His Ulysses baffled readers and challenged aspiring writers; it also revolutionized 20th century fiction

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    Its multiple narrative voices and extravagant wordplay made Ulysses a virtual thesaurus of styles for writers wrestling with the problem of rendering contemporary life. Aspects of Joyce's accomplishment in Ulysses can be seen in the works of William Faulkner, Albert Camus, Samuel Beckett, Saul Bellow, Gabriel Garcia Marquez and Toni Morrison, all of whom, unlike Joyce, won the Nobel Prize for Literature.

    But the only author who tried to surpass the encyclopedic scope of Ulysses was Joyce himself. He spent 17 years working on Finnegans Wake, a book intended to portray Dublin's sleeping life as thoroughly as Ulysses had explored the wide-awake city. This task, Joyce decided, required the invention of a new language that would mime the experience of dreaming. As excerpts from the new work, crammed with multilingual puns and Jabberwocky-like sentences, began appearing in print, even Joyce's champions expressed doubts. To Pound's complaint about obscurity, Joyce replied, "The action of my new work takes place at night. It's natural things should not be so clear at night, isn't it now?"

    Today, only dedicated Joyceans regularly attend the Wake. A century from now, his readers may catch up with him.

    TIME senior writer Paul Gray wrote his Ph.D. dissertation on James Joyce's short fiction

    Amid the Mass-Market Noise, These Writers Made Themselves Heard

    The greatest 19th century writers were often the most popular as well. Think of Charles Dickens: the serialized novels published in magazines were read aloud to listeners on London streets; ships bearing copies of the latest Dickens chapter from England to the U.S. drew crowds at Eastern seaboard ports. In Russia, Count Leo Tolstoy was revered not only as a powerful storyteller but also as a seer and the moral conscience of his nation. No 20th century authors achieved the sort of cultural authority enjoyed by Dickens and Tolstoy. For one thing, leisure-time alternatives to reading books increased enormously: movies arrived, as did radio, recorded music, television and, of late, the Internet. These encroachments of mass entertainment — not to mention the march toward subjectivity prompted by Freud — drove writers inward toward personal visions. Literary influence in our century is thus not principally a matter of popular recognition. It refers instead to the authors who managed through their artistry to make themselves heard and remembered amid the surrounding din. — P.G.

    Franz Kafka
    (1883-1924) People who have never read his books recognize his last name as an adjective: Kafkaesque, a signature form of 20th century dread. During his brief life in Prague, he wrote about a web of inexplicable predicaments, as in The Metamorphosis (1915). What do you do when you wake up as an insect?

    Virginia Woolf
    (1882-1941) Her lifespan coincided with that of Joyce, and her interest in creating a new 20th century fiction was as strong as his. But her novels, most notably Mrs. Dalloway (1925) and To the Lighthouse (1927), put women at the center of a changing world and offered a vocabulary of feminism to women and men alike.

    Ernest Hemingway
    (1899-1961) His spare prose, particularly in his novels The Sun Also Rises (1926) and A Farewell to Arms (1929), inspired acolytes and parodists. But his writings also redefined the notion of individual heroism after the indiscriminate carnage of World War I. His lonely protagonists were existentialists before their time.

    Ralph Ellison
    (1914-1994) His novel Invisible Man (1952) began with the sentence "I am an invisible man" and concluded, "Who knows but that, on the lower frequencies, I speak for you?" The words in between brought African-American experiences vividly into the literary mainstream and spurred a renaissance that continues to this day.

    Gabriel Garcia Marquez
    (1928- ) His phantasmagoric One Hundred Years of Solitude, published in Argentina in 1967 and translated into English in 1970, delighted readers worldwide and introduced "magic realism" into the critical lexicon. His Nobel Prize in 1982 only ratified his stature as the foremost Latin American writer of his era.

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