The main strength of this book is its infectious, informed passion. The writer’s interest and enthusiasm give the book an appeal and an ongoing sense of drama that is hard for a reader to resist. Kevin Birmingham presents the rise of Modernism and the early career of James Joyce as important breaks with the thinking of the past that helped to create the early twentieth-century world. These points may seem marginal in their importance, but they are not. Nonfiction writers, like teachers, can fall into habits where they merely present rather than underscore the importance of the information they set forth. The second approach not only engages readers better but also indicates a writer who has mastered a subject to find even subtle significance beyond the facts and events.
The conciseness of the writing and the high ratio of ideas to words contribute to the book’s appeal. One good example turns up on page 209. We read that “the pressure of writing enhanced Joyce’s superstitions” and then find some examples: “Opening an umbrella inside, placing a man’s hat on a bed and two nuns walking down the street were all bad luck. Black cats and Greeks were good luck.” But our understanding is sharpened and our interests energized when Birmingham brings out the larger point: “Superstitions gave Joyce the feeling of control, the illusion that he could place a finger on the tiller of fortune to help steer a life that seemed blown by chance—money arriving just when the cupboards were bare . . . . It was comforting to think that all the world’s details were like the details of a novel, that they had meaning and that they could be altered by marginal revisions like replacing a hat or adding a fourteenth dinner guest.”Again and again the author distills information and significance into similarly concise, stimulating passages—on Joyce’s early life in Dublin, on meeting Nora Barnacle, on Ezra Pound and Dora Marsden, on the diminished view of epics, on censorship and anarchism, etc.
A person could read the Introduction to the book, recognize these qualities, and also see the map for the entire book. At the end of that section, Birmingham surveys some of the books about Joyce and describes his research. You get the feeling that his passion for Joyce and Ulysses is so great as to justify any effort to track down any fact or document, even some stray something in one of the twenty-five archives around the world that he cites. It is a pleasure to read his energetic, compelling study.
Not a biography of its author but of his most famous novel, Kevin Birmingham's study of Ulysses emphasizes what nine decades and eight major biographies of James Joyce have not. The "rapture and pain" of its creator and his creation, this Harvard professor avers, energized its modernist impact. The Most Dangerous Book, therefore, skims past much of Joyce's by now exhaustively documented life, to saunter past some of his literary influences, and to connect Joyce's battle with censorship to the new century's unrest.
While much is familiar to students of Joyce, Birmingham's endnotes attest to his archival research. He examines eye disease treatments, anti-Catholic tracts, and subversive newspapers, for instance, along with many Joycean contributions, standard and marginal, that help us understand this context. He writes with admirable directness. He efficiently guides readers through the difficulties for Joyce and his supporters which loomed as the forces of censorship by the various state authorities fought those who challenged pieties and proprieties. For example, Birmingham fills in the early twentieth-century reactions to obscenity by depicting how Britain was under siege, according to the Crown forces, from a violent, bomb-throwing and knife-slashing faction with a dangerous radical ideology. Against this, Scotland Yard invested in the latest technology to keep Londoners safer. The culprits were suffragettes, and the counter-terrorist ploy was the department's purchase of their first camera.
How Joyce fits in, Birmingham shows, comes via not only his patron and inspiration Ezra Pound, as is well known, but by Dora Marsden, whose militant feminism radicalized Pound. In turn, Emma Goldman's anarchism squares off against the publisher of The Little Review, Margaret Anderson, to deepen the tension in the Vorticist (radical) and then the Egoist (apolitical) movements for artists. Pound wrote for that fledgling review, while patron John Quinn had boosted the Armory Show in Manhattan, a vanguard for the forces from the art world parallel to emerging talents within literature. Going beyond the Irish setting for the novel itself, this attention stirs up the ideological debates by which Joyce and his associates took up the protests and demands of their restive, brooding era.
Modernist magazines afforded writers a platform akin to today's blogosphere. Such bold support confirmed Joyce's resolve, as he joined his own "philosophical" anarchism to a "literary" form, in Birmingham's interpretation, to undermine the tyranny of a ruthless state. "Individuals were crushed by big ideas." Joyce countered by obscenity (as defined by the state) apparatus) to protest.
