Ulysses


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(1922)




Ulysses has been labeled dirty, blasphemous, and unreadable. In a famous 1933 court decision, Judge John M. Woolsey declared it an emetic book--although he found it sufficiently unobscene to allow its importation into the United States--and H. G. Wells was moved to decry James Joyce's "cloacal obsession." None of these adjectives, however, do the slightest justice to the novel. To this day it remains the modernist masterpiece, in which the author takes both Celtic lyricism and vulgarity to splendid extremes. It is funny, sorrowful, and even (in a close-focus sort of way) suspenseful. And despite the exegetical industry that has sprung up in the last 75 years, Ulysses is also a compulsively readable book. Even the verbal vaudeville of the final chapters can be navigated with relative ease, as long as you're willing to be buffeted, tickled, challenged, and (occasionally) vexed by Joyce's sheer command of the English language.

Among other things, a novel is simply a long story, and the first question about any story is: What happens? In the case of Ulysses, the answer might be Everything. William Blake, one of literature's sublime myopics, saw the universe in a grain of sand. Joyce saw it in Dublin, Ireland, on June 16, 1904, a day distinguished by its utter normality. Two characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, go about their separate business, crossing paths with a gallery of indelible Dubliners. We watch them teach, eat, stroll the streets, argue, and (in Bloom's case) masturbate. And thanks to the books stream-of-consciousness technique--which suggests no mere stream but an impossibly deep, swift-running river--we're privy to their thoughts, emotions, and memories. The result? Almost every variety of human experience is crammed into the accordian folds of a single day, which makes Ulysses not just an experimental work but the very last word in realism.

Both characters add their glorious intonations to the music of Joyce's prose. Dedalus's accent--that of a freelance aesthetician, who dabbles here and there in what we might call Early Yeats Lite--will be familiar to readers of Portrait of an Artist As a Young Man. But Bloom's wistful sensualism (and naive curiosity) is something else entirely. Seen through his eyes, a rundown corner of a Dublin graveyard is a figure for hope and hopelessness, mortality and dogged survival:

"Mr Bloom walked unheeded along his grove by saddened angels, crosses, broken pillars, family vaults, stone hopes praying with upcast eyes, old Ireland's hearts and hands. More sensible to spend the money on some charity for the living. Pray for the repose of the soul of. Does anybody really?"

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Having aborted six prior reads, I approached my current reading of James Joyce's "Ulysses" with determination and resolve. That is needed. I am sixty-five years old. Twenty-four days after purchasing a New Library hardback edition, twenty-four days of struggling, I paused to glance at the page number. I had gotten to page twenty-one. Needless to say, the pace has since picked up. It took me until about page ninety to get into Joyce's writing. Three things kept me interested enough to stay with it. First, Joyce's command of the English language. Actually, I went along for some time thinking the city we were in was London, instead of Dublin, which it is. This is a day in the life of Leopold Bloom, in about 1904. The young man's banter was more British than Irish. The British Empire was high, and many Irish were profiting. Second, Joyce's command of the knowledge base of the time. He was Jesuit educated. His knowledge of antiquity is astonishing. Third, and this must be the most important thing that kept me going, is that virtually on every page there is a total mind blower. It might come in the form of a description, an impression, a story, or a plain old outburst. The game with Joyce, from my experience, is to know those nuggets are in the mine, and to persevere to find them.--Submitted by Anonymous

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I have read Ulysses perhaps half a dozen times over the past 35 years. Most recently last spring, (2011) when a new commentary on it was published, Ulysses and Us by Declan Kiberd. I often re-read this book when a new commentary on it comes out, because I invariably learn something new. But that's the point: to approach Ulysses for the first time without a guide of some kind is like setting out to drive from New York to California without either a road map or GPS. You need a guide. When I was young, two of the best were James Joyce's Ulysses by Stuart Gilbert, who knew Joyce and worked with him on it. William York Tindall's A Reader's Guide To James Joyce was also a good one. New ones have come out since. Give yourself a rich treat: take the stroll through Leopold and Stephen's Dublin on June 16, 1904. But have handy someone like Gilbert, Tindall or Kiberd whom you can take by the hand. Even Dante had a guide when he walked through Purgatory.--Submitted by Kelley Dupuis, Tbilisi, Georgia. September 20, 2011

