“A novel (1922) by James Joyce (1882-1941), regarded by many as the 20th century’s most important work of fiction in the English language. The novel is famous for its innovative use of language and its experimental use of stream-of-consciousness techniques. T.S. Eliot commented: ‘James Joyce has no style but is the vacuum into which all styles rush.’ The book was published by a small press in Paris in 1922, after three US judges banned further publication of chapters in the United States, and it was immediately acclaimed as a work of genius.

The narrative centres on a single day, 16 June 1904, the day on which Joyce had his first formal date with Nora Barnacle (1884-1951), a barmaid with whom he shared the rest of his life. The book tells of the day in the life of its Jewish-Irish hero, Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly, and Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist of the author’s A Portrait of the Artist as as a Young Man (1916). The structure of the book is intended to parallel that of Homer’s Odyssey, with Odysseus’s decade of wandering compared to Bloom’s single day of roaming in Dublin. Bloom thus represents Odysseus (whom the Romans called Ulysses), Molly answers approximately to Odysseus’s wife Penelope and Dedalus corresponds to his son, Telemachus. Joyce described his Homeric parallel–which he worked out in considerable detail–as a bridge across which he could march his 18 episodes, after which the bridge could be ‘blown skyhigh.’ 16 June is now often known (and celebrated), especially in Ireland, as ‘Bloomsday.’

Ulysses was eventually cleared for publication in the United States, the judge concluding: ‘Whilst in many places the effect of Ulysses on the reader undoubtedly is somewhat emetic, nowhere does it tend to be an aphrodisiac.’

It was published in the United States in 1934, and in Britain in 1936.

In 2001 The Bookseller magazine reported that a bookshop assistant had been asked for a copy of James Joyce Is Useless.”

Excerpted from: Crofton, Ian, ed. Brewer’s Curious Titles. London: Cassell, 2002.

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