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The Poetry Collection

Case VI: Critical Reactions to Ulysses

51. James Joyce, photograph by Sylvia Beach, Paris, Bloomsday 1925.

52. "Affable Hawk" (Desmond MacCarthy), "Books in General," New Statesman, 20.520, March 31, 1923.

Once Ulysses was finally published, it elicited all sorts of reactions in the press. Joyce and Weaver each subscribed to newspaper clipping services in order to collect this reportage. In this editorial for the New Statesman, Desmond MacCarthy expresses admiration for Joyce's achievement in Ulysses but wonders if perhaps Joyce has set the novel on a dead-end. "It is an obscene book... but it contains more artistic dynamite than any book published for years. That dynamite is placed under the modern novel."

53. Shane Leslie, "Ulysses," Quarterly Review, 238, October 1922.

Of course, many of the reviews of Ulysses were quite negative, such as this one which claims that "the book must remain impossible to read, and in general undesirable to quote. ... Our own opinion is that a gigantic effort has been made to fool the world of readers and even the Pretorian guard of critics. ... From any Christian point of view this book must be proclaimed anathema, simply because it tries to pour ridicule on the most sacred themes and characters in what has been the religion of Europe for nearly two thousand years. And this is the book which ignorant French critics hail as the proof of Ireland's re-entry into European literature!" The last sentence is obviously a reference to Larbaud's essay on Ulysses (items 38 and 39, case IV).

54. S. R., "Ulysses," Granta, December 1, 1922.

Many of the reviews of Ulysses dealt with the question of its purported obscenity. Even positive reviews touched upon this in order to defend the book from charges of prurience, as we see here: "It is true that the book contains more obscene phrases than any other publication; it includes probably every obscene word in the English language. What is this but a part of Everyman, and inseparable from a method which of necessity must completely neglect selection? It is untrue, however, emphatically untrue, that the book is of use to the pornographic reader."

55. George Riley Scott, "The State Censorship," New Age, 43, September 13, 1928.

In this article Scott writes that censorship is an ineffective means of suppressing books since the very act of proscription acts as an advertisement for the banned book. "Thus although Joyce's Ulysses is banned in England and America, tens of thousands of copies have been distributed through the bootleggers at prices ranging from three guineas to five guineas a copy. Had Ulysses never been banned it is a tolerably safe assumption it would not have run into more than two or three editions. To the general public it is an incomprehensible book, its attraction resting solely in the appearance of words which one can hear every hour of the day where workmen congregate." Scott's use of the word "bootleggers" is à propos since Prohibition began in 1920, the year of the trial of The Little Review (item 23, case III), and it ended in 1933, the year the ban on Ulysses was overturned (item 72, case IX).

56. Unsigned, "Ulysses in Omaha: is Sex Stuff Waning?," World Herald (Omaha, NE), August 7, 1927.

According to this article, by 1927 copies of Ulysses, still banned in America, had made their way to Nebraska. The article is both adulatory of Joyce's genius but also skeptical of the merits of Ulysses: "The book has been bootlegged, and one can only decide that it is well that it must be bootlegged. There is no question of Joyce's genius; but it is extremely doubtful whether his labor was justified. The book leaves one breathless and ashamed." Thus, while having no doubts about the artistic merits of Ulysses, the author of this piece nevertheless supports the ban on Ulysses. He concludes that an excessive "pre-occupation with the nastiness of sex" in contemporary fiction, as in Ulysses, "emasculates" literature.

57. The Dial, 72.6, June 1922.

The influential literary magazine The Dial was quick to respond to the furor created by the publication of Ulysses. In the "Dublin Letter" John Eglinton admits that he does not fully understand Ulysses, even the parts in which his character appears. In his "Paris Letter," one of several pieces he wrote in support of Ulysses, perhaps overstating the case somewhat, Ezra Pound proclaims that "All men should 'Unite to give praise to Ulysses'; those who will not may content themselves with a place in the lower intellectual orders; I do not mean that they should all praise it from the same viewpoint; but all serious men of letters, whether they write a critique or not, will certainly have to make one for their own use."

58. Jerzy Stempowski, "Ulysses Joyce'a jako proba psychoanalizy stosowanej," Wiadomosci Literackie (Warsaw), February 7, 1932.

Of course, articles on Joyce appeared throughout Europe, as this article on Ulysses and Freud from Poland shows. The Polish translation of Ulysses first appeared in 1930 (see Case XII for some of the translations we have in the Buffalo Joyce collection).