Celebrate our Freedom to Read!

Submitted by plessla on Filed under Library News:  Mills Archives & Research Collections
Library's copies of  Ulysses and The Little Review

Do you know of a book that has been censored? Do you know why it has been challenged? Visit the William Ready Division of Archives and Research Collections during Freedom to Read Week. From February 25 to March 1, you can see of one of the world’s most challenged books from the Library’s collections.   A first edition of Ulysses by Irish writer James Joyce (1882-1941) is available for viewing in the reading room.  See the author's most famous work and tour de force of modern literature and celebrate with us!

Many great works have incited controversy.  James Joyce’s first epic length novel, Ulysses, published in 1922, was no exception. From the onset, it was a catalyst for debate and criticism due to its explicit sexual imagery and coarse language.  Censors had virtually banned the novel in the English-speaking world:  England from 1923 to 1936, Australia, from 1929 to 1937 and again from 1941 to 1953, and Canada from 1933 until 1949.  The novel, a Modernist reconstruction of Homer’s The Odyssey is a story about one day,  16 June 1904.  Joyce narrates the thoughts, feelings and actions of fictional characters, Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly and Stephen Dedalus as they make their way around the city of Dublin. 

Joyce wrote and continually revised the novel from 1914 to 1921.  In 1917 he sent the typescript of the first episode “Telemachus” to Margaret Anderson’s literary magazine, The Little Review , which published out of Chicago.  The novel thus began as a serialization, with the first chapter appearing in the March 1918 issue.  Only the first four chapters appeared  until December 1920 after which serialization ceased when The New York Society for the Suppression  of Vice filed charges of obscenity against the magazine’s  editors.  As a result of the prosecution and surrounding scandal, Joyce was unable to get a printer in England and the United States.  He turned to Sylvia Beach and her small Parisian bookshop, Shakespeare and Company.  Beach decided to publish 1000 copies privately.  On 3 February 1922, Joyce was presented with the first two copies on his fortieth birthday.   When attempts were made to import copies into the United States in 1922, court decisions ruled against the book and the U.S. Department of the Post Office burned 500 copies of the novel. In 1932, U.S. customs seized a copy and declared it "obscene”. Matters came to a head when the American publisher Random House contested the censorship of Ulysses.  In December 1933 Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that the book was not pornographic and therefore could not be obscene.  Joyce’s novel had won one of the most important court decisions in censorship history.  By the 1930, Ulysses had been printed in France and Germany and  had been reprinted 11 times and had sold 28,000 copies. As recently as 2010, an attempt to censor Ulysses occurred when Apple for iPad objected to an app for the web comic version of Rob Berry and Josh Levitas’ Ulysses Seen, based on the 1922 novel, on grounds of cartoon nudity.

McMaster University Library’s copy of the first edition of Ulysses is copy number 332 of the 750 copies printed on hand-made paper by Shakespeare and Company in Paris.  It is an epic length volume, bound in ‘Greek flag-blue’ paper wrappers.  The Library also houses many early editions of Ulysses and related works of Joyce in addition to the first edition.

by Renu Barrett