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University of Victoria’s rare find celebrates James Joyce

The University of Victoria has extra reason to celebrate Bloomsday today, a worldwide salute to James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.
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Associate professor Stephen Ross peruses copies of the magazine Two Worlds Monthly — which includes pirated portions of James Joyce's Ulysses — at the University of Victoria’s special collections library.

The University of Victoria has extra reason to celebrate Bloomsday today, a worldwide salute to James Joyce’s novel Ulysses.

While exploring the library’s special collections last month, post-doctoral fellow Matt Huculak uncovered a rare pirated version of the modernist novel.

“What’s particularly rare about this is its condition,” Huculak said Saturday in an interview from the 2013 James Joyce Conference in Charleston, S.C.

“In many ways, the fact that it was perhaps not well known in the library may have saved it for us.”

Ulysses, first published in book form in 1922, is considered one of the most important works of modernist literature. It follows protagonist Leopold Bloom through an ordinary day in Dublin, set on June 16, 1904.

Huculak was invited to the Joyce conference to present his find: Copies of Two Worlds Monthly that include episodic portions of Ulysses alongside other pieces of fiction.

Thanks to loose copyright laws in the United States at the time, notorious New York publisher Samuel Roth was free to reprint the work — which was banned in many places — without Joyce’s permission.

The piracy sparked a dispute that played a role in the development of international copyright law, according to Huculak.

In what the scholar called an early form of “Facebook shaming,” Joyce rallied 167 international authors in a protest that eventually led to present-day international copyright agreements.

“This magazine tells this fascinating story about copyright law and how authors were coming together to unite against piracy,” Huculak said.

“This really is the beginning of the 20th-century copyright issues that wouldn’t be settled until much later.”

Copies of Two Worlds exist in about 80 other libraries worldwide; however, most are microfilms and reproductions.

Huculak made the discovery during research for the Modernist Versions Project, an international project to digitize various versions of modernist texts.

Stephen Ross, an associate professor and co-director of the project, said the discovery demonstrates the breadth of the university’s collections.

“We have a lot of this kind of stuff at UVic’s library,” he said. “It’s a world-class collection.”

The group plans to digitize the text by the end of the year, making it publicly accessible around the world.

“That’s part of the excitement for me,” Huculak said. “I think it’s our duty as scholars to share our research with other scholars and the public.”

asmart@timescolonist.com