In the September issue of the Dublin Review, “Domini Canis” declares that Ulysses, the recently published novel by James Joyce, 40, Irish writer living in Paris, is:
A fearful travesty on persons, happenings and intimate life of the most morbid and sickening description…spiritually offensive…[a] Cuchulain of the sewer…[an] Ossian of obscenity…[No Catholic] can even afford to be possessed of a copy of this book, for in its reading lies not only the description but the commission of a sin against the Holy Ghost…Doubtless this book was written to make angels weep and to amuse friends, but we are not sure that ‘those embattled angels of the Church, Michael’s host’ will not laugh aloud to see the failure of this frustrated Titan as he revolves and splutters hopelessly under the flood of his own vomit.”
“Domini Canis,” or “Hound of the Lord,” is actually Shane Leslie, 37, Irish writer and diplomat.
A longer version of the same piece appears the following month in London’s Quarterly Review, under Leslie’s real name. Leslie knows that his readership in England is more likely to be Protestant than Catholic, so he changes a few things:
As a whole, the book must remain impossible to read, and undesirable to quote…We shall not be far wrong if we describe Mr. Joyce’s work as literary Bolshevism. It is experimental, anti-Christian, chaotic, totally unmoral…From any Christian point of view this book must be proclaimed anathema, simply because it tries to pour ridicule on the most sacred themes and characters in what had been the religion of Europe for nearly two thousand years.”
In late October, poet and playwright Alfred Noyes, 42, delivers a talk to the Royal Society of Literature, which appears in the Sunday Chronicle under the title, “Rottenness in Literature”:
It is simply the foulest book that has ever found its way into print…[In a court of law] it would be pronounced to be a corrupt mass of indescribable degradation…[This is] the extreme case of complete reduction to absurdity of what I have called ‘the literary Bolshevism of the Hour.’”
Noyes has been reading Shane Leslie, obviously.
When Leslie’s screed in The Quarterly Review is brought to the attention of the Home Office by a concerned citizen, the undersecretary instructs his department to confiscate any copies of Ulysses entering the country. Of course, he doesn’t have a copy to read himself.
In New York City, Edmund Wilson, 27, managing editor of Vanity Fair, has been quite impressed by Ulysses and said so in his review in the July issue of the New Republic. He is even more impressed that, as a reward for his insight, he has received a thank you note from Joyce, written by his publisher, American bookshop owner Sylvia Beach, 35. This will make his literary friends green with envy.
Note from Sylvia Beach to Edmund Wilson
In Paris, Joyce wants to let his partner, Nora Barnacle, 38, mother of their two children, know how important her support is to him. He gifts her copy number 1000 of Ulysses, with a personal inscription, and gives it to her at a dinner party. Nora says she can probably sell it.
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the series, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s. Volumes I through III, covering 1920 through 1922 are available at Thoor Ballylee in Co. Galway, and as signed copies at Riverstone Books in Squirrel Hill, Pittsburgh, PA. They are also on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in print and e-book formats. For more information, email me at email@example.com.
Later in the year I will be talking about the centenary of the publication of T. S. Eliot’s The Waste Land at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institutes at Carnegie-Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is also available on Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk in both print and e-book versions.