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If you're a fan of the Coen brothers' depression movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? you probably loved the humour, the sense of place, the quirky but strong characterisation and the brilliant music. It might seem a totally original movie. Of course, it isn't original; it is an homage to Joyce's Ulysses, where all of those characteristics are even more strongly present. But how can a book have a musical score, you may well ask. Ulysses needs to be read as an entire work, and it may seem a labour of love, but this seminal book also provides endless pleasure when re-read in parts. One of my favourite parts is a section known as Sirens. (Rather infuriatingly Joyce did not provide chapter breaks, though the book is written in separate episodes, each episode echoing an episode of The Odyssey). In what is one of all literature's most daring endeavours, Joyce tries to make this section almost a piece of music, with the various sounds of a bar and the street outside forming a set of instruments. The result is initially cacophony, eventually a deeply satisfying terpsichorean experiment in language. But it is also deeply funny. This section, or chapter if you will, provides a clue as to how the book needs to be appreciated, for it is the rhythmic flow and lilt of language, as much as the visual signification of words, that fascinates him. But Joyce does not merely conduct solepsistic narrative experiments; he swings a camera round an early twentieth century Dublin but it is a camera which is endowed with intelligence, wit and vivacity. Some early readers, though it's hard to imagine now that they read the whole book, objected to the so-called obscenities of Ulysses. Bloom, the everyman hero, defecates, masturbates, inspects some marble statues of goddesses to see if the sculptor has been anatomically accurate. But he also reflects on the plight of animals; the misogyny and racism of his times; the opiate nature of religion, the nature of light, gravity, language and a hundred other abstractions, in ways which are both highly illuminating and refreshing, but also very amusing. Nobody writing in English but Shakespeare and Dickens has such depth, breadth and entertainment value. You may need a critical guide to help you with your first reading, for you will certainly miss a number of convoluted puns, verbal echoes and literary and historical references. That does not matter much, just as it does not matter if you fail to notice that the farmer that the Porter mentions in Macbeth is a reference to one of the Guy Fawkes conspirators. It simply means that there is plenty more to unearth on your next reading. Ulysses is that comparatively rare work of art, a work which you know you will enjoy next time and every subsequent time, like a piece of music. Or a good movie.--Submitted by Lloyd Rees


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I was born in Ireland, 72 years ago, and the Christian Brothers did not teach Joyce and discouraged us from reading even The Dubliners and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The best description of the book Ulysses, that I can remember is, "It is a book about all people at all times."--Submitted by Bill Funchion, Naperville, IL

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Recent Forum Posts on Ulysses

Frank Delaney Ulysses podcasts

Hey guys Big Ulysses fan so decided to listen to these podcasts. I applaud anyone bringing ulysses to the masses but I feel in parts Delaney is finding meaning that doesn't exist. My overall impression of the podcasts is laudatory, but I was wondering if anyone else felt he was overanalysing?


Question about the Linati schema?

Hello, I'm currently reading and trying to understand Ulysses. Looking at the Linati schema in the "Organ" column, it is written "Telemachus does not yet suffer a body". I understand the sentence to mean someting along the lines of: "Telemachus doesn't yet have a body". Is my interpretation right and if so, why doesn't he suffer the body, why is there no body part associated with the first chapters? If someone were to go into detail about explaining this I would be eternally grateful. This is also coincidentally my first post, so hello to everyone!


Life outside Dublin - For Ulysses experts only!

Hello everybody, I'm desperately seeking a Ulysses expert to help me clarify, and possibly locate, a reference to the text for a translation I am working on. My text speaks about "the part where Stephen envisions life outside Dublin". Can anybody please tell me what specifical chapter is being referred to (if any)? My gratitudine will be immense and unflinchable!


Ulysses: A Comic?

Having not ventured beyond the early parts, I found it funny. The dialogs are funny. So why is it considered as the greatest English prose work in the 20th century? Where's the depth? If there isn't any depth to it, then it is no more "literature" than pop-fiction like Harry Potter. I humbly ask for some educated opinions from those who have gone through it on multiple occasions. I thank you all.


