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It shocked the world in 1922 – but here’s why James Joyce's Ulysses was never banned in Ireland

Mary Kenny


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Author James Joyce (left) chatting with Shakespeare & Co bookstore owner Sylvia Beach (centre) and bookseller/publisher Adrienne Monnier. Photo: Gisele Freund/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Author James Joyce (left) chatting with Shakespeare & Co bookstore owner Sylvia Beach (centre) and bookseller/publisher Adrienne Monnier. Photo: Gisele Freund/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

James Joyce in Trieste, Italy, in 1915

James Joyce in Trieste, Italy, in 1915

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Author James Joyce (left) chatting with Shakespeare & Co bookstore owner Sylvia Beach (centre) and bookseller/publisher Adrienne Monnier. Photo: Gisele Freund/Time & Life Pictures/Getty Images

Here’s a well-known pub quiz trick question: “What year was James Joyce’s Ulysses banned in Ireland?” Answer: “Ulysses was never banned in Ireland.” Because Irish literary censorship became so notoriously fierce, it’s always assumed that Joyce’s edgy masterpiece was banned. But it never was.

Ulysses was first published on February 2, 1922 – the centenary is just coming up – and it created a stir from the start. As parts of it had been published previously in an American magazine, it was already the subject of an American obscenity trial even before it was published, in 1921. The New York Society for the Suppression of Vice considered it obscene and campaigned against the book for years – copies were routinely burned by the US postal service.


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