Dec 6: Ireland’s Bitter Peace and Not So Obscene Bloom

Ireland’s Bitter Peace and Not So Obscene Bloom

Part 1: The Irish-Anglo Treaty (1921)

On December 6, 1921, the Irish-Anglo Treaty was signed.  The Agreement created what was known as the Irish Free State effective on the first anniversary of the treaty.  Its principal provisions were that:

  • British forces would withdraw from most of Ireland.
  • Ireland was to become a self-governing dominion of the British Empire, a status shared by Australia,Canada, Newfoundland, New Zealand and the Union of South Africa.
  • As with the other dominions, the British monarch would be the head of state of the Irish Free State (Saorstát Éireann) and would be represented by a Governor General (See Representative of the Crown).
  • Members of the new free state’s parliament would be required to take an Oath of Allegiance to the Irish Free State. A secondary part of the Oath was to “be faithful to His Majesty King George V, his heirs and successors by law, in virtue of the common citizenship”.
  • Northern Ireland (which had been created earlier by the Government of Ireland Act) would have the option of withdrawing from the Irish Free State within one month of the Treaty coming into effect (which it did).

The treaty’s de facto exclusion of Northern Ireland from the Irish Free State was extremely controversial and narrowly approved by the Irish Assembly.  Once approved, Ireland plunged into civil war, with Michael Collins, the Chairman of the provisional government being assassinated before the Free State came into existence.

The Treaty ultimately brought peace to the Irish Free State, but not to Northern Ireland where violence would continue until the Good Friday Accords in 1998.

Assassination scene from the 1996 Neil Jordan biopic Michael Collins:

Part 2: Ulysses Odyssey Ends in the United States

The very same year that the Irish Free State came into existence, James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses”, which chronicles the passage of Leonard Bloom through Dublin on June 16, 1904, was published in France.  The novel was having less success in the English speaking world where references to masturbation were deemed obscene.

In 1933, Randham House imported the book from France and only to have it seized by authorities as obscene.  Random House challenged the seizure and New York Federal Judge Woolsley held

“Ulysses” is an amazing tour de force when one considers the success which has been in the main achieved with such a difficult objective as Joyce set for himself. As I have stated, “Ulysses” is not an easy book to read. It is brilliant and dull, intelligible and obscure, by turns. In many places it seems to me to be disgusting, but although it contains, as I have mentioned above, many words usually considered dirty, I have not found anything that I consider to be dirt for dirt’s sake. Each word of the book contributes like a bit of mosaic to the detail of the picture which Joyce is seeking to construct for his readers.

. . . .That reading “Ulysses” in  its entirety, as a book must be read on such a test as this, did not tend to excite sexual impulses or lustful thoughts, but that its net effect on them was only that of a somewhat tragic and very powerful commentary on the inner lives of men and women.

It is only with the normal person that the law is concerned. Such a test as I have described, therefore, is the only proper test of obscenity in the case of a book like “Ulysses” which is a sincere and serious attempt to devise a new literary method for the observation and description of mankind.

I am quite aware that owing to some of its scenes “Ulysses” is a rather strong draught to ask some sensitive, though normal, persons to take. But my considered opinion, after long reflection, is that, whilst in many places the effect of “Ulysses” on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac.

“Ulysses” may, therefore, be admitted into the United States.

Of course, it is worth noting the words of one Joyce critic

“Why don’t you write books people can read?” — Nora Joyce, to her husband.

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