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Bloomsday Ahoy! Pirated Ulysses Found by MVP Post-doc

Image by Robert Amos
Image by Robert Amos

This Bloomsday (June 16), UVic celebrates a rare Ulysses library discovery.

Matt Huculak, a University of Victoria post-doctoral fellow, just realized every literary scholar’s dream. Poring through the University of Victoria’s Special Collections catalogues earlier this year, Huculak discovered a rare pirated edition of James Joyce’s Ulysses in the pages of an obscure literary journal.

Huculak made the discovery earlier this spring in the university’s Special Collections library while working for the SSHRC-funded Modernist Versions Project, an international digital humanities venture headed by UVic researchers that will allow readers to compare the different versions and editions of modernist fiction and poetry online.

Huculak was scanning old library catalogues dating back to the early days of Victoria College–the University of Victoria’s precursor–when he spotted an entry for a rare magazine called Two Worlds. “I recognized the magazine title in the catalogue,” says Huculak, “but I couldn’t believe the University of Victoria had a copy.” The call number was so old even the librarians didn’t recognize it at first.

But when the box of papers arrived, the soft-spoken Huculak was so surprised he broke library rules and shouted “You’re not going to believe this!” to another PhD student working in the library, The box contained not only the first four editions of the Two Worlds magazine, but a treasure trove of papers related to James Joyce’s early struggles to stop pirated copies of his work being sold around the world. Although these papers had originally been catalogued correctly according to general library standards of the 1950’s, they were missing the more detailed information university libraries use.

Stephen Ross, an associate professor in the university’s English Department and one of the lead researchers for the Modernist Versions digital humanities project, says Huculak’s find is important. “Not only does it help us understand the complex publishing history of Ulysses,” says Ross, “It also sheds light on the origins of present-day international copyright law. Two Worlds published segments of Joyce’s Ulysses without his permission as a protest against the US censorship restrictions at the time, but this literary piracy provoked an international protest by 167 authors in 1927. That protest eventually led to our present-day international copyright agreements.”

UVIC University Librarian Jonathan Bengtson says Huculak’s discovery underlines the international significance of UVic’s’ collection of original modernist texts. “It’s exciting to see a new generation of scholars taking advantage of our rich Special Collections legacy and developing digital tools to make this legacy available to other readers and scholars around the world.”


Associate Professor | English | CSPT | U. of Victoria

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