The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses
Head of Zeus, $39.95 hb, 417 pp, 9781784080723
Ulysses was the first novel to become a celebrity in the mass media age. Its reputation was ‘enhanced’ by its alleged scurrility, its banning in the Anglophone world in both serial and book form, its having engendered legal proceedings centred on obscenity and copyright, and its notoriety as a wilfully difficult text. James Joyce wrote a novel that aspired to map its author’s home city – he claimed its success would be founded on the ability to reconstruct Dublin brick by brick from the novel, should the city cease to exist – and to ‘keep the professors busy for centuries’ (so far successful, one would have to say). George Bernard Shaw called it ‘a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilization’, while many other writers and critics dissented, claiming Ulysses to be the wonder of the literary world, a work of genius elevated beyond the ephemera of provincial morals and pearl-clutching citizens’ committees. It encompassed a world in its pages, and created it anew. The novel re-imagined modernity, drawing myth and epic and tragedy into its field of vision, and provided readers with the means to see their lives in the same milieu as that of Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, Molly Bloom, Blazes Boylan, and all the rest. It changed everything.