Today in History: August 7

A magazine called The Little Review began publishing sections—episodes—from James Joyce’s work in progress, Ulysses between 1918 and 1920. The publication of one section, “Nausicaä,” in 1920 led to an obscenity prosecution. The issue of the publication was declared obscene and thus, all further publication of Joyce’s novel, in sections or complete, was banned in America. Until August 7, 1934.

The novel was published in Paris in 1922, but it could not be published or printed in America and any copies sent to America were confiscated and destroyed in customs offices throughout the 1920s. In 1933, the publisher Random House had had enough and arranged for a copy, one copy, to be sent by ship from Europe to New York. The company had agents at the docks, and those agents had one job: make sure that the copy of Ulysses was seen and confiscated, so that an obscenity trial could be started.

The obscenity case carried the remarkably literal title, United States v. One Book Called “Ulysses” and the decision handed down was that the book contained no pornography so it by definition was not obscene. The ruling in Ulysses‘ favor was appealed to the Second Circuit Court of Appeals, where the decision was upheld on this date in 1934. America became the first English-speaking country in which one could own and read Ulysses 82 years ago today.

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General George Washington established the Badge of Military Merit, which is now known as the Purple Heart, on this date in 1782. It is awarded to those wounded or killed while engaged with opposing forces in action. Washington gave the award to three who served in the Revolutionary War, and for generations, the fact of its creation by Washington himself and the idea that he himself awarded it to only three soldiers established it as an award that had a standard that could not be approached. In the 1930s, the award was revived as the Purple Heart, and it has been awarded to almost two million more military personnel. My great-uncle is one of them.

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Konstantin Stanislavsky died on this date in 1938. Rabindranath Tagore died in 1941 on this date. Oliver Hardy died on this date in 1957. Peter Jennings died on this date in 2005.

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Mata Hari was born on this date in 1876. Louis Leakey was born on this date in 1903. Stan Freberg was born 90 years ago today.

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Rep. Amo Houghton is 90. Gov. Edwin Edwards is 89. James Randi is 88 today. Don Larsen is 87. David Rasche is 72. Rodney Crowell is 66. Alexei Sayle is 64. Wayne Knight is 61. David Duchovny is 56. Jimmy Wales is 50. Charlize Theron is 41.

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