In Trieste, as the Great War broke out, Joyce began his big book, superimposing the Dublin he had left behind on an Homeric grid, and elaborating in increasingly experimental chapters and styles of prose, his take on ancient myth reborn in his home city. Birmingham finds that Ulysses opens with choppy, fragmentary rhythms of conscious awareness. These ebb and flow, as if "a rusty boot briefly washed ashore before the tide reclaims it." As the novel in progress was serialized in the little magazines, large forces grouped against its supposed obscenity, and part two narrates the showdown.
Fearful of Reds and Germans, before the FBI as we know it now, the vigilant U.S. Post Office clamped down on any material deemed dangerous. Joyce's anarchy might be far more philosophical than overtly political, but it fell into the net cast by the Federal trawlers in the wake of the Espionage Act. Birmingham connects the Comstock Law and nineteenth-century jitters about pornography to twentieth-century unease over radicalism: Joyce's work-in-progress appeared to violate restrictions against lewdness in the U.S. Mail, as sent to subscribers of The Little Review, whose editors had defended the reviled Emma Goldman. With Joyce's content flagged, its May1919 issue was banned.
Meanwhile, Harriet Weaver had also been serializing the novel, in The Egoist. T.S. Eliot through Pound and Virginia Weaver through Weaver begin to pay attention to Joyce. They may also be some of the first readers as bewildered by its increasingly daring departures from conventional narrative as generations since--who after all have industrious scholars and encouraging interpreters to guide them. As Birmingham reminds us, Joyce sought to write not a story for a million readers, but one a single reader could read a million times. The playful prose burst forth as its author grew more confident. As the scholar finds in its subject, who began when writing erotic letters to his Nora Barnacle an entry into the "unwritten thoughts that go on in his mind," so Joyce treats "readers as if they were lovers."
Despite Joyce's painful eye surgeries (and see Gordon Bowker's 2012 biography, reviewed by me, for more of the "pain" that accompanies the "rapture" in Joyce's Parisian and Zurich years in exile as he labors on), success beckoned. In postwar Paris, the milieu of the novel's printing during the Lost Generation grounds it in the Left Bank's "café culture." But America, frightened by bombings, cracked down with a Red Scare. Ulysses would soon be linked not only with obscenity but to "parlor Bolshevism."
Anthony Comstock had fulminated against contraception in the mail, and his successor John Sumner, newly appointed to suppress vice on behalf of New York, extended his control over Red propaganda in The Masses and anarchist rabble-rousing to attack The Little Review for a salacious episode, Gerty MacDowell's "fireworks" on Sandymount Beach in what would be known as the Nausicaa chapter.
The New York City District Attorney's Office required John Quinn, a lawyer too, to mount a defense, but his disgust appears to have overwhelmed his earlier sympathies for Joyce and his disreputable companions. For, Quinn's reservations about the Nausicaa portion notwithstanding, he and Pound had tired of the "unreasonable" stance asserted by a Joyce whom, with his novel yet to be completed, refused to assuage the censors, while incurring legal costs and penalties nobody could easily resist.
"Greenwich Girl Editors" Anderson and Jane Heap were summoned against the State's charges of obscenity for their magazine's contents. Ironically, as Birmingham nudges the reader to remember, those on the stand seemed to have failed to notice that Leopold Bloom was masturbating as he watched Gerty during the fireworks on the strand. Or, they chose not to notice, if they were the editors of the passage. Typically daring, Joyce then rewrote it after the 1921 conviction of the magazine for distributing lascivious material in the mail, to highlight Bloom's surreptitious activity.
On the author's fortieth birthday early in 1922, Ulysses was published by Shakespeare and Company in Paris. Joyce could not stop fiddling with it. Even during temporary blindness a few months earlier as a time away from the manuscript, he kept tinkering mentally with refining its elaborate structures. With the novel out, more troubles rushed in, for now, the typos massed and worried him. But the revolutionary nature of it, which to us dims nearly a century later, cannot be denied: "It demanded complete freedom. It swept away all silences." Shattering verbal boundaries, it rises.
Ernest Hemingway, with perfect timing, enters Sylvia Beach's Parisian bookshop to assist smuggling the novel into the U.S., by way of his contact, Chicago socialist editor Barnet Braverman, who by 1922 under the restrictions of Red Raids had to work at an ad agency to get by. Joyce's patron Harriet Weaver, in London, founds the Egoist Press to print the novel. During 1922, the allure of a censored import, coming from London now and Paris, increases overseas demand for a forbidden book.
