Joyce, Nabokov, and Dirty Books: The Publications of Ulysses, Haveth Childers Everywhere, and Lolita

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With Ezra Pound acting as intermediary, from the spring of 1918 until the close of 1920, James Joyce published the emerging episodes of Ulysses in The Little Review – the American avant-garde literary magazine founded by Margaret Anderson in 1914, and edited by Anderson and Jane Heap. Having made The Little Review his outlet of choice across 1917, becoming its foreign editor, and determining the magazine as suitable for the serialisation of Joyce’s new work, Pound presented the ‘Telemachiad’ – the first three episodes of Ulysses – to The Little Review in February 1918. ‘Telemachus’, the first episode, appeared in the magazine in March, ‘Nestor’ in April, ‘Proteus’ in May, ‘Calypso’ followed in June, ‘Lotus Eaters’ in July, and then ‘Hades’ in September and ‘Aeolus’ in October; before the pace shifted, with publication caught up to composition, and Joyce’s episodes growing ever longer.

From the eighth episode, ‘Lestrygonians’, episodes began to be published across several issues of The Little Review. ‘Lestrygonians’ was published between January and March 1919; ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ between April and May; ‘Wandering Rocks’ between June and July; ‘Sirens’ between August and September; ‘Cyclops’ all the way from November through until the following March; ‘Nausicaa’ between April and August; and finally the first part of ‘Oxen of the Sun’ appeared between September and December 1920, before serial publication was brought to a halt.

Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap had been immediately convinced of the value of Joyce’s work. Upon reading the first lines of ‘Proteus’ in early 1918, Anderson had exclaimed, ‘This is the most beautiful thing we’ll ever have. We’ll print it if it’s the last effort of our lives’. Ulysses would not cost the pair their lives; but despite Pound deleting certain lines prior to publication – particularly from ‘Calypso’, the cloacal ending to which he deemed excessively vulgar – the serialisation of the novel had been attracting the censorious attention of the United States Post Office.

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From left to right: James Joyce, Ezra Pound, John Quinn, Ford Madox Ford

The January and May 1919 and January 1920 issues of The Little Review were confiscated and burnt. Fearing that the United States government would prosecute The Little Review for obscenity, and that this would effectively prevent the completed novel from finding a publisher in the United States, Pound and John Quinn – a lawyer connected to The Little Review, and a patron of the arts, who had been purchasing Joyce’s Ulysses autograph manuscript – urged the editors to withdraw future Ulysses episodes from publication. Then in September 1920, their fears were realised as an official complaint against the magazine was launched by the New York Society for the Prevention of Vice. The complaint related specifically to the magazine’s publication of ‘Nausicaa’, in which the novel’s protagonist, Leopold Bloom, masturbates while peering at Gerty MacDowell, climaxing in rhythm with the firework display on Sandymount strand.

Anderson and Heap were summoned to court, with Quinn acting as their defence, and the trial of The Little Review began on 14 February, 1921. Quinn questioned the court’s competence to judge matters of art, and he argued that while ‘Nausicaa’ might be disgusting, it was not indecent and did not ‘corrupt or fill people full of lascivious thoughts’; but, as he had expected at the outset, Anderson and Heap were convicted of publishing obscenity. They escaped jail terms, but were fined $50 each; and the serialisation of Ulysses was forced to cease.

The cessation of the publication of Ulysses in The Little Review had ramifications for the composition of Joyce’s novel, because without any deadlines to adhere to, Joyce’s later episodes became longer still, and much more elaborate and involved. These later elaborations would, in turn, filter back to the earlier episodes through an extensive process of revision. Another effect of Anderson and Heap’s conviction was that publication of the finished novel did become impossible in the United States: no publisher was willing to accept the work and face prosecution. Joyce had hoped that B. W. Huebsch, who had published A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in the States, would publish Ulysses; but the publishing house formally declined Joyce’s manuscript in the immediate aftermath of the court decision. So Ulysses was eventually published in Paris, on 2 February, 1922 – Joyce’s birthday – by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare and Company.

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The first episode of Ulysses published in the March 1918 issue of The Little Review

While Ulysses was never officially banned in the United States, it was ten years before its publication in the country would be properly considered. Believing that the legal and cultural outlook had changed, in March 1932 Joyce signed a contract for publication with Bennett Cerf of Random House. The novel had to undergo a trial for obscenity before publication could commence, and so United States v. One Book Called Ulysses began in the autumn of 1933. Delivering his verdict on 6 December, judge John. M. Woolsey praised Joyce’s writing as a ‘powerful commentary on the inner lives of men and women’, and concluded that ‘whilst in many places the effect of ‘Ulysses’ on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be aphrodisiac. ‘Ulysses’ may, therefore, be admitted into the United States’. Bennett Cerf set his typesetters to work at once, and the first, error-strewn Random House edition of Ulysses began appearing in January 1934.

