12 of the Sweet Valley High Books' Most Ridiculous Plotlines

Many of the Wakefield twins' adventures in Francine Pascal’s Sweet Valley High series are typical teenage stuff: Young love, drama at school, difficulty at home. Sometimes, though, the plotlines of the SVH books were, in a word, bonkers. Here are a few of our favorites.

Note: It’s impossible to cover every ridiculous thing that happened in these books, so some information has been left out. For more complete explanations, check out Shannon’s Sweet Valley High Blog.

1. ELIZABETH’S BEST FRIEND IS PARALYZED IN A PLANE CRASH ... THEN IS QUICKLY UNPARALYZED.

The Book: Crash Landing! (No. 20)

Enid, Elizabeth’s best friend, is dating George, who just got his pilot’s license. He takes her along on his first solo flight, where he plans to break up with her so he can date a girl named Robin—but before he can do that, the engine dies, and the plane crashes in a lake. Enid saves George, but in the process hurts her back and is paralyzed from the waist down. George decides not to break up with Enid while she’s hurt (how nice of him!). Enid gets an operation on her spine, and goes to the school dance in a wheelchair. As she watches George dance with Robin, she can tell they're in love—which of course bums her out.

A few days after the dance, Liz invites Enid over and asks her to watch a kid named Teddy while he plays by the pool. Teddy falls in, and Enid is able to stand up, jump into the pool, and save him. She can walk again! It was all part of a plan hatched by Elizabeth; Teddy was her accomplice. Liz receives a standing ovation at a restaurant for so brilliantly orchestrating Enid’s recovery. Enid, meanwhile, decides she just wants George to be happy, and sets him free so he can date Robin.

2. JESSICA JOINS A CULT.

The Book: Kidnapped by the Cult! (No. 82)

Jessica gets grounded for her awful grades for three weeks; on her first day out, she’s annoyed when her boyfriend, Sam, plans to go to a dirt bike race instead of spending the day with her. She goes to the mall to mope, where she meets some kids from a group called The Good Friends. They tell her that they, too, used to be sad and mopey—until they met Adam Marvel, who took them in. They invite Jessica to dinner, and it’s not long before she’s sucked in, ditching her flashy clothes for more subdued outfits and helping the group collect money for charity. Even when Jessica finds out that The Good Friends isn’t donating that money to charity, she still can't be convinced that the group, and dreamy Adam Marvel, are bad.

Concerned that Jessica is in over her head, Elizabeth poses as her sister and infiltrates The Good Friends, where one member, Susan, tells her to get out while she can. Not long after, Adam tells Jessica that Susan left, and the group is going to move to another town. He wants her to come with them. Jessica packs a bag and goes to The Good Friends’ house, but hesitates when Adam asks her to get in the van with the rest of the group. Just in time, Sam, Elizabeth, and Todd, Liz's boyfriend, show up to stop her; Sam finds Susan, who’s actually an undercover reporter, bound and gagged in Good Friends’ HQ, and Todd has called the police. Adam is arrested; everything returns to normal.

3. JESSICA SPIKES ELIZABETH'S PUNCH AT PROM; LIZ DRIVES DRUNK, CRASHES, AND KILLS JESSICA'S BOYFRIEND.

The Books: A Night to Remember (Manga Edition No. 2), The Morning After (No. 95), The Arrest (No. 96), The Verdict (No. 97)

Elizabeth and Jessica are both vying for queen of the jungle-themed prom. It's not just the title at stake: The winner will get a trip to Brazil. On prom night, Jessica wants Elizabeth to lose, so she spikes her punch with booze she charms from another student. Elizabeth gets drunk and withdraws from the race for queen, and Jessica wins. After a commotion is caused by some uninvited kids from a rival school, Liz and Sam leave the dance together, with Elizabeth behind the wheel of the twins’ Jeep. They get into a car accident, and Sam is killed.

Over the next three books, the Wakefield family deals with the fallout: Elizabeth, who can’t remember anything about the crash, is arrested and spends the night in a holding cell with a prostitute; she’s eventually released, but is charged with involuntary manslaughter. Jessica, who wants Liz to go down for Sam’s death, alienates her from her best friend Enid and manipulates Todd into making out and going out on dates. Liz has nightmares about someone who looks just like Jessica, but with dark hair, who is trying to kill her (more on that later).

