This is a photograph of my great aunt’s copy of D.H. Lawrence’s The Rainbow. She bought it in Paris in 1937 and it now sits on my bookshelf. The book has printed on the cover the words “Not to be Introduced into the British Empire or the U.S.A.” The Rainbow had been successfully prosecuted in an obscenity trial at Bow Street Magistrates Court on 13th November 1915, and 1,011 copies were consequently seized and burnt by the authorities. Now, a hundred years later, it is regarded as a classic, a key text in the canon of English literature, an early flourishing of Lawrence’s uneven genius. In the words of Alan Bennett’s retiring headmaster in his play Forty Years On (1969): “When I became Headmaster the first boy I ever expelled was for reading the works of Lawrence. This morning I received in my post a letter from the Oxford and Cambridge Matriculation Board informing me that the works of Lawrence are next year’s set texts. I just can’t keep up.”
I have other copies of books that my aunt, Patricia Adye, bought on the continent at a time pre-war when she was working for the Foreign Office. Each one contains the injunction “Not to be Introduced into the British Empire or the U.S.A.” Within the front cover of each book she has written, in pencil, the place and date of purchase. They are:
Dubliners, James Joyce (Cologne 1937)
The Rainbow, D.H. Lawrence (Paris 1937)
The Woman Who Rode Away, D.H. Lawrence (Nuremberg 1937)
The Olive Tree, Aldous Huxley (Budapest 1937)
Two or Three Graces, Aldous Huxley (Cologne 1937)
Ulysses (two volumes), James Joyce (Mesano 1932).
The most interesting, to me, is her copy of Ulysses.
Ulysses, banned for the first fourteen years of its published life, is now commonly regarded as the greatest novel written in the English language in the twentieth century. It also happens to be one of my favourite things, a comic novel. Set over the course of a single day in 1904 each of the eighteen episodes represents, in a Homeric parallel, a stage in Odysseus’s journey. The scope of the novel is simultaneously minute and enormous. It thus displays a qualified humanism: the human is interesting enough to be examined in detail but with the full understanding that the crushing universe, as an awesome antagonist, will always win. The comic-epic hero opposes the universe with all he has, but given it is not much, merely free will and love, his defeat is inevitable. Don Quixote and Leopold Bloom are admirable because of their fragile humanity. But their defeat always contains the seed of a victory that the universe is not equipped to understand. It is the victory of the admirable stoic who knows that, although the gods crush him, his values are right and theirs are wrong.
Joyce finished the novel in 1922, at the high water mark of the Anglo-Saxon obsession with obscenity. Some of the language of Ulysses is Rabelaisian in its aesthetic and sexual audacity. The soliloquy of Molly Bloom and the Circe brothel section and the Gerty MacDowell episode, in particular, have attracted the excitement of the hounds of obscenity. Most of the book had nothing to do with sex, but when it does it is far more explicit than anything previously encountered in print. Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap published a chapter in their American magazine The Little Review in 1921 (before the novel was even finished). This contained the Gerty MacDowell encounter with Bloom on the beach. A reader in Chicago thought it “damnable, hellish filth from the gutter of a human mind born and bred in contamination.” Put on trial that year in New York, three male judges found Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap guilty of violating the law against obscenity. Judge McInerney said of the excerpt “it sounds to me like the ravings of a disordered mind.”
A curious pattern was thus established whereby woman published the novel and men tried their hardest to suppress it. The next publication was by Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company in Paris who published the complete novel on 1st February 1922 (Joyce’s 40th birthday). It was swiftly banned in the United Kingdom in January 1923 when the Director of Public Prosecutions Sir Archibald Bodkin after carefully reading the novel submitted to the Home Office his opinion about its legality: “I can discover no story, there is no introduction which might give a key to its purpose, and the pages above mentioned, written as they are as if composed by a more or less literate vulgar woman, from an entirely detached part of this production. In my opinion, there is more, and a great deal more that mere vulgarity or coarseness, there is a great deal of unmitigated filth and obscenity.” The Home Secretary declared customs authorities had every right to confiscate and burn Ulysses.
The third woman to publish was Harriet Weaver who paid for 2000 copies to be published by Egoist Press of which 500 were burnt by the New York Post-office authorities. Undaunted she printed another 500 in January 1923 of which 499 were seized by H.M. Customs officials in Folkestone and burned. Further publication of Joyce’s novel thereafter ceased for ten years.
Evelyn Waugh was reading Ulysses in May 1930, according to an entry in his diary (it is not clear how he had obtained his contraband copy). Perhaps the novel’s suppression was on his mind, here is a passage from his novel Vile Bodies (1930). The hero Adam Fenwick-Symes is at Dover having arrived on a ferry from the continent with a suitcase containing books:
‘Yes’ said the Customs officer menacingly, as though his worst suspicions had been confirmed, ‘I should just about say you had got some books.’
One by one he took the books out and piled them on the counter. A copy of Dante excited his especial disgust.
‘French eh?” he said ‘I guessed as much and pretty dirty, too, I shouldn’t wonder. Now just you wait while I look up these here books in my list. Particularly against books the Home Secretary is. If we can’t stamp out literature in the country, we can at least stop it being brought in from outside.
Adam’s copy of Purgatorio and his only copy of the manuscript of his own Autobiography (which he hopes to sell so as to be able to afford to marry his fiancé Nina) are retained by customs and burned in the King’s chimney.
The next attempt at publication was by Albatross Books (in English) in Germany on 1st December 1932 (under an offshoot called the Odyssey Press). My aunt must have bought hers within days of publication as it is marked as purchased in that year. I have the copy by my side as I write. All her books that I have were published by Albatross in Hamburg during the 1930s. It is curious that although printed in Nazi Germany, these books were in danger of being burned only by British and American officials. The ban in the United States and Britain on Ulysses was lifted in 1936. One wonders if the famous Nazi book burning in German cities in 1933 contributed in any way to a change in attitude.
My aunt was selected for the Great Britain ski team for the 1936 Winter Olympics in Bavaria, and walked with her teammates past Hitler at the opening of the games. Reading of Gerty MacDowell and Bloom at the beach seems to have been no major hindrance to her.