Every year on June 16, literary types from all over the world gather together to celebrate James Joyce’s famous novel Ulysses.
In a little more than ten years from now, this ground- breaking novel will celebrate it’s centenary, when it was first published in Paris in 1922. No doubt when that time comes, Dublin, where the novel is set, will receive a notable surge of tourist dollars from literary pilgrims coming in their droves to salute the man and his book. The hotels will do well by it, so will the pubs, and even the local Dubliners in their own peevish way will appreciate that one of their own has affected so many and for so long. Even if he was, when he was alive at the time, reductively dubbed by his own countrymen as ‘a bit of an artist’, or a dreadful atheist and a filthy pervert.
The Jesuits have also changed their tact, Joyce was educated at two of their schools: Clongowes Wood and Belvedere. Both have installed commemorative plaques and a miniature museum to keep his legacy alive. Because God knows the mere mention of his name, with his sins aside, is enough to justify both of these schools’ stratospheric fees. Clongowes Wood has displayed in a glass case the original ledger that listed all the pupil’s misdemeanors and the punishments given out. Joyce was busted for swearing – twice. In Ulysses he would do much more than that; there’s the scatology bits, dear lord, and his fascination for female buttocks as portholes between the microcosm and the macro. The list of Joycean profanities are encyclopedic in length and riddled with words that simply don’t exist on your average Google porn search. Ulysses although set in Dublin is inspired by another great work, Homer’s Odyssey.
Joyce was obsessed with this epic poem since he was a child and practically all of his books make some kind of reference to it. Now Homer is a much bigger potato than Joyce, which is why Joyce proudly used it to platform his own. Each chapter of Ulysses is based on story from the Odyssey, as well as a masterful rendering of a wide range of different styles in both the high and low end of the literary market. But Ulysses is not merely tipping his cap to Homer, as well to most of the Western Canon, it’s practically a history of art. Sadly this book is now mostly known as impenetrable. The line, “I couldn’t get past page 50” has become endemic. But one could wonder whether that’s all Joyce’s fault as millions these days can only focus on glib two liners on Facebook.