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Jane Heap and Her Circle
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Jane Heap and Her Circle

"Jane was her name and Jane her station"

- Gertrude Stein

Late one morning in February, 1921, two women followed an Irish police officer through the corridors of the Jefferson Street Police Court of New York City. The men bustling about the offices lifted their heads to observe these two unlikely criminals on their way to be fingerprinted. One was a lady of high fashion, wearing a tailored blue suit and a cloche hat, a string of pearls looped upon her satin blouse, and a pale silk rose pinned to her lapel. She walked with self-confidence and poise, as if striding across a stage to take a last bow. Indeed, she was a gifted pianist accustomed to smiling down upon admiring audiences, but today her face was a mask of disdain: arched eyebrows finely tweezed, nose discreetly powdered, dark red lips. Her right hand was gloved, the left bare. Behind her walked a short squarish woman with close-cropped hair, sporting a man's jacket over a broad black skirt, a black bow tie, and deep scarlet lipstick.

Led to a desk where another policeman awaited, the chic lady in blue balked at the ink into which she was invited to dip her fingers. All morning, on her lawyer's instructions, she had sat docilely through her trial, but now lighting a cigarette in her ungloved hand, she announced that she could not possibly comply unless they assured her no irremediable damage would be done to her person or her manicure. Her requests for fresh towels, scented soap, and a clean nailbrush sent the officers scurrying obediently.

Her companion observed the scene with restrained amusement. Her own hands, calloused and muscular, the nails rimmed with printers' ink and oil paint, were certainly no stranger to stains, and managed carpentry tools or embroidery needles with equal skill. Perhaps she even sympathized with the men flustering about [End Page 5] her friend, whose eau-de-cologne added a piquant note in the warm room above the smell of stale tobacco and perspiration.

After depositing their prints, the women were escorted to the exit, wondering all the while where they would find the money to pay the hundred dollar fine they had been charged for distributing pornography through the U.S. mails. At the time, their worldly funds amounted to less than five dollars cash. The man whose charges led to their conviction tipped his hat as they stepped out to the street. John Sumner, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, had never met such original ladies before. It was a pity they had let themselves become entangled in this dirty business.

These criminals were Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, the editors of the Little Review, and the pornography they had purveyed through the post office consisted of copies of their magazine in which excerpts from James Joyce's Ulysses had been printed - the first chapters of Joyce's masterpiece to be published in America. The bone of contention that morning in court had been the Nausicaa chapter, which contains sequences of voyeurism and masturbation. Sumner, speaking on behalf of the good citizens of New York, feared this text might corrupt the minds of young girls and wanted all publication stopped.

Anderson was disappointed they had not ended up in jail, from where she might have circulated some useful propaganda for Ulysses, which despite their ardent promotion in America had not yet received critical acclaim. She blamed her own innate refinement for the missed opportunity. During the trial, one of the judges remarked that it was obvious merely by looking at her that she could have no idea what the words she had published actually meant.

This was not the first time Margaret Anderson or Jane Heap had found themselves on the wrong side of the law for their daring publishing ventures or for their association with undesirables such as the anarchist Emma Goldman, another frequent contributor to the Little Review. Anderson had once been accused of vagrancy, when, to avoid paying rent, she had camped with a group of friends for several months in tents on private property along...