Smuggled Ulysses donated to nation
A rare copy of James Joyce's Ulysses, smuggled into the country in 1935 in a box of sanitary towels, is included in a valuable collection of 25 of his works bequeathed to the Irish public.
The edition, worth about 40,000 euros on the open market, was owned by the Belfast playwright John Boyd, who died in July. His family decided to donate a selection of his books, including a rare edition of Finnegan's Wake, to Dublin's James Joyce Centre because of Boyd's strong affinity with Dublin. The volumes were presented at a private ceremony last Wednesday.
Boyd bought the second-edition copy of Ulysses in Paris and smuggled it into Ireland, where the book was banned under the Obscene Publications Act. It is one of only 15 such books believed to be in the country at present. Three are in the National Library and the rest are in private hands.
The acquisition is regarded as a coup for the Joyce Centre, which is generally unable to buy memorabilia connected with the writer because of prohibitive prices. Foreign buyers, particularly Americans, have made Joyce's works some of the most expensive in the rare books market. Last year, a short postcard written by him fetched?IR9,000. Signed early editions of Ulysses can command 100,000 euros.
Dr David Butler, education officer at the Centre, described the Boyd family donation as 'very fortunate, superb and unexpected'.
Boyd's daughter, Deirdre Joyce, named after the writer, says that although her father didn't specifically order the donation, he would have approved. 'My father rather liked Dublin and he knew a lot of the playwrights who lived in Dublin, such as Frank O'Connor. He was comfortable here,' she said.
Her father, who also worked for the BBC in Belfast, purchased the edition on a trip to Paris with a friend. At the time he was 'escaping' the 12 July celebrations in his native city. Recalling the trip, he wrote: 'Bob and I planned to leave before the 12th, when the city appears to be en fe^te for the Protestant cause. It is the most divisive day of the year, and to me the saddest.
'We travelled by the cheapest route and arrived at Gare Saint-Lazare in the very early morning, exhausted. We struggled as far as the Place de L'Ope`ra, spotted two empty benches and fell asleep.
'We then made the obligatory trip to Shakespeare and Co, the small book shop now in the Rue de L'Ode'on, which had published Ulysses, and we bought a copy to smuggle through the British Customs and exhibit at home as a trophy of our pilgrimage.'
The edition that he brought home to Belfast was bound at Joyce's request in the colours of the Greek flag. The original 1922 edition of Ulysses has become something of a twentieth-century cultural icon.
The initial run of 1,000 numbered copies was followed later in the same year by a second run, commissioned by the London-based Egoist Press, this time consisting of 2,000 numbered copies.These so-called second editions are highly prized, particularly as 500 were later seized and destroyed by US Customs.
Boyd managed to fool Customs by placing his volume inside a wooden box, on which he stencilled the words 'sanitary towels'. He guessed rightly that they wouldn't search the package.
'I think that Joyce would have approved of the stratagem, and not only for its scatological appeal,' says Butler. 'It was of course Ulysses who first dreamt up the Wooden Horse.'
The uncovering of the Boyd collection comes months after the National Gallery of Ireland paid eight million euros for a large number of previously unknown manuscripts and notebooks belonging to Joyce.
That purchase was welcomed by international Joycean scholars, who have in the past accused the Irish government of failing adequately to protect the writer's legacy.
None the less, Dr Morris Beja, Professor of English at Ohio State University and executive secretary of the International Joyce Foundation, said the rapid disappearance of the Dublin where Joyce based all his writings was worrying: 'I don't think I'm being prejudiced in saying that too much [of Joycean Dublin] has been disturbed, the prime example being the house where Leopold Bloom is supposed to have lived.'