Then, the Port of New York authorities swooped in. Customs authorities in London did too. Eight editions followed, but distribution lagged due to censorship. Officials aiding a single copy's importation into America faced a fine of ten thousand dollars and up to ten years in prison. It took Bennett Cerf's Modern Library imprint at Random House--which marketed classics old and new to a discerning readership on campuses and after graduation-- to defend the novel in the U.S. The cover, shown on the cover of Birmingham's book, did not appear until 1934 after another legal battle. Random House took on not the Comstock Act but the Tariff Act prohibiting the importation of obscenity. One charge was easier to disprove in court than the many dangers the Comstock Act listed. Cerf , a wit and a pundit too in the quest (and indirectly his roguish predecessor whose corrupted "Paris" edition was used illegally in the U.S., the literary pirate Samuel Roth), finally triumphed.
Birmingham provides a lively, learned, yet accessible and welcoming survey of this struggle. He intersperses enough of the novel to orient readers, and he blends in the difficulties of Joyce's life as he weakened in vision and endurance, to prove the heroic nature of his artistic achievement despite his personal tetchiness. This may encourage readers to begin or return to Ulysses, their next book to read
Seldom does a work of literary history or criticism deserve the epithet "virtually un-put-downable"; this one does. Birmingham's treatise on the composition, publication, and afterlife of Joyce's Ulysses is simply masterly.
It is important for a modern reader to understand just how controversial Ulysses was in its day. Birmingham writes: "Nearly a century later, the reactions to Ulysses can feel overblown. . . . These days, Ulysses may seem more eccentric than epoch changing, and 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." But in its day Ulysses was both controversial and widely seen as pornographic.
The cast of characters here reads like a roster of the greatest English-language authors of the early twentieth-century. I, for one, had no idea that Ezra Pound has played such a cardinal role in Joyce's life and works. And the full story of how the unlikely storefront of Shakespeare and Company came to publish this work, only to see many of its copies swept up and burned by wacko censors and customs agents, reads like an espionage thriller.
It has been many years since I reread Ulysses, even longer since I trekked through Ellman's magisterial biography. Maybe much of what is here the Joyce scholar knows already. But this humble reader did not. I learned much. And I thoroughly enjoyed doing so.
on June 1, 2014
In all of my reading experience (and I am talking about literally thousands of books under my belt), somehow I have managed to miss out on the unique experience that is James Joyce's "Ulysses". Now, having read Kevin Birmingham's "The Most Dangerous Book", I still may not have the urge to dive into Joyce's stream of consciousness, but I certainly have an understanding of what makes it one of the most important books of modern (and modernist) literature.
Discussions of literature often treat the work as somehow separate from the context in which it was written, and often as separate from the author himself. Birmingham treats us to more than just a critical analysis of "Ulysses", of which scores have already been written. "Dangerous Book" is equal parts history, biography, and literary criticism; it places James Joyce and his work in the context of contemporary events, the work of other authors, and Joyce's personal struggles. Rather than looking at "Ulysses" as a thing apart, he takes us between the covers of the often troubled mind of Joyce, and the often troubled times he lived in.
As Birmingham show us, "Ulysses" becomes more than just the prototypical modernist novel, more than just a controversial and banned book. In no small way, "Ulysses" is the story of James' own journey as an author; the journey of his crowning work from scattered notes to the printed page is no less an epic voyage. The interplay of life and art that is revealed here is astounding in its complexity. "Ulysses", that most dangerous book, scared censors not just for what it tells about the characters in the story, but for what it tells us about ourselves. Kevin Birmingham draws us a portrait of a man, his book, and the world around them, and shows us how they all fit together to bring "Ulysses" home.
James Joyces's Ulysses was first published in book form in Paris in 1922. It was not available for sale legally in the United States until 1934 when a federal appeals court ruled that the book was not obscene. Kevin Birmingham, an instructor in the writing program at Harvard, has written an absorbing account of how the book came to be written and Joyce's struggle to have the book freely sold in the United States and the United Kingdom in the face of prevailing obscenity laws.
The title of the book is a bit misleading because Birmingham discusses many related matters beyond the struggle to publish the book. He provides a capsule biography of Joyce up through the time of publication -- including his unusual relationship with Nora Barnacle, his companion and mother of his children -- a history of censorship in the United States and the United Kingdom, the birth of the modernist movement in literature, how Sylvia Beach came to publish the first edition, and much else. The author writes well -- I suppose he better if wants to keep his day job! -- so he manages to knit these various strands in a very readable way.
