Classic Literature. Fiction. HTML: James Joyce's novel Ulysses is said to be one of the most important works in Modernist literature. It details Leopold Bloom's passage through Dublin on an ordinary day: June 16, 1904. Causing controversy, obscenity trials and heated debates, Ulysses is a pioneering work that brims with puns, parodies, allusions, stream-of-consciousness writing and clever structuring. Modern Library ranked it as number one on its list of the twentieth century's 100 greatest English-language novels and Martin Amis called it one of the greatest novels ever written..
Yes, it's true, reading Ulysses (even just half of this poo poo) feels like being disemboweled (or at least like having bad, painful gas; and that's bad, painful gas when you're stuck inside somewhere with other people and it would be too impolite - even as painful as it is holding it in - to let it rip. Oh yeah?! You think that's tacky and tasteless? Well if the "genius," Joyce, can make fart jokes in Ulysses left and right, why can't anybody else do the same in describing his flatulent, nauseating tome?
Worse, reading Ulysses leaves one feeling like they've been had, scammed, rused, abused, conned, pawned, cheated, excreted, duped, nuked, swindled, swizzled, diddled, belittled, hustled, hoaxed, stiffed, tricked, taken to the cleaners or taken for a ride, ripped off royally of everything you've worked hard for your whole life and hold dear. How you like that list, Joyce, you MOTHERF%$#!R?
Less painful indeed, having your wisdom teeth extracted with pliers by an orang-utang...and without novocaine, than trying to read Ulysses first page to last.
I hated it.
For the reading, I approached it with trepidation, as words like "unreadable" and "incomprehensible" have often been bandied about. I didn't find it unreadable. It was difficult at
As for the getting, I think that much of the novel simply shot right past me. I'm reasonably familiar with The Odyssey and was able to follow that macro structure of the book. However, I know that much of the allusion and innuendo simply did not register in this book about which Joyce once said he "put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant." I understand that there are entire books...large books...devoted to explaining what is going on in Ulysses. Well and good, but that's more work than I'm willing to put into a book I didn't enjoy that much.
And, as for that, the truth is that I like stories in my stories, and I didn't enjoy Joyce as a story teller. There's no real question he's good at limning characters. There's even less doubt that the man had a command of the English language that was not short of dazzling. However, we never established a rapport with each other as writer and reader. I would find a portion of it interesting or funny and start to immerse, only to run into twice as many pages of text that I found mind-numbing in their opacity.
Does the fault lie with me? I'm willing to concede that it does simply because I cannot judge. I don't have the knowledge or training to decipher this work. I can only say much of the reported depth escaped me, evidently lost in unseen allusions and obscured by experimental writing techniques. For those familiar with Clarke's maxim on advanced technology and magic, here is my own variant: "Any literature, sufficiently abstruse, is indistinguishable from the un-profound."
In the end, I'm glad I read it so that I have an opinion rather than just hearsay. I would suggest that readers try it and decide for themselves, even if that means invoking the 50 Page Rule—it is, after all, often billed as one of the greatest books ever. However, for me it was neither moving, nor enlightening nor enjoyable. I'm content to be a cultural Philistine on this one.
It’s not uncommon to hear people say when Ulysses is mentioned (and I’ve heard many people say this) that no one has actually read Ulysses and everyone who says they have is just a poser, an intellectual wannabe. It’s insane, but then again, trying to defend a book like Ulysses is, to some people, like trying to show that a lunatic is sane. Having read Ulysses multiple times (because that’s how you get the most out of it, as it so happens), I’m pretty sure I didn’t spend all those hours admiring the typography of my particular edition.
Reading Ulysses is a joy. I don’t hesitate to say that. My first reading of the book was enjoyable, but it didn’t compare to my constant revisits to it. A joke or a passage that I wasn’t able to appreciate the first time round is rediscovered and Ulysses grew on me even more. And humour does abound in this book such as this typically Joycean digression:
“The fashionable international world attended en masse this afternoon at the wedding of the chevalier Jean Wyse de Neaulan, grand high chief ranger of the Irish National Foresters, with Miss Fir Conifer of Pine Valley. Lady Sylvester Elmshade, Mrs Barbara Lovebirch, Mrs Poll Ash, Mrs Holly Hazeleyes, Miss Daphne Bays, Miss Dorothy Canebrake, Mrs Clyde Twelvetrees, Mrs Rowan Greene, Mrs Helen Vinegadding, Miss Virginia Creeper, Miss Gladys Beech, Miss Olive Garth, Miss Blanche Maple, Mrs Maud Mahogany, Miss Myra Myrtle, Miss Priscilla Elderflower, Miss Bee Honeysuckle, Miss Grace Poplar, Miss O Mimosa San, Miss Rachel Cedarfrond, the Misses Lilian and Viola Lilac, Miss Timidity Aspenall, Mrs Kitty Dewey-Mosse, Miss May Hawthorne, Mrs Gloriana Palme, Mrs Liana Forrest, Mrs Arabella Blackwood and Mrs Norma Holyoake of Oakholme Regis graced the ceremony by their presence.”
