20 Comments

Yes.

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Mar 19Liked by Henry Oliver

Well done. This may be the closest I get to reading Joyce but has increased the chances I read more

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author

If you haven’t read any, start with Dubliners then Portrait. For Ulysses, you must simply persist.

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If you struggle, I would recommend an audio book. RTE even has a dramatised reading from the 80's

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Mar 13·edited Mar 13Liked by Henry Oliver

Really engaging, I could not stop reading until the end of the piece. It made me think of a question that I have had for some time and would like to ask: how or why does taste change through time? How does Joyce’s work or any other artist ‘s work go from being rejected to becoming admired? Is there such a thing as being ahead of its time? And if so, how? Sorry if this is a bit basic, I’m not sure how to learn more about these topics. Really appreciate your work, I have been reading the Common Reader and really enjoy it, thank you. Cheers from Chile!

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author

Not basic at all. Great question. I wonder if we really know? Sometimes there are obvious causes---who reads Somerset Maugham today? Presumably his misogyny is part of the reason, but his prose style also feels old fashioned in a way that isn't true for Evelyn Waugh. A lot of the time, though, quality is the issue. Try reading Sartor Resartorus. It's bad! At the time, people had the context to understand the jokes and appreciate the satire. But we lack that and what's left just isn't very good.

As to why Joyce was rejected, first it was morals, then it was style. His stories are not radical in terms of technique, but said unspeakable things (very tame to us of course). By the time he wrote Ulysses, though, there was the additional question of impenetrability. Imagine reading that book in 1921! Something new in the world! But, many passages are completely unreadable. And then, when you *do* find a comprehensible section, it's "vulgar" "explicit" etc. So you call it smut.

Sometimes, it is an issue of pure style. To really appreciate avant guard work *at the time* you have to be very open and to know a lot. But, sometimes, knowing a lot means knowing what you like, though, hence the reaction against Stravinsky. Read the early reviews of the Waste Land. Lots of people thought it was trash! (Gatsby got stinker reviews, too.)

Sometimes ideas are the heart of it, too. When the neoclassical revolution came in the late C17th and C18th, Donne and others went out of fashion. But now his is widely admired. We don't have strictly classical beliefs about art, so he doesn't contradict us anymore.

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Jun 29Liked by Henry Oliver

When the Nazis invaded France, as a British passport holder resident there, Joyce became an enemy alien. The Free State was neutral and the Irish consul in Paris offered Joyce an Irish passport.

He turned it down.

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I think that Ireland needed both Yeats and Joyce - and some of them actually understood. Ireland on the verge of independence had to forge its own identity independent of Britain and to craft a new identity with which to enter into the future.

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Jun 24Liked by Henry Oliver

thanks so much. a great essay on Ulysses, James Joyce, modernist writing, High Victorian writing, Ireland, W. B. Yeats and on and on. I read Ulysses 60 years ago and think it is up for a second reading. I learned so much from reading this.

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I would suggest that Ireland had to grow into its own identity instead of one handed down to it by the neighbors before it could go about reshaping that identity to focus on the bits it really liked and found useful, in that sense Joyce was definitely ahead of his time.

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Mar 13Liked by Henry Oliver

Lovely piece. I read Ulysses to hear my grandfather's voice, a garrulous opera-loving Dubliner

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author

Thank you! Ah, that sounds lovely.

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Mar 13Liked by Henry Oliver

Very fun to dash through, writing as a huge fan of Ulysses (and jocoserious Joyce in all his work).

It's mistaken to say that Joyce married Nora Barnacle when they left Ireland. They lived (as my mother would've said, "in sin") for decades. It was only long after their children were born. Fromn Nora's wiki page, "the couple were legally married in London in 1931"

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You're right, and we updated the piece to reflect this. Thanks!

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Mar 12Liked by Henry Oliver

This is absolutely brilliant thanks! What is so admirable about Joyce is that he was literally 100 years ahead of the Irish people in his thinking. In Potrait he documents unwarranted abuse by clergy - was that previously documented in Ireland ? His sensibility was European and outward looking where we are today as committed Europeans. He was anti colonialist long before others of his ilk. He was pro democracy anti violence before his time. He was any Catholic 100 years before the Irish people rejected it.

The only thing I tend to think he was wrong about was native Gaelic culture - he rejected it out of hand in favour of classical European culture but there is room for both of course.

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Thanks, glad you liked it so much. I think of him like Swift in many of these regards.

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1. "He met Nora on 10 June 1904: they left Ireland that October. From then on, Joyce lived in Europe."

So he left Europe to stay in Europe? You geographically challenged types should look at a map sometime.

2. Ireland was under British rule at the time. Rule was maintained by the full connivance of the Catholic church, which frowned upon Joyce's subject matter.

3. The language the British spent centuries trying to eradicate -- Irish -- celebrates the kind of ribaldry Joyce wrote.

4. The Irish looked to the Continent -- or "Europe" to the geographically challenged -- for centuries to get out from under the strictures of colonial rule.

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I’m not quite sure what these points are meant to be telling me/correcting. I think my colloquial use of Europe meaning continental Europe is perfectly clear though.

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Your colloquial use is nonsense though. Ireland is in Europe. Everyone in Ireland knows it is in Europe. You may think you are special in Britain and apart from Europe but you are still in Europe too.

If you don't understand the rest, perhaps you shouldn't be writing about Ireland.

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There is an obvious difference between Ireland and the contiguous part of continental Europe

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