Here is a well-known photograph of Joyce and his editor Sylvia Beach sitting together in his office at Shakespeare and Company (12, rue de l’Odéon, Paris) and, behind them, two newspaper placards, no doubt obtained locally, and may -be surreptitiously.
The top one Sporting Life (known colloquially as ‘The Pink ‘Un’) ad screams THE ‘ULYSSES’ SCANDAL, below are some horse racing odds:
SQUARE DANCE (9–2)
According to the Pall Mall Gazette (27 March 1922), Sargon and Kilvemnon had both won their respective races at Warwick, and Sporting Life had warned them both, which explains the sign. The literary critic for ‘The Pink ‘Un’ was an anonymous hack named ‘Aramis’, whose opinion was that [Ulysses] “seems to have been written by a perverted madman who has made a specialty of latrine literature… I don’t fancy Ulysses. [. . .] James Joyce is a talented writer, but in Ulysses he has excluded all the elementary decency of life and dwells appreciatively on things that the schoolboy hoodlums sneer at. In addition to this stupid glorification of mere filth, the book suffers from being written in the manner of a demented George Meredith. There are whole chapters without any punctuation or other guidance as to what the author really means. Two-thirds are incoherent, and the clearly written passages are devoid of wit, displaying only crude salacrity. [sic] intended for humor.”
Later in the review, “Aramis” says with a flea in his face that Ulysses “would make a Hottentot sick.”
There is a second sign on the photograph announcing author Arnold Bennett’s review of the novel, which appeared in The Bookman (August 1922). “I don’t see anything very wonderful in that,” he growled.
Has there ever been an anthology of authors writing about Ulysses? By that I mean a collection of writing for and against other novelists, contemporaries of Joyce with skin in the game, whether in reviews or essays or letters or journal entries? And has there ever been a collection of the countless negative reviews of the greatest novel ever written? It might be interesting and form the basis of a chapter in my long-planned short history of philistinism.
My vision of the subject – not very original – is that during the 19th and 20th centuries, and in our time, any innovation in the arts, from the Rite of Spring to Anarchy in the United Kingdom, from the Fauves to the Entartete Kunst , from Alfred Ubu Roi by Jarry to Waiting for Godot by Beckett, from Duchamp’s “Fontaine” to Carl Andre’s “Equivalent VIII”, encountered exactly the same incomprehension, hostility, derision and mockery, the artists being invariably portrayed as cynical crooks trying to pull off a fast. one about the public for dishonestly earning a living.
If I can persuade a publisher to support the project, I would begin my research at the James Joyce Collection at the University at Buffalo, the source of the photograph that inspired this essay. Looking at the website page that sums up the collection’s unrivaled content, and then the beautiful catalog, I found myself reflecting darkly on the lack of a written record left by most writers these days:
Spanning the entire span of his artistic life, the James Joyce Collection is the largest Joyce collection in the world and contains his private library; holographic drafts, typewritten pages and corrected galleys and page proofs for Ulysses; 66 quires, transcriptions, typescripts, galleys, page proofs and author’s copy with corrections by Finnegans Wake; materials for A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Joyce’s lecture on Daniel Defoe; the notebook of the only play by the author Exilés; hundreds of letters between Sylvia Beach and Joyce; Beach’s printing records for the publication of Ulysses; Letters from American collector John Quinn to Beach and Joyce regarding the trial of Ulysses and The Little Review as well as other correspondence from Joyce and Beach; Copies of Joyce’s presentation to Beach; portraits and over 150 photographs of Joyce and her family; many personal items [sic] owned by Joyce; thousands of his newspaper clippings; and notebooks, sketchbooks, and letters from Lucia, Joyce and Nora’s daughter. The archive is supplemented by a comprehensive set of first editions, including all issues and states of every book Joyce published, translations, many of his magazine appearances, and virtually all literary criticism in book form about Joyce.
The founding gift, known as The Wickser Gift after its donor, consisted of the contents of Librairie La Hune’s Joyce exhibition, held in Paris in 1949 to raise funds for the Joyce family. It included manuscripts, portraits of Patrick Tuohy of Joyce and his father, and other memorabilia. Perhaps the most extraordinary part of this gift was Joyce’s private library, which arrived in Buffalo in the same condition as when it was packed for storage after the Joyce family left Paris to flee the Nazi occupation. . Other acquisitions came over the years, among others, Marie Jolas and Sylvia Beach. It is fully cataloged and available for inspection online.
But back to the Turf. A racehorse features in one of Ulysses’ few conventional plot points worthy of a modern situation comedy. Bloom bumps into a Dublin stroller named Bantam Lyons outside Sweny’s pharmacy and offers him his diary (“—I say you can keep it, Mr. Bloom replied. I was going to throw it away.”). Lyons mistakenly thinks it was a tip for a horse named Throwaway, a running underdog in the Epsom Gold Cup that day. Tipping is passed around Dublin and Lenehan [Matt Lenehan, a rowdy character in Ulysses] later claims that Bloom himself placed a big bet on the nag at odds of five to one. The horse comes from behind to win (as happened in real life) and predictable anti-Semitic speculation ensues about Jews having a hand in everything.
Also on the turf, one of the many revelations in Vivien Igoe’s book The Real People of Joyce’s Ulysses: A Biographical Guide (University College Dublin Press, 2016) concerns jockey Herbert ‘Morny’ Cannon, who appears in the novel. Here is Bloom, thinking of the Epsom Gold Cup: “Zinfandel is the favourite, Lord Howard of Walden, won at Epsom. Morny Cannon rides it[.]’
What I didn’t know was that Cannon was the great-uncle of legendary jockey Lester Piggott (b. 1935). Cannon rode his first winner at the age of 13 and was, like his great-nephew, a phenomenal jockey. It has to run in the family.