Eventually, Elizabeth goes on trial. The defense doesn’t have much of a case, because Liz can’t remember anything—but then, on the last day, a surprise witness named Gilbert comes forward to say he was out drunk driving that night and caused Elizabeth to crash. In the most unbelievable twist in the story, Liz—who was, in fact, driving with a lot of alcohol in her system—is acquitted. (Jessica’s role in the whole affair isn’t revealed until a few books later, when Liz has a number of dreams about the prom that show Jess spiking her punch. They eventually make up, despite the fact that Jessica is clearly the worst sister ever.)

4. A DOPPELGANGER PLOTS TO MURDER ELIZABETH—AND TAKE OVER HER LIFE.

The Books: The Morning After (No. 95), The Arrest (No. 96), The Verdict (No. 97), The Wedding (No. 98), Beware the Baby-Sitter (No. 99), The Evil Twin (No. 100)

Margo, like the Wakefield twins, is 16. She’s plotting her escape from her foster home in New York. Margo sets the house on fire to kill her foster sister—who saw not just the money Margo had saved up, but also the bus schedule Margo was reading—and takes off for Cleveland, where she gets a job as a nanny for a wealthy family. Eventually, she drowns the boy she’s been nannying for, steals money from his parents, and heads to California, where she thinks her real family lives. For some reason, the bus Margo is on heads to Houston, where Margo gets off and sees a newspaper with a photo of Elizabeth on the front, along with a story about her trial. Realizing she looks just like the girl on the newspaper, Margo comes up with a plan: Kill Elizabeth Wakefield and take over her life. (Never mind that this plan doesn't make a whole lot of sense if Elizabeth goes to jail. This chick is crazy!)

Margo heads to Sweet Valley, where she goes to the mall and buys a blonde wig. She befriends a dirt bike rider named James, who she pays to win a competition Jessica is putting on in Sam’s memory; he regularly gives her information on the Wakefields. Margo, meanwhile, kills a server at a catering company so she can get a job there and work the Fowler wedding—the better to observe the twins. Then she begins posing as Jessica and Liz regularly with their friends, boyfriends, and parents. This all culminates with Jessica, Liz, and Margo fighting over a butcher knife in the Fowler’s pool house. Margo is pushed through a window by the older brother of the little boy she killed in Cleveland—she framed him for the little boy’s death, but he’s been tailing her across the country. Her jugular is slashed by glass, and everyone thinks she’s dead.

5. THAT CRAZY DOPPELGANGER HAS A TWIN WHO IS ALSO CRAZY!

The Book: Return of the Evil Twin (Manga edition No. 6)

A year after the events of The Evil Twin, Nora, Margo’s twin, shows up in Sweet Valley to seek revenge for her sister’s death. But guess what: Margo’s alive! She managed to overpower (and presumably kill) the paramedics who took her “body” away, and hid for a year, spying on the Wakefield twins. These crazy twins hatch a plot to kill both Wakefield twins and take over their lives. They begin posing as the twins with their friends and boyfriends, with the main goal of making the twins hate each other, just like they did after the jungle prom. Eventually, Nora goes to the Wakefield house and kills a sleeping Jessica. Later, she finds out that Margo had kidnapped Jessica and was posing as her, sleeping in her bed, when Nora got all stabby. Nora killed her own twin! Jessica is alive and is saved by Elizabeth's heroics. Nora gets arrested, and all returns to normal.

6. LIZ FALLS IN LOVE WITH A “WEREWOLF” ...

The Books: Love and Death in London (No. 104), A Date with a Werewolf (No. 105), Beware the Wolfman (No. 106)

The twins head to London for one of their many newspaper internships. Murder victims keep popping up with their throats ripped out, and the twins are put on the crime beat to investigate. Though she’s still dating Todd, Liz goes out with a co-worker named Luke Shephard, who manages to convince her that werewolves are real. Jessica starts dating Robert Pembroke. His father, Lord Pembroke, is a werewolf expert. He also owns the newspaper where the twins are interning, and has been suppressing stories about the murders because he believes that Robert is the werewolf.

