Joyce’s Ulysses Celebrates Centenary
by Bel Kelly
A hundred years ago today, on 2nd February 1922, Ulysses was published in Paris by Sylvia Beach.
The novel was not immediately accepted into the literary canon; in many places, it was censored or banned altogether. However, over the course of a hundred years, it has not only been accepted for what it is, but has become revered as one of the greatest pieces of modernist literature ever written.
Ulysses was undeniably controversial. Before being published as a novel, it was serialised and published episode by episode in New York, starting in 1918—but it was never released in its entirety due to a court case in late 1920 that resulted in obscenity charges. It wasn’t until early 1922 that the complete novel finally saw the light.
Censorship and controversy
“In Britain, the director of public prosecutions ordered the book burned due to its ‘unmitigated filth’,” writes Mick Heaney for the Irish Times. Burning wasn’t enough, and several years later the book was banned in the UK.
In a piece for the British Library, Oxford professor David Bradshaw writes, “[Ulysses] was (and remains) an audacious tour de force of trespass, and, between the wars, it was inevitably beset by obscenity prosecutions and many other acts of censure, not only in the UK and the USA, but throughout the anglophone world.”
Despite censorship and controversy, Ulysses was never written out of literary history. It remains a defining novel of the modernist movement, holding great cultural importance in Ireland and specifically in Dublin, the city where it is set.
RTÉ celebrates the centenary
Ulysses will be celebrated in a multitude of ways, as all across the country the centenary is marked over the coming months.
RTÉ is hosting two features on Ulysses, the first of which will be a special episode of Nationwide and will air on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player at 7pm 2nd February.
It will focus on the novel’s legacy and feature a visit to Joyce Tower.
100 Years of Ulysses is a documentary that, according to RTÉ’s website, “sets out to unlock one of most impregnable and explosive books of modern times… 100 Years of Ulysses promises to bring viewers on an enlightening journey into the heart of one of the most inspiring and influential novels and reveals how it remains as relevant today as it ever was.”
This documentary will air Thursday 3rd February at 10:15pm on RTÉ One and RTÉ Player.
The James Joyce Centre
The James Joyce Centre in Dublin is revolving its entire season of events around a celebration of Ulysses, and is hosting, among other programmes, a livestreamed theatre performance of Colin Murphy’s “United States v. One Book Called Ulysses” 19th March at 8pm.
Registration for the performance is available on their webpage.
The centre is also home to a permanent exhibition, “James Joyce & Ulysses,” which celebrates the life of the author and the novel and hosts artifacts from throughout Joyce’s career.
You might want to catch one of these cultural events—but you can also cast a birthday wish for Joyce himself. He turned forty the day Ulysses was published, and would be a hundred and forty this year.