Yes, today is Bloomsday. Read some Ulysses. For fun. Jessa Crispin has an essay at Barnes & Noble about Sylvia Beach and Margaret Anderson, two women who had a hand in publicizing and publishing James Joyce’s Epic Tome. And their reward in the U.S.? A prosecution of course.
Because while Sylvia Beach saw Ulysses and thought it was worth creating a wholly new publishing enterprise for, and Margaret Anderson thought, “This is the most beautiful thing we’ll ever have. We’ll print it if it’s the last effort of our lives,” the authorities looked down from their imperial heights and yelled, “obscene.” When Anderson began serializing Ulysses, issues of Little Review were confiscated and destroyed. When Beach published Ulysses in her little bookshop and began exporting copies to the United States, they were seized at the border, and she had to develop new trade routes. She cleverly sent a man on a ferry between Canada and the United States, “a copy of Ulysses stuffed down inside his pants,” over and over and over again. Anderson was brought up on obscenity charges, accused of “being a danger to the minds of young girls,” but the American literary empire did not mount a protest or come to her aid. Stansell writes, “The trial provoked only mild interest in the press and brought no outcry whatsoever from New York literary critics.” They lost in court, they were fined and fingerprinted, and Little Review never recovered. Anderson moved to Paris. The kingdom didn’t know what it was missing, until, the groundwork laid, the market flooded with pirated copies and the reputation built, Random House came sweeping in to rescue Ulysses.
Yes, the Publishing Industrial Complex came in after the reputation of the book had been built…by other people. It’s a nifty reminder that the big publishing houses have never been big risk takers.