Ulysess , James Joyce - A crash course

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Commercial Fiction  |  House: Booksie Classic
a brief introduction into the impenetrable Ulysses , Joyces second most complex book
Don't be intimidated by it .. try reading from chapter 3 on.
But do try it

Submitted: August 07, 2011

A A A | A A A

Submitted: August 07, 2011



Why did Joyce make his master piece so incomprehension=

From one of the greatest  writers of the 20 th century Ulysses is hardly the greatest novel of its time . Many Joyceans believe that the author wasted too much time on this work , and too much more on the impenetrable Finnegan’s Wake  These 2 works from undoubtedly one of the greatest writers of his time  are to some a waste of his undoubted genius.
Joyce would have realised that he had mastered the short story and possibly the biography. To understand why he moved into these two unexplored genres we have to accept that Joyce acknowledged that he  had achieved all he wanted to in writing is the acknowledged format- indeed all that could be achieved in conventional writing.
We must also accept that Joyces work was quite limited . One book of short stories ; a biography , a play , some verse , then the last two works Ulysses and Finnegan’s Wake.
Ulysses could  be interpreted as  a statement of Joyce’s - a declaration that he has conquered the English language . Some would say that with this work Joyce tries to deconstruct the language ; subvert it .
Joyce uses puzzles puns  and metaphors in Ulysses of which he later said  these puzzles‘’ would keep the University professors thinking for years’’ In this sense it could be  regarded as a self serving narcissistic , self indulgent long polemic .
It is an intellectual challenge mostly for intellectuals and not for the faint hearted .
Joyce nonetheless  said it was a work for ‘’ everyman ‘  That it is certainly not .
To understand Ulysses , one would need to be conversant with Greek Mythology , Irish mythology , Irish and European histories
Understandably therefore many readers feel intimidated by the book ..

The writing is deliberately cryptic and Joyce uses many different styles  in artistic language  to mystify if not alienate most readers .. It is a challenge or a master class , it depends on the reader .
He lays out a work  before his  readers that challenges him to accept or  reject Joyce’s own  supreme  belief in his craftsmanship  .
Dublin city is central to the book ; The layout of its streets , pubs, public buildings and  the river Liffey - these could be the book’s spinal column .
So obsessive was Joyce of the Dublin cityscape that he later claimed that were Dublin to  be razed to the ground that it could be rebuilt from the precision  of the architecture  he drafts in the book .

Joyce wrote most of the book while he was living in exile , moving from one city to another during the war . He spent most of his time writing  this book in Trieste .
The scene is set in Dublin about 1904 on 16 June
The flow of the book follows the structure if Homers Odyssey , and all of the characters converge or become a confluent part of the funeral of Paddy Dingnam.
Some people are intimidated or alienated by the opening chapter and move on to the third chapter and start there .
The first chapter deals with Joyce’s time as a teacher, when he lived ina Martello  tower - ( a Napoleonic outpost - a lookout/ redoubt ). The opening  scene depicts  Buck Mulligan ( the writer Oliver Sgt Gogarty ) who is conducting a mock catholic mass as he shaves on top of the tower. There is another character living there called Flinch .But we can leave him for now. Joyce in in his usual penurious state  and is walking along the strand when he sees a flock of plover wheeling and tumbling against the sky , and he starts to think about his own inevitable exile from Ireland.
He sees the birds as a sudden bursting like a cannon from a gun .. And he realises that he must go to ‘’forge in the smithy of my soul , the uncreated consciences of my race’’
At one point one Bloom throws a piece of paper into the river , while another is walking downstream . Joyce times the thought processes  of this second person until this character  later sees that same piece of paper drifting past a bridge downstream. The piece of paper contains the name of a horse - a tip which Bloom is given for a horse which he later intends to place a bet on. The horse is called ‘’ Throwaway ‘’
But lets start with the  main characters .
Leopold Bloom is a Dublin Jew in his mid 40’s
Steven Dedalus is a young post grad teacher in his mid 20’s .
Bloom is wandering around , his principle aim being to get an advertisement in the Freemans Journal .

The other central event of the day is the funeral of Paddy Dignam. We know very little about  who he is  , but are told about all the mourners at his graveside.
Bloom was unaware of Paddy’s death and asks .;
-’’ Did paddy die. ? I could have sworn I saw him this morning  !
 -‘ Well ,’ comes the retort -‘’If you did they’re taking the liberty of burying him this afternoon. ‘’ Bloom rushes off to the obsequies . He wants to see who is attending the funeral more than  he is concerned  about paying his respects to Paddy Dignam
Bloom is a Dublin Jew. There were Jewish settlements in most Irish cities after WW 1 .As a Jew  he is treated cruelly and often vilified . The Jewish community were associated with money lending and earned a reputation as being extortionists. This was reinforced by their involvement in the pawn - broking trade .
To illustrate the xenophobic mind-set in Ireland at the time Joyce sets this out very lucidly in a Chapter devoted to  a character referred to as The Citizen

