Ange Mlinko has a rousing appreciation of Christopher Middleton’s Tankard Cat on Bachelardette; it’s one of the books that’s been glaring down from my shelves (“Read Me! Read Me!”) since the last time I was in New York, & I’m even more fired up about it now.
In the New Yorker, a longish profile of Joyce grandson & Literary Estate Stephen James Joyce & his relationship with the Joyce scholarly industry.* (LZ makes a cameo appearance near the middle of the piece.) It seems that finally Joyce scholars, led by among others the Joyce-scholar-turned-copyright-lawyer Bob Spoo, are challenging the Estate’s grip on JJ material. Surprisingly for me, the epicenter of the case is Carol Schloss’s 2003 FSG book, Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake.
SJJ, it is reported, pressured Schloss to remove some of the material relating to Lucia Joyce, JJ’s troubled daughter – much of which SJJ did not hold the copyright for – from her book by threatening to withold permissions to quote JJ’s writings. Schloss went ahead and published a truncated version of her study (which got roundly wallopped in the reviews I read); but she’s followed it up by posting all of the deleted material on a supplemental (and not yet publically accessible) website. The Estate’s attorney’s have made threatening noises. Schloss’s attorney’s, among them Spoo, have responded by filing a lawsuit asserting the right to scholarly fair use. Some fun.
I say this is “surprising” to me, for while I had been expecting a major Joyce Estate-related piece of litigation to hit the fan any day now, I’d expected it to center on the copyright status of Ulysses itself, rather than on the even more difficult & complicated issue of scholarly use of unpublished JJ material. When the Hans Walter Gabler edition of Ulysses came out in 1986, rumor had it that one of the motivations for the Estate finally allowing a new edition was in order to revitalize their soon-to-expire copyrights. At any rate, now that the EU Berne Convention and the Sonny Bono (“Mickey Mouse”) US copyright extension have slammed a “death + 70 years” lifespan onto copyrights, the big question on this side of the Atlantic – and it’s a big question indeed – is whether the clock started ticking for Ulysses in 1922, when it was published in Paris (but when Joyce failed to secure US copyright) or in 1934, when the Ulysses “ban” was lifted in the US and the book was published over here. If it’s the latter, then Ulysses is still under copyright until 2012; if the former, then Ulysses is public domain like The Waste Land, which has come out in a half-dozen different editions – Norton Critical, a new Yale UP annotated, Dover Thrift, even a pretty decent Barnes & Noble version – over the last few years.
The Estate is fighting tooth & nail to assert that the book’s still copyrighted, which is why the various scholarly editions that would provide an alternative to the controversial (& mostly misunderstood) Gabler edition haven’t appeared. (A Norton was underway, as was a ground-breaking hypertext version; all are on ice for the nonce.) Spoo himself, in an article in the Yale Law Review, argued the case for Ulysses never having secured US copyright, in essence throwing down the gauntlet & laying down the legal groundwork for any enterprising publisher who wants to undertake a new edition & thereby take on the litigational wrath of the Estate. Nobody’s bitten, so far as I know.**
A true mare’s nest: but it’ll be interesting to watch how the least popular man in Joyce circles reacts over the next few years.
*I suspect that the New Yorker will be receiving more than one letter in the next few days remarking that D.T. Max, the article’s editor, has gone a bit far in asserting that Joyce “drank and smoked himself to death.” JJ died of an untreated perforated ulcer – perhaps a side effect of drink and cigarettes, but just as much an effect of avoiding medical attention.
**A couple of little presses, however, have gone ahead with facsimile editions of the 1922 Shakespeare & Company edition.