Skip to content

Banned Books Week – Highlighting James Joyce’s Ulysses

Rare printing from 1925 located in Baylor's Central Libraries Special Collections
Rare printing from 1925 located in Baylor's Central Libraries Special Collections

by Ramona McKeown, Collection Development Librarian

Banned Books Week (September 21-27, 2014) is observed by libraries of all types around the United States through book readings, conferences, and other events celebrating freedom from censorship. This week is an activity sponsored by the Office of Intellectual Freedom (OIF), a section of the American Library Association (ALA). Throughout history books have been banned or challenged for many reasons. A book is “challenged” when a person or group of people attempt to prohibit or restrict access to a book. A book is “banned” when the challenge is successful in getting the book removed or blocked. Many lists of banned and challenged books are available on the ALA web site.

Ulysses, by James Joyce, is considered by many to be the most important novel of the 20th century, but it has been caught under the censor’s ban in many countries from its very beginning, when it was first published in 1918 by Shakespeare & Company in England. In 1922, according to Banned Books: Literature Suppressed on Sexual Grounds (link to Baylor Libraries' copy) , the "United States Department of the Post Office burned 500 copies of the novel when an attempt was made to import the book." The year before, a magazine called Little Review published a serialized version of the novel and members of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice seized an issue of the magazine and took the magazine editors to court on charges of obscenity. The court ruled against the Little Review and Ulysses. Bootlegged copies of the novel appeared but no further action took place until 1932, when the collector of Customs seized a copy of the book sent to Random House and declared it obscene under the Tariff Law of 1930. Random House, who had been publishing the work in the U.S. demanded a court hearing and asked that the book “be read in its entirety and that the passages declared to contain the dirtiest language be viewed in the context of the whole. “ The judge in the case, United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, rejected the claims of obscenity, stating, “In many places it seems to be disgusting, .. but I have not found anything that I consider to be dirt for dirt’s sake. Each word of the book contributes like a bit of mosaic to the detail of the picture Joyce is seeking to construct for his readers.” The government appealed the case to the circuit court of appeals, but the earlier decision was upheld. A significant result of the verdict was that it led judges and prosecutors to “examine a book in its entirety rather than according to isolated passages.”

The Central Libraries Special Collections houses a rare first edition, 7th printing by Shakespeare & Company, Paris, 1925. Follow this link for more information on how to make an appointment to view rare materials. Circulating copies of Ulysses can be found in the Moody general collection with the call number PR 6019 .O9 U4.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *