Yes, Ulysses is one of the greatest works from the 20th century, and it was written by one of the greatest Irish master writers. The text is dense, and is often described as “difficult,” or even “impossible” (thought it’s nothing compared with Joyce’s final novel: Finnegan’s Wake). Joyce wrote the book, ranging over roughly 7 years (from 1914-1921). He wrote and re-wrote passages, packing meaning and context into every phrases.
It’s likely that you’ll either love the book, or you’ll absolutely hate it. But you should know something about the long and rather illustrious career of the author (and his book)…
- 1914: James Joyce started writing Ulysses (though he’d already had the early idea for Ulysses during the time he was working on Dubliners, and even before…)
- 1918-1920: The book was first serialized in The Little Review.
- 1919: Sections of Ulysses were published in The Egoist, a London literary journal.
- 1920-1921: The serialized “Nausicaa“ episode, in The Little Review, was first seized and challenged in a New York court. The court ruled against The Little Review, declaring the publication “obscene”.
- 1922: The novel was first published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach at Shakespeare and Company.
- 1929: The Roth edition was published in New York.
- 1932: The Odyssey Press was published.
- 1933: Random House imported copies of the novel from France. Customs officials seized the book and the publisher contested the seizure. In the ensuring court case (United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled in the books favor, indicating that the book was “not pornographic,” and that “Joyce has attempted–it seems to me, with astonishing success–to show how the stream of consciousness with its ever-shifting kaleidoscopic impressions carries…” Judge Woolsey further said that Joyce “shows how each of these impressions affects the life and behavior of the character which he is describing.”
- 1934: The Random House US edition was published, with a revised edition in 1961.
- 1934: The Second Circuit Court of Appeals upheld the earlier ruling. Judge Austus Hand further indicated: “We think ‘Ulysses’ is a book of originality and sincerity of treatment, ant that it has not the effect of promoting lust.”
- 1936: The Bodley Head edition was published, with a revised edition published in 1960.
- 1967: A film adaptation appeared, directed by Joseph Strick. It was nominated for an Academy Award.
- 1975: T.S. Eliot wrote: “I hold this book to be the most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape….The next generation is responsible for its own soul; a man of genius is responsible to his peers, not to a studio full of uneducated and undisciplined coxcombs.”
- 1984: The Gabler edition appeared. Once considered the most authoritative text, the veracity of this edition has since been challenged.
- 2004: Jim Norton performed an audio recording of the unabridged text, in 22 CDs.
- 2010: The Wordsworth edition was published, authorized by the Joyce estate.