Of course in the intervening ten years Ulysses had been read in the country, as Shakespeare and Company editions were smuggled in privately or imported on the black market, and as pirated versions of the novel appeared. The nascent publisher Samuel Roth founded several magazines of varying merit in the States in the middle of the 1920s, and his literary effort Two Worlds Monthly began in the middle of 1926 to publish illicitly excerpts from Joyce’s novel. Upon discovering this, Joyce immediately contacted a lawyer and initiated legal proceedings; but in the meantime, he arranged for a statement of international protest, with 167 signatories from across the arts and sciences, including such figures as Albert Einstein, Benedetto Croce, T. S. Eliot, H. G. Wells, Ernest Hemingway, W. B. Yeats, and Virginia Woolf.

The protest – issued to the press 2 February, 1927 – brought Roth to disrepute, but copyright law at the time meant that he was only, in December 1928, ordered by the Supreme Court of the State of New York to stop utilising Joyce’s name. He had continued publishing episodes of Ulysses, up to the end of ‘Oxen of the Sun’, throughout 1927; and in 1929 he would publish an edition of the full book, forged based on a Shakespeare and Company printing of two years earlier. The text of this forgery was corrupt. Alas, this was the version mistakenly used by the Random House typesetters for the first authorised edition of 1934. Roth would be imprisoned for several months later in 1929 for distributing pornography. With his reputation as a literary pirate and pornographer entrenched, occasional spells in prison became characteristic of Roth’s later years; although his conviction for distributing obscene material in 1957 did propel a landmark legal case, Roth v. United States, which redefined the legal interpretation of obscenity, stating that material did not only need to deprave and corrupt to be considered obscene, but that depravity had to be the material’s dominant interest and endeavour.

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The first episode of Ulysses published illicitly in the first issue of Samuel Roth’s Two Worlds Monthly

Meanwhile, Joyce spent the remainder of the 1920s at work on what would become Finnegans Wake, but was at the time time operating under the name Work in Progress. Extracts of Work in Progress had appeared in a variety of literary journals and magazines from as early as 1924. Most notably, the journal transition published a sequence of thirteen extracts from its first number in April 1927, until its eighteenth number in November 1929. In October 1928, Joyce published Anna Livia Plurabelle as a small book, with Crosby Gaige in New York. At the time he was prepared to ‘stake everything’ on this section of his work, which he considered the most melodious he had written, and had cost him ‘twelve hundred hours and an enormous expense of spirit’. In August 1929, he published Tales Told of Shem and Shaun with Harry and Caresse Crosby’s Paris-based Black Sun Press. This was a collection of three excerpts from Work in Progress which had previously appeared in transition: ‘The Mookse and the Gripes’, ‘The Muddest Thick that Ever was Dumped’, and ‘The Ondt and the Gracehopper’. Then in June 1930, he published Haveth Childers Everywhere with Jack Kahane and Henry Babou. Faber & Faber would reprint Anna Livia Plurabelle in 1930, Haveth Childers Everywhere in 1931, and Two Tales of Shem and Shaun in 1932, and the publication of extracts of Work in Progress in transition resumed, before Finnegans Wake at last appeared on 4 May, 1939.

Haveth Childers Everywhere had been offered first to the Fountain Press, which had taken over Crosby Gaige’s publication programme in the United States; but when they declined Joyce’s asking price, he turned to Jack Kahane and his partner Henry Babou. Kahane, born in Manchester, was himself a novelist, and had founded the Obelisk Press in Paris in 1929 after his publisher, Grant Richards, went bankrupt. It had been Richards who finally published Dubliners in June 1914 – having initially accepted Joyce’s collection of stories all the way back in 1905, before rejecting them in September 1906 after difficulties arose with his printer. The printer had refused to print’ Two Gallants’, and had objected to several other passages in Joyce’s work.

The Obelisk Press dealt in serious literature alongside ‘dirty books’, or ‘d.b.’s’. It was able to bypass censorship laws by publishing contentious English-language fiction in France. In 1934, it would publish Henry Miller’s Tropic of Cancer, which was subsequently banned in the United States and would not be published successfully in the country until the early 1960s. When Kahane died in 1939, just as the Second World War was beginning, the Obelisk Press passed into the hands of his son, Maurice Kahane, better known as Maurice Girodias. Taking ‘Girodias’ from his mother’s birth name in an attempt to hide his Jewish descent from the Nazis, Maurice and the Obelisk Press survived the war, and continued to publish briefly after it, including volumes of Georges Bataille’s literary review Critique. However, finding that works under the Obelisk Press signature had developed a reputation and were struggling to sell, Maurice Girodias dropped the name and founded the Olympia Press in 1953.

