Leopold Bloom, the anti-nationalist star of ‘Ulysses,’ is an ambassador for our day, Mulhall’s editorial in the Washington Post.
A diplomat’s guide to Ulysses in its centenary year, a review of Mulhall’s book by our friend Felix M. Larkin in the Irish Catholic.
James Joyce’s Ulysses was published in Paris on Feb. 2, 1922. A new book by Dan Mulhall, Ireland’s ambassador to the United States , is among numerous international commemorations of the centenary. The 324-page Ulysses: A Reader’s Odyssey is “a turning of the sod rather than a full excavation” of Joyce’s masterpiece, the ambassador said during a Jan. 31 Irish Network-D.C. virtual event. “You could dig forever and ever and never get to the bottom of it. …
… if there is a bottom,” he later qualified.
Ulysses famously chronicles one day–June 16, 1904–in the life of Dubliner Leopold Bloom. Mulhall described the date as “the cusp of Irish history,” roughly halfway between the 1891 downfall and death of Irish parliamentary leader Charles Stewart Parnell, and the revolutionary period of the 1916 Easter Rising. A year after Ulysses was published, W. B Yeats called this period the “long gestation” of a “disillusioned and embittered Ireland.”Irish poet William Butler Yeats. “The Nobel Prize in Literature 1923“.
Parts of Ulysses were serialized from 1918 to 1920 in The Little Review, an American literary journal. This resulted in a 1921 obscenity trial, which effectively banned the book in the United States for another decade. Joyce continued to revise the manuscript to within two days of publication, which happened to be his 40th birthday.
The publisher was Sylvia Beach, an American who had just opened Shakespeare and Company, an English-language bookshop in Paris. The print run of 1,000 included 750 numbered editions, some copies of which today sell for more than $70,000.
Press coverage and reviews of the Paris edition of Ulysses appeared in America by spring 1922. Dr. Joseph Collins, a prominent New York neurologist and author, reviewed the book for The New York Times under the headline “James Joyce’s Amazing Chronicle.” His opening sentence:
A few intuitive, sensitive visionaries may understand and comprehend ‘Ulysses,’ James Joyce’s new and mammoth volume, without going through a course of training or instruction, but the average intelligent reader will glean little or nothing from it — even from careful perusal, one might properly say study, of it — save bewilderment and a sense of disgust.
This was not an indictment, the Times reported 94 years later. Dr. Collins was simply acknowledging that the book was tough going. He was unequivocal when he got to his opinion of the work: “‘Ulysses’ is the most important contribution that has been made to fictional literature in the twentieth century.”
I began reading the book years ago but was unable to finish. I felt chastened by Mulhall’s comment: “You have to be willing to put in the effort. It’s like learning a difficult language, the more you put in the more get out.” My high school French teacher would surely agree.
As noted by his publisher, Mulhall has written and lectured around the world about Irish literature in general and Joyce in particular. He “has worked tirelessly throughout his career to further the impact and reach of Irish writing.”
The Contemporary Music Centre, Ireland and Centre Culturel Irlandais are also presenting a celebration across Ireland and Europe through June. Ulysses Journey 2022 includes the simultaneous world premieres of six newly commissioned music and film works. And come June 16, “Bloomsday” events worldwide will again celebrate the book and Irish culture.