From The New York Times, by D. Garner…
Kevin Birmingham’s new book, “The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle For James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’” about the long censorship fight over James Joyce’s novel, braids stories about women’s rights and heroic female editors, about World War I, about anarchism and modernism, about tenderness and syphilis, and about how literature can bend an era’s consciousness.
It isolates a great love story, that of Joyce and Nora Barnacle, one that comes with a finger-burning side order of some of the most cheerfully filthy correspondence in literary history.
About Joyce, he writes: “He wanted people to read novels and carefully as ardently as sleeplessly as they would read dirty letters sent from abroad. It was one of modernism’s great insights. James Joyce treated readers as if they were lovers.”
When Joyce embarked upon “Ulysses” in 1915, he was in his 30s, impoverished, unemployed, married with two children and living in Italy. The war’s battle front was nearby. His literary career was a shambles. He had devastating eye problems brought on, Mr. Birmingham argues, by syphilis, and endured more than a dozen surgeries.
As excerpts from “Ulysses” appeared in the Chicago magazine The Little Review, edited by Margaret Anderson, the magazine began to be harassed by censors, partly because of its supposed links to radicals and anarchists.
Mr. Birmingham describes that while anti-vice crusaders wanted to ban “Ulysses” to protect what they considered to be female sensibilities, many of the book’s champions were women. Upon reading Joyce’s prose, Anderson said her partner at The Little Review, Jane Heap: “This is the most beautiful thing we’ll ever have. We’ll print it if it’s the last effort of our lives.” Both women would end up in court.
Sylvia Beach, the owner of Shakespeare and Company bookstore in Paris, published the first edition of Joyce’s novel in 1922 and worked to smuggle the book into the United States. Mr. Birmingham says of her, “She wanted to give the world something more than pajamas and condensed milk.”
Other heroes include Ezra Pound, who once explained he couldn’t help Joyce get his poems published in England, because he’d burned all his bridges. They also include Ernest Hemingway, who helped Beach smuggle copies of “Ulysses” into the United States, and John Quinn and Morris Ernst, who each defended Joyce’s writing in court.
This book is populated by the less heroic as well. Virginia Woolf didn’t like “Ulysses” and passed up a chance to be its first publishers.
Mr. Birmingham writes that Joyce’s novel was “a new rendering of the way people think” and he explains why good history, not just Joyce, matters. “It can be difficult to see how Joyce’s novel (how any novel, perhaps) could have been revolutionary. This is because all revolutions look tame from the other side.”
He adds: “We forget what the old world was like, forget even that things could have been any other way.”
And so, this, is still how censorship is going way too far, because someone writes something that offends someone else, therefore that piece of writing should be banned? What about the freedom of the press and the freedom of the speech? And, if not for those forward thinking people of the older times, where would we be today???