February 2, 2010
The greatest comic novel ever written? Depends on your definition of “funny” but, for many, JAMES JOYCE (1882-1941) lays fair claim to three of the funniest. While few today will argue against Portrait of an Artist a Young Man
(1916), not everyone who first read it serialized in The Egoist
magazine of 1914-15 was laughing, or impressed. Some thought it obscene, an opprobrium widely applied to its epic successor, Ulysses
(1922); even those who little understood it knew you couldn’t just let people fuck — not even luscious Molly Bloom. Epic? There’s Homer, of course, but Richard Wagner too, no matter the author’s abashed disavowal: the author, like the text, lies. Joyce devoted the next seventeen years of a singular, heroic life to a “Work In Progress” that was widely derided — even by friends and former advocates — and published complete in 1939 as Finnegans Wake
. It is Joyce’s Catholic Parsifal
, with jokes, and a book of disorienting wonders to rival Sterne’s Tristram Shandy
(which Joyce surely knew) or Melville’s The Confidence Man
(which he probably didn’t). Heed not apostates: Samuel Beckett (Joyce’s secretary during much of Finnegans
‘ composition), Flann O’Brien, Joseph Campbell, and Gilbert Sorrentino (see Mulligan Stew
, for starters) all learned much from it. How so? EUCHRERISK, MERCI BUCKUP, AND MIND WHO YOU’RE PUCKING, FLEEBY.
BRITISH HUMORISTS as HILO HEROES: Tony Hancock | James Joyce | Peter Sellers | Edward Lear | Jerome K. Jerome | Jimmy Finlayson | Stan Laurel | Screaming Lord Sutch | Eric Idle | Roald Dahl | Joanna Lumley | Keith Allen | Ricky Gervais | Steve Coogan | Sacha Baron Cohen | Stephen Merchant | PG Wodehouse | Flann O’Brien | Samuel Beckett | Kingsley Amis | Tommy Cooper
Each day, HILOBROW pays tribute to one of our favorite high-, low-, no-, or hilobrow heroes on that person’s birthday.
READ MORE about members of the Psychonauts Generation (1874-83).