The Olympia Press followed the Obelisk Press in publishing both experimental serious literature and erotic works – a number of these latter written by fledgling authors who would later attain literary prestige. Watt, Samuel Beckett’s second published novel, appeared in 1953 under the Olympia Press’s Collection Merlin imprint. Soon, Girodias established the Traveller’s Companion series to publish the Olympia Press’s more estimable texts. It was under this imprint that Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita emerged in September 1955.

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Haveth Childers Everywhere, published by Henry Babou and Jack Kahane in Paris, 1930

Haveth Childers Everywhere was a fragment from Work in Progress which ran to seventy-two printed pages; and as soon as it was published, in Paris in April, by Kahane and Babou, the Fountain Press bought up the stock and began distributing the text from New York. The following year, Joyce expressed his reservations about further involving himself with Kahane in a letter to Adrienne Monnier, the partner of Sylvia Beach and a poet, bookseller and publisher in her own right. Monnier responded to Joyce’s letter, which had broached the subject of royalties, fairly and with a forthrightness to which Joyce was not accustomed:

You wish others also to go to the limit; you lead them by rough stages to some Dublingrad or other which they’re not interested in, or rather, you try to lead them […] My personal opinion is that you know perfectly well what you are doing in literature, and that you are quite right to do it, especially if it entertains you, life isn’t so funny in this vale of tears, as Mrs Bloom says, but it’s folly to wish to make money at any cost with your new work […] We haven’t the slightest desire, Sylvia and I, to become associated with Kahane. Times are hard, and the worst isn’t over. We’re travelling now third class and soon we’ll be riding the rods.

There was to be no collaborative enterprise between Joyce, Beach and Monnier, and Kahane. Nabokov, however, would enter into a bitter and protracted struggle for determining to publish with Girodias what would become his most famous and celebrated work.

Nabokov only turned to Girodias once Lolita had been rejected by the mass of American publishers. Having finished writing the novel in early December 1953, Nabokov at once handed his manuscript to the Viking Press, who praised its art but turned it down for publication early in the new year. Sending it on to Simon & Schuster, it was not until July that Nabokov received a decision: a rejection, with the publisher calling the work ‘sheer pornography’. Nabokov then tried and failed with New Directions, Farrar, Straus, and Doubleday. His options in the United States spent by the year’s end, he looked to Doussia Ergaz of the Bureau Littéraire Clairouin in Paris, who had helped to arrange French versions of some of his earlier works. Nabokov initially thought of enquiring after Sylvia Beach; but she was out of the business of publishing, and in April 1955, Ergaz met with Girodias. Though neither she nor Nabokov knew much of the publisher, Nabokov was by now so eager to see his novel published that, on 6 June, agreeing to a contract which offered meagre royalties, he signed a deal with the Olympia Press.

Nabokov also agreed, after some hesitation, to publish Lolita under his own name rather than a pseudonym. The novel was quickly put through the proof stages, and was published in September. When Nabokov received the two Traveller’s Companion volumes comprising Lolita in October, he admired their design but found the print full of errors. He also noted that copyright had been attributed not only to him, but also to the Olympia Press.

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The two volumes comprising Lolita which were published in September 1955 by Maurice Girodias’s Olympia Press

A handful of reviews and notices followed. Most notably, Graham Greene selected Lolita as one of the three books of the year in the Christmas issue of the Sunday Times. This brought a vociferous response from the editor of the Sunday Express, John Gordon, who in January called Lolita ‘the filthiest book I have ever read […] Anyone who published it or sold it here would certainly go to prison. I am sure the Sunday Times would approve, even though it abhors censorship as much as I do’. A brief flurry of activity ensued; but it was months before scandal truly broke. Meanwhile prospects emerged for a French translation of Lolita, which was to appear in extract in La Nouvelle Revue Française before being published by the esteemed publishing house Gallimard; and Doubleday appeared ready to commit to publication in the United States – though this prospect was halted when Girodias demanded excessive royalties, then threatened to distribute within the country the 1,500 copies which would result in both author and publisher losing their copyright.

By late 1956, United States Customs had seized then released two Olympia Press copies of Lolita, suggesting that the novel would be sanctioned in the country if a publishing deal could be finalised. The Anchor Review had also agreed to publish significant excerpts of the text across forthcoming issues, which was intended to smooth the novel’s course. However, in Europe in December – under pressure from the Home Office of the United Kingdom, which had been confiscating copies as they crossed the Channel – the French Ministry of the Interior banned the book, along with twenty-four other Olympia Press titles. This ban in France on the Olympia Press edition of Lolita would persist, on and off, until September 1959.

