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  • The “Ulysses” Trials: Beauty and Truth Meet the Law by Joseph M. Hassett
  • Mark McGahon (bio)
THE “ULYSSES” TRIALS: BEAUTY AND TRUTH MEET THE LAW, by Joseph M. Hassett. Dublin: The Lilliput Press, 2016. vi + 221 pp. €25.00.

When Jane Heap and Margaret Anderson engaged the lawyer, John Quinn, to defend them from obscenity charges related to the serialization of Ulysses in The Little Review, they urged him “to argue that Joyce’s prose could not be obscene because it was beautiful literature” (2). Nevertheless, Quinn never made any argument “about the value of literature’s beauty and truth” in the courtroom, even though such an argument prevailed over Judge John Munro Woolsey in 1933 (2). In 1921, in the absence of these arguments, Anderson and Heap were convicted; Ulysses was banned; and copies of the Little Review were seized and destroyed. Given the different arguments made during the 1921 and 1933 trials, as well as the divergent outcomes, Joseph M. Hassett identifies a “need for a comparative study of the two Ulysses cases” (4). This is the gap he attempts to fill in The “Ulysses” Trials: Beauty and Truth Meet the Law.

From the opening chapter, Anderson’s devotion to beauty is traced to her discovery of the writings of Walter Pater. Indeed, Anderson’s first editorial in the Little Review expressly invokes Pater.1 The primacy of beauty solidified for Anderson and Heap when the latter started working on the Little Review. Shortly afterwards, the journal came to the attention of Ezra Pound, who enlisted the lawyer Quinn “to donate money to pay the contributors” to the journal (17). Here, then, is how beauty and truth—characterized by Anderson and Heap—came to meet the law, characterized by Quinn.

Quinn had previous experience in litigating literary works against charges of obscenity. In 1914, he successfully defended Mitchell Kennerley on obscenity charges related to the latter’s publication of Hagar Revelly.2 This defense was based on the ground that the text could not be used to corrupt the minds of the young, because it tells “the old, old story. It is a scene which could not be left out” (39). Quinn defended Kennerley along hygienist lines, accepting the law’s assumption that literature should not be allowed to corrupt. Interestingly, however, in the Kennerley case, Judge Learned Hand’s judgment opened the gates for lawyers to base a defense against obscenity on the beauty and truth of literature by questioning whether or not “men will regard that as obscene which is honestly relevant to the adequate expression of innocent ideas, and whether they will not believe that beauty and truth are too precious to society at large to be mutilated in the interests of those most likely to pervert them to base uses” (41). When the Post Office banned a 1917 issue of the Little Review because of the alleged obscenity of a story by Wyndham Lewis,3 Quinn, in offering his services to Anderson and Heap, was [End Page 358] in a prime position to employ a defense based on beauty and truth. Instead, Hassett convincingly argues that Quinn did not pursue such an argument, because he believed in the pursuit of sexual cleanliness that the obscenity laws were founded to protect. Thus, in a review of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Quinn sanctioned Joyce’s “fictional depiction of sexual matters” but was not so forgiving toward H. G. Wells’s treatment of the same in Ann Veronica: A Modern Love Story (36).4 Hassett postulates that Quinn’s recourse to a “moral warning” argument arose from Quinn’s desire not to be thought of as a “free sex advocate” because “[h]is professional livelihood depended on the respect of a network of Irish-American, Catholic businessmen, judges and lawyers, who were likely to be put off by public perception of Quinn as a champion of ‘sex literature’” (47, 53). The result of Quinn’s pursuing a defense based on morality, rather than beauty and truth, was that Lewis’s story was found to contain obscene material. This legal prologue to the trials of Ulysses is one of the main...


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