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The Art of ScandalModernism, Libel Law, and the Roman à Clef$
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Sean Latham

Print publication date: 2009

Print ISBN-13: 9780195379990

Published to Oxford Scholarship Online: May 2009

DOI: 10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195379990.001.0001

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The Novel at the Bar

The Novel at the Bar

Joyce, Lewis, and Libel

(p.89) 5 The Novel at the Bar
The Art of Scandal

Sean Latham (Contributor Webpage)

Oxford University Press

This chapter explores the way James Joyce and Wyndham Lewis negotiated the legal consequences of their narrative experiments with libel and defamation in key romans à clef like Ulysses and The Apes of God. Both drew heavily on their own lives—as well as those of nearly everyone they knew—to launch a deliberate critique of the moral, aesthetic, and legal divide between fact and fiction. This forms, in fact, a fundamental aspect of their high modernist aesthetics. The interpenetration of world and text in their major works, however, also led both men into often grave legal trouble, putting their books in limbo and, in Lewis’s case, leading to a seemingly endless string of crippling lawsuits. Far from purely extraliterary events, these legal entanglements are instead an organizing component of the works themselves: the core element of a largely forgotten modernism structured around social, aesthetic, and legal contests between fiction and reality. Forged and circulated in this complex field of force, this chapter examines the ways these experimental texts not only exploit the ambiguities of libel law but are themselves inevitably constrained by its potent ability to adjudicate fact and thereby define the limits of fiction.

Keywords:   modernism, roman à clef, libel law, law and literature, James Joyce, Wyndham Lewis, Ulysses, Apes of God, censorship, ethics

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