The Egoist, The Little Review, Dubliners, Ulysses
a novel by James Joyce, one of the most notorious, celebrated, and influential works of the twentieth century. Early chapters appeared in The Egoist in 1919 and then, in 1920, in The Little Review which was prosecuted by a New York court for publishing obscene matter. It was eventually published in full by Shakespeare and Co., a Paris bookshop, on 2 February 1922. After a long and now legendary saga involving confiscations by British Customs, a burning by the US postal authorities, and the clandestine efforts of Joyce and friends to publish and distribute his masterpiece, the first British edition finally appeared in 1936. Originally an idea for a short story to be included in Dubliners, Ulysses became a massive and complex gesture to encompass the concerns of mankind within a single book, a small city, and a single day. Taking its name from the Roman translation of ‘Odysseus’, it transposes the Homeric myth to the events which unfold during eighteen hours in Dublin on 16 June 1904 (a date dubbed ‘Bloomsday’ by Joyceans). Parallels with Homer focus upon themes such as fatherhood and betrayal, which are universal to both past and present; they also poke an ironic stick at the disparity between the ancient heroic and the modern mundane. The novel's three central characters, Stephen Dedalus, a struggling writer reincarnate from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Leopold Bloom, a Dublin Jew, cuckold and seller of advertising, and Molly Bloom, wife, adulterer, and part-time chanteuse, hardly resemble Telemachus, Odysseus, and Penelope. And yet modern life requires its own form of heroism: the heroic effort of the mind to distract itself while it endeavours to reconcile its conflicts. It is in the forms of such distraction that the body of the novel takes place: from Dedalus's philosophical ruminations on Dollymount Strand and Bloom's voyeuristic walk before breakfast, to the chaos of both their subconscious minds in a Dublin brothel and Molly's final ‘soliloquy’ which alone can keep all things together in one, unpunctuated breath. The action of Ulysses occurs internally, through a ‘stream of consciousness’; externally, nothing extraordinary happens. Dedalus and Bloom wander through their day unconnected, their paths occasionally crossing, until they meet without consequence. From a realistic beginning, Joyce gradually reveals a labyrinth of allusion, erudition, parody, and linguistic experiment until what was apparently insignificant becomes unfamiliar and difficult to understand. In places, the reader might benefit from an awareness of The Odyssey, Hamlet, Irish history, the history of English literature, medical science, or the topography of Dublin. But these are only a few of the ways through a richly rewarding, hilarious, and moving novel about being human.
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