Antony Burgess, the novelist once said “I was both disqualified and castigated when, in a school essay competition, I declared that James Joyce’s Ulysses was my favourite book…Now, making the identical declaration, I will be sneered at for the banality of my choice. Everybody knows now that Ulysses is the greatest novel of the century”. James Joyce's Ulysses was published in February, 1922, at the age of forty. Ulysses of course is his masterpiece but there are others he wrote of course. In 1914 Dubliners was published, a collection of short stories, the short novel, the Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man in 1916, Exiles two years later and of course a lot more including Finnigans Wake. Tom Paulin, the literary critic and poet even went to far as to compare Ulysses with paradise Lost. He wrote in the guardian newspaper on 29th August 2000 the following:
Joyce, unlike those lesser modernist writers, Eliot and Pound (Pound is distinctly less), was famously free of prejudice. In Joyce's work there is a place for everybody, and an unrelenting scorn for all forms of bigotry.
Early in Joyce's great, tough-minded epic Ulysses, Stephen Dedalus listens to a tedious monologue delivered by the headmaster of the school where he is teaching. Mr Deasy is a unionist and he tells Stephen: "England is in the hands of the Jews. In all the highest places: her finance, her press. And they are the signs of a nation's decay. Wherever they gather they eat up the nation's vital strength."
Joyce balances Deasy's anti-semitism with that of the nationalist fanatic and pub bore, the Citizen - he is Cyclops in his stinking cave and he attacks Bloom, asking him "what is your nation?" When Bloom says "Ireland. I was born here. Ireland," the Citizen spits in the corner. A few pages earlier, the narrator of this episode points to a story and photograph in the newspaper of a lynching in the Deep South of the US.
Joyce hated racism in all its forms. He didn't believe in race, didn't believe you needed "Irish blood" to be Irish. He gave up attending Patrick Pearse's Gaelic classes because, he said, Pearse was asking his pupils to feed on "the old pap of race hatred.
Indeed. James Joyce not only is credited with producing one of the greatest masterpieces in literature of the twentieth century but of all time and much more than that. In his works, Ulyssess and the Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man particularly, there is not only genius but humility, humanity, morality, a sense of justice and altrusim, that can not be said of modern writers generally, or even as writers in history as Paulin so aptly points out. Why then, one may argue, was he not awarded the Nobel Prize in Litearture? Only the Nobel Prize Committee can answer that question.
Marcel Proust is another 'giant' who was also not given the award. His masterpiece À la recherche du temps perdu (in Search of Lost Time) was published between 1913-1927. Swann's Way (volume one) was published in 1913; in the Shadow of the Young Girls in Flower (volume 2), in 1919; the Guermantes Way, a year or two later; the final volume Finding Time Again, so the work of monumental genius took a generation to complete.
Edmund White, in 1999, said in the New York Times the following
Graham Greene once wrote: "Proust was the greatest novelist of the twentieth century, just as Tolstoy was in the nineteenth.... For those who began to write at the end of the twenties or the beginning of the thirties, there were two great inescapable influences: Proust and Freud, who are mutually complementary." Certainly Proust's fame and prestige have eclipsed those of Joyce, Beckett, Virginia Woolf and Faulkner, of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, of Gide and Valery and Genet, of Thomas Mann and Bertolt Brecht, for if some of these writers are more celebrated than Proust in their own country, Proust is the only one to have a uniformly international reputation. The young Andrew Holleran, who would go on to publish the most important American gay novel of the seventies, Dancer from the Dance, wrote a friend eight years earlier: "Robert, much has happened: That is, I finally finished Remembrance of Things Past and I don't know what to say--the idea that Joyce ended the novel is so absurd; it's Proust who ended the novel, simply by doing something so complete, monumental, perfect, that what the fuck can you do afterwards?
Yet it is amusing people can write these things and yet not be a recipient for the great literary award. Virginia Woolf, found the novel 'boring', and complained that 'nobody told me he was a mental defective'. It is seldom you will find any of the two writers writing above missing from the great novels and novelist of the 20th century and it is a sad indictment from the Nobel Prize Committee to make these disgusting decisions. There are other writers too who have been ignored in Stockholm: Nabokov, Auden, Chekhov, Borges, Henry James, Ibsen and of course many, many others.
11th April, 2015