Some words I've been struggling with

There are a few words I still can't fathom despite trawling paper dictionaries, online dictionaries and Gifford's companion book. If anyone could shed light on the following I would be eternally grateful. abigail, Chapter 14: When he had betaken himself to the women's apartment to assist at the prescribed ceremony of the afterbirth in the presence of the secretary of state for domestic affairs and the members of the privy council, silent in unanimous exhaustion and approbation, the delegates, chafing under the length and solemnity of their vigil and hoping that the joyful occurrence would palliate a licence which the simultaneous absence of abigail and officer rendered the easier, broke out at once into a strife of tongues./I] Is the lack of capital letter a typo, or is "abigail" a word in it's own right? morbous, Chapter 14: Nature, we may rest assured, has her own good and cogent reasons for whatever she does and in all probability such deaths are due to some law of anticipation by which organisms in which morbous germs have taken up their residence (modern science has conclusively shown that only the plasmic substance can be said to be immortal) tend to disappear at an increasingly earlier stage of development, an arrangement, which, though productive of pain to some of our feelings (notably the maternal), is nevertheless, some of us think, in the long run beneficial to the race in general in securing thereby the survival of the fittest. ingleside, Chapter 17: A sofa upholstered in prune plush had been translocated from opposite the door to the ingleside near the compactly furled Union Jack (an alteration which he had frequently intended to execute): the blue and white checker inlaid majolicatopped table had been placed opposite the door in the place vacated by the prune plush sofa: the walnut sideboard (a projecting angle of which had momentarily arrested his ingress) had been moved from its position beside the door to a more advantageous but more perilous position in front of the door: two chairs had been moved from right and left of the ingleside to the position originally occupied by the blue and white checker inlaid majolicatopped table. rutilance, Chapter 17: From an open box on the majolicatopped table he extracted a black diminutive cone, one inch in height, placed it on its circular base on a small tin plate, placed his candlestick on the right corner of the mantelpiece, produced from his waistcoat a folded page of prospectus (illustrated) entitled Agendath Netaim, unfolded the same, examined it superficially, rolled it into a thin cylinder, ignited it in the candleflame, applied it when ignited to the apex of the cone till the latter reached the stage of rutilance, placed the cylinder in the basin of the candlestick disposing its unconsumed part in such a manner as to facilitate total combustion. ipsorelative and aliorelative, Chapter 17: What composite asymmetrical image in the mirror then attracted his attention? The image of a solitary (ipsorelative) mutable (aliorelative) man. imprevidibility, Chapter 17: The imprevidibility of the future: once in the summer of 1898 he (Bloom) had marked a florin (2s.) with three notches on the milled edge and tendered it in payment of an account due to and received by J. and T. Davy, family grocers, 1 Charlemont Mall, Grand Canal, for circulation on the waters of civic finance, for possible, circuitous or direct, return. According to this page the word means 'unpredictability, which makes sense given the context, but that Joyce made it up. Can anyone confirm this? pelosity, Chapter 17: What different problems presented themselves to each concerning the invisible audible collateral organ of the other? To Bloom: the problems of irritability, tumescence, rigidity, reactivity, dimension, sanitariness, pelosity. I found one online dictionary that claimed this meant 'muddiness', but I don't really understand that within the context of this sentence. tingating, Chapter 18: ...Mrs Mastiansky told me her husband made her like the dogs do it and stick out her tongue as far as ever she could and he so quiet and mild with his tingating either can you ever be up to men the way it takes them lovely stuff in that blue suit he had on and stylish tie and socks with the skyblue silk things on them hes certainly welloff...


Why the hell James Joyce's Ulysses always tops the list of best novels?

It is all a foolery and judges whoever they are and what academic height they have ascended are foolhardy guys to select James Joyce for his aesthetic excellence, in fact artistic claptrap. I had been a wastrel to devote the rarest moments of my life to this arty idiocy. I will henceforth not give any attention to it. I have read a few chapters to waste my time. I have to rack my brains to read his outlandish words. It is a wordy book and written out of his hubris sophisticating it to the degree getting even scholars or professors of English giddier and giddier. Why cannot a great piece of art simple and why the panel choose a book them for the highest score. I have some friends pursuing higher academic courses who find the book really disgusting.


