On this day, a federal judge rules that Ulysses by James Joyce is not obscene. The book had been banned immediately in both the United States and England when it came out in 1922. Three years earlier, its serialization in an American review had been cut short by the U.S. Post Office for the same reason. Fortunately, one of James’ supporters, Sylvia Beach, owner of the bookstore Shakespeare and Co. in Paris, published the novel herself in 1922.
James Joyce was born in Dublin, the eldest of 10 children of a cheerful ne’er-do-well who eventually went bankrupt. Joyce attended Catholic school and University College in Dublin, where he learned Dano-Norwegian so he could read the plays of Henrik Ibsen in the original. In college, he began a lifetime of literary rebellion when he self-published an essay rejected by the school’s literary magazine adviser.
After graduation, Joyce moved to Paris. He resolved to study medicine to support himself while writing but soon gave it up. He returned to Dublin to visit his mother’s deathbed and remained to teach school and work odd jobs. On June 16, 1904, he met Nora Barnacle, whom he convinced to return to Europe with him. The couple settled in Trieste, where they had two children, and then in Zurich. Joyce struggled with serious eye problems, undergoing 25 operations for various troubles between 1917 and 1930.
In 1914, he published The Dubliners and his 1915 novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, brought him fame and the patronage of several wealthy people, including Edith Rockefeller. Ulysses, with its radical stream-of-consciousness narrative, deeply influenced the development of the modern novel. Joyce’s final novel, Finnegans Wake, was published in 1939, and Joyce died in 1941.