The author has clearly done an exceptional amount of research and I think it's fair to say that this book will become the definitive account of the struggle by Joyce and his supporters to get Ulysses into print.
My only significant quibble is that the book ends rather abruptly. So much so that you have to wonder whether a firm publication deadline or severe author fatigue truncated the book from what the author had originally intended. For instance, we are told that once the favorable court decision came down at the end of 1933, Random House rushed Ulysses into print in the United States ... but used the text of a pirated edition, rather than Joyce's authorized edition. Why was that? We're not told. Having taken 330 pages to bring the story to that point, Birmingham wraps things up in a mere 11 pages. Given that we have been given a reasonably detailed account of Joyce's life from birth up to the publication of Ulysses, I think at least a brief sketch of his life post-Ulysses was in order. Similarly, having provided an account of the modernist movement in literature up through publication of Ulysses, perhaps the author could have prepared at least a brief chapter discussing how modern critics see the place of Ulysses in that movement.
These are quibbles, though, and I believe nearly anyone interested in twentieth century literature -- whether a fan of Ulysses or not -- will find this book both enjoyable and enlightening.
Kevin Birmingham's book, "The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses" has already received a number of excellently written and well-deserved laudatory reviews. There's not much I can add beside saying that you do not have to be a James Joyce devotee or a lover of "Ulysses" to enjoy Birmingham's book. I'm not "literary" in the least - check my reviews! - but I do love a great biography or other well-written work of non-fiction, which is exactly what Kevin Birmingham has written.
The fight to print - in the UK and the US - and the people behind that fight are so cogently explained, in a proper historical context (1900s-1920s). And, of course, Birmingham also examines Joyce's writing of the book and the influences - both literary and real - that made both the book and the author so relevant.
If you are as interested in the writing and publishing of James Joyce's "Ulysses", as in the novel itself, you'll enjoy Kevin Birmingham's book.
on November 1, 2014
My favorite kinds of books are those that take a small subject and make a big point. Kevin Birmingham's "The Most Dangerous Book," his tale of how James Joyce's Ulysses got legally published in United States and Britain is such a work. How a single book got written and published doesn't seem like a promising topic for a 300 page work of nonfiction but for Mr. Birmingham it becomes one with his focus on how Ulysses revolutionized the notion of a literary work. Before Ulysses, a novel with an explicit discussion of sexual and bodily functions would never be considered publishable let alone meriting literary attention. Ulysses wasn't legally publishable when first written either. In large part, this book is about how Ulysses succeeded in exploding the standards for publishable fiction.
How did this happen? First off, Ulysses became notorious before it was even completed. That was a critical component to its ultimate success. The time around WWI was ripe for shattering conventions. The Victorian era where propriety and moral uplift were central to its mythology was fading into memory. The educated elite were questioning these norms and eager for artistic expression that could serve as battering rams to bring the whole bloated edifice down. Certain members of this elite, Ezra Pound, T.S. Eliot and Sylvia Beach, got involved with James Joyce well before Ulysses was completed. They knew it would face an uphill struggle to get published but so astonished were they at what he was doing that they all championed his efforts and prepared the way for the book's release into the world.
Next it became an underground sensation. There was narrow but enthusiastic market for the book that would pay a high price to own it. The book endured. It wasn't an overnight sensation that then faded into oblivion. The more people who read the book, the more champions it had and demand only grew and grew. Finally, another decade past after its publication and morality loosened even more to the point where the book's reputation as a masterpiece, a unique work of art overshadowed the fact that it contain "dirty" words and explicit sexual references.
I have only the slightest of caveats about the book and that is the focus on James Joyce and his struggle to write it. Birmingham write vividly about Joyce's ill health, sexual proclivities, awkward personality but dogged independence and drive to write Ulysses despite extraordinary circumstances. In some sense this is biography and not completely relevant to the publication history of Ulysses. I came to accept this approach because by understanding Joyce's struggle to write the book, it made me root for it to get published. It also connects up the importance of the man's fierce independence of thought and action to the breathtaking scope, depth and sheer audacity of imagination that is Ulysses.
on October 27, 2014
Before I read this book, all I knew about the history of censorship and obscenity I learned from the trials of Allen Ginsberg and his poem “Howl”, published by Lawrence Ferlingetti in San Francisco in 1956. That, and of course, Lenny Bruce, until he died in 1966 at the decline of his career. I was familiar with the title “Ulysses” and aware of James Joyce. I knew he had something to do with “sexually explicit” material, so I bought the unabridged copy, put it on my Kindle and started at the beginning. There’s something tragically ironic in how easy it is to acquire “Ulysses” in the Internet-age, and less than 100 years ago people went to jail for reading it out loud with a woman present! If you haven’t read it, I’d recommend reading “The Battle…..” along with “Ulysses” at the same time, if for no other reason than to see what all the fuss is about; and I’m still not sure I get it. Whatever.
