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A Stanford University professor on Monday sued James Joyce’s estate for refusing to give her permission to use copyrighted material about the “Ulysses” author and his daughter on her Web site.
In the lawsuit, Carol Shloss, an acting English professor and Joycean scholar, challenged the estate’s assertion that she would be infringing on its ownership of Joyce’s image by quoting his published works, manuscripts and private letters on her scholarly site.
Instead, Shloss accused Joyce’s grandson, Stephen James Joyce, and estate trustee, Sean Sweeney, of destroying papers, improperly withholding access to copyrighted materials and intimidating academics to protect the Joyce family name.
Stephen James Joyce is not named as a defendant in the suit, but as an agent of his grandfather’s estate.
Shloss was traveling Monday and unavailable for comment, according to her lawyer David Olson.
The dispute centers on Shloss’ research for “Lucia Joyce: To Dance in the Wake,” her 2003 book that posited James Joyce’s mentally ill daughter was the muse behind “Finnegans Wake,” his last novel. Published in 1939 and filled with Joyce’s trademark puns and impenetrable prose, “Finnegans Wake” traces human history through the life of an Irish everyman and his family.
Lucia Joyce, who first was committed to a mental hospital at age 25, died in 1982 at age 75. Shloss maintains in her book that Lucia Joyce’s inspiration is woven throughout “Finnegans Wake,” but says in her lawsuit that the Joyce family has labored to excise any public or academic mention of the woman.
“People have destroyed documents about Lucia Joyce for over 60 years, apparently due largely to the stigma that previous generations attached to young women who had suffered emotional trauma,” Shloss said in the suit, filed in U.S. District Court in San Francisco.
Shloss, who said she spent 15 years working on the book, relied on Lucia Joyce’s medical records, European archives that contained records on her life and Joyce’s papers in university collections to support her theory, the lawsuit states.
Olson said copies of the suit will be sent to Sean Sweeney’s address in New York and to the estate’s law firm in Ireland. A phone number for Sweeney was not immediately available and phones rang unanswered late Monday at the Irish firm.
Before the book was published, publisher Farrar, Straus and Giroux removed several supporting citations from Shloss’ tome to avoid a lawsuit, according to Olson. Shloss wants to post that information as an electronic appendix to answer several critics who charged that “To Dance in the Wake” was interesting, but thin on documentary evidence, Olson said.
“It’s painful once you’ve written something ... that you think is complete and good, to have it hacked up,” Olson said. “There is a desire to bring it forth in the way she originally intended.”
Shloss prepared the Web site last year but never made it public because she worried about being sued, Olson said. Among the items excised from the book are quotations from “Finnegans Wake” she thinks support her thesis, as well as letters between James Joyce and his daughter, according to Olson.
Shloss wants the court to declare she’s entitled to use information the estate controls under laws that allow authors to quote copyrighted works if they do it in “a scholarly transformative manner.”
“We think the estate of James Joyce has been particularly egregious in misusing its copyright,” Olson said. “You shouldn’t try to use copyright to try to take editorial control of someone’s work.”