As you’ve probably noticed from most of the negative reviews below, Ulysses is an easy target. Too easy, I should think. In an age of culture illiteracy and a shrinking reading population in most Western countries, a book like Ulysses becomes the cultural pariah of the age. Like the concept of the Wandering Jew it examines so passionately, Ulysses finds it self as an artefact wandering the cultural waste land, periodically receiving kindness from its admirers, but mostly suffering at the hands of philistines, knaves and ignoramuses. An elitist jibe? You could consider it that, I don’t doubt that one would, but you could also consider something else on my side of the argument. What can a written review of this book give that you would probably not be able to receive from the opinion of the man on the street? The answer: Quotes. That’s right, quotes; the simple act of previewing the text of the book in question to the reader makes a review more valuable than what you might hear word-of-mouth. But perusing the negative reviews of Ulysses from various sites, most ultimately end up resembling the word-of-mouth about this book. And here another problem lurks
Misinformation swarms around this book. The usually rigmarole that reviewers of this book have to go through is the description, more often than not, boiled down to couple of misleading bullet points. First: Ulysses is written in the stream-of-consciousness technique. This is a very misleading description. Only the first half of the Nausicaa chapter and the Penelope chapter, with Gerty MacDowell and Molly Bloom featuring respectively, are written in the stream-of consciousness technique. What most readers refer to as the stream-of consciousness sections of the book are in fact Interior monologues. These are typically Leopold Bloom’s thoughts (others are heard throughout the rest of the book) and are made up of short, choppy staccato sentences representing those thoughts, finished or unfinished:
“By lorries along sir John Rogerson's quay Mr Bloom walked soberly, past Windmill lane, Leask's the linseed crusher, the postal telegraph office. Could have given that address too. And past the sailors' home. He turned from the morning noises of the quayside and walked through Lime street. By Brady's cottages a boy for the skins lolled, his bucket of offal linked, smoking a chewed fagbutt. A smaller girl with scars of eczema on her forehead eyed him, listlessly holding her battered caskhoop. Tell him if he smokes he won't grow. O let him! His life isn't such a bed of roses. Waiting outside pubs to bring da home. Come home to ma, da. Slack hour: won't be many there. He crossed Townsend street, passed the frowning face of Bethel. El, yes: house of: Aleph, Beth. And past Nichols' the undertaker. At eleven it is. Time enough. Daresay Corny Kelleher bagged the job for O'Neill's. Singing with his eyes shut. Corny. Met her once in the park. In the dark. What a lark. Police tout. Her name and address she then told with my tooraloom tooraloom tay. O, surely he bagged it. Bury him cheap in a whatyoumaycall. With my tooraloom, tooraloom, tooraloom, tooraloom.”
It should also be made absolutely clear: Ulysses is written in a vast array of styles ranging from phases of prose poetry to minute realism to precisely rendered scenes of dialogue, and everything in between, including a humorously erudite question-and-answer section:
“The visible signs of antesatisfaction?
An approximate erection: a solicitous adversion: a gradual elevation: a tentative revelation: a silent contemplation.
He kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each
plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.”
Second: Ulysses is a rehash of Homer’s Odyssey. Eh, yes and no. Ulysses is obviously a rework of Homer’s masterpiece, but it diverts greatly from it and stretches far wider right into the depths of European literature and back:
“--If you want to know what are the events which cast their shadow over the hell of time of King Lear, Othello, Hamlet, Troilus and Cressida, look to see when and how the shadow lifts. What softens the heart of a man, shipwrecked in storms dire, Tried, like another Ulysses, Pericles, prince of Tyre?”
