July 1, 2014
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telegraph.co.uk | Article Link | by An Wilson
Can there ever have been a book with a more dramatic publishing history than James Joyce’s Ulysses – written in abject poverty and over a period of seven years during and just after the First World War; printed in Paris (at first, just two copies); vilified as obscene; burnt and impounded at British and American docks; and smuggled like forbidden hooch? (Amusing to read here of Ernest Hemingway’s part in the smuggling.)
Kevin Birmingham has a deep love of the novel, and knows everything about Joyce. His learned book is a gripping page-turner. Ulysses might have been indecent – if graphic language and an obsession with lavatorial and sexual functions is rightly so described. But, whether or not the book is indecent, the sheer decency of its early defenders will be what strikes the reader of this story.
There was demure English heiress Miss Weaver – who published early extracts from the book in an avant-garde journal, The Egoist, and gave Joyce £2,000 – a sum that provided him with an income of £350 (the equivalent today of £11,000). There were Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap in New York, whose Little Review published the first half of the novel in episodic pamphlets – until the notorious “Circe” episode was impounded by the authorities. There was the famous Sylvia Beach, proprietress of the Shakespeare and Company bookshop in Paris, who published the first edition of Ulysses in book form. There was Arnold Bennett, a novelist of such a different complexion from Joyce’s, who could see, in an early review, that Joyce was “dazzlingly original. If he does not see life whole he sees it piercingly”.