Jon Day

In 1936 James Joyce wrote a letter to his grandson:

My dear Stevie, I sent you a little cat filled with sweets a few days ago but perhaps you do not know the story about the cat of Beaugency.

The letter included his story ‘The Cat and the Devil’, a short fairytale with echoes of ‘The Three Billy Goats Gruff’ and some delightful footnotes. ‘Stevie’ was Stephen James Joyce, who grew up to become the scourge of academic Joyceans as the fearsome executor of the Joyce estate. Academics, he once told the New Yorker’s D.T. Max, are like ‘rats and lice – they should be exterminated!’

Just over a month after the Joycean community sighed a collective sigh of relief as his work was released from copyright (at last I could begin work in earnest on my scratch'n’sniff edition of Ulysses), a second children’s story has emerged from the archives. The Cats of Copenhagen was written a few weeks before the ‘Cat and the Devil’ in another letter to Stephen, which was donated to the Zurich James Joyce Foundation by his stepbrother Hans E. Jahnke in 2006. The Ithys Press edition is a grand and expensive thing:

printed on the last sheets of Crisbrook Waterleaf from the renowned and now historic Barcham Green handmade papermakers, with paper-wrappers of Christopher Rowlatt’s hand-marbled fantasia and presented in a vibrant cloth-covered slip-case.

Its publication has not gone down well in Zurich. The foundation has said that it is

dismayed to learn that a copy of the letter to young Stephen Joyce of 1936 must have been used for its publication in book form. The foundation was never approached or informed, it was never asked for permission.

Anastasia Herbert, who runs the Ithys Press, has responded by citing the ‘much lauded "free Joyce" campaign’, and arguing that

a publication such as that of The Cats of Copenhagen is legal and valid and any attempt to interfere with its free dissemination is both unlawful and morally reprehensible.

Free only in one sense: the ‘lettered deluxe’ edition will set you back €1200.


  • 10 February 2012 at 12:01pm
    mjs110 says:
    Presumably this is based on an unpublished manuscript, and so is in copyright (as are all unpublished MSS) until 2039?

  • 10 February 2012 at 12:52pm
    Jon Day says:
    I think it's something of a grey area, though that's certainly what Fritz Senn (of the Zurich JJF), suggests:

    Perhaps Ithys should have done a Myles na cGopaleen:

    'I beg to announce respectfully my coming volume of verse entitled ‘Scorn for Taurus’. We have decided to do it in eight point Caslon on turkey-shutter paper with covers in purple corduroy. But look for the catch. When the type has been set up, it will be instantly destroyed and NO COPY WHATEVER WILL BE PRINTED. This edition will be so limited that a thousand pounds will not buy even one copy. This is my idea of being exclusive.'

    • 12 February 2012 at 5:40pm
      These are actually strategies successfully exploited by Joyce and other modernists - the expensive limited edition, the whiff of scandal. Perhaps you have read Lawrence Rainey's interesting book Institutions of Modernism.

  • 10 February 2012 at 3:43pm
    nickmimic says:
    We should remember that as Ireland is no longer part of the U.K. (!), they do not abide by U.K. copyright law (i.e. unpublished manuscripts in copyright till 1939).

    Under the Copyright and Related Rights Act of 2000, it appears that unpublished material is not in the public domain because of a section that implies works unpublished at author's death are copyrighted for 50 years from the date of publication. Thus, until those works are published (with permission from the Estate, i.e. not "Cats in Copenhagen"), they enjoy perpetual copyright. However, this vague language will most likely take a court case or two to clarify (language that the U.K. cleared up in its 1988 act).

    • 10 February 2012 at 5:20pm
      nickmimic says: @ nickmimic
      Sic: 2nd line should read "2039".

  • 10 February 2012 at 7:58pm
    John McCourt says:
    It seems to me the point is being missed amid legal questions. This is a blatant piracy of an unpublished Joyce story, written in 1936 for his grandson and contained in a letter held at the Zürich Joyce Foundation. Lest there should be any doubt, Anastasia (Stacey) Herbert transcribed the letter when a guest at the Foundation and then, without seeking any permissions, went ahead and published it. Quite apart from the legalities of this act of
    “stolentelling” to borrow a word from Finnegans Wake (424.35), she has
    infringed the laws of common courtesy and betrayed the trust of those who
    allowed her access to this material. The Zürich James Joyce Foundation’s
    much appreciated policy of openness and trust has been violated and Joyce
    scholars, critics and readers should universally condemn this publication
    and those responsible for it. To publish sensitive and valuable manuscript materialheld in an archive without consulting that archive about publication
    breaks the established rules of scholarship in a disgraceful way.In her own defence, Dr Herbert now claims that the book is not “a commercial venture but as a carefully crafted tribute to a rather different Joyce” which leads one to question why it is on sale for €1200 (lettered copies) and €300 (numbered copies). Given the state of the economy, it is to be presumed that few will be able to afford it and it is to be hoped that those who can will leave it where it belongs, languishing on the shelf,
    Yours etc,
    John McCourt

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