“The world broke in two in 1922 or thereabouts,” Willa Cather wrote in a preface to a 1936 collection of essays. Many read her remark as referring to major changes in literary forms and styles underway in the early 1920s, particularly the rise of modernist and experimental literature. We’ve already looked at Jean Toomer’s Cane, a 1923 novel using some of those new styles, in a previous calendar entry. In that same year, Virginia Woolf published two short stories still read today as key examples of modernist literature, employing stream-of-consciousness techniques to illuminate a slice of their main characters’ lives. One of those stories will join the US public domain the day after tomorrow. The other one is already there.
The story already in the public domain is “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street”, which relates a shopping trip of the title character and the thoughts and memories she experiences while going out to buy gloves. Much of what action exists in the story is internal or told in flashback, though the surface narration includes a “violent explosion” at the end whose nature is not made clear in the short story. Woolf later reworked and expanded this short story into the book Mrs. Dalloway, which was published in 1925, and will remain under copyright in the US for a couple of years longer.
Mrs. Dalloway’s original 1923 short story, however, is already in the public domain. It was first published in the July 1923 issue of the American literary magazine The Dial, and there was no copyright renewal filed either for the magazine issue or for the story. (There was a renewal filed in 1953 for the 1925 book, but that renewal is too late to cover the 1923 story.)
“Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” takes place over a small portion of a day. “In the Orchard” features an even shorter slice of life: only about a second, when the main character lies in a chair outdoors on the verge of sleep, and then leaps up exclaiming “Oh, I shall be late for tea!” But as in Mrs. Dalloway’s story, the main point is not the outward action, but a depiction of all that goes on around her, and in her own thoughts. Woolf’s shifts of perspective from Miranda lying in her chair to things happening above her and around her are reminiscent of a wide-scene painting or a cinematic pan and zoom, though the narrative relates a combination of sounds, sights and thoughts that a painting or a film can only partially convey.
“In the Orchard” was first published in the April 1923 issue of The Criterion, a British literary magazine. Again, there’s no renewal for the magazine issue or for the short story. But this story, unlike “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” is still under copyright in the US, at least for two more days.
Why the difference? The reason is a trade agreement that the US made, and enacted into law, to exempt many works first published abroad from copyright formality requirements such as registration, renewal, and notice. (I alluded to this exemption in a previous calendar entry.) Eligible works were not only exempted from such requirements, but retroactively brought back into copyright, if they would still be under copyright as registered and renewed works.
The Copyright Office’s Circular 38A describes in detail the rules of eligibility for copyright restoration. Here’s how they apply to these stories: Virginia Woolf was British, and her works were under copyright protection in Britain in 1996, when the copyright restorations went into effect. So works of hers that were first published outside the US at least 30 days before their first US publication are eligible for restoration. As I mentioned, The Criterion, where “In the Orchard” first appeared, was published in the UK (and not, to my knowledge, in the US). The first US publication of the story that I’m aware of, in the September 1923 issue of the American magazine Broom, was more than 30 days after the April 1923 Criterion, so copyright restoration applies. On the other hand, because “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street”, was first published in the US magazine The Dial, that story is not eligible for copyright restoration.
In this case, the difference will be moot in two days, when “In the Orchard” joins “Mrs. Dalloway in Bond Street” in the public domain at the completion of its full 95-year term. If you haven’t read this story before, or aren’t sure you’d like its style of literature, you’ll have a good opportunity to check out this brief story then, for a little expenditure of time, and no expenditure of money.
We’ve almost reached the end of this Public Domain Day advent calendar. If you’d like to continue reading about public domain works in the new year, though, I recommend checking out The Public Domain Review. It regularly publishes essays about all manner of public domain works, both those newly arrived there and those that have been there for a while. The authors of the essays are generally experts on the works they write about, and can also spend more time discussing the works and their contexts than I do here. If you’re already a fan of the Public Domain Review, you may want to consider supporting it by buying some of its merchandise or making a donation.
One of that site’s regular features is an annual review of some of what’s coming into the public domain, both in the US and in other countries, in the coming year. The latest in this series, Class of 2019, has just been posted, and includes a mention of the Woolf story featured in this post.
2019 update: Link to full text of “In the Orchard” as published in the September 1923 issue of Broom, now in the US public domain, courtesy of the Blue Mountain Project