Lawrence’s copy of Ulysses is remarkable for its smell

By | November 17, 2010

I’m more than satisfied with my 1960 Bodley Head edition of Ulysses but I would probably prefer to have the T.E. Lawrence-owned first edition that The Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center have in their collection.

“Lawrence's copy of Ulysses is remarkable for its smell. The book has been shown to many visitors and students over the years. When it is carefully removed from the shelf and ceremoniously divested of its acid-free box, which helps preserve the volume, even from several inches away you can smell a sweet, somewhat smoky aroma that suffuses every bit of paper and leather. Many people assume it must be the residue of pipe tobacco, perhaps the fruit-scented variety. […] A Lawrence devotee wrote a letter to the Times saying that the scent could not be tobacco because Lawrence never smoked a pipe (Ed Maggs, a London rare-books dealer and Lawrence admirer, had earlier made the same point during a visit to the Ransom Center). Another correspondent had a theory that the smell was ink. Sniffing a literary controversy in the making, one of us—Richard Oram—decided to have the copy examined scientifically….”

I enjoy the aroma of long-in-the-tooth leather-bound books as much as the next person, but I draw the line at investigating the source of the aroma via scientific testing. It's disappointing, too, that they solved the mystery. I would prefer to believe that the smell came from the exhaust of Lawrence’s motorbike.

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