Syphilis is not a character in Ulysses


When I was studying literature at the university I formulated several rules, some of which are reasonable, and a few that are probably just curious observations and not strong enough to be rules. The first was:

All great English literature was written by an Irish author.

You can provide all the exceptions you want but look carefully and you’ll see I’m not exaggerating too much. The second was:

All great English poets were either syphilitic, consumptive, or diddled their sisters.

This one is more anecdotal than factual but was quite obvious in the period of literature I was concentrating on (now I would add drug use but back then I was so innocent).

Now we have new evidence that the greatest novelist in English literature (who was actually Irish and quite naughty) was clearly suffering from syphilis. According to my rules-that-are-not rules, this makes James Joyce that much more admirable, in a literary sense. If a venereal disease was causing his loss of sight, I suggest that it sharpened his inner vision, heightened his sense of language (especially the sound of language), and gave Samuel Beckett the opportunity to become the great author he was. Here is the blurb from The Daily Beast and the link to the original article in The Guardian:

You may never read Ulysses the same way again. A Harvard author’s
new history of James Joyce’s famous novel claims the author was
going blind because he was suffering from syphilis. “I deserve all
this on account of my many iniquities,” Joyce wrote of his failing
eyesight in 1931. Abscesses in his mouth, a boil on his shoulder,
and a disabled right arm were all symptoms of syphilis, Kevin
Birmingham writes. The disease had a profound affect on the author:
He references it at least twice in Ulysses and essentially blames
it for the death of a priest in his story The Sisters.

I have extended and codified my Rules of Literature and added a few Myths throughout the years. I review them once in a while but haven’t felt the need to change anything for years.

What are your thoughts on this?

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