“The Battle for Ulysses” is the story of a conversation about injustice, vigilantes and censorship. It's a conversation spanning several decades, a world war and a great depression. Indeed, it continues to this very day. Ultimately, Birmingham’s book is about Joyce’s relationships with people -- his lovers, his excesses and conflicts between his supporters, his detractors, his muse and between James Joyce and himself. It’s about “indecency”, but more importantly, it examines what offends people in the context of post-world-war-one modernism, radicalism and the construction and deconstruction of public morals. Birmingham shows the reader the world as it was for James Joyce, a world that believed it had a duty to protect "innocence" (especially female virtue) from promiscuity, rebellion, blasphemy and the absence of meaning.
As Birmingham tells it, “Ulysses” was a book written by an author confronting the fear of thinking and the dangers of thought itself. His society was in denial about homophobia, for example, long before anyone identified what it was. Sexual taboos, anarchy and the politics of search and seizure were just as conflicted for people living in Paris or New York in 1920 as they are today. The story of how “Ulysses” came to be written in the first place, and then printed, published, smuggled and eventually legalized is the story of James Joyce, the writer. But it’s also the story of a community of artists and writers, social activists and revolutionaries meeting in bars, sidewalk cafés and coffee houses inciting provocative new ideas. The descriptions of bookstores in the East Bank, for example, are so vivid I could almost smell the paper in stacks of books, I could almost hear conversations between Ezra Pound and Hemingway, between T.S. Eliot and Virginia Wolf.
What impressed me the most with “the Battle for Ulysses” is how relevant it is. Birmingham didn’t write a dry history book meant to gather dust. On the contrary, “the Battle for Ulysses” describes a struggle for the right to dissent by encouraging critically engaged readers to think the unthinkable, whatever that is. What was at stake for James Joyce when he wrote “Ulysses”, and what’s at stake for readers today, is the push-back against the idea that thinking is somehow unsafe. Censorship, confiscation and burning of “objectionable” material, was, in the world of James Joyce and in our world, all about trying to enforce political, religious and ideological conformity. This is what makes Birmingham’s arguments so convincing: assaults against “Ulysses”, James Joyce and others of his generation, up to, including and beyond the beatniks of San Francisco, show opposition and obstruction to ideas of inclusion, tolerance and transparency. These concepts, and others, were as “dangerous” to the neoconservative members of the Society for the Suppression of Vice in New York in 1920 as they are to the neoliberal policy-makers of 2014.
There are lots of reasons to read _Ulysses_. One reason thought of by people who have not read it is that it is supposed to be dirty and salacious. There must have been millions who have bought the book and found nothing like that in the first chapter or the next and looked despondently through the 700 pages without finding the titillation that all the fuss used to be about. It isn’t that the book is without obscene passages; a realistic novel about twenty-four hours in the lives of three Dubliners which covers each hour and each character in detail has to include some sex and some fantasies, as well as a solitary spell in a bath and in an outhouse. The obscenity is part of what makes _Ulysses_ such a vibrant reading experience, even though it encompasses a teensy part of the text. It was the part most important to outraged wowsers the world over not only in the immediate run-up to the famous legal decision that allowed the book into America, but for the long period of James Joyce’s composition of the astonishing text. It wasn’t just Joyce fighting the censors; there were lawyers, of course, and crusading publishers and editors, but also anarchists, and bootleggers, and those early geniuses who (without all the handy guides to the text which we can use nowadays) found _Ulysses_ to be the highest of high literature. The great story of how the book finally got published and deemed not to be illegal is in _The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses_ (The Penguin Press) by Kevin Birmingham, a teacher of history and literature at Harvard. If you love _Ulysses_ as I do, you will find plenty to admire in this tale of how a couple of decades of teamwork brought the book through. If you don’t know _Ulysses_, this is a wonderful introduction not to the copious richness of the text, but to the times of the book’s composition and the history of its ascent from illegality.
