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Judge Joyce for yourself

Updated: Nov 4, 2022

There are so many books that I will have to read and reference at the end of The Groundhog Day Challenge and one of them is Aloysius The Great by John Maxwell O´Brien.

Dripping with Joycean references and characters, I see that one of the characters has the same name as a federal judge famously linked to the censorship of Ulysses which was banned in the US throughout the 1920s and very early 30s.

John Maxwell O'Brien with his copy of Ulysses.

There are plenty of books that I will have to have a look at when I finish The Groundhog Day Challenge and one of them is definitely Aloysius The Great where the writer has cleverly named each character after a Joycean themed reference, my favourite one being Mr. Kgnao, a clever reference to the sound Leopold Bloom´s cat makes in the Calypso episode of Ulysses.

As much loved as this reference is, I always think of a Greek reading of the book on Bloomsday 2018 where a Greek woman read it in her own native tongue and we all lapped it up.


People in Madrid whose parents are also from Madrid are known as Gatos (cats) and proud of it but who knew the audience in Desperate Literature bookshop could speak cat?

I will post the Greek reading "Mkgnao" video as soon as I find it as I know people will love listening to it in another language

There are many clever references that I would not have recognised at first glance and a few variations of Bloom of course such as a Mr Flower and L Blum that we would all recognise but the writer steps out of Ulysses and into the controversial world of the banned book with characters named after people associated with the publication and prosecution of the book such as naming one of the characters James Woolsey.

There are characters named after critics of Joyce and friends who supported him of course but the name John M Woolsey was so critical in the sale of Ulysses in America as Justice Woolsey was the name of the Federal judge who declared that the book wasn't obscene.

United States Versus A Book Called Ulysses

The Right Honourable Judge John M Woolsey

In the Land of the Free, where free education and affordable healthcare are as controversial today as Ulysses was 100 years ago, the judge paved the way for people to be able to judge Ulysses for themselves and while I still find it ironic that you have to be over 21 to buy alcohol in "the Land of the Free and the home of the brave" this brave judge ruled that Ulysses, wasn't obscene only 24 hours after Prohibition in America ended.


Let's raise a glass to Judge Woolsey's decision and maybe open up a copy of Aloysius The Great in a bar somewhere and judge for ourselves if the character named after one of Joyce's middle names, is as great as it sounds.


Firstly the name Aloysius is a reference to James Joyce's own name, and from reviews and details that I have read about Aloysius The Great, author John Maxwell O'Brien has tried to walk in old Aloysius´ epic footsteps. The main character's surname is Gogarty by the way.

Apparently there is even a Sweny's Pharmacy in the book which is clearly a reference to the legendary chemist in Lincoln Place that is mentioned in the Lotus-Eaters episode of Ulysses. I believe he has also taken inspiration from each of the chapter names too.

You will find a Lionel Blum, which is an obvious variation of the surname Bloom but is also a reference to Lionel Blum who is also a character in Friedrich von Flotow’s opera, Martha.

There is even a little poetic justice with a reference to the federal judge John Woolsey who ruled in 1933 that James Joyce’s Ulysses was not obscene and could be imported and sold in America.

Irish Times September 4 2021

In O'Brien's book the New York judge apparently appears as James Woolsey but he can't pull the wool over our eyes on who he is really referring to and quicker than you can say "Lay on MacDuff", he lays on the references to Ulysses.

I can't wait to get my hands on a copy of the book from what I have read and heard as it appears to be dressed in the language of Joyce with characters that surrounded Joyce and Ulysses. Critics, students, friends, whores and even that federal judge.

The central character is called Aloysius the Great, a clear reference to Alexander the Great but also a reference to Joyce as his full name was James Augustine Aloysius Joyce.

John Maxwell O'Brien grew up in New York and is no stranger to the life and times of Alexander the Great. He is an emeritus professor of history at Queens College (CUNY) after teaching ancient and medieval history there for five decades.

He is currently writing a lyrical biography of the Macedonian conqueror, Alexander the Great and I believe he is also a consultant for a projected tv series about him.

Judge Woolsey should have known that his fateful decision to rule that Ulysses was not obscene would forever link him to the controversial works of James Joyce and I am delighted to see that his story hasn't been forgotten by history or by fellow New Yorkers.

I'm sure Americans were thirsty for Joyce's controversial modernist works when it came out in 1922 but just like prohibition at the time, Ulysses was banned in the USA right throughout the roaring 20s up until the very end of 1933 when judge Woolsey's decision was made on the 6th of December 1933, which I believe was a full day after prohibition had ended.

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