About the Book

Book Protagonist: Leopold Bloom
Publication Date: 1922
Genre: Literary Fiction

Historical Context


By James Joyce

'Ulysses' was first published in a serialized form before its full-book publication in 1922.

According to critics, ‘Ulysses’ is “the most important work of modernist literature,” illustrating the complexity of existence with “unprecedented, and unparalleled, linguistic and stylistic skill.” It has been said that Joyce’s use of interior monologue and stream of consciousness goes deeper and further than any other novelist, making it the best example of this genre in contemporary fiction.

About James Joyce

On February 2, 1882, a Catholic middle-class family that would soon fall into poverty welcomed James Joyce into the world in Dublin, Ireland. After attending Jesuit institutions, Joyce attended University College, Dublin, where he first started to write.

Joyce left for Paris after receiving his diploma in 1902 to enroll in medical school. However, he soon gave up on his medical studies and focused solely on composing poetry and short stories.

‘Ulysses’ was first started by Joyce in 1914, and when World War I started, he moved his family to Zurich, Switzerland, where he continued to write it.

The Little Review published the first ‘Ulysses’ installments in serial form in 1918. The Joyces relocated to Paris in 1919, and ‘Ulysses’ was published as a book there in 1922. Joyce started writing ‘Finnegans Wake’ in 1923 as his vision was rapidly failing. ‘Finnegans Wake‘ was eventually published in 1939. 1941 saw Joyce’s demise.

Publication History of Ulysses

‘Ulysses’ publication history is convoluted. There have been at least 18 editions, each with its distinct sensations.

According to Joyce expert Jack Dalton, there were approximately 2,000 faults in the original printing of ‘Ulysses’. Due in part to the difficulties of distinguishing between Joyce’s intentional “errors” designed to test the reader and non-authorial flaws, future editions that sought to rectify these errors would frequently add more.

The Legacy of Ulysses

While the allusions to the classical work that serves as the framework for ‘Ulysses’ are occasionally insightful, other times, they seem ironically designed to offset the frequently trivial and unimportant concerns that occupy much of Stephen and Bloom’s time and persistently divert them from their goals and ambitions. The book also creates a vivid picture of Dublin that is rich in details, many of which are—likely on purpose—either incorrect or at least dubious.

Although ‘Ulysses’ depth of character description and range of humor are its key strengths, the book is best renowned for its use of the interior monologue technique known as the stream-of-consciousness. Joyce aimed to demonstrate that there is no possible clear-cut path through life and to recreate how the mind frequently appears to be random. By doing so, he created a brand-new genre of fiction writing that acknowledged the fact that the moral principles we might try to live by are continually subject to chance encounters, accidents, and mental detours.

The History of Ireland in the Making of Ulysses

Before the Irish Free State was created, in 1904, when ‘Ulysses’ was first published in 1922. Many of the emotions and annoyances of Irish nationalists are reflected in ‘Ulysses’. Stephen Dedalus’ attitude toward English dominance is abrasive. He dislikes how Englishman Haines, who speaks Gaelic, the language that Irish nationalists support, considers Stephen as a source of in-country Irish witticisms.

The raging, insane, anti-Semitic “citizen” of the “Cyclops” incident in ‘Ulysses’ also paints a scathing picture of Irish nationalists. The “Cyclops” episode’s humor parodies Irish mythology as well, which encourages skepticism toward modern Irish nationalism. ‘Ulysses’ has much to say about Irish history and politics, but it declines to provide any clear, concise viewpoint.


Were there any corrections to the original ‘Ulysses’?

The original ‘Ulysses’ text was fraught with errors, both intended by Joyce and unintended by the publishers. As a result, the book confounded many of its readers. Here are a few notable editions of ‘Ulysses’:
Paris: Shakespeare and Company, 1922.
London: Egoist Press, 1922.
New York: Two Worlds Publishing Company, 1929.
Hamburg: Odyssey Press, 1932.
New York: Random House, 1934.
London: Bodley Head, 1936.
Bodley Head, 1960
Random House, 1961.
Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition. Garland, 1984.
Ulysses: A Reader’s Edition. Lilliput Press, 1997.

What was the critical reception of ‘Ulysses’?

A lot of critics had high praises for ‘Ulysses’. It was described as a landmark work of modernist literature, setting the standard for what would follow in the 20th century. It was also denounced for its lewdness, sexual depravity, and perversion of western values among others.

Why was ‘Ulysses’ censored?

‘Ulysses’ was essentially outlawed in the United States when the magazine (Little Review, which published episodes of the book in a serialized form) was ruled obscene during the trial in 1921. The United States Post Office Department destroyed copies of the book throughout the 1920s. The scene of Bloom’s masturbation caused an uproar and effectively led to its subsequent ban in the US.

What impact did ‘Ulysses’ have on contemporary writers?

‘Ulysses’, according to novelist Vladimir Nabokov, is a “holy work of art” and the finest work of prose of the 20th century. It “towers above the rest of Joyce’s writing,” he added, with “noble originality, singular lucidity of thought and style.” Carl Jung and William Faulkner also had high praises for the book and admitted to drawing inspiration from it.

Charles Asoluka
About Charles Asoluka
Charles is an experienced content creator, writer, and literary critic. He has written professionally for multiple reputable media organizations. He loves reading Western classics and reviewing them.
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