Ulysses," that sprawling, difficult, but uniquely original masterpiece by James Joyce, has been voted the finest English-language novel published this century by a jury of scholars and writers.
The book -- in which an immensely long account of a single day in the lives of a group of Dubliners becomes a metaphor for the human condition and the author experiments with language almost to the point of unintelligibility -- heads the list of 100 novels drawn up by the editorial board of Modern Library, which has been publishing classic English-language literature at affordable prices since 1917 and is now a division of Random House.
The list is to be released on Friday at a workshop for young publishers known as the Radcliffe Publishing Course at Radcliffe College of Harvard University.
The board members are Christopher Cerf, Gore Vidal, Daniel J. Boorstin, Shelby Foote, Vartan Gregorian, A. S. Byatt, Edmund Morris, John Richardson, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and William Styron. "Ulysses" was banned in the United States as obscene from 1920 to 1933, when the ban was lifted by a Federal judge, John M. Woolsey, who called the book "a sincere and serious attempt to devise a new literary method for the observation and description of mankind."
"Ulysses" is followed in descending order by "The Great Gatsby," F. Scott Fitzgerald's magical tale of romance, mystery and violence among rich Long Island socialites in the 1920's; another work by Joyce, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man," his autobiographical account of a young man's intellectual awakening"; "Lolita," Vladimir Nabokov's tale of the aging Humbert Humbert's doomed passion for the nymphet Dolores Haze, and "Brave New World," Aldous Huxley's satirical horror tale of a civilization where humans are literally made to order.
These five novels originally tied for first place, with each winning the support of 9 of the editorial board's 10 members. In a second separate vote, the panel then placed them in their final order.
Executives at Random House said they hoped that as the century drew to a close their list would encourage public debate about the greatest works of fiction of the last hundred years, thus both increasing awareness of the Modern Library and stimulating sales of novels the group publishes.
"It's a way to bring the Modern Library to public attention," Random House's president and editor in chief, Ann Godoff, said in an interview. "We want to grow the Modern Library and its stable of classics"
Random House was recently bought by the German Bertelsmann group, already the owners of the American publishing house of Bantam Doubleday Bell, and which then became the largest commercial book publisher in the world. Executives say the Bertelsmann group currently publishes 59 of the 100 novels on the Modern Library list. And of the Modern Library board members, all but Professor Gregorian are published by Random House or the Bertelsmann group.
Modern Library plans to reissue at least 10 novels on the list in paperback over the next eight months. These will include Samuel Butler's autobiographical attack on Victorian morality, "The Way of All Flesh" (No. 12); Joseph Conrad's tale of intrigue "The Secret Agent" (No. 46); "Zuleika Dobson," Max Beerbohm's comic tale of a femme fatale at Oxford University (No. 59); "The Call of the Wild" by Jack London (No. 88), and "The Magnificent Ambersons" by Booth Tarkington (No. 100).
Random House, which in 1934 published the first legal American edition of "Ulysses," will place promotional material in bookstores that are offering novels from the Modern Library's list. And the company is inviting readers to send in on-line suggestions for an alternative list of great English-language fiction of this century to www.randomhouse.com/modern library.
In the next few months Random House also plans to expand the size of the Modern Library's editorial board.
It will then invite the expanded board to make a list of the 100 best nonfiction books published in this century.
"That is something that has never been done before," Ms. Godoff noted.
The Modern Library's best-novels list includes 58 books by an eclectic collection of American writers: William Faulkner's "Sound and the Fury" (No. 6); Ernest Hemingway's "Sun Also Rises" (No. 45); the "U.S.A." trilogy by John Dos Passos (No. 23) as well as three works by Henry James -- "The Wings of the Dove (No. 26)," "The Ambassadors" (No. 27) and "The Golden Bowl" (No. 32) -- although James lived much of his life in England and eventually became a British citizen.
But it also includes Joseph Heller's "Catch-22"(No. 7), Henry Miller's "Tropic of Cancer"(No. 50) and Jack Kerouac's "On the Road"(No. 55), as well as Dashiell Hammett's "Maltese Falcon" (No. 56) and James M. Cain's "Postman Always Rings Twice" (No. 98).
The 39 works by British writers include D. H. Lawrence's "Sons and Lovers" (No. 9), "The Rainbow" (No. 48) and "Women in Love" (No. 49); E. M. Forster's "Passage to India"(No. 25) and "Howards End" (No. 38); George Orwell's "1984" (No. 13) and "Animal Farm " (No. 31) as well as novels by Evelyn Waugh, Graham Greene and Anthony Powell.
In addition to his two works in the top five, Joyce's third well-known book, "Finnegans Wake," also makes the list, in 77th place.
But apart from Joyce, the list contains no other works by English-speaking writers from outside the United States and Britain, although India, Australia and South Africa all have flourishing literary traditions and have produced many distinguished authors.
In addition, only eight women make the list. They are led by Virginia Woolf whose "To the Lighthouse" is in 15th place, followed in 17th by Carson McCullers's "Heart Is a Lonely Hunter." Other women represented are Edith Wharton (twice), Willa Cather, Muriel Spark, Elizabeth Bowen, Jean Rhys and Iris Murdoch.
Several board members criticized the absence of writers from the rest of the English-speaking world as well as the small number of female authors selected.
Calling the final list "typically American," Ms. Byatt regretted that the Australian Nobel Prize-winning novelist, Patrick White, had not been chosen, and said there was "definitely room for more women." Like the American author William Styron, she regretted the absence of the South African writer Doris Lessing and the American novelist Mary McCarthy. Mr. Styron said that he was surprised, too, by the omission of Patrick White and that he wished the list had included the American writer Eudora Welty.
But Professor Gregorian, who heads the Carnegie Corporation, said he and several other judges had felt they should choose only books that had been in print a long time, thus showing that they "have really stood the test of time."
All the judges who could be reached for comment said they believed "Ulysses" deserved first place and considered "The Great Gatsby" a worthy second. Ms. Byatt called "Ulysses" "the first truly modern novel, a real break with the past, like Picasso." Mr. Styron said it was "the watershed novel of the 20th century from which all modernism flows."
Gore Vidal, the American novelist, called the top five "about right." But several of his colleagues on the board were unhappy with the novels in third, fourth and fifth places.
Edmund Morris, an American historian, said he was "pleased" that "Ulysses" and "Lolita" had made the top five. But he argued that "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man" did not deserve so high a slot because it is really "a sketch for 'Ulysses.' " He also dismissed "Brave New World" as "not Huxley's greatest."
Shelby Foote, also a historian, said that he accepted "Ulysses" and "The Great Gatsby" but that he had "trouble with the others" in the top five slots. In his view, Lawrence's "Rainbow" and Faulkner's "As I lay Dying" would have been better choices.
The historian Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. called the first three choices "sensible" but said he would have preferred to see Henry James's "Wings of the Dove" and E. M. Foster's "Passage to India" in fourth and fifth places. He also thought Evelyn Waugh's World War II trilogy, "Sword of Honor," would have been a better choice than "Brideshead Revisited" (No. 80).
Other editorial board members who participated in the voting but could not be reached were Mr. Cerf, son of Bennett Cerf, who bought the Modern Library and founded Random House, and Mr. Boorstin, a former Librarian of the Library of Congress.
In a recent interview, Harold M. Evans, currently editorial director of U.S. News and World Report, said he had come up with the plan to compile a list of the best 100 novels for the millennium when he was president of Random House. But it was not completed until after he had handed over the top job to Ms. Godoff last November.
By PAUL LEWIS, published at NYTimes.