Fresh Air book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews The Most Dangerous Book by Kevin Birmingham, about the publication and censorship battles over James Joyce’s Ulysses.
There are many heroes in the tale of how James Joyce’s masterpiece, Ulysses, which was banned for over ten years throughout the English-speaking world, finally won its long battle to be legally published, sold, and read. Kevin Birmingham tells that extraordinary story in his new book about Ulysses, called The Most Dangerous Book; as I said, there are many heroes in it, but James Joyce himself isn’t one of them. Narcissistic, manipulative, mean, and dissolute, Joyce was a handful from the time he was a teenager. Here’s an example: when Joyce was just twenty, an intermediary arranged a meeting for him with W.B. Yeats, whom Joyce had publically criticized as a sentimental sell-out. Nonetheless, Yeats was gracious throughout their meeting, even offering to read the younger man’s poetry. Joyce eventually stood up to leave and, in a parting shot, asked Yeats how old he was. Yeats said he was thirty-six and Joyce replied: “We have met too late. You are too old for me to have any effect on you.”
Photo - Young James Joyce