Newspaper brought to book for claiming Joyce's ‘Ulysses’ as British novel

‘Telegraph’ amends headline to ‘British and Irish’

Dubliners by James Joyce:  included with works by Flann O’Brien and John Banville in the Daily Telegraph’s ‘100 Best British novels’

Dubliners by James Joyce: included with works by Flann O’Brien and John Banville in the Daily Telegraph’s ‘100 Best British novels’


It’s official, to paraphrase Olivia O’Leary. The British have noticed we’re a separate country, although in the case of the Daily Telegraph, as recently as yesterday, it had to be pointed out by readers.

With the champagne glasses barely dry on the first state visit to the UK by an Irish President, the Telegraph tested the new entente cordiale by compiling a list of what it called the “20 Best British Novels of All Time”.

And not since Brian O’Driscoll was excluded from a certain rugby team last summer has there been such outrage on this island as was caused by the inclusion of James Joyce, Flann O’Brien and John Banville in a selection of “British” literary lions.

Tensions at the Anglo-Irish interface briefly threatened to match the situation in eastern Ukraine, but before anyone in Dublin could appeal for UN peacekeepers or threaten to liberate Wexford-born Banville from the imperialist aggressors by force, the Telegraph wisely backed down and amended the headline to the “20 Best British and Irish Novels of All Time”.

Oh well. Given the centenary that’s in it, Joyce might have enjoyed the controversy. It will be 100 years this June since he published Dubliners , the most famous story in which has a character based on him being called a “West Briton” by a fiery Sinn Féiner, Molly Ivers.

The author of Ulysses – the novel included in the Telegraph ’s li st – was no great nationalist, but in abandoning Ireland, he bypassed Britain too, writing his masterpiece while exiled in several European cities, none of them called London.

Flann O’Brien, included in the list for At Swim-Two-Birds, would surely have had a laugh too. He was born in Strabane, still officially part of the UK, but he emigrated to mainland Éire early in life.

He is never known to have set foot on the island of Britain, apart from a brief spell in Glasgow where his father was an excise officer, and since he was only a baby at the time, he may not have actually set foot on Glasgow either.

Still, he did once have his fictional alter ego, Sir Myles na gCopaleen, executed for “treason” by the British. He also had Sir Myles reporting his own funeral and the resultant crisis in relations between Dublin and London, in this newspaper.

In any case, where Michael D’s heroics of last week failed, the Telegraph’s more politically sensitive readers succeeded.

The faux pas was quickly corrected. The debate then moved on to other outrages: notably the inclusion of Jilly Cooper in the top 20, at the expense of (among others) Jane Austen.