James Joyce

By: Brian Berger
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

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