‘Ulysses’ on Trial

It was a setup: a stratagem worthy of wily Ulysses himself. The conspirators were Bennett Cerf, publisher and cofounder of Random House, and Morris Ernst, a cofounder of the ACLU and its chief legal counsel. The target was United States anti-obscenity law. The bait was a single copy of an English-language novel, printed in Dijon by Frenchmen who could not understand a word of it, bound in bright blue boards, and sold mail-order by the celebrated Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company. When Cerf and Ernst first began to conspire in 1931, the novel, James Joyce’s Ulysses, was the most notorious book in the world.

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