Bloom meets up with the  Citizen in Davy Byrnes pub.  The Citizen is an arrogant bigot and hater of Jewry and a monstrous xenophobe . Two of the characters have been describing Bloom’s impenetrable  obduracy saying -I declare , if you took a straw  from the ground and said -it’s a straw Bloom  A Straw !!.. I declare to Me aunt macksatter ( spell ?-he’d disagree.
  Joyce lampoons the petty tyranny which the Citizen perpetrates over Bloom .
The Citizen  challenges Bloom on his statehood ; What is a nation…your nation - he demands of Bloom
-’’ the same people living in the one place with the same beliefs -Bloom retorts .
- Well ! In that case I’m a nation myself -.replies the Citizen .
For some reason everyone wants to ingratiate themselves with the Citizen. He lords over the company in Davy Byrne’s . One offers to buy him a drink .
- well I’ll accept  !.. Just to show there’s no ill feeling !- the gracious Citizen accepts.
This  Citizen’s character is allegedly based on Cusack - one of the founding fathers of the Gaelic Athletic Association.
Joyce uses the Citizen  as a vehicle to capture the bigotry and hatred the inward looking Ireland of the time . ; The Citizen’ vehement hatred towards the English is truly vitriolic, but  his bigoted rant is unchallenged .
The contretemp between Bloom and the Citizen ends with Bloom beating a hasty retreat to the door of the pub - declaiming - Jesus Christ was a Jew .. Your God was a Jew ..
 He chases  the fleeing Bloom out onto the  street and  throws a biscuit tin after the mortified Bloom.
 The Citizen chapter reveals Joyce’s own revulsion towards the small-minded insular Ireland that he  had to leave

The book chronicles the story of  Bloom through an ordinary day in  Dublin day .
 ( But it was an extraordinary day  ; It commemorated the day Joyce  first dated his future wife , Nora Barnacle- . Nora was from Galway and  she in her own way was escaping the poverty and small-town mindset of the turn of the centaury west of  Ireland

The heroBloom is married to Molly Bloom , an established singer in Dublins light opera community . It is Molly Blooms  famous uninterrupted ,monologue  ,without punctuation for several pages -and has become a classic in its own right -  closes the  book. The Blooms had a child called Rudy who died as an infant . In one sense Molly and Leopold adopt Steven at the end on the book .
 During the time Bloom is wandering around Dublin his wife is having an adulterous affair with Lothario named Blazes Boylan .Molly Bloom and Boylan are having adulterous intercourse during Leopold’s meanderings .
One character make a coarse  jibing reference to the relationship to Bloom but we are unaware how much Bloom himself knows about it .
Bloom himself is more than sexually alert and active , in perhaps a perverse manner  . We find him at one stage masturbating as he watches a lady bather undress on Dollymount strand .

Steven Dedalus is the other main character  or hero . It is thought that Leopold ‘s meanderings on that June day represents the wanderings of the young Joyce family moving house as Joyce’s father’s circumstances deteriorated as a consequence of his unbending spirit  of the soul and fondness for strong spiritof the vat . The wandering sequences are also thought to represent the homeless Jewish People .

Molly Bloom’s thought process is based on Joyce’s own wife Nora Barnacle .He frequently consults with her during the writing of Molly’s soliloquy - to determine the veracity of how he represents a woman’s mind ; her idle meandering thoughts , from the salacious to the mundane , and all in between.
As the title of the book suggests  , the book is written in a parallel to to Home’rs  Odyssesy  and is divided into chapters or pieces which are written in a modern world day Dublin .

The two men don’t meet until the 24 chapter when Bloom  has followed the rambunctious Byuch Mulligan and Steven into night-time Dublin . They end up in a brothel  . After this Steven is adopted by Bloom as his long lost son. .

The story ends with Molly’s famous soliloquy when she is reflecting on her courtship with  Bloom . In the end she  yields herself to him . She is  working herself to an orgasm as  we hear her rambling thoughts  half fantasising about Steven whom Bloom has offered lodgings for the night .
The book was rejected by 6 publishers .It fell to the then little known Shakespere Company run by a Ms Sylvial Beech  to finally publish the book .

During the writing  Joyce who luxuriates in his greatness , which was yet to come . He lives by sponging on his long suffering brother , Stanisclause
Stanisclause is his provider and James takes all this for granted

The book was banned in many countries . Joyce’s use of crudities such as Blazes Boylan , fresh from Molly’s bed proffers his unwashed finger to another who sniffs and says - A Jazes Sweet smell of lobster. But it is probably Molly’s soliloquy which sinks it for Joyce .The book , while on the banned list in