Ulysses at 100

Eoin Meegan

This year sees the 100rd anniversary of the publication of Ulysses. Joyce started writing the novel as early as 1914 and in the years that followed the manuscript began circulating around the Paris literary scene, catching the attention of literary giants such as T.S. Eliot and Gertrude Stein. Between 1918 and 1920 it was serialised in The Little Review, but when that periodical published the Nausica episode (set on Sandymount which has the leading protagonist Leopold Bloom masturbating), it began to gain the reputation as an obscene work, with the French police confiscating issues of the magazine. For a long time it didn’t look as if it was ever going to be published. Joyce was deeply depressed about this, and exasperated, he turned to his friend Sylvia Beach who ran the publishing company Shakespeare and Company. Beach agreed to publish the book herself, and so on February 2, 1922 Ulysses finally was published in Paris. The English edition came later that same year. The book has always been dogged by controversy and was banned in many countries owing to what some considered lewd and explicit sexual content. But the passing years have been kinder to Ulysses, and today I don’t think it would shock anyone. Writing recently in the Guardian, Anne Enright says “there is no sex in Ulysses – it is all remembered or anticipated sex, all jam tomorrow and jam yesterday and no jam on the single long day of the book itself. A novel that is interested in love and fascinated by the body contains no passionate union, unless you count Molly Bloom’s afternooner with Blazes Boylan, which is intuited by her husband, but which happens off stage.” Today Ulysses, an early proponent of the stream of consciousness technique, is considered one of the great masterpieces of Irish, and indeed world literature. According to Declan Kiberd, “Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking.”
To mark the occasion this year An Post is bringing out two commemorative stamps.