But it turns out that it’s Luke, not Robert, who is the “werewolf.” The product of an affair between a woman named Annabelle and Lord Pembroke, he’s been blacking out, dressing up as a werewolf, killing people, and framing his brother for the crimes—which we find out later, from his diary. There’s a climactic fight between Luke, Robert (who has a silver bullet to kill the werewolf, naturally), a cop named Bumpo, and Rene, a friend from when the twins went to France on Spring Break, who's interning at the French embassy for the summer and has been following Elizabeth to protect her. Luke is shot, his werewolf mask falls off, and he dies.

7. … AND JESSICA DATES A VAMPIRE.

The Books: Tall, Dark, and Deadly (No. 126), Dance of Death (No. 127), Kiss of a Killer (No. 128)

At the beginning of this miniseries, Jessica is digging through a dumpster, looking for a diamond earring, when she discovers a man’s body in the trash. There are bite marks in his neck, and his body has been drained of blood. The next Monday, a new guy starts at school: tall, dark, and handsome Jonathan Cain. Before long, SVH's entire student population, minus Elizabeth, has gone majorly goth, dyeing their hair black, painting their nails black, dressing in all black … you get the idea. 

Jessica decides that she wants to date Jonathan, but he ignores her. Jessica usually gets what she wants, though, and she's incredibly persistent: She gets a ride home from him, then later shows up at his house. He kisses her, and tells her she should have left him alone. There’s lots of making out and him telling her she should get out before it’s too late. (Sounds an awful lot like the plot of another vampire series, doesn’t it?) 

Jonathan decides he cares too much about Jessica to hurt her, so he invites Enid over instead. Jessica interrupts them, figures out what’s up, and gets mad. Jonathan is upset, but also relieved, because he didn’t really want to kill Enid.

Meanwhile, other people keep dying—including a girl named Katrina, who’s sucked dry during a party at Jonathan’s house. When Enid goes to visit her grave, she’s attacked and is in the hospital for the next week.

Jessica continues to see Jonathan, who Liz has figured out is a vampire based on some books she found at his house. She tells all the SVH kids, and they believe her. When Jonathan takes Jessica to his lair—a cave on the beach—Liz and Todd come to save the day, an angry mob on their heels. Jonathan turns into a bird and flies away. Vampires are real. The end.

8. STUDENTS SEARCH FOR TREASURE AND ARE ATTACKED BY CONVICTS IN THE DESERT.

The Books: The Treasure of Death Valley (No. 115), Nightmare in Death Valley (No. 116)

Liz, Jessica, Todd, Ken, Bruce, and Heather win a contest to go camping in Death Valley for four days with limited supplies. (Why anyone would enter a contest to do this is a mystery.) While hanging out near a mine shaft, one student turns on her portable TV and learns about some convicts who have escaped a prison. Meanwhile, Liz discovers a satchel full of gold nuggets, plus a map and a diary that discusses the “Treasure of the Scorpion,” in the mine. The group decides to hunt for the rest of the treasure, and are all soon carrying around their own bags of gold nuggets.

When the kids set up camp for the night, Jessica’s bag is stolen from her sleeping bag. She thinks Heather did it, but it was actually the three escaped convicts, who capture the kids, tie them up, and steal their gold. The kids manage to escape, but then they notice that one of the convicts is being swept away by a flash flood, so they rescue him. He turns out to be not so bad, but his buddies are pretty awful: They drag the kids into a cave, where they decide to kill them. The nice convict gets shot and dies; his killer leaves the cave, telling the other convict to kill the kids. Jessica convinces him not to do it, and he also leaves the cave—but not before firing six shots into the cave’s roof, which collapses, trapping the kids.

They take a path that goes deeper into the cave, and eventually they begin to walk through rapidly-rising water. It gets up to their necks, and they all think they’re going to die—then, miraculously, the water recedes. They realize that the cave walls are shale, so they kick and punch the walls away until they come out near the rendezvous point and head back to Sweet Valley. The kids are disappointed to learn the gold was pyrite, and the map and diary were fakes from a movie set.

