Expiry of copyright allows for public performances of Ulysses and other works without fear of reprisals from author’s estate
From a musical version of Finnegans Wake to the release of a tranche of manuscripts online by the National Library of Ireland, the expiration of copyright in James Joyce’s works this year means the annual celebration of all things Joycean – Bloomsday – will be wider-reaching than ever. But, behind the scenes, scholars continue to scrap over the legacy of the great man.
Copyright in Joyce’s writings expired at the end of 2011, 70 years after the author’s death, giving fans the opportunity to host public readings, performances and even new interpretations of the author’s works without fear of reprisals from the Joyce estate.
Celebrations centre on Saturday 16 June, the day on which Ulysses protagonist Leopold Bloom wanders the streets of Dublin. Stephen Joyce has until now kept strict control of his grandfather’s estate, going so far as to prevent public readings on Bloomsday in 2004 by threatening the Irish government with a lawsuit.
“With the release of Joyce’s works from copyright it’s been quite liberating [and] there’s a general sense of relief,” said Mark Traynor, manager of Dublin’s James Joyce Centre which is hosting public readings and performances of Ulysses and has commissioned a composer to produce a musical setting for Finnegans Wake. “People can now go back and celebrate the words themselves and not have that anxiety over if they will hear from a lawyer.”
Bloomsday festivities are taking place in cities from Montreal to Buenos Aires, and range from Radio 4’s five-and-a-half-hour adaptation of Ulysses to a 10-hour session of Joyce readings in Hong Kong. There are even Bloomsday breakfasts featuring Bloom’s favourite, “grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine”.
Traynor said tourists would be descending on Dublin to follow in the footsteps of Joyce’s most famous protagonist. “What people really want to do on Bloomsday is dress up, read aloud and drink lots of Guinness,” just like Bloom himself, who enters a Dublin pub with the words: “I was blue mouldy for the want of that pint. Declare to God I could hear it hit the pit of my stomach with a click.”
And for those unable to visit Bloom’s city, students at Boston College have spent three years creating an app which launched this week, Joyceways, which allows users to explore the city just as Bloom and Stephen Dedalus did in 1904.
The National Library of Ireland is marking the occasion by launching free online high-resolution versions of a huge range of Joyce’s manuscripts, from letters and notebooks to a draft of Ulysses revealing Joyce’s first thoughts about the novel’s famous ending.
“We’re expecting high traffic,” the head of services, Katherine McSharry, said. “People are particularly drawn to the draft of Ulysses itself, [in which] you can really see how Joyce’s processes are happening.”
In the published version of the novel Molly’s soliloquy ends the book: “yes I said yes I will Yes”. But Joyce originally wrote “would” rather than “will”. “You can see the crossing out,” said McSharry, and how changing “would” to “will” means “you’re suddenly invested in the moment again”. “You can almost see his mind working,” she said.
But Saturday’s celebrations are marred by continued wrangling over Joyce’s legacy, with a spate of lawsuits launched since his works came out of copyright in what Carol Loeb Shloss, who successfully battled with the Joyce estate over her acclaimed biography of Joyce’s daughter Lucia, described as a mess.
“If I were to describe the situation at the moment, I would use a political analogy: we are in the same position as a nation state that has long been ruled by a tsar or a shah or any dictator: once the repression has been lifted, the factionalism that has been repressed is free to give expression to itself.
“Once Stephen Joyce is not there to keep the Joyce community under his ungracious and critical gaze, the community is falling apart,” she said. “I’m speaking about Joyce scholars, not about everyday readers who simply love to read Joyce’s work. For them, the lifting of copyright means, I assume, that they can walk into archives, or see performances, or hold public readings of Ulysses and generally celebrate without anxiety.
For Joyce scholars, as the current spate of lawsuits attests, the lifting of copyright has meant a power grab and acrimony.”
One scholar, Danis Rose, has claimed he owns copyright in the Joyce collection released online by the National Library of Ireland because he published the material at the start of the year when the copyright lifted, saying that “there is a provision in law that the first person to publish previously unpublished material entering the public domain acquires economic rights equivalent to copyright for a period of 25 years.“. Rose said the library didn’t have any permission to make the manuscripts available online, and he was considering what action to take.
McSharry, however, said she believes “the purpose of a library is to make material accessible to as wide a number of people as possible”, and that “Joyce is such a significant figure for Ireland, Europe and the world, it really is the right thing to do to make material available”.
Most scholars were positive about the library’s publication of the manuscripts.
Joyce’s biographer Gordon Bowker said: “I’m all for publishing all that they have of Joyce’s unpublished work. I see no reason to keep it under wraps when he’s long dead and gone. From what I saw there I’m sure that people other than scholars will find the material fascinating – notes, diaries, drafts and letters – to see for themselves the often troubled interior world of the great writer at work. They have to be careful that Stephen Joyce doesn’t as a good finale to his career decide to come back and bite them though.”
The Booker prize-winning author John Banville, who has written an introduction to Joyce’s linked short story collection Dubliners, said: “I suppose it’s a good thing that the NLI is releasing this material; it will be like throwing a sackful of nuts to a forest full of squirrels.
Joyce studies are a harmless enough pursuit, keeping lots of academics in gainful employment, thereby ensuring that they will be able to feed and clothes their offspring. In general I deplore the Joyce industry, but then, it was Joyce himself who set it up, gleefully anticipating centuries of research by ‘the professors’, who would thus keep his name alive.”