Another Joyce-Ulysses list for those interested

There is another Joyce-Ulysses list available for those who may be interested, at http://groups.yahoo.com/group/Joyce-Ulysses/ . It has been in existence since 1999. Frank D


Questions in Wandering Rocks

Never mind


Find a 1984 Gabler edition if you can

I highly recommend you find a copy of the 1984 Gabler edition of Ulysses if you can. It's a large softcover book, full size, w. grey cover, red and blue title on the front, and "The Gabler Edition" as the banner. This is the "corrected" edition, absolutely the most accurate and authentic edition ever. When it first came out, rumor was that it was a "computerized" edition, whatever that means. It was in fact not. What was done was to take ALL existing editions and scan them into font recognition. Also scanned were all correspondences between Joyce and the publishers, his changes, their revision, his objections to their revisions, etc. Every possible scrap of text was scanned. Then a comprehensive comparison was made by computer, listing all the differences. Each was flagged with a footnote showing where the difference came from (1922 Paris 1st printing, 1924 revised, 1926 revised -- all from Shakespeare, Paris. Then the 1934 Random House (US), 1936 Bodley Head (UK), winding up w. a 1961 Random House and a 1968 Penguin, plus several interim revisions. I myself have the following editions: several copies of the 1986 Gabler (I've always got one in the trunk of my car for "emergencies" ha ha. The 1984-86 Gabler 3-volume hardcover synoptic and summarized version -- this is the one containing all the repetitions and differences, each teeny change flagged as to which edition it came from. A Viking paperback edition, an original 1934 Random House, a 194? Bodley Head, and, treasure of treasures -- a 1924 first edition from Shakespeare & Company, Paris! Anyway, after the synoptic edition was ready, scholars pored over the differences, researched back into original Joyce manuscripts and correspondence, and verified that some errors had never been corrected. You have to realize the task -- Ulysses is a hugely complex book just on its own. Consider that Joyce send chapter by chapter to the publisher, much of which was typeset my French-speaking printers, and the usual errors crept in. Joyce would fix the galley and send them back, but often that never got done -- Joyce's eyesight was now failing and he was trying to concentrate on The Wake. Nobody on the Gabler team took liberties. All changes were carefully authenticated via Joyces's earliest manuscripts and his later corrections. Then after careful consideration, the many teeny changes were made and a new corrected version prepared, then reviewed, edited, and rechecked. Example of a small change: at the Hades chapter (graveyard) Bloom sees or imagines a whiff of grave gas and imagines it's toxic. "One whiff and you're a goner" but Joyce originally wrote "One whiff and you're a gomer", a pun and also a slang term used at the time, like now. Many small typos and puns like this were fixed. Check in your copy at the end of the Ithaca chapter (next to last, just before Molly's soliloquy) and see if it ends with... "Where?" or whether, just under the "Where?" there's a big black dot. The dot is intentional, mark of a scientific proof, like saying "QED". Joyce had a tussle of a time getting that dot added because they'd think it was a blotch and take it out. The biggie however is the "great" puzzle of the novel. Stephen, in the Proteus (beach chapter 3) remembers asking of his dying mother (or trying to ask) "What is that word known to all men?" and later, in the Circe (brothel) scene, confronted by his mother's ghost, he asks again "What is that word known to all men?" Neither time he receives a reply. But newly found and omitted by an editors error, is a passage of 3-4 lines in the Cylla (library) scene, when Stephen asks himself, "Do you know what you are talking about? Love, yes. Word known to all men" Love is the answer. Heck, John Lennon could have told you that. And of course, the book is based on love, or the need for love, and Molly finally answers Yes, Yes I will. Yes. A reaffirmation of love. Anyway, find yourselves a Gabler edition -- they're cheap, well made, large print, and this edition is the most complete and authentic available.


Help w. a specific line in Telemachus

Chapter 1 (Telemachus), pg 8, line 242-44: Buck Mulligan has just down from the tower parapet, leaving Stephen to brood. He looks across the water... "Woodshadows floated silently by through the morning peace from the stairhead seaward where he gazed. Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet..." I'm missing the basis for the metaphor "spurned by lightshod hurrying feet". Can anyone explain it? Thanks.


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