simply,” he wrote.
Yeats, Sturge Moore and James Stephens did add their signatures, but two other worthies, GB Shaw and Ezra Pound refused to add their names. Shaw, predictably pedantic, claimed not to understand the protest, saying it was all “poppycock.” He said that Joyce should simply point out the absurdity of the law which, on one hand, banned Joyce’s book and, on the other, allowed pirates like Roth to publish it.
Pound too claimed that the protest was misdirected and should pursue the absurdity of American law and not Samuel Roth: “The minor peccadillo of Mr. Roth,” he wrote to Joyce, “is dwarfed by the major infamy of the law.” However, Pound may have had reason to be wary of joining the protest: Roth’s daughter, Adelaide Kugel, has since claimed that Roth had Pound’s permission to publish at least some of the contested Ulysses material.
The protest was finally published with 162 signatures on 2 February 1927, Joyce’s forty-fifth birthday. The text of the protest claimed that Roth had published his corrupted text of Ulysses without permission from Joyce and without payment to him, and that the copyright law offered Joyce no protection. It ended: “The undersigned protest against Mr. Roth’s conduct in republishing ULYSSES and appeal to the American public in the name of that security of works of the intellect and the imagination without which art cannot live, to oppose to Mr. Roth’s enterprise the full power of honorable and fair opinion.”
The protest, as Shaw had predicted, had no effect on Samuel Roth, who continued his piracy through October 1927. But, according to Jay Gertzman, there had never been an international writers’ protest before this, and Roth’s already poor reputation as a man of letters was destroyed as a result. Joyce’s case against Roth was finally successful, though not until December 1928. Joyce had been persuaded to drop the case against Roth for damages for breach of copyright, and to pursue instead an injunction against Roth using his name on any further publications.
Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – New and Revised Edition, London: Faber & Faber, 1982.
Fargnoli, A Nicholas, and Michael Patrick Gillespie: Critical Companion to James Joyce – A Literary Reference to his Life and Work, New York: Checkmark Books, 2006.
Gertzman, Jay A: Bookleggers and Smuthounds – The Trade in Erotica 1920-1940, Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2002.
Joyce, James: Letters, vol. III, Richard Ellmann (ed.), London: Faber & Faber, 1966.
Kugel, Adelaide: “‘Wroth-Rackt Joyce’: Samuel Roth and the ‘Not Quite Unauthorized’ Edition of Ulysses,’ in Joyce Studies Annual 3 (1992), pp. 242-8.