James Joyce – five days later (1-18-41)

The Pittsburgh Press (January 18, 1941)



One of the most famous and least-read authors of our day has died, his life cut short by privations visited on his ailing body when the conqueror closed in on his adopted homeland.

James Joyce was famous in the sense that every literate person knew his name and his rank as a first-class genius. But it is a fair guess that not one in a thousand who read Ulysses understood it; fewer than that were even able to plow through the cryptic Finneagan’s Wake to its melting-away conclusion:

Finn, again! Take. Bussoftlhee, mememormee! Till thousendsthee. Lps. The keys to. Given! A way a lone a last a loved a long the

James Joyce wrote no period for the last sentence.

Part of his fame was specious – the result of moral censorship. For America, James Joyce’s name will always be important because of Judge Woolsey’s decision in 1933 which lifted the censorship ban on Ulysses 11 years after it was first published, and thus marked a new era in America’s cultural coming of age.

But the question of James Joyce’s literary rank has little to do with this history-making censorship battle. Some critics called him genius. Others considered him a freak. One professor said Ulysses was an expression of “psychic disintegration.” The public, generally, read about James Joyce but did not read James Joyce.

Ulysses probably will remain his monument for the future. Finnegan’s Wake will probably remain a prime literary puzzler, understood only by the initiated. As one of Joyce’s admirers put it:

Don’t know what to call it, but it’s mighty unlike prose.