Aug. 7, 2009

Not To Trouble You

by Leonard Nathan

Not to trouble you with love, I mean
those adolescent dreams of great, of greater,
or of greatest loving, let alone
the crumbly personal kind—compared with, say,
the public good or harder thoughts of death
obliterating thoughts of love, or after-
thoughts of love outgrown or love undone;
and not to be ironic either, not
to forget we come into the world alone
and leave it so; and not to be claiming more
than you can give, uncertain as I am
what I require: something like love, I guess,
whatever it is we've done without so long,
so faithfully and with such tenderness.

"Not To Trouble You" by Leonard Nathan, from Ragged Sonnets. © Orchises Press, 2008. Reprinted with permission. (buy now)

On this day in 1934, the U.S. Court of Appeals ruled in favor of the novel Ulysses, by James Joyce. (books by this author) In 1920, a literary magazine called The Little Review published an episode of Ulysses in which Leopold Bloom, the hero, masturbates while getting a glimpse of a young woman's undergarment, as fireworks go off over a beach. It was not difficult for a person to find real pornography in 1920, but Ulysses stood out to officials for its highbrow aura and the publicity it attracted as the newest, most advanced thing in literature. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice brought The Little Review to trial under the state's obscenity law. The episode was ruled obscene, and Ulysses was banned in the United States.

The banned book was a hot item on the black market, and Joyce knew he was losing a lot of money to pirate publishers. He wanted an American readership and the royalties that came with it, so his lawyers worked with the executives at Random House to bait the U.S. government into going to trial. In 1933, Random House decided to import a single version of the French edition of Ulysses, and the company had people wait at the New York docks for the book's arrival. It was a hot day and the U.S. Customs inspector didn't want to be bothered with another inspection, but the Random House people made sure that one book was seized.

A second trial, "United States v. One Book Called Ulysses," was held over the fate of that single copy of Ulysses. Judge John Woolsey ruled that the book had no "dirt for dirt's sake" and was not, in fact, pornographic. His ruling changed the standards for literary obscenity. He disregarded the traditional standard for obscenity — whether the work would "deprave and corrupt" a vulnerable young reader — and said that the proper test is whether it would "lead to sexually impure and lustful thoughts" in the average adult. Also, no longer could a single line make a whole book obscene. Woolsey pointed out that the book was so difficult to understand, people would be unlikely to read it for titillation. The Court of Appeals agreed and called Ulysses "a sincere portrayal" and "executed with real art." Ulysses was safe to sell in the United States.

In his opinion for the case, Judge Woolsey wrote: "In respect of the recurrent emergence of the theme of sex in the minds of his characters, it must always be remembered that his locale was Celtic and his season Spring."

[From the aforementioned undergarment scene] Joyce wrote:
"And Jacky Caffrey shouted to look, there was another and she leaned back and the garters were blue to match on account of the transparent and they all saw it and shouted to look, look there it was and she leaned back ever so far to see the fireworks and something queer was flying about through the air, a soft thing to and fro, dark."

On this day in 1925, novelist Graham Greene, (books by this author) then a 20-year-old Oxford student, wrote to Vivienne Dayrell-Browning, a 21-year-old secretary at Blackwell's publishing company:

"Darling, it's wonderful when the person one loves most in the world encourages one in what one loves next best (even though far less). … I've never met so complete a companion as you. Those winter evenings you describe seem to me the only thing worth having. It's companionship with you that I want & just that sort of companionship …

"And the whole thing would be an adventure finer than ordinary marriage, because it would be two, not merely fighting for each other, but for a shared idea. Darling, it sounds fantastic, but the fantastic is often wildly practical, as when Columbus put out from Spain. And I remember you wrote once that you did love me, though it wasn't in a way I understood, but, darling, it's a way I do understand, & it's the final because there's no reason why it should ever end, which is very different to the other. I wish to God (& I mean that literally) that this dream could come true."

Graham Greene first met Vivienne Dayrell-Browning when she, a devout Catholic convert, wrote a letter to editor Graham Greene pointing out a mistake made in an article he'd published in an undergraduate Oxford journal. Catholics didn't "worship" the Virgin Mary, she told him: The correct technical term for their veneration of the Virgin was "hyperdulia." Graham responded to her letter with an earnest written apology and begged her to come meet him for tea "as a sign of forgiveness." He fell in love with her almost immediately and was soon entreating her to marry him. She was hesitant; to woo her he wrote hundreds of love letters and converted to Catholicism. He sometimes wrote her three letters a day, and ended up writing her more than 1,200 letters.

Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.®




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