1921 February 14

Obscenity Charges for Publishing “Ulysses”


A New York-based literary magazine, The Little Review, faced obscenity charges on this day for publishing excerpts from James Joyce’s acclaimed novel, Ulysses. This was the first publication of material from Joyce’s novel in the U.S. In a later case involving a ban on importing the novel, a federal District Court declared the novel not obscene in United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, on December 6, 1933.  The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the decision on August 7, 1934. The Ulysses case was one of the most important victories over censorship in the pre-World War II era.

Hundreds of people crowded into the court room on the first day of the trial. The defense attorney attempted to have the entire offending chapter from Ulysses read in court. The judge denied the motion, holding that it would offend a you woman in the court room. That woman was Jane Heap, editor of The Little Review, which published the chapter. John Sumner of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice had advised the judge that Ulysses was too “improper to place upon the records” of the court.

Read the full story of the legal problems of Ulysses: Kevin Birmingham, The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses (2014)

Read the great novel: James Joyce, Ulysses (many editions available)

Learn more at the James Joyce Centre in Dublin: http://jamesjoyce.ie/

Learn more: Leigh Ann Wheeler, Against Obscenity: Reform and the Politics of Womanhood in America, 1873-1935 (2007)

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