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Background[ edit ] James Joyce, about the time of first publication of Ulysses In 1922 James Joyce published Ulysses , his most famous work. Prior to publication as a book, the work was serialized in The Little Review , a literary magazine.
Copies were mailed to potential subscribers; a girl of unknown age read it and was shocked, and a complaint was made to the Manhattan District Attorney. As the magazine could be purchased in a New York bookshop and The Little Review, the publisher, was based in the city, the local district attorney was able to prosecute in New York. Little Review publishers Margaret Caroline Anderson and Jane Heap could not argue that the chapter should be considered in light of the work as a whole, as only the offending chapter was published in the magazine issue in question.
The court convicted and fined Anderson and Heap after a trial in which one of the judges stated that the novel seemed "like the work of a disordered mind". It therefore made an arrangement to import the edition published in France, and to have a copy seized by the U. Customs Service when the ship carrying the work arrived. The United States Attorney then took seven months before deciding whether to proceed further.
While the Assistant U. The office therefore decided to take action against the work under the provisions of the Tariff Act of 1930 , which allowed a district attorney to bring an action for forfeiture and destruction of imported works which were obscene. This set up the test case. The United States, acting as libelant,  brought an action in rem against the book itself rather than the author or importer, a procedure in the law that Morris Ernst , attorney for the publisher, had previously asked to have inserted when the statute was passed by Congress.
Random House, as claimant and intervenor, sought a decree dismissing the action, contending that the book was not obscene and was protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution which protects free expression. There was no trial as such; instead the parties stipulated to the facts and made motions for the relief each sought. He instead argued that the work was not obscene but rather a classic work of literature.
Woolsey ruled that Ulysses was not pornographic —that nowhere in it was the "leer of the sensualist". To have failed to honestly tell fully what his characters thought would have been "artistically inexcusable", said the judge. That meaning, as set forth in a string of cases cited in the opinion, was whether the work "tend[ed] to stir the sex impulses or to lead to sexually impure and lustful thoughts". Consequently, Ulysses was not obscene, and could be admitted into the United States.
One hundred copies were published in January 1934 to obtain U. Hand , with Chief Judge Martin Manton dissenting. Art certainly cannot advance under compulsion to traditional forms, and nothing in such a field is more stifling to progress than limitation of the right to experiment with a new technique. We think that Ulysses is a book of originality and sincerity of treatment and that it has not the effect of promoting lust.
Accordingly it does not fall within the statute, even though it justly may offend many. He instead appealed to higher purposes for good literature; to serve the need of the people for "a moral standard", to be "noble and lasting", and to "cheer, console, purify, or enoble the life of people". That most of us now take this for granted is largely because of him. The obscenity standard and Ulysses.