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Copyright and the Joyce Estate: Legal Issues, Moral Issues, and Unresolved Issues in the Publication of Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake
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It started very simply with a terse e-mail from Larry Lessig: “Are you up for this?” No signature. I wrote back one word: “yes.”

The legal issues behind this case are clearly laid out, and they were designed to serve and test the concept of Fair Use. In creating the Lucia Joyce Supplemental Materials website, we wanted primarily to establish that the research I deleted from my biography of Lucia was, in being consistently transformative, not subject to the control of the Joyce Estate but subject to the law; and in the service of that overarching goal, we wanted to test what was—and, interestingly, remains even now— ambiguous: who owns Lucia’s copyrights. We also wanted to see if the Court regarded Stephen Joyce as having “unclean hands” in the way that he handles the Estate—he tried to prohibit me from using materials that are not under his control, to prevent me from using manuscript material held in public institutions in the name of the people of the United States, and to interfere in the permission granting decisions of other Estates— and if the 1922 version of Ulysses, from which I quote, is copyrighted in the United States.

But for me, personally, the moral issues involved in publishing my biography of Lucia have held equal sway; in fact, the legal process has often brought into relief many issues that cannot be so clearly adjudicated by a court of law. Here’s a little background: After legislation in the European Union and the United States resurrected expired copyrights and extended their terms, I completely recast my manuscript for obvious reasons. You can’t in good faith offer to a publisher a book that you regard as legally vulnerable—and by 1998, I had been under explicit threat from the Estate for several years.

My original plan was to parallel, chapter by chapter, Lucia’s lived experience with Joyce’s notebook entries about her and with his transformations of these observations into fiction. I had two purposes: 1.) to document a life that had been distorted and abridged in previous records and through this attention to restore it to a dignity beyond simplistic labeling, and 2.) to show Joyce’s transformative use of what he observed. And he did just that: He observed and he transformed, leaving us a rare and invaluable record of this process in his notebooks. The notebooks are extraordinarily complex and they are complex for many reasons, but for a biographer they are invaluable because they look in two directions: they record actual experiences with a view to their potential usefulness in another as yet uncreated vision. They are a kind of forty-seven volume meta-fictional bridge, unparalleled in their ability to offer insight into the preconditions of creativity.

They were also, one might say, the preconditions of my own creativity, for the notebook entries formed the infrastructure of my manuscript, as I arranged the Sigla for the daughter figure chronologically, carefully parsed Joyce’s use of them, and coordinated them with evidence from other sources. You can imagine what it cost me personally as a scholar to delete this evidence, and you don’t have to imagine its cost to the book’s reputation. It is a matter of public record. Even last week the opinion of one of its most hateful reviewers was recirculated in the Los Angeles Times: “In this case, however, the Joyce Estate had at least a sentimentally compelling argument. Shloss’s book deals in the kind of sordid family history few of us would want to see made public, and her argument that Joyce’s mentally unstable daughter was essential to his creative output has found few takers. (Reviewing the book in Slate, Katie Roiphe dismissed its story of ‘the almost artist’ . . . and accused Shloss of giving a ‘dishonest, literary gloss to what is a form of illicit voyeurism.’)”1 Well, of course. The notebooks are the demonstration of the ways in which Lucia was “essential to Joyce’s creative output” at the same time that they provide de facto evidence that it was Joyce, and not Carol Shloss, who was the voyeur. Carol Shloss is the reporter...

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