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A Writer's Life in Rome & Tuscia

The Ulysses Trial - Margaret Anderson & Jane Heap 101 Years Ago Today

Jane Heap & Margaret Anderson, Editors of the Little Review, stood trial on obscenity charges for publishing chapters of Ulysses in their literary magazine.
From "Jane Heap & Her Circle" Late one morning in February, 1921, two women followed an Irish police officer through the corridors of the Jefferson Market Police Court in Greenwich Village. 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 baulked 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 this farce 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 her friend, whose jasmine eau-de-cologne added a piquant note in the warm room above the smell of stale tobacco and perspiration.

Beauty has power, as she knew, for she herself was subject to its sway, but so do good breeding and the look of money which her elegant companion radiated in any circumstance. Surely no one could have guessed that the cash in their possession amounted to less than five dollars. Indeed they had no idea where to scrape up the $100 to pay the fine they had been charged for distributing pornography through the US mails.

After they had duly deposited the prints, they were escorted to the exit. The man whose charges led to their conviction in court tipped his hat as they passed. John Sumner, head of the 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 US mail consisted in 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. 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.... The whole essay may be downloaded from the home page of this website Jane Heap & Her Circle complete essay
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