You’ll see a lot of publicity around the centenary of James Joyce’s Ulysses tomorrow (it’s a hundred years since it was published) but I’m already growing a little cynical about the inevitable over-the-top lauding of its praises and self-congratulatory hoo-balloo.
When Ulysses was first published in 1918 (for context, this was just two years after the Easter Rising), it was serialized in parts via an American Literary Journal until 1920 before being published in its entirety in 1922. The book was subsequently blacklisted and banned from publication due to its ‘obscenity’ (although there were many pirated copies) until the mid-1930s.
Joyce had already left Ireland by then however (in 1902) and he was very much an ex-isle by the time his ‘success’ kicked in. It certainly seems that he didn’t have much patience for much of Irish society at the time. He despised the Catholic Church, he was openly contemptuous of the various political movements (and there were a lot during that period) but he seems to have reserved a particular level of scorn for the Irish literary sector, most particularly for the romanticised (and very anglicized) Celtic Twilight representation of Irish culture as pushed by W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory and other members of the Irish Literary Renaissance.
Joyce was essentially pilloried in Ireland for two decades by the established hoi-polloi and literary gatekeepers of the time but, in a sense, he had the last laugh. His huge success later in life means that today, it’s that exact same group of government-sponsored literary organisations who’ll be out there telling everyone what a literary genius he was. Most of them, will probably not even have read the book.
I’m sure if he was still alive, he’d appreciate the irony.