I wasn’t going to write about Carl Zimmer’s NY Times piece “Nabokov Theory on Butterfly Evolution Is Vindicated,” since it has to do with neither language nor hats, but people keep sending me the link, so I bow to popular demand. As everyone who cares about Nabokov knows, he was mad about butterflies, and enough of an expert on them to have had articles published. (In fact, there’s a whole book on the subject.) He had a theory, which professional lepidopterists didn’t take seriously, that the Polyommatus blues (example) came to the New World from Asia in a series of five waves, spanning millions of years. Now they discover that, lo and behold, he was right: “‘By God, he got every one right,’ Dr. Pierce said. ‘I couldn’t get over it — I was blown away.'” This would, I am sure, have pleased the old fellow considerably more than the fuss over the publication of the scraps of his last novel.


  1. “‘I couldn’t get over it — I was blown away”: well, so were the butterflies.

  2. Comments are closed there, so I’ll vent here.
    The idea of this old fart blocking Danis Rose, who has spent his entire life trying to repair the terrible damage that the printers and Joyce’s execrable semi-blind handwriting did to Ulysses and Finnegans Wake, from publishing the results of his labors that all the world might benefit, is beyond outrageous. Cost him several hundred thou? I hope so. And I hope Danis is out from under his legal bill by now: he’s a poor man, as any independent scholar must be. Danis is no man to suffer fools gladly, as anyone who deals with the Joyce industry is prudent to be, but he’s boldly right more often than he’s boldly wrong.
    (If you google Danis and land on that robotic wisdom page, note that Tom Cowan is my father, but he was never a professor of Roman Law.)
    Back to Stephen James Joyce. Quotha, forsooth: “Every artist’s born right is to have their work . . . reproduced as they want it to be reproduced.” Damn straight, and that includes having the typos removed.

  3. Joyce who? Anyway,
    Dearie: “‘I couldn’t get over it — I was blown away”: well, so were the butterflies.
    I was going to say the exact same thing.

  4. I see that Macmillan’s stood up to the plate as first defendant, instead of scurvily requiring the author to indemnify them against such risks.

  5. Athel Cornish-Bowden says

    The idea of this old fart blocking Danis Rose,…
    I’m a bit lost there. My efforts to google for the story have led to the information that Joyce’s grandson was blocking Danis Rose’s efforts, and that Nabokov tried to block publication of an Italian take-off on Lolita. However, those seem to be different stories (even if Nabokov was inspired by the action against Rose).
    I’m also puzzled about Tom Cowan: are you saying that the one involved is a different one from your father but with the same name, or that he is your father but not a professor of Roman Law?

  6. Wikipedia gives Nabokov his props:

  7. Having now read the judgement in full (which is really quite good), the facts are as follows: The 1922 edition of Ulysses went into the public domain in the U.K. in 1992, fifty years after Joyce’s death, but its copyright status was revived in 1995, pursuant to an EU directive lengthening copyright to seventy years after the author’s death. Danis spent 1992-93 collating the text with various sources including errata lists and an unpublished 1920 manuscript, and also copy editing it to conform to a “house style” designed to make it (in his opinion) easier to read, hence the subtitle Reader’s Edition. The work was eventually published in 1997.
    The case raised four substantial questions:
    1) U.K. law provided that works whose copyright had been revived but which were the subject of “arrangements” made before 1995 could continue to be exploited as of right by the makers of those arrangements, without reference to the copyright owner at all. The court ruled that Danis’s solitary and speculative creation of his text was not an “arrangement” in and of itself without some sort of agreement with a publisher, which he did not have at the time. So he could not make use of the 1922 text in 1997 as of right.
    2) U.K. law also provided that anyone could make free use of a work in which copyright had been revived without any need for “arrangements”, provided notice was given to the owner and a reasonable royalty paid; in particular, the owner’s consent was not required. The court ruled that sufficient and timely notice had been provided before publication, and left the matter of how big a royalty was “reasonable” up to later agreement or litigation.
    3) The court ruled that the unpublished manuscript on which Danis had (not uncritically) relied for some of his changes was the subject of a separate copyright, rather than its copyright being swallowed up in the copyright of the book as a whole. This meant that Danis’s use of it was a breach of copyright. In particular, although he only used a small number of words and phrases from the manuscript, it was precisely those words and phrases which gave the manuscript its particular value, and therefore reusing them was a substantial breach.
    4) The Estate claimed that calling Danis’s edition Ulysses was “passing off”, an attempt to deceive the public by labeling goods as being from one source (Joyce) when in fact they came from another (Danis). The judge threw this one out, mostly on the technical ground that the Estate doesn’t itself sell the book but only licenses others to do so.
    The upshot was that about 1000 unsold copies of the 1997 book were seized and destroyed. Danis then published a 2004 Reader’s Edition, redone from scratch and excluding the 1920 manuscript.
    As for my father, I was saying the latter of Crown’s alternatives: he is the relevant Tom Cowan (Danis stayed at our house on several occasions, which is how I came to know him), but he taught torts and jurisprudence, not Roman law. He wrote an article called “The Law at Finnegans Wake”, 29 Rutgers L. Rev. 259 (1976), which does discuss Roman law as well as English, so if you’re robotically unwise, you might assume that he professed it as well as knowing something about it.

  8. J. W. Brewer says

    Hmm. Should we infer that among the things that Rose found in the unpublished 1920 MS of Ulysses that he was blocked from relying on were speculative proposals about butterfly evolution that anticipated Nabokov’s? Or is the connection between this story and Mr. Cowan’s animus against the Joyce estate more oblique than that?
    (The attempt by Nabokov’s successors-in-interest to block Lo’s Diary as infringing the copyright in Lolita seems very non-analogous to the Joyce situation, and much more analogous to the U.S. lawsuits over whether e.g. “The Wind Done Gone” infringed “Gone With the Wind” or “60 Years Later: Coming Through the Rye” infringed “Catcher In the Rye.”)

  9. Quite right, J.W. Naah, it’s just plain old topic drift, or rather topic hijacking, induced by Hat’s spam-induced closure of the other Nabokov article. Feel free to resume your previously scheduled Vladimirismus at any time.
    Or as Le Guin says, “There is this terrific book that has changed your life, and then you meet the author, and he has shifty eyes and funny shoes and he won’t talk about anything except the injustice of the United States income tax structure toward people ith fluctuating income, or how to breed Blank Angus cows, or something.” What a book says is one thing, what the book’s author says is another, and what the book’s author’s estate says is something else again, usually just “No”.

  10. I’m happy to let John Cowan take topics in whatever direction strikes his fancy; he always has interesting things to say.

  11. “pursuant to an EU directive lengthening copyright to seventy years after the author’s death”: my memory is that the initiative for this appalling piece of retropective legislation came from Germany, for motives that were … well, put it this way: it’s a case worth bearing in mind when one reads of German politicians bewailing political corruption in Greece or Ireland.

  12. Menacle Gosaca says

    Since we are drifting … I just splurged for Janis Rose’s new Finnegans Wake from Houyhnhnm. AFAIK the first hardcover edition published since before I was born. A big, lovely doorstop of a book, if one takes pleasure from that type of thing. He must have made some sort of peace with the Joyce estate in order to get it published, I would guess.

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