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‘A huge cascading event right across Europe’ – Joyceans mark centenary of writer’s modernist masterpiece Ulysses

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Gillian Pepper, Patricia Heary and Rose Hagan, of the St Andrew’s Joycean Society, gather in Sweny’s Pharmacy at Lincoln Place, Dublin, ahead of the centenary of the publication of Ulysses. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Gillian Pepper, Patricia Heary and Rose Hagan, of the St Andrew’s Joycean Society, gather in Sweny’s Pharmacy at Lincoln Place, Dublin, ahead of the centenary of the publication of Ulysses. Photo: Steve Humphreys

James Joyce. Photo: Getty Images

James Joyce. Photo: Getty Images

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Gillian Pepper, Patricia Heary and Rose Hagan, of the St Andrew’s Joycean Society, gather in Sweny’s Pharmacy at Lincoln Place, Dublin, ahead of the centenary of the publication of Ulysses. Photo: Steve Humphreys

A century after if was first published as a novel in Paris, James Joyce’s Ulysses is still making its mark.

Even those who haven’t read the dense yet exhilarating tome are aware of its global impact, including its annual spin-off Bloomsday, which is celebrated every June.

The novel chronicles a single day – June 16, 1904 – in the lives of Stephen Dedalus and husband and wife Leopold and Molly Bloom as they meander through the streets and suburbs of Dublin.

To mark the centenary, An Post last Thursday released two new stamps.

The book was initially published as a series of stories in an American journal and first published as a complete novel on February 2, 1922, Joyce’s 40th birthday.

Dubliner Elizabeth Watson from St Andrew’s Joycean Society said she believes we are still talking about the book 100 years later because “it’s the kind of book that any time you go to it, at whatever time of your life, you see something different, or you get something different from it. I think it is very unique like that as a book.

“I also think, it is such a brilliant and open account of Dublin at that time. When you think about it, in the context of the time, it’s phenomenal really.”

Ms Watson said that she first attempted to read the book when she was 15 or 16.

“I wasn’t successful the first time round. I started at the beginning and struggled.

“In my 20s, I went back to it,” she said.

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This time, she decided to start with a different chapter – ‘Lotus Eaters’ – which is much easier to read, and took it from there. “Over the years, you pick up things as you engage with talks, and it gives you further insight.”

Ms Watson says the book has brought her a lot of joy, and believes there is a huge amount of pride in Joyce’s work. “A hundred years later, we are able to celebrate it, and his work and his achievements.

“It’s a shame he didn’t get to enjoy that at the time.”

She would encourage anyone to read it – even if it’s only a part of it. “You get a lot out of the chapters, just enjoy it. There is something for everybody in it.”

Dr Sam Slote, Associate Professor at the School of English at Trinity College Dublin, said: “While Ulysses might mean different things to different readers, it can also – precisely because it is such a rich book – mean different things to the same person over the years.”

The book was published in Paris by Sylvia Beach, who ran the Shakespeare and Company bookshop.

“The first edition was a limited edition for a variety of reasons, with only 1,000 copies. But it sold out much quicker than anticipated.

“So to that extent, it was selling well. It made a big splash. There were a lot of reviews throughout different media. It made an impact and was discussed in a variety of different venues.”

Joyce may not have been particularly well known in Europe before Ulysses, but that changed afterwards. “It was a huge cascading event throughout European countries,” said Dr Slote.

Ulysses was never banned in Ireland but it was censored in the US until 1934 and there was no legal edition in Britain until 1936.

“Before the first legal British and American publications, there were translations of Ulysses in French, German, Czech and Japanese. So it was easier to get in a foreign language than it was in English,” said Dr Slote.

Joyce spent seven years on the book which, in the context of the time it took him to write Finnegan’s Wake – 17 years was relatively quick work.


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