After writing an essay called “The Literature of Exhaustion”, the author John Barth was accused of claiming the ‘Death’ of the novel, basically, stating that everything that could be said and done with the novel as a form had been done. Barth in fact believed the opposite. In follow up to that essay, Barth wrote “The Literature of Replenishment” which pointed out a very satisfying fact: Don Quixote, a book considered the one of the first properly definable novels of Western civilisation, is itself a rehash, a parody and a homage to the chivalric prose works that came before it. In essence, literature finds its replenishment from that which precedes it and points towards the future. Don Quixote is replenishment literature and so too is Ulysses.
To read Ulysses does not require a knowledge of the entirety of Western literature, as many of the people who have read and enjoyed Ulysses will testify to. What it does require, though, is an appreciation of the breathtaking capacity of the English language. From there -- Enjoy.
Many aspects of this book are very, very challenging, and in my opinion you may want a little
There are so many things the book brings up, but my personal favorite discussion has been the balance between art and obscenity within the eyes of the law.
I remember touring NYU when I was between junior and senior year of high school. Right there, in the middle of the Art Department main office, was a black and white photograph of a woman sitting on the toilet. I was shocked. She had a faraway look in her eyes, and she was clearly thinking about something else-- the grocery list, all the things she had to do, something overwhelming. I was... confused but mentally intrigued. I had never seen anyone on the toilet before, and it's not something I actively think about other people doing. Ulysses is a lot like that. Almost as soon as Leopold Bloom, the main character, is introduced, we see him on the toilet. It's not particularly gross or graphic, but it's a private moment and there the reader is-- hovering. The book spans the course of one day, June 16th, and we see Leopold do pretty much everything. He eats, farts, has lustful thoughts... sure, some of the lustful thoughts might be creepy out of context, but in the 700 pages of context given, the reader becomes aware that this persistent lust is mostly due to the fact that he and his wife don't get down to the hanky-panky very much since their infant son died ten years ago.
Joyce shows every aspect of life in such away that the reader realizes exactly what it it to be a human, full of conflict, obsessive thoughts and bodily needs (that goes back to the eating and farting). Just be prepared, because you have to find that beauty among a load of experimental styles and prose that can get very heavy at times.
25% tight realist novel with modernist flourishes - innovative in that regard, in a small ways - about fathers and sons, the quest for self, the breakdown of a marriage, repressed
25% spot-on-dialogue based mythopoeic journey into Ireland and the Irish, Dublin and its assorted Sidhe, and on that note I should cop that my favourite moment was when they're all in the bar and that caveman walks in. If Dublin disappeared off the face of the earth tomorrow and you had to reconstruct it based on this book, you'd end up with - no disrespect to Dub and the Dubs - a weirder and more wonderful place. This stuff also makes you realize how Irvine Welsh (let's not even touch all the modernist and post-modern writers who we all know were influenced by Joyce, and reach across the aeons a little, because I did find this rather striking) is really surprisingly close to just being Joyce with a dose of Scottish pragmatism and a couple slaps upside the heid if ya dinnae stop greetin ya cunt
40% fol-the-rol-the-ra-the-raddy and flibberty-bibberty bee! Amazing stuff, although come on, Molly Bloom's (awesome) soliloquy is just serial monogasentences with the periods shaken out. 40%, in other words, Finnegan's Wake.
And the last 10 percent? Class participation, of course, which is where this book franly falls down and turns, for all its richness, too frequently from pleasure to chore. Because half this book wants to be read stone sober and half blind drunk - hell, by the end there drunk might not even cut it and you'll wanna be crunk or frunk or strunk and white or badunkadunkdunk. All of which are solid ways to be, except that the two halves are so irremediably entangled that it makes actually reading the fucker grindy and jarring and not at all smooth, because there you are getting hosed for the next paragraph and having to sober up before you can finish your sentence.
And I like smooth. I think Ulysses begs to be read like how some people do with the Bible, where they stick a pin in it and that's their daily think. And books like that really annoy me, with all their intimations of psychological comprehensiveness and implicit claims to authority. So yeah, I didn't give this book as much time as it needs, but I think I gave it as much as it deserves.*
Ulysses is basically an unbridled attack on the very ideas of heroism, romantic love and sexual fulfillment, and objective literary expression. This is made especially clear by the title's reference to The Odyssey of Homer (Ulysses being the Latin name for the Greek Odysseus)---and the unmistakably unbridgeable contrast between the two books, both in terms of the content of the stories, and their modes of expression.
Odysseus is a great man, King of Crete, husband of Penelope, father of Telemachus, and a hero of the Trojan war. The Odyssey chronicles his heroic ten-year voyage to return home from the war to his wife and son. Ulysses, on the other hand, is about an ordinary day in the life of Leopold Bloom, a bumbling buffoon, impotent both in life and in bed. In Homer's view, man is a heroic, even God-like, being---and woman is more than a match for him. In Joyce's, man is metaphysically ridiculous, especially in matters of sex, and woman is his equal in patheticalness.
