Dubliners and James Joyce fans around the world celebrated Bloomsday through the wee hours of this morning. The festival celebrates Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, and takes its name from the novel’s central character, Leopold Bloom. The book follows the life of Bloom and others from the morning of June 16, 1904, to the early morning of the next day. In Dublin the single day has expanded into a week-long literary street carnival with performances, readings, pub crawls, and reenactments. Photos of Bloomsday celebrations can be browsed in The Irish Times.
But at the heart of all the festivities is the novel that was banned in the United States for twelve years. In Ulysses Joyce wrote about the everyday intimacies of his characters which in the 1920s and early thirties was deemed obscene material. It wasn’t until December 1933 that US District Judge John Woolsey ruled that Ulysses was an artistic rather than pornographic work, and therefore could not be ruled obscene.
In Simpson Library’s Rare Books Collection, the works of James Joyce comprise one of our largest and best collections. There are 14 editions of Ulysses, including the highly collected first edition. Only 1,000 copies were printed in 1922 by Sylvia Beach, the American woman who owned an English-language bookstore in Paris. Beach had opened her bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, two years before, but despite her lack of experience, Joyce and Beach came to an agreement that she would print his book. UMW’s copy is #522 printed on handmade paper and finished in blue wrappers.
Other editions of Ulysses in our Rare Books Collection include:
Henri Matisse’s illustrated edition. In 1935 George Macy, an American publisher, offered Matisse $5,000 to create as many etchings as this budget would afford for a special illustrated edition of Ulysses. While Joyce was thrilled that an artist of Matisse’s stature would illustrate his masterwork, he worried the artist might not actually read the book. He was right, Matisse did not read the book and turned in drawings based on six episodes from Homer’s epic poem Odyssey, assuming that Joyce’s book was based on the ancient Greek hero Odysseus, known as Ulysses in Roman mythology!
The first authorized American edition from Random House in 1934 is in our collection, as well as the first 1936 British edition. The latter is a beautiful copy with a gilded Homeric bow embossed on the front cover.
So as the Irish say, Tabhair Cuairt Orainn (Visit Us!), and you can see all of our many additional editions of Ulysses.
Mitchell, Sidney H. “Ulysses and The Holy Office”. News and Views from Trinkle, December, 1972.
“Ulysses by James Joyce, 1934 American edition.” British Library: Discovering Literature: 20th Century. Accessed June 16, 2109. https://www.bl.uk/collection-items/ulysses-by-james-joyce-1934-american-edition