Comments from Francine Cunningham, The Irish Times

Leopold Bloom would have raised a glass to the occasion. His creator has just been awarded the top honours for Ulysses in a new list of the 100 finest English-language novels published this century.

James Joyce also got the third place, with Portrait of an Artist, as well as 77th place with Finnegans Wake. The extraordinary book about a day in the life of one Dubliner heads the list of 100 novels selected by the editorial board of Modern Library, a division of the publishing company Random House, which has been publishing literature since 1917.

Since its publication in 1922, Ulysses has offended censors on both sides of the Atlantic. Joyce’s masterpiece was banned in the US as obscene from 1920 to 1933, but the ban was finally lifted by a federal judge who called the book”a sincere and serious attempt to devise a new literary method for the observation and description of mankind.” On the list of best novels, published in yesterday’s New York Times, second place is awarded to The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s novel of 1920s Long Island. After A Portrait of the Artist at third place is Lolita, Vladimir Nabokov still-controversial account of a middle-aged man’s obsession with a pubescent girl. Brave New World, Aldous Huxley’s disturbing tale of civilisation of the future, is at fifth place.

Other Irish books on the Modern Library list are Elizabeth Bowen’s The Death of the Heart at 84, and J.P. Donleavy’s The Ginger Man at 99. Ms Bowen is one of only eight women on the list. They are led by Virginia Woolf at 15 with To The Lighthouse, followed by Carson McCullers at 17 with The Heart Is A Lonely Hunter. Others are Edith Wharton (twice), Muriel Spark, Willa Cather, Jean Rhys and Iris Murdoch.

The list includes 58 books by American authors, including several titles by Ernest Hemingway and William Faulkner. There are more than 30 British writers represented, including D.H. Lawrence and E.M Forster. But English speaking writers from India and South Africa are largely ignored.