So a few days ago, I posed the question: Which book is being reviewed here by the editor of The London Sunday Express?
” … the most infamously obscene book in ancient or modern literature … All the secret sewers of vice are canalized in its flood of unimaginable thoughts, images and pornographic words. And its unclean lunacies are larded with appalling and revolting blasphemies directed against the Christian religion and against the name of Christ — blasphemies hitherto associated with the most degraded orgies of Satanism and the Black Mass.”
That was a contemporary 1920s review of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
I came across that remarkable quote in the current (9/26/19) issue of The New York Review of Books. It reminds us that Ulysses, which among its other preoccupations details a variety of human sexual and excretory functions, repulsed many early readers, including Virginia Woolf, George Bernard Shaw, W. B. Yeats and even D.H. Lawrence. Lawrence, who celebrated lusty behavior in his own work, labeled Molly Bloom’s famous concluding soliloquy “the dirtiest, most indecent, obscene thing ever written.” Other early readers such as T.S. Eliot and Ernest Hemingway hailed the book as a masterpiece.
Take a look at “Ulysses on Trial,” The New York Review of Books‘ fascinating account of how publisher Bennet Cerf and ACLU lawyer Morris Ernst waged a brilliant and ultimately successful campaign to help Ulysses navigate its way around anti-obscenity laws so that Joyce’s master work could be published in the United States.
I’ve never read the book, though I think I listened to someone read a bit on the radio. That reminds me that I probably should… and I’d never have guessed that was the terrible book!