And then there is the literary style Joyce employs to spew forth this sewage. While Homer's epic poem takes the form of strictly-metered verse, Joyce switches literary mode, from straight prose to dialogue to stream of consciousness (among other things), almost at random throughout the work, though it seems to degenerate more and more toward the end.
If the point of Ulysses were to break free of outmoded and arbitrary restrictions of classicism, it would be admirable. But that's not what Joyce is doing. He doesn't offer a positive alternative to replace the Homeric values (which I think are genuine values) upon which he's pissing. He's pissing on them just to piss on them. It's pure nihilism, and it's disgusting.
Ulysses is obscene, not because of any language it uses or its obsession with sex, but because of its thematic content---the ideas it conveys. The book expresses nothing less than an all-consuming hatred of man and any positive values to which he aspires. And that is why I think Ulysses is one of the most vile and evil books ever written.
The book's power
Ulysses is chock full of interesting correspondences (biblical, mythological, Shakespearian and on and on, no doubt) but little sustained allegory. What I take away from that is, aside from the fact that we all star in and narrate our own tales, we can find correspondences with these other great narratives in our own daily lives as mundane (but important to us!) as they are.
James Joyce's Ulysses is a touching love story, a universal story, a simple story told with a panoply of literary techniques, some avant-garde, that are used, not to display the author's wit and erudition, but to overcome
Bloomsday, 16 June, 1904, will be a turning point in Bloom's marriage to Molly. Madly in love at the time their marriage, Molly chose Poldy over all other suitors. Birth of a daughter, Milly, soon followed, then a son, Rudy. Rudy died in infancy, leaving a gap in their marriage that never closed. Milly is nearly old enough to leave the household, so the Blooms will be deciding how to live the rest of their lives. Not by family council, but through the unspoken communication between husband and wife, to close the gap if they can.
The entrace of another suitor, Blazes Boylan, forces the issue and presents other possible outcomes for the Blooms' future together. How does Bloom act in this changed dynamic? Will Molly choose Boylan over Bloom? Or just look for a bit on the side with Boylan, or with Stephen Dedalus. Oh yes, can't forget Dedalus. Ulysses opens with Stephen's story, and continues a major subplot with him. He is Wandering Aengus, who wanders into the life of Bloom for a day, then wanders out again. He will find his silver and golden apples elsewhere, aided, perhaps, by his encounter with Bloom.
In reading Ulysses, keep in mind these major themes, how Joyce introduces them, expands them, interconnects them, resolves them (if at all). Do this and you will likely enjoy the book, even if some of the wit and erudition of Joyce escapes you, because it is a very human story. What you may miss is not central to understanding and enjoying Ulysses and may have been included partly to edify the critics, as T.S. Eliot did in The Waste Land. Joyce's style captures the life of his characters as it is lived, while it is lived, and not as it might be edited, sanitized, and revised for the historical record. I finished the book caring very much for Poldy and Molly and wish them the best, for them to hear again the sweetest song of all . . . love's old sweet song.
Do pay attention to Joyce's prose, which is very lyrical and deserves to be heard. Speak the words to yourself, read them aloud to another, read aloud together with someone else. If you have the chance, listen to one of the audio versions of Ulysses. Aside from shifting the burden of vocalization to a professional, this also helps untangle the mid-sentence point-of-view shifts without having to stop to analyze the text yourself. Ulysses deserves the Robert Altman treatment as a movie, but, sadly, it is not to be on his agenda.
I'm sorry. I know it makes me a heathen. And it's not that I don't understand seeing deeply into human thoughts and dwelling on the richness of a single day. But really. Paragraphs were invented for a good
It was a comment by AN Wilson regarding Tolstoy that began the chain of thought that led me here. All writers, he said, lived in the shadow of Tolstoy. To be fair, it seemed that he was referring to writers of historical fiction but there are those who believe it to be true of all writers.
All writers may well write in Tolstoy's shadow, but without doubt they labour in Joyce's light, which is a far more precious thing. For not only did Joyce shape the form, the consciousness and the soul of the modern novel, he did so with a skill of language and words that has rarely, if ever, been matched.
