Joe H

The Ulysses Trials

Beauty and Truth Meet The Law

By: Joseph M. Hassett

Publication Date: June 2016


The Ulysses Trials by Joseph M. Hassett

The publishers of Ulysses by James Joyce were brought to trial and convicted of obscenity in the USA in 1921. The immortal prose, ultimately recognized as the greatest English language novel of the twentieth century, was first published by the pioneering literary magazine The Little Review. Its founder Margaret Anderson along with her publishing partner and lover, Jane Heap, were famously convicted of a crime for their extraordinary contribution to society. From then until its eventual publication in the US in 1934 the book ran the gamut of legal obstruction.

The Ulysses Trials chronicles that progress and adds not only to the understanding of Joyce but also to the history of the laws of obscenity, censorship and freedom of speech.  Its appeal is to Joyceans, all those interested in modernism and to the legal community and students of literature and law.

The author is a fluent writer and through his experience as a lawyer he brings a deep understanding and analysis to the course of the court proceedings and the workings and ramifications of each case. He weaves a narrative of the text of Ulysses, the contemporaneous historical context and the motives of the players (John Quinn, Judge Woolsey et al) involved in each step of the trial.  His manuscript is unique given his legal perspective on such a milestone legal battle over obscenity laws and hence freedom of speech in the English speaking world in the early twentieth century.

Period photographs by Man Ray and others bring this fascinating story to life.


Joseph M. Hassett is both a leading trial lawyer and an authoritative literary critic based in Washington, D.C. He has written extensively on Yeats, Joyce and other Irish writers. He holds a Ph.D. in Anglo-Irish Literature from University College Dublin and is a graduate of Harvard Law School. His books include W.B. Yeats and the Muses(Oxford University Press, 2010), The Ulysses Trials: Beauty and Truth Meet the Law (Lilliput, 2016) and Yeats Now: Echoing Into Life (Lilliput, 2020).

Also available as an ebook

7 reviews for The Ulysses Trials

  1. Lilliput Press

    This very well-written book… is erudite yet accessible. This is a book where law and literature intersect, with wonderful vignettes of the people involved. I heartily recommend it to lawyers and lovers of literature alike. – Irish Examiner

  2. Lilliput Press

    A human drama involving some fascinating personalities and highly ambiguous motivations…. All this, and much more, Joseph M. Hassett describes with great clarity and penetration. Himself a Washington-based Irish-American lawyer, he is well placed to understand and assess the issues involved. Above all, as with the best books, Hassett has strong views of his own and states them strongly….At the centre of this book, however, though by no means occupying all of it, is the story and the vindication of two remarkable women, part of a sorority that played such a crucial role in the emergence of Modernist literature, and thus in the shaping of our intellectual universe. In a fascinating final chapter, Hassett explores the “afterlives” of Anderson and Heap, and a rich and complex story it is. His work, though it covers the whole spectrum of the trials of Ulysses in the US, is also a worthy tribute to them.- The Irish Times

  3. Lilliput Press

    Incisive…gracefully written… remorselessly courteous, even collegiate. It is also devastating…. The relationship of law to literature is here seamlessly rendered. Hassett’s politely trenchant strictures on casual critical endorsements of Quinn’s advocacy – most recently evidenced in Kevin Birmingham’s vaunting of the “sophisticated legal creativity” of a “savvy defense attorney” in his The Most Dangerous Book – and on ill-informed literary critiques of Woolsey’s reasoning are unanswerable. The book is also a model of reconstructed legal argument. At least in these islands, legal history is written backwards from judgements, not conceived en avant from advocacy. Joyce, with his insistence on “ousted possibilities” would have approved. Dublin Review of Books

  4. Lilliput Press

    Hassett has a sensitivity to plot, and constructs some lively stories that incorporate vivid characters as well as courtroom drama. .. a refreshing portrayal…legally detailed but easily readable by a lay person. -James Joyce Literary Supplement

  5. Lilliput Press

    [A] superbly written gem of a book . . . Hassett’s clear writing style makes this work accessible to all readers, who will find the legal analysis both comprehensive and compelling.-Library Journal (Starred Review)

  6. Lilliput Press

    [Hassett] has a smooth scholarly style that draws the reader in, and his argument is well-researched and persuasive. . . Hassett creates an engaging portrait of the dawn of literary modernism and will leave readers nostalgic for a time when a challenging literary novel could be the cause of so much trouble.’ -Publishers Weekly

  7. Lilliput Press

    The book “is distinguished by its knowledge of the novel’s text (and indeed by Hassett’ s talent as a literary critic) as much as by a familiarity with the niceties of the law and personalities of the lawyers …offers much more detailed and sharper analysis … of the earlier, disastrous US trial of Ulysses when chapters of the book were serialised in the Little Review. – Colm Toibin (The Guardian)

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Weight .5 kg
Publication Date

June 2016



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