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Salman Rushdie says he was so impressed by Ulysses it nearly put him off being a writer

The famous author is recovering after being attacked on stage in the middle of August

Salman Rushdie receives the James Joyce Award from the UCD Literary and Historical Society in Newman Building in 2008© PA

James Joyce

Lynne KelleherSunday World

Salman Rushdie has revealed he was so impressed by reading Ulysses in university that it nearly put him off his dream of being a writer.

The famous author is recovering after being attacked on stage in the middle of August as he was about to deliver a lecture at the Chautauqua Institution in New York state on 12 August.

But in an interview recorded on a new feature-length BBC documentary on James Joyce’s seminal work before the attack, the author spoke of the influence of the Irish writer on him as a young student.

“When I first read Ulysses when I was at university, and thinking about, dreaming about being a writer, and the book is so immense in so many ways, it was actually quite off-putting to my dream of being writer, because I thought I can't do that”, he said.

He added: “And plus he's done everything. So what else is there left to do?”

Rushdie went on to become one of the most celebrated writers of his generation.

He has been under a fatwa calling for his death since 1989 when the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued it in response to the Indian-born author’s controversial novel The Satanic Verses.

James Joyce

The BBC Two documentary, James Joyce’s Ulysses, is a new feature-length documentary to mark the 100th anniversary of the publication of Joyce’s modernist masterpiece.

Set during the course of a single day in Dublin in 1904, Ulysses was written in Trieste, Zurich, and Paris during a time of huge historical upheaval.

Its central character is a cuckolded Jew called Leopold Bloom who wanders around the city observing its everyday life.

Even though Joyce lived most of his life in exile, Rushdie observes in the documentary how Joyce carried his native city close to his heart.

“I think Joyce carried Dublin with him very close, wherever he might have found himself whether Trieste or Zurich or Paris”, said Rushdie.

“In his heart, he was always in Dublin.

“It was his imaginative homeland. Here's a writer who for most of his life was not at home.

“And yet in his work, he just went there. He went there every day.”

He also wondered what Joyce’s wife, Nora Barnacle, thought about the book, which is believed to be a tribute to her, set on the day they first met on June 16th, 1904.

“The book, in a way, is about Nora Barnacle, and I wonder what she would have made of it, just to feel so known, to feel that somebody had been able to get so deeply inside her skin”, said Rushdie.

He believes the central character of Molly Bloom is inspired by Joyce’s wife.

“I'm making that awful mistake of equating the fictional character with the real person but I think there's a lot of Nora in Molly (Bloom).”

In the documentary, Professor of James Joyce Studies at UCD, Anne Fogarty, said Joyce filled his house with books about Ireland.

“Joyce put everything he knew about Dublin in”, she said.

The documentary delved into how Joyce did detailed research for the book by using Thom’s 1904 directory of street listings as a source for the various Dublin addresses which appear in the book.

“It contains information on all sorts of things, there is a county directory and Dublin street directory, which was really the main part that Joyce used”, said Joyce scholar, Vivien Igoe.

“If you notice the entry for No. 7 Eccles Street, it's vacant.

“That was Leopold and Molly’s home.”

The documentary also travels to Trieste to the apartment where Joyce and his partner Nora spent their early years before they married.

Joyce expert, Professor John Mc Court, from the University of Macerata, said the couple had an unsettled existence in the Italian city.

“They lived in maybe 20 different apartments in their 10 years in Trieste.”

He notes there was “very little stability” with Joyce “regularly out drinking” while Nora was minding their two small children, Giorgio and Lucia, who were born in Trieste.

“It's a remarkable love story that lasts to the very end.”

In the documentary, Salman Rushdie also comments on the nature of Joyce’s intense love affair with Nora Barnacle.

“They had very raunchy correspondents, to say the least.

“And that makes you see Joyce a bit differently, because it makes you see that he actually was quite a sexual animal.”

But he observed that the genius of the writer was finding beauty in the everyday life.

“Ordinary people doing ordinary things on an ordinary day are capable of grandeur, capable of the epic.

“I think that's one of the greatest achievements of the book.

“That's where the Homeric stuff belongs, it shows us that ordinary life can contain the epic as well and the simple people can be heroes in their way.”

Arena: James Joyce’s Ulysses will be shown on Thursday 8 September on BBC One Northern Ireland at 10.40pm


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