9. THE TWINS BECOME NANNIES FOR A ROYAL FAMILY.

The Books: Once Upon a Time (No. 132), To Catch a Thief (No. 133), Happily Ever After (No. 134)

The Wakefield twins are very experienced babysitters, but who knew they were good enough to nanny for royalty? They travel to France for a month to be nannies for the de Saint-Maries. Liz (who was dumped by Todd for the summer) and Prince Laurent fall in love, but he has to get engaged to a horrible countess’s daughter. Jessica, meanwhile, is canoodling with Jacques, a guy she met on the train from the airport who claims to be a Duke’s son, but is actually a jewel thief. When Jessica wears an emerald he gave her—which was stolen from the countess whose daughter is promised to Prince Laurent—to a ball, the twins are thrown in a dungeon. They’re not there for long, though, before they’re rescued by their royal charges. The twins run into the woods and hide out there.

Laurent’s parents tell him they can convince the countess not to prosecute the twins if he agrees to marry her daughter, and he says he’ll do it. Meanwhile, Jacques finds the twins, and they convince him to confess to being the jewel thief. Laurent asks Liz to marry him; she’s so taken aback she can’t answer right away. Later, Jacques’s father comes to the castle and convinces Laurent to help him break his son out of the dungeon. Jacques and his father go free, Elizabeth turns Laurent down, and the twins head back to Sweet Valley, where Liz reunites with Todd. Happily ever after, indeed—except for Laurent, who now must presumably marry that awful countess’s daughter.

10. ELIZABETH IS ALMOST MURDERED BY HER BOSS.

The Books: Cover Girls (No. 129), Model Flirt (No. 130), Fashion Victim (No. 131)

The twins get an internship at a fashion magazine called Flair. Liz’s supervisor, Leona, tries to steal her idea for a column called “Free Style.” Lix tells the editor-in-chief of the magazine, but Leona accuses Liz of being the one to steal the idea, and Liz is fired. You’d think that Leona would feel pretty secure in her job, having eliminated the potential source of trouble and all, but instead, she goes to extremes and tries to kill Liz, first by hiring someone to run her off the road, then by aiming a gun at her in the Flair offices—but before she can pull the trigger, the police show up, and she’s arrested. Hope the column idea was worth it, Leona.

11. LIZ IS HELD HOSTAGE BY A GUY WITH A BOMB.

The Book: Deadly Summer (Super Thriller No. 4)

The twins are working at Sweet Valley News, where they learn that a man named Donald Redman has escaped from a psychiatric hospital. Liz is assigned to find out about Donald; she discovers that he was a Sweet Valley High student who kidnapped a classmate he had a crush on. Later, he plants fake bombs at the local movie theater and the high school football stadium, shows up where Liz is babysitting, and then starts to believe that she’s the same girl he kidnapped back when he was in high school.

Donald is building a real bomb in the utility closet at the football stadium when Liz and Bruce show up to have a talk on the tennis courts; not long after, Liz’s boyfriend, Jeffrey, shows up, pretty angry that Liz and Bruce are hanging out. Liz wanders away from the guys and is grabbed by Donald.

Jessica and Lila figure out that Liz is in danger—first because they’re told by a Ouija board they’ve been using to trick Liz into thinking Bruce has a terminal illness is triggered by Jessica’s twin ESP, and second after Donald’s sister comes to the Wakefield house to tell them Liz is in danger. They call the police, then head to the football stadium.

There, the police tell Donald to give himself up, but he won’t—so Jeffrey tackles him, knocking the remote control out of his hand. Bruce runs away with the ticking bomb. Jeffrey tells Liz to smash the remote and take out the wires, which she does. The timer stops. Disaster averted, right? Wrong! A few seconds later, they hear an explosion. But it’s not Bruce who was blown up; it was Donald, who grabbed the bomb from him, ran away, and died when the bomb exploded.

12. AN OLD CLASSMATE TRIES TO STEAL ALICE WAKEFIELD’S FACE.

The Book: Murder in Paradise (Super Thriller No. 8)

Being prone to finding yourself in perilous situations must run in the Wakefield DNA. In this super thriller, which was published in 1995, Momma Wakefield Alice wins a trip to a Paradise Spa. She brings along the twins and their best friends, Enid and Lila (whose mother also tags along; Enid’s mom can’t get off work). The owner, Tatiana, is disfigured, and there are no mirrors at the spa at all because inner beauty is all that matters, according to the spa's staff.