George Bernard Shaw once remarked that it took talent to start a new trend in art, but a genius to end it. So it is with Joyce, except that he was more than just a talent, but a literary genius of such magnitude that we may well have to wait a very long time for a greater genius to come onto the scene and re-define the novel. Countless attempts have been made, of course, but none that could over-shadow Joyce's Ulysses.
The secret to reading Ulyssses is not to take oneself seriously, and the book perhaps slightly less so. It is a book that reveals itself by simply reading it, letting it fertilise our intellect as we let the words wash over us. It is a song in which we can follow - albeit with difficulty at times - the literal words but which has beneath them, infused in them, a greater meaning altogether. Through sound, rhythm and pace, the words take on a new etymology that no dictionary could chart. They work together to create meaning and sense beyond the building blocks of language. It is the closest we have of prose as poetry.
Ulysses bursts with life, with humour, with optimism, with sensuality and a sheer delight in being human, including the painful parts of that condition. It is raw and sophisticated, delicate and brutal but never dull. I cannot recall reading it and finding a paragraph that didn't contribute or offer something.
Molly's soliloquy is one of the finest human reflections in literature since Hamlet and in its sheer essential humanity, and even greater comment on existence.
It would be folly and arrogance to assume that I could add anything of real value to what has already been written about Ulysses. All I can say is that this is an astounding book that has lit the way for every writer and every reader since.
Much of this novel is written in the language of the daydreamer, not restricted to interior thoughts that move a plot forward but open to capturing every thought that might pass through the consciousness of these characters as they go about their day. The sheer volume and range of this delivery turns a nothing-special morning and afternoon into an epic. Joyce is lambasted for writing over most people's heads, but he isn't doing it in a bullying or non-inclusive way - else why are there enough body function references to entertain a toddler? Some of his characters' thoughts, particularly Stephen's, can be learned in the extreme but are interspersed with the most casual, mundane passing fancies. Everything and nothing is important. All people are capable of every kind of thought up and down the scale of decorum, and all of us are riding that scale on a daily basis. These are the most realistic characters ever put to paper, and I'm ready to believe nobody will ever do it better.
What I don't believe is that Ulysses is worthwhile reading for anyone who doesn't come to it of their own volition. Forget the critics, the professors who are paid to help you appreciate it. It's only good reading if you think it is. Approach Joyce via Dubliners and Portrait first to see if you can enjoy him at all, and catch up on Homer's epics. If those are a hassle or boring (and whether you understand them is beside the point), don't trouble yourself any further because all you're going to miss here is an exercise in frustration with his madness (exactly why I'm not going to read the Wake). But if you liked all of that and what Joyce can do, his prior work pales next to the technical feats he pulled off with Ulysses.
Definitely a rereader. I might give it another crack someday. But even my 60% comprehension first pass had its rewarding moments, such as the Nighttown sequence, or the cathecism parody in "Ithaca".
It is this consciousness that makes even most gifted writers kneel before its altar:
There is a story about how George Orwell was depressed after reading this. He wrote that how impotent he felt before the might of this book, that everything he ever wrote or read seemed like a speck of trivia.
And when Scott Fitzgerald met Joyce, he kneeled and sobbed like a smitten teenager asking him 'How does it feel to be great genius Sir?
Also, It has my favourite sentence in all english literature:
Love loves to love love. (Love-subject, object, verb, everything in the universe)
YES, Ulysses is not a book, its a Kingdom, love it or hate it, but deep down we all know English literature is simply divided into BU and AU- Before Ulysses and After Ulysses.
I know that it's a classic, and realize that many people consider it to be the greatest novel of the twentieth century.
I was constantly amazed by what Joyce could do with words, and there were many times when I re-read lines, paragraphs, or entire sections just so that I could savour the
But I have to admit that there were at least as many sections that I had to re-read because my eyes had glazed over, my attention had floated away, and I was bored.
On the whole I enjoyed and am glad that I finally got around to reading this book, but once was enough.
I think that this book is really a book for literature students, rather than people who like
Also I really didn't like that the last 30+ pages had no punctuation whatsoever. That just gave me a headache.
Plot-wise, I mainly enjoyed it. The fact that this entire book only records the events of one day amused me, and the way that every detail (particularly the boring ones) were recorded meant you still got to understand the main characters pretty well.
I don't get how they managed to make a film of this book without completely missing the point of it, but I haven't seen any adaptation of this, so... I guess I can't really comment.
I'm not sure what Joyce was aiming for with the audience for this book but it isn't your average reader and I'm sure it wouldn't be the average reader of the times. Extremely challenging to follow and I think listening to this read on audio may make a big difference.