Thursday 19 October 2017

Joyce in the eyes of the law

Law: Joyce in Court, Adrian Hardiman, Head of Zeus, hbk, 372 pages, €32.99

Law and order: the late Adrian Hardiman makes Joyce's Ulysses more accessible by explaining the legal references in the epic novel
Law and order: the late Adrian Hardiman makes Joyce's Ulysses more accessible by explaining the legal references in the epic novel
Adrian Hardiman
Joyce in Court

Frank MacGabhann

The late Supreme Court judge Adrian Hardiman has made an immense contribution to our understanding of the Ulysses author and his fascination with the legal system.

The life of the law, wrote Oliver Wendell Holmes, has been, not logic, but experience. The life of the law in Ireland from the turn of the century until his much-lamented death last year was, to a large degree, the logic, experience and written words of Adrian Hardiman in the Supreme Court.

One of the few non-professional historians to be admitted as a historian to the Royal Irish Academy, he was also one of the few judges who was a public intellectual. His essay 'Shot in Cold Blood', published in 2007, is the première legal exposition on the illegality of British actions in the aftermath of the Easter Rising in 1916.

The publisher notes that Hardiman had only completed the first draft when he died and Hardiman's lifelong friend, tutor in history at UCD and literary executor Professor Ronan Fanning, who was to edit the book, himself became gravely ill and died last January. The book fell to be edited by the publisher without the benefit of the author or his literary executor. The book must always be read with the caveat that the author had no opportunity to correct his draft.

Adrian Hardiman
Adrian Hardiman

That having been said, the book is an immense contribution to the Joycean canon, in particular, to enable the reader not only to make sense of the legal references, and therefore, to make sense of the book as a whole, but also to understand why Joyce considered it necessary to pepper Ulysses with these references.

Hardiman opens with Joyce's own words, "In Ulysses, I tried to keep close to fact [...to] reality which always triumphs in the end".

Hardiman states that the reader of Ulysses ignores this epigraph of Joyce at his peril. Facts and reality lie behind Joyce's fascination with the law, which takes them as its starting point and its finishing line.

Hardiman makes it clear that he would have agreed with Patrick Kavanagh that Joyce is being killed by Harvard PhD theses and, like Declan Kiberd, he is attempting to rescue Joyce from pedants and return him to the Dubliners (and by extension, to all of us) about whom Joyce was writing. He is passionate about the need to contextualise the book for people, which allows the reader today to understand the legal references in the book that a Dubliner in 1904 would have readily understood.

In Ulysses, 32 legal cases are mentioned along with 35 named judges and lawyers. Joyce attended law lectures for a short time and was urged by his father to become a lawyer. When he was 17, he attended the celebrated murder trial in Dublin of Samuel Childs in its entirety. There he saw first-hand how the Crown used its power to build a seemingly impregnable case against an individual, only to see that case "crumble to less than nothing" due to the skill of defence lawyers on their feet.

Worse yet, Joyce would have realised by the end of the trial that the Crown had known beforehand that its case was deeply flawed, but had nevertheless put this man on trial for his life.

While Richard Ellman in his celebrated biography of Joyce accords this case one paragraph, Hardiman's treatment of it runs to nearly 40 pages. In it, he uses Holmes' famous dictum about "felt history".

Hardiman also delves into other notorious trials commented on in Ulysses, including the disturbing Maamtrasna murder trial, which has strong echoes of Kafka's novels. These cases moved Joyce as early as 1907, while living in Trieste, to write an article in Italian where he sounds more like The Citizen than Leopold Bloom.

Other legal themes treated in Ulysses include contracts, defamation, life insurance, marine collisions, suicide, swindles, divorces, bills of exchange, garnishee orders as well as ordinary Dubliners simply threatening to sue. Joyce, due to the peripatetic nature of his own family life in Dublin, portrayed particularly well the precarious life of many of its citizens, who found themselves mortgaging what little they possessed. In this manner, Joyce brings to vivid life the Dublin of 1904.

The obscenity trials and banning of Ulysses have been the subject of legal and literary scholarship for many years. In dealing briefly with the original 1921 obscenity trial in the New York "police court", as Hardiman calls the Court of Special Sessions, he is perhaps too dismissive of the two brave women who were prosecuted for serialising Ulysses and not harsh enough on their lawyer (more art collector than lawyer) John Quinn. Hardiman might have mentioned that Quinn's defence of Ulysses in court included the argument that, to readers who could understand it, the book was so filthy and disgusting that it would deter people from committing immoral acts.

Hardiman apparently had a coup in gaining access to the original, internal office file of the law firm of Morris Ernst, who fought a brilliant case, tactically and otherwise, in Federal Court in 1932 to allow Ulysses into the United States and, in doing so, to modernise the law on obscenity. Hardiman gives the reader a unique opportunity to see how a great lawyer runs his case, from preparation, to setting up the seizure of the book by US Customs, to "forum-shopping" (not allowed but all lawyers try to do it) for the most receptive judge to hear the case and to the main arguments all the way through to the appellate court.

The reader is indeed fortunate that the book includes Hardiman's essay on the show trial, as Hardiman puts it, of Robert Emmet in 1803 and new information about his fiancée Sarah Curran. Hardiman finds that the Crown's case against Emmet was weak, even despite the treachery of his own lawyer, Leonard McNally, who was in the pay of the government.

After dispatching journalist Kevin Myers' startling proposition that Emmet's speech from the dock never happened at all or as handed down, the author ends the essay with a demonstration of, in Hardiman's words, "the extraordinary blind spot" of historian Roy Foster on Emmet which, of course, ties in with, in this reviewer's opinion, Foster's blind spot on Ireland's struggle against colonialism during the 1916-1921 period. The essay is a tour de force that will be the standard against which future treatments of Emmet will be judged.

This tremendously well-researched and marvellously insightful book is a delight for lawyers and lovers of literature alike.

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