The birth of a scandalous book, a mega-city, and a drag TV show
2 February 1922: ‘Ulysses’ celebrates its centenary and a year
Happy 101st birthday Ulysses! Irish writer James Joyce’s magnum opus was released in full for the first time on this day in 1922 with a 1,000 print run out of Paris. Spread across 18 chapters, Joyce’s Ulysses retells the story of Homer’s Odyssey swapping out the Greek hero Odysseus’s return journey from the Trojan wars to Irish-Jewish Leopold’s wanderings around 20th century Dublin.
Ulysses, named after the Latinised version of Odysseus, is one of the greatest achievements in modern fiction by the sheer obsessiveness with which Joyce approached the structure of the novel. Each of the 18 chapters charts different literary techniques, themes and narrative objectives.
It’s a puzzling epic that most casual readers baulk at. But while today most people are aware of Ulysses’ reputation as an almost unreadably complex long novel that’s largely heralded as great by the most annoying characters in an English tutorial, in 1922 it garnered a different kind of controversy.
Joyce had published chapters of Ulysses in the years prior to 1922. Chapters published in the UK in 1919 meant that the full novel was completely banned in the UK until 1936. When Episode 13, ‘Nausicaa’ was published in the US literary journal ‘The Little Review’ in 1921, the themes of masturbation led to an obscenity trial.
The US obscenity trial led to the book being banned, and during the 1920s, the US Post Office Department burned copies, until the ban was repealed in 1934. Despite no ban for Ulysses in Joyce’s native Ireland, customs loopholes prevented it from reaching the country officially until the 1960s.
1653: New York becomes a city, not called New York
Few cities are as iconic as New York City. As far as cultural settings go, New York has provided a chameleonic location for endless films, TV shows, books, theatre, and more. Dense, sprawling and packed with wealth, poverty, humour and darkness, New York City is the perfect synecdoche for modern life worldwide.
But that wasn’t always the case. Once New York City was merely an early point on the Hudson River, an important trading route connecting the Atlantic Ocean with new European colonies in America.
Wanting to protect their position on the river from other European colonial powers, in 1624 the Dutch West India Company paid 30 families to move to Manhattan Island where a citadel called Fort Amsterdam was being constructed.
Fort Amsterdam slowly grew in size as the Dutch found it an increasingly useful tactical base, until on this day in 1653, municipal rights were given establishing New Amsterdam as a city. In 1664 the British took New Amsterdam, renaming it after the Duke of York the following year.
2009: Ru Paul’s Drag show premieres
It’s hard to imagine television before Ru Paul filled our screens for weekly contests of sewing, strutting and slut dropping. It was probably a far less fun place.
On 2 February 2009, Logo TV premiered the first ever episode of ‘Ru Paul’s Drag Race’. The series was won by BeBe Zahara Benet and the show has gone from strength to strength ever since.
It has spawned multiple spin-off shows and has been franchised across 15 other countries. While some may bemoan the commercialisation of an important part of queer culture, the show has undisputedly raised the profile of the drag community to heights never before.
“If you can't love yourself, how in the hell are you gonna love somebody else! Can I get an amen?”