On this day…20 September

On 20 September 1920 an official complaint was made against the Little Review.

The Little Review had been serialising Ulysses since January 1918 but, after reading part of the ‘Nausicaa’ episode in the July-August 1920 issue of the Review, John S Sumner, Secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, decided to take legal action against the Review.

The Little Review started serialising Ulysses in March 1918, and in the same month Ezra Pound warned Joyce that his explicit language would create problems for the Review. Pound was referring to the ‘Calypso’ episode which he was reading at the time, and he excised 20 lines from it before sending it on to Margaret Anderson, editor of the Review. Pound justified his censorship on the basis that Joyce’s language was sure to cause problems, but he didn’t tell Anderson or Joyce what he had done.

The censored ‘Calypso’ appeared in June 1918, and the serialisation of Ulysses in the Review carried on unproblematically until January 1919 when the ‘Lestrygonians’ episode started to appear. That issue of the Review was confiscated by the Post Office for obscenity and was burnt. The Review was lucky to have the services of a Serbo-Croat printer who didn’t care about obscene language or Post Office confiscations, and so the printing of the Review continued.

In May 1919 another issue of the Review, containing the concluding part of the ‘Scylla & Charybdis’ episode, was confiscated and burnt, after which the New York lawyer, John Quinn, acting on Joyce’s behalf, complained to the Post Office’s Solicitor about the confiscations: the Post Office didn’t respond. By this time both Ezra Pound and John Quinn were advising Joyce to withdraw Ulysses from the Little Review: they felt that the finished published book would be easier to defend as a whole rather than trying to defend the content of isolated excerpts appearing in the Review.

Again in January 1920 the issue of the Review containing part of the ‘Cyclops’ episode was confiscated by the Post Office, but it was the July-August 1920 issue, containing the concluding part of the ‘Nausicaa’ episode, that finally drew the attention of Sumner and the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice.

Sumner lodged the Society’s complaint against the Little Review on 20 September 1920, and a month later the complaint was sworn before a magistrate, and Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, the Review’s owner, were bound over for trial in the Court of Special Sessions.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

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

Norburn, Roger: A James Joyce Chronology, Basingstoke: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.