The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham - review by Justin Beplate

Justin Beplate

Raising a Stink

The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce’s Ulysses


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The repeal of Prohibition in the United States occurred the same week that federal judge John M Woolsey threw out obscenity charges against James Joyce’s Ulysses, delivering what must have been a double blow to the wowsers and moral guardians of 1930s America. Woolsey’s decision paved the way for the publication of Joyce’s monumental work not only in America, but across the Atlantic as well. Joyce had anticipated as much in a letter to Harriet Shaw Weaver, wryly observing, ‘I suppose England will follow suit as usual a few years later. And Ireland 1000 years hence.’ Joyce was overly pessimistic about the alacrity with which his countrymen would embrace his novel. Today thousands attend the annual Bloomsday celebrations in Dublin, where Ulysses is feted as a towering achievement of high modernism and one of the greatest literary works of any era. 

It is difficult now to appreciate the scandal caused by the publication in Paris of Ulysses in 1922. It was not only the shock of the new; it was also the direct challenge to basic standards of what could be printed in a literary work. Even today, Joyce’s language retains

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