Dangerous, voyeuristic, transgressive, exciting: James Joyce’s Ulysses at 100

Anne Enright at The Guardian:

When I was young, growing up in Dublin, Ulysses was considered the greatest novel in the world and the dirtiest book ever written. I bought a copy as soon as I had money and it was taken away from me when my mother discovered me reading it – though Lolita, for some reason, had passed unnoticed in our house. I was 14. I was outraged, and delighted with myself, and a little confused. Ulysses contained something worse than sex, clearly, and I did not know what that could be.

“It is very scatological,” my mother said and then, “Look it up!” which is certainly one way to develop a daughter’s vocabulary, though the definition left me no further on. What could be so terrible – or so interesting – about going to the toilet? After much argument, I put the book up in the attic, to be taken down when I had come of age. Four years later, I retrieved it and read the thing all the way through, though I think I skipped some of the stuff in the brothel, which seemed to contain no actual information about brothels, or far too much information, none of which was real, and which managed all this at great length.

Clearly I was missing something. It was sometimes hard to tell if a character was doing a thing or only thinking about doing it and this constant sense of potential gave Joyceans a very peering look. Meanwhile, he was a very great genius, so discussions about what Joyce meant by one or another line were airy, pedantic, and so properly masculine I found it hard to join in. Reading Ulysses made a man very clever, clearly, and a woman not clever, but intriguingly dirty. For some of these intellectual types at least, there was something a little creepy in the way they said: “Fourteen?

More here.