Happy 100th anniversary, Ulysses! This week, more or less, marks the centennial of the first publication of its opening chapter in the American journal The Little Review.
The reason for the “more or less” is that The Little Review wasn’t the world’s most prompt publication. The February issue, according to an announcement in the January issue, was published on February 10. Ezra Pound, who was the magazine’s foreign editor, wrote to Joyce on March 29 that the March issue was in print and thirty copies had reached him in London, so mid-month seems a reasonable estimate. (If anyone has a more exact publication date, please let me know!)
Not hedging any bets, the Little Review announced in its January issue, and again in February, that “we are about to publish a prose masterpiece.”
The Egoist also announced the upcoming serialization, but with British reserve rather than American braggadocio.
But The Egoist had to back out because its printer refused to print the issue.
So the Little Review had to go it alone.
The magazine’s editors knew they were taking a risk. As I recently noted, the October 1917 issue had been suppressed after the Postmaster General declared Wyndham Lewis’s story “Cantleman’s Spring-Mate” obscene*—a disappointing and expensive blow.
They knew that publishing Ulysses could get them into even more trouble. But they went ahead anyway.
Who were these people? I wondered.
I knew who Ezra Pound was, of course. He was everywhere in 1918, working himself into a state of exhaustion as the foreign editor of the Little Review and Poetry magazine, an editor at the Egoist, and a contributor to New Age, another modernist journal. He wrote prolifically—sometimes at the expense of coherence**—for these and other publications, and did translation as well. And, oh right, he was a poet. It’s Pound who is best remembered as the creative mind behind The Little Review.
But it was the magazine’s editor, Margaret Anderson, who had the most at stake. She would be responsible for any criminal charges regarding its content while Pound was safe in London.
Like a surprisingly large number of people I’ve come across in my 1918 reading, Anderson was from Indiana***. She grew up in various towns, including Columbus (Indiana, not Ohio), where I lived for a few years as a child, and which is way less boring now than it was then. The rebellious daughter of wealthy parents, she dropped out of the genteel women’s college where she was being groomed for life as a society matron and moved to Chicago just as the Chicago literary renaissance was getting underway. She worked as a book critic for a Chicago newspaper and literary editor at a religious publication before joining the staff of Dial magazine, where she learned the ropes of magazine publishing.
In 1914, at the age of twenty-seven, Anderson founded The Little Review with financial support from Breeder’s Gazette editor DeWitt Wing, whom she met at a party. (Everyone who wrote about Anderson mentioned her physical attractiveness, which might have played a role in Witt’s impetuous decision.) Money was always tight, though. Accounts of Anderson’s life make much of a six-month period that she and her colleagues spent living in a tent on Lake Michigan after she was forced out of her apartment—although most don’t mention the wooden floors, or the servants.
Anderson’s partner at the magazine, and also in life, was Jane Heap, a former lover of Djuna Barnes. They moved briefly to San Francisco and then relocated to Greenwich Village in 1917. Pound joined the magazine that year. Its table of contents during that period is a Who’s Who of modernism.
Reading the chapter in the Little Review was my own first encounter with Ulysses, and it wasn’t as difficult as I’d been led to believe.**** I had read A Portrait of the Artist of the Young Man, and its main character, Stephen Dedalus, features in the opening section. Stephen and Buck Mulligan, his roommate (towermate, actually—they live in a former military fort), are bickering as they get ready for work. It’s not exactly Bab: A Sub-Deb, but it’s not any more difficult than some of the mannered, faux-archaic novels of the time.
Obscenity-wise, it’s pretty tame stuff, unless the sexual references went over my head, which is quite possible. The most risqué passages I could find were this description of a milk seller:
He watched her pour into the measure and thence into the jug rich white milk, not hers. Old shrunken paps.
and this song sung by Buck Mulligan:
—For old Mary Ann
She doesn’t care a damn
But, hising up her petticoats……
Way tamer than “Cantleman’s Spring-Mate.” The Postmaster General apparently thought so too, and the March issue made it through the mail. The Little Review was safe—for now.
*A recap, in case you missed it: Cantleman, going off to war, sees animals rutting, gets into the spirit, does same with local lass.
**If you can make any sense of his overview of popular magazines in the January 3, 1918 issue of New Age—Part XVIII in a series—you’re a better 1918 reader than I am.
***Other influential Hoosiers: novelist Booth Tarkington, food safety pioneer Harvey Wiley, and folksy poet James Whitcomb Riley, who died in 1916 but was still much written about in the stodgier magazines. Janet Flanner was working as a film critic in Indianapolis but in a few years would step onto the national stage as the Paris correspondent of the New Yorker.
****Of course, I realize that this is like saying after the first mile that running a marathon is a piece of cake.