On this day…6 January

On 6 January 1934 the Solicitor General wrote to TS Eliot about Ulysses.

Faber, Joyce’s English publishers, were hoping to bring out an edition of Ulysses but were still concerned that it might be subject to seizure by the Customs authorities or the police. Faber contacted the Solicitor General to seek his advice.

Geoffrey Faber was friendly with Donald Somervell, Baron Somervell of Harrow, who was Solicitor General from 1933 to 1936. Faber wrote to Somervell informally and personally on 5 January 1934 to ask about Ulysses. He reminded Somervell that in 1922 an edition of Ulysses printed in Paris for the Egoist Press in London had been seized by the Customs authorities, and that copies of Ulysses being brought into England from Paris were still liable to seizure even though many London booksellers were selling the book.

Faber claimed that Ulysses was ‘certainly a work of genius and, in the opinion of many, much the most important literary work of art produced in England during the present century.’ He said the fact that the Home Office or the police had classed Ulysses as pornographic constituted ‘a considerable slur on the intelligence of the authorities.’ Faber enclosed a copy of US Judge John Woolsey’s decision that Ulysses was not obscene and asked Somervell to contact Eliot or Morley if he could offer any advice.

The main impetus for this was the fact that John Lane, the Bodley Head press, was now interested in publishing Ulysses and Faber, Joyce’s official English publishers, wanted to be sure of the legal ground before they decided for or against Ulysses. When Somervell wrote to Eliot on 6 January the only advice he could offer was that Faber should contact the JF Henderson at the Home Office to see if he could help.

Somervell said it was unlikely that the Home Office would be able to offer a definite answer as to whether or not they would move against Ulysses if it was published in England, or how prosecution against it might be initiated. ‘I am very vague about the initiation of prosecutions,’ he said, ‘though I expect I ought to know about it.’ He was also unsure as to whether or not the Home Office would be able to stop a case going to court if someone else decided to prosecute.

Faber’s uncertainty led them to decide against publishing Ulysses and John Lane took it on instead. However, the process was very slow, and Lane’s printers objected to printing certain parts of the book. As late as March 1936 Joyce’s agent was being asked to persuade Lane to publish the book as intended or forfeit the contract because of Joyce’s exasperation at the slow process. Ulysses was finally published by John Lane on 3 October 1936.


Sources & Further Reading:

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. III edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1966.