John Sumner, successor to Anthony Comstock as head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice was active in the years when _Ulysses_ was being published. In 1920 he arranged to buy a copy of a magazine that was serializing it, and thus brought the book to trial for obscenity. Prosecutors argued that the book was so obscene that the offensive parts could not even be read to the court or into the court records; indeed, no passage of _Ulysses_ was read into evidence. The prosecution won, and _Ulysses_ was thereafter illegal in the United States; you could not legally own a copy, nor sell it. It was eventually published in Paris in 1922 by Shakespeare and Company, a bookstore in Paris which had become the literary headquarters for the Lost Generation. The book was banned by US Customs, and Birmingham enjoys stories of how Americans got illicit copies. There were covers put over the book to make it seem like some other, and some people cut the book up into its signatures and hid them inside boxes and boxes of newspapers, to be reassembled when the boxes arrived. Ernest Hemingway connected Sylvia Beach with a bootlegger who could smuggle copies in from Canada. Of course there were many readers who wanted the book and could not get it, and Bennett Cerf assumed the role of the publisher who was going to make it happen. Cerf had taken over the Modern Library publishing house, and as a simple business proposition, he understood that _Ulysses_ would sell well in that setting if it were legal. He and his friend the lawyer Morris Ernst, a cofounder of the ACLU, went to work. Their agents in Europe bought a copy of the latest edition of the book in 1932, and pasted in favorable reviews so that they would become part of the case against it. Ernst alerted customs officials that the obscene and illegal book was going to be coming in, but they missed it, and the volume arrived at Cerf’s office unmolested. A few days later, Ernst marched with the package to the customs office and demanded that it be searched for contraband. The baffled inspector opened the package and said, “Oh, for God’s sake, everyone brings that in. We don’t pay attention to it.” Ernst had to demand that he pay attention to this copy, and called over a supervisor, and successfully arranged for the book to be seized. He thus set up a trial in which he was to argue that the book had a literary reputation that was so high it could not be considered indecent. Cerf and Ernst did not want a jury to decide the issue, and were fortunate that the judge who would decide was John Woolsey, a literate man who would actually read the book and like it, admitting that parts were obscure and parts were dirty. He allowed it into the country.
There are villains in this story, and heroes, and the greatest of the heroes as Birmingham tells it is Joyce himself. Not only did Joyce have the artistic pressure of bringing out a story like none that had ever gone before, he and his family had to travel from one place to another because of shaky finances (and the controversies over obscenity could only have worsened his prospects of gaining a living by writing) as well as war raging over Europe. He had iritis that not only brought crippling pain (aggravated by excruciating operations and by atropine which brought on hallucinations), but struck at his ability to read and write. To read the descriptions of how he combined countless streams of history, literature, and science into his story with an eagerness and confidence unaffected by stressors around and inside him is to value the great book anew.
The other great lesson in Birmingham’s superb history is that censorship is stupid. It is not that the next adult novel off the presses will be a classic nor that the next movie out of the LA porn factories deserves critical acclaim. It is that the government, if it can ban _Ulysses_, has no idea what a good book is, and also has no idea of what you ought or ought not to read. One of John Sumner’s arguments about how bad _Ulysses_ was was that it could corrupt young people and so no one ought to be able to see it. (Ernst argued at the trial, “I don’t think that is the standard we should go by. The law does not require that adult literature be reduced to mush for infants.”) This is the same argument of the Child Online Protection Act, favored by righteous Americans everywhere, and fortunately found unconstitutional a few years ago. The censors are always out there with the jolly goal of keeping you moral, so beware.
on January 16, 2015
Birmingham weaves several strands of history together, and his book reads like a novel. A sampler: you get Joyce biography, and the story of remarkable Sylvia Beach's gutsy establishment of an English language bookstore in Paris and subsequent publishing of Ulysses. The history of censorship is fascinating with self-appointed arbiters of obscenity, book burning, and a fight with several iconoclastic women in the vanguard. Many publishers and printers refused the manuscript, reasonably fearing fines or imprisonment. Sylvia Beach found a French printer who did not read English to take it on. Ulysses may be hard going, but not this saga, and even if you never have or never plan to read Ulysses, this book can stand alone.