Girodias’s demands had put off Doubleday, and he continued to prove an obstacle to any publication of Lolita in the United States. Though Nabokov had unilaterally declared his contract with Girodias void, owing to the latter’s repeated failure to pay Nabokov’s royalties on time, the contract still stood in the eyes of the law, and publication in the United States would have to receive Girodias’s approval. This finally came at the beginning of March 1958, when Walter Minton of G. P. Putnam’s Sons offered both parties an equal divide of fifteen percent of the book’s American royalties.

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Nabokov writing in repose; Maurice Girodias with a drink

Lolita was published by G. P. Putnam’s Sons in the United States on 18 August, 1958. There was no challenge from the courts. Reviews were largely positive, and the few that expressed outrage only enhanced the novel’s popular appeal. Within a few days, it was into its third large printing; soon, Lolita was declared the first book since Gone with the Wind to sell 100,00 copies in its first three weeks. Also by early September, the novel’s film rights were sold to Harris-Kubrick Productions, for $150,000 plus fifteen percent of the producers’ profits. Nabokov – who had lost his inheritance when he left Russia upon the October Revolution of 1917; who lived impoverished in Berlin as he embarked on a writing career, and in Paris worked on his first English novel, The Real Life of Sebastian Knight, in the bathroom of his family’s one-room apartment, using the bidet for a desk; and who had continued in the USA to supplement his writing with teaching work at Wellesley and Cornell – was now wealthy.

The French translation of Lolita – translated by Maurice Girodias’s brother, Eric Kahane, with revisions by Nabokov – was published by Gallimard in April 1959. In May, an Italian translation was published by Mondadori. Despite an initial preference for Bodley Head, back in November Nabokov had signed with Weidenfeld and Nicolson for the British edition of Lolita. Britain still endured strict obscenity laws, and amid the furor over the impending publication of the novel, Nigel Nicolson lost his seat as Conservative MP for Bournemouth. Eventually – after a long campaign of positive notices, an open letter signed by twenty-one prominent British authors which cited Ulysses as a precedent, and interviews and lectures meant to ease its passage – the Weidenfeld and Nicolson edition of Lolita was published on 6 November, 1959. During a party that evening at the Ritz in London, Nabokov and his publishers were informed by the Home Office – by virtue of an otherwise anonymous telephone call – that the novel would not be prosecuted.

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The French edition of Lolita, translated by Eric Kahane with revisions by Nabokov, and published by Gallimard

Girodias would continue to publish serious and innovative fiction – including William Burroughs’ Naked Lunch, published under the Traveller’s Companion imprint in 1959 – alongside pornographic works. In March 1964, he was prosecuted for obscenity after producing a play by the Marquis de Sade, and briefly imprisoned. His difficulties in France would impel a move to New York towards the end of the decade; but he marked 1965 with an article in the September issue of the Evergreen Review, entitled ‘Lolita, Nabokov and I’ (later collected as ‘A Sad, Ungraceful History of Lolita‘), and suggesting that the difficult relationship between him and Nabokov owed largely to the author’s greed.

Nabokov found time to write a response early the following year – although his article, ‘Lolita and Mr. Girodias’, would not appear until the February 1967 issue of the Evergreen Review. In his piece, he outlined the ’tissue of haggling manoeuvers and abstruse prevarications’ which defined his interactions with Girodias from the beginning of their business relationship; recounted his numerous concerns over royalties and issues of copyright; and dismissed Girodias’s account of a meeting the pair apparently shared in the autumn of 1959, at a reception to celebrate the Gallimard edition of Lolita. Summarising the relationship, Nabokov wrote:

I had not been in Europe since 1940, was not interested in pornographic books, and thus knew nothing about the obscene novelettes which Mr. Girodias was hiring hacks to confect with his assistance […] I have pondered the painful question whether I would have agreed so cheerfully to his publishing Lolita had I been aware in May, 1955, of what formed the supple backbone of his production. Alas, I probably would, though less cheerfully.

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Boyd, B. Vladimir Nabokov: The American Years (London: Vintage, 1993)

Ellmann, R. James Joyce (New York: Oxford University Press, 1983)

Groden, M. Ulysses in Progress (New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1977)

Joyce, J. Selected Letters of James Joyce ed. Ellmann, R. (London: Faber and Faber, 1992)

Nabokov, V. ‘Lolita and Mr. Girodias’ Evergreen Review, February (1967)

Pound, E. & Joyce, J. Pound/Joyce: The Letters of Ezra Pound to James Joyce, with Pound’s Essays on Joyce ed. Read, F. (New York: New Directions, 1967)

Smoke Signals Interview with Maurice Girodias (1989)