Nicholas (nwhyte) wrote,

The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses, by Kevin Birmingham

Second paragraph of third chapter:
Pound began attending Yeats's Monday dinner gatherings in London. He dashed about with his wild mane of hair, flung himself into fragile chairs, and leaned back in luxuriant repose. His black velvet jacket and facial hair — a long mustache and a tuft on his chin trimmed to a point — were part of his poetic regalia. His flowing capes, open-necked shirts and billiard-green felt trousers rankled London's staid sensibilities. At one of Yeats's gatherings, Pound began plucking the petals off the red tulips on the table and, one by one, he ate them. When the conversation paused, Pound asked, "Would anyone mind having the roof taken off the house?" At which point he stood up and began reading one of his poems in his unabashed American accent.
I picked this up for a pound or two in a remainder shop, but it was well worth it. I am vaguely familiar with Joyce and Ulysses; I must say I had not appreciated just how strong the censorship regimes were in both the UK and the USA at the turn of the century, and the extent to which literary innovation was tied into political radicalism - The Little Review, which initially serialised Ulysses in America, was closely linked to Emma Goldman and generally sympathetic to anarchism. I also hadn't realised the crucial role of Ulysses in the origins of Random House. It's a fascinating story, well told.

Joyce himself comes across as a demanding, self-centred individual, constantly needing financial subvention from (mostly female) donors, his body riddled by venereal disease, driving his family mad. But there's something about his prose that catches your soul, and while there are parts of Ulysses that miss the mark, there are parts that very much hit it. Birmingham makes the very strong case that censorship was wrong and unjustifiable in principle, but the fact that it was being used against a work as hefty (in many ways) as Ulysses made the case for continued censorship weaker (though not in Ireland, where Ulysses was never formally tested but there was a tough regime for censorship of books from 1929 to 1967,, parts lasting until 1998).

This was the top unread book recommended by you last year. (As previously mentioned, I don't think I will be soliciting recommendations in the same way this year.) Next on that list, if I get there, is Script Doctor by Andrew Cartmel.
Tags: bookblog 2017, writer: james joyce

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