Tatiana hypnotizes Enid, making her believe that her mother doesn’t love her. Later, one of the staff members confesses to Alice how much she wants to leave, but can’t; soon after, she’s found dead in the steam room. Then, Alice disappears. Liz goes looking for her, and gets pulled into a cave, where Tatiana is waiting. She spills her evil plan: To get plastic surgery to look like Alice, and then kill her.

Tatiana, we discover, is an old college classmate of Alice’s, who was so ugly that the students—including Alice—called her Tatty Mule. When she was 23, she got plastic surgery, but the surgeon was so terrible that Tatiana was disfigured. She started the spa and took in runaways, hypnotizing them and practicing her plastic surgery techniques on them. But before she can pull off her dastardly plan, Enid, Lila, and Jessica show up and save the day with the help of some of the staff, who come out of their trances just in time. Tatiana is arrested, and the staff is free. What a happy ending!

Charles Dickens Museum Highlights the Author's Contributions to Science and Medicine

Charles Dickens is celebrated for his verbose prose and memorable opening lines, but lesser known are his contributions to science—particularly the field of medicine.

A new exhibition at London’s Charles Dickens Museum—titled "Charles Dickens: Man of Science"—is showcasing the English author’s scientific side. In several instances, the writer's detailed descriptions of medical conditions predated and sometimes even inspired the discovery of several diseases, The Guardian reports.

In his novel Dombey and Son, the character of Mrs. Skewton was paralyzed on her right side and unable to speak. Dickens was the first person to document this inexplicable condition, and a scientist later discovered that one side of the brain was largely responsible for speech production. "Fat boy" Joe, a character in The Pickwick Papers who snored loudly while sleeping, later lent his namesake to Pickwickian Syndrome, otherwise known as obesity hypoventilation syndrome.

A figurine of Fat Boy Joe
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Dickens also wrote eloquently about the symptoms of tuberculosis and dyslexia, and some of his passages were used to teach diagnosis to students of medicine.

“Dickens is an unbelievably acute observer of human behaviors,” museum curator Frankie Kubicki told The Guardian. “He captures these behaviors so perfectly that his descriptions can be used to build relationships between symptoms and disease.”

Dickens was also chummy with some of the leading scientists of his day, including Michael Faraday, Charles Darwin, and chemist Jane Marcet, and the exhibition showcases some of the writer's correspondence with these notable figures. Beyond medicine, Dickens also contributed to the fields of chemistry, geology, and environmental science.

Less scientifically sound was the author’s affinity for mesmerism, a form of hypnotism introduced in the 1770s as a method of controlling “animal magnetism,” a magnetic fluid which proponents of the practice believed flowed through all people. Dickens studied the methods of mesmerism and was so convinced by his powers that he later wrote, “I have the perfect conviction that I could magnetize a frying-pan.” A playbill of Animal Magnetism, an 1857 production that Dickens starred in, is also part of the exhibit.

A play script from Animal Magnetism
Courtesy of the Charles Dickens Museum

Located at 48-49 Doughty Street in London, the exhibition will be on display until November 11, 2018.

[h/t The Guardian]

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Hulton Archive/Getty Images
12 Facts About James Joyce
Hulton Archive/Getty Images
Hulton Archive/Getty Images

June 16, 1904 is the day that James Joyce, the Irish author of Modernist masterpieces like Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and who was described as “a curious mixture of sinister genius and uncertain talent,” set his seminal work, Ulysses. It also thought to be the day that he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

He was as mythical as the myths he used as the foundations for his own work. So in honor of that June day in 1904—known to fans worldwide as “Bloomsday,” after one of the book’s protagonists, Leopold Bloom—here are 12 facts about James Joyce.

1. HE WAS ONLY 9 WHEN HIS FIRST PIECE OF WRITING WAS PUBLISHED.

In 1891, shortly after he had to leave Clongowes Wood College when his father lost his job, 9-year-old Joyce wrote a poem called “Et Tu Healy?” It was published by his father John and distributed to friends; the elder Joyce thought so highly of it, he allegedly sent copies to the Pope.

No known complete copies of the poem exist, but the precocious student’s verse allegedly denounced a politician named Tim Healy for abandoning 19th century Irish nationalist politician Charles Stewart Parnell after a sex scandal. Fragments of the ending of the poem, later remembered by James’s brother Stanislaus, showed Parnell looking down on Irish politicians:

His quaint-perched aerie on the crags of Time
Where the rude din of this century
Can trouble him no more

While the poem was seemingly quaint, young Joyce equating Healy as Brutus and Parnell as Caesar marked the first time he’d use old archetypes in a modern context, much in the same way Ulysses is a unique retelling of The Odyssey.

As an adult, Joyce would publish his first book, a collection of poems called Chamber Music, in 1907. It was followed by Dubliners, a collection of short stories, in 1914, and the semi-autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (in which Clongowes Wood College is prominently featured) in 1916.

2. HE CAUSED A CONTROVERSY AT HIS COLLEGE’S PAPER.

While attending University College Dublin, Joyce attempted to publish a negative review—titled “The Day of the Rabblement”—of a new local playhouse called the Irish Literary Theatre in the school’s paper, St. Stephen’s. Joyce’s condemnation of the theater’s “parochialism” was allegedly so scathing that the paper’s editors, after seeking consultation from one of the school’s priests, refused to print it.

Incensed about possible censorship, Joyce appealed to the school’s president, who sided with the editors—which prompted Joyce to put up his own money to publish 85 copies to be distributed across campus.

The pamphlet, published alongside a friend’s essay to beef up the page-count, came with the preface: “These two essays were commissioned by the editor of St. Stephen’s for that paper, but were subsequently refused insertion by the censor.” It wouldn’t be the last time Joyce would fight censorship.

3. NORA BARNACLE GHOSTED HIM FOR THEIR PLANNED FIRST DATE.

By the time Nora Barnacle and Joyce finally married in 1931, they had lived together for 27 years, traveled the continent and had two children. The couple first met in Dublin in 1904 when Joyce struck up a conversation with her near the hotel where Nora worked as a chambermaid. She initially mistook him for a Swedish sailor because of his blue eyes and the yachting cap he wore that day, and he charmed her so much that they set a date for June 14—but she didn’t show.

He then wrote her a letter, saying, “I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me—if you have not forgotten me!” This led to their first date, which supposedly took place on June 16, 1904.

She would continue to be his muse throughout their life together in both his published work (the character Molly Bloom in Ulysses is based on her) and their fruitful personal correspondence. Their notably dirty love letters to each other—featuring him saying their love-making reminded him of “a hog riding a sow” and signing off one by saying “Goodnight, my little farting Nora, my dirty littlef**kbird!"—have highlighted the NSFW nature of their relationship. In fact, one of Joyce’s signed erotic letters to Nora fetched a record £240,800 ($446,422) at a London auction in 2004.

4. HE HAD REALLY BAD EYES.

While Joyce’s persistent money problems caused him to lead a life of what could be categorized as creative discomfort, he had to deal with a near lifetime of medical discomfort as well. Joyce suffered from anterior uveitis, which led to a series of around 12 eye surgeries over his lifetime. (Due to the relatively unsophisticated state of ophthalmology at the time, and his decision not to listen to contemporary medical advice, scholars speculate that his iritis, glaucoma, and cataracts could have been caused by sarcoidosis, syphilis, tuberculosis, or any number of congenital problems.) His vision issues caused Joyce to wear an eye patch for years and forced him to do his writing on large white sheets of paper using only red crayon. The persistent eye struggles even inspired him to name his daughter Lucia, after St. Lucia, patron saint of the blind.

5. HE TAUGHT ENGLISH AT A BERLITZ LANGUAGE SCHOOL.

In 1904, Joyce—eager to get out of Ireland—responded to an ad for a teaching position in Europe. Evelyn Gilford, a job agent based in the British town of Market Rasen, Lincolnshire, notified Joyce that a job was reserved for him and, for two guineas, he would be told exactly where the position was. Joyce sent the money, and by the end of 1904, he and his future wife, Nora, had left Dublin for the job at a Berlitz language school in Zurich, Switzerland—but when they got there, the pair learned there was no open position. But they did hear a position was open at a Berlitz school in Trieste, Italy. The pair packed up and moved on to Italy only to find out they’d been swindled again.

Joyce eventually found a Berlitz teaching job in Pola in Austria-Hungary (now Pula, Croatia). English was one of 17 languages Joyce could speak; others included Arabic, Sanskrit, Greek, and Italian (which eventually became his preferred language, and one that he exclusively spoke at home with his family). He also loved playwright Henrik Ibsen so much that he learned Norwegian so that he could read Ibsen's works in their original form—and send the writer a fan letter in his native tongue.

6. HE INVESTED IN A MOVIE THEATER.

There are about 400 movie theaters in Ireland today, but they trace their history back to 1909, when Joyce helped open the Volta Cinematograph, which is considered “the first full-time, continuous, dedicated cinema” in Ireland.

More a money-making scheme than a product of a love of cinema, Joyce first got the idea when he was having trouble getting Dubliners published and noticed the abundance of cinemas while living in Trieste. When his sister, Eva, told him Ireland didn’t have any movie theaters, Joyce joined up with four Italian investors (he’d get 10 percent of the profits) to open up the Volta on Dublin’s Mary Street.

The venture fizzled as quickly as Joyce’s involvement. After not attracting audiences due to mostly showing only Italian and European movies unpopular with everyday Dubliners, Joyce cut his losses and pulled out of the venture after only seven months.

The cinema itself didn’t close until 1919, during the time Joyce was hard at work on Ulysses. (It reopened with a different name in 1921 and didn’t fully close until 1948.)

7. HE TURNED TO A COMPLETELY INEXPERIENCED PUBLISHER TO RELEASE HIS MOST WELL-KNOWN BOOK.

The publishing history of Ulysses is itself its own odyssey. Joyce began writing the work in 1914, and by 1918 he had begun serializing the novel in the American magazine Little Review with the help of poet Ezra Pound.

But by 1921, Little Review was in financial trouble. The published version of Episode 13 of Ulysses, “Nausicaa,” resulted in a costly obscenity lawsuit against its publishers, Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap, and the book was banned in the United States. Joyce appealed to different publishers for help—including Leonard and Virginia Woolf’s Hogarth Press—but none agreed to take on a project with such legal implications (and in Virginia Woolf’s case, length), no matter how supposedly groundbreaking it was.

Joyce, then based in Paris, made friends with Sylvia Beach, whose bookstore, Shakespeare and Company, was a gathering hub for the post-war expatriate creative community. In her autobiography, Beach wrote:

All hope of publication in the English-speaking countries, at least for a long time to come, was gone. And here in my little bookshop sat James Joyce, sighing deeply.

It occurred to me that something might be done, and I asked : “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honour of bringing out your Ulysses?”

He accepted my offer immediately and joyfully. I thought it rash of him to entrust his great Ulysses to such a funny little publisher. But he seemed delighted, and so was I. ... Undeterred by lack of capital, experience, and all the other requisites of a publisher, I went right ahead with Ulysses.

Beach planned a first edition of 1000 copies (with 100 signed by the author), while the book would continue to be banned in a number of countries throughout the 1920s and 1930s. Eventually it was allowed to be published in the United States in 1933 after the case United States v. One Book Called Ulysses deemed the book not obscene and allowed it in the United States.

8. ERNEST HEMINGWAY WAS HIS DRINKING BUDDY—AND SOMETIMES HIS BODYGUARD.

Ernest Hemingway—who was major champion of Ulysses—met Joyce at Shakespeare and Company, and was later a frequent companion among the bars of Paris with writers like Wyndham Lewis and Valery Larbaud.

Hemingway recalled the Irish writer would start to get into drunken fights and leave Hemingway to deal with the consequences. "Once, in one of those casual conversations you have when you're drinking," Hemingway said, "Joyce said to me he was afraid his writing was too suburban and that maybe he should get around a bit and see the world. He was afraid of some things, lightning and things, but a wonderful man. He was under great discipline—his wife, his work and his bad eyes. His wife was there and she said, yes, his work was too suburban--'Jim could do with a spot of that lion hunting.' We would go out to drink and Joyce would fall into a fight. He couldn't even see the man so he'd say, 'Deal with him, Hemingway! Deal with him!'"

9. HE MET ANOTHER MODERNIST TITAN—AND HAD A TERRIBLE TIME.

Marcel Proust’s gargantuan, seven-volume masterpiece, À la recherche du temps perdu, is perhaps the other most important Modernist work of the early 20th century besides Ulysses. In May 1922, the authors met at a party for composer Igor Stravinsky and ballet impresario Sergei Diaghilev in Paris. The Dubliners author arrived late, was drunk, and wasn’t wearing formal clothes because he was too poor to afford them. Proust arrived even later than Joyce, and though there are varying accounts of what was actually said between the two, every known version points to a very anticlimactic meeting of the minds.

According to author William Carlos Williams, Joyce said, “I’ve headaches every day. My eyes are terrible,” to which the ailing Proust replied, “My poor stomach. What am I going to do? It’s killing me. In fact, I must leave at once.”

Publisher Margaret Anderson claimed that Proust admitted, “I regret that I don’t know Mr. Joyce’s work,” while Joyce replied, “I have never read Mr. Proust.”

Art reviewer Arthur Power said both writers simply talked about liking truffles. Joyce later told painter Frank Budgen, “Our talk consisted solely of the word ‘No.’”

10. HE CREATED A 100-LETTER WORD TO DESCRIBE HIS FEAR OF THUNDER AND LIGHTNING.

Joyce had a childhood fear of thunder and lightning, which sprang from his Catholic governess’s pious warnings that such meteorological occurrences were actually God manifesting his anger at him. The fear haunted the writer all his life, though Joyce recognized the beginnings of his phobia. When asked by a friend why he was so afraid of rough weather, Joyce responded, “You were not brought up in Catholic Ireland.”

The fear also manifested itself in Joyce’s writing. In Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the autobiographical protagonist Stephen Dedalus says he fears “dogs, horses, firearms, the sea, thunderstorms, [and] machinery.”

But the most fascinating manifestation of his astraphobia is in his stream of consciousness swan song, Finnegans Wake, where he created the 100-letter word Bababadalgharaghtaka-mminarronnkonnbronntonnerronntuonnthunntrovarrhounawnskawntoohoohoordenenthurnuk to represent a symbolic biblical thunderclap. The mouthful is actually made up of different words for “thunder” in French (tonnerre), Italian (tuono), Greek (bronte), and Japanese (kaminari).

11. HE’S THOUGHT OF AS A LITERARY GENIUS, BUT NOT EVERYONE WAS A FAN.

Fellow Modernist Virginia Woolf didn't much care for Joyce or his work. She compared his writing to "a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples," and said that "one hopes he’ll grow out of it; but as Joyce is 40 this scarcely seems likely."

She wasn't the only one. In a letter, D.H. Lawrence—who wrote such classics as Women in Love and Lady Chatterley’s Loversaid of Joyce: “My God, what a clumsy olla putrida James Joyce is! Nothing but old fags and cabbage stumps of quotations from the Bible and the rest stewed in the juice of deliberate, journalistic dirty-mindedness.”

“Do I get much pleasure from this work? No," author H.G. Wells wrote in his review of Finnegans Wake. “ ... Who the hell is this Joyce who demands so many waking hours of the few thousand I have still to live for a proper appreciation of his quirks and fancies and flashes of rendering?”

Even his partner Nora had a difficult time with his work, saying after the publication of Ulysses, “Why don’t you write sensible books that people can understand?”

12. HIS SUPPOSED FINAL WORDS WERE AS ABSTRACT AS HIS WRITING.

Joyce was admitted to a Zurich hospital in January 1941 for a perforated duodenal ulcer, but slipped into a coma after surgery and died on January 13. His last words were befitting his notoriously difficult works—they're said to have been, "Does nobody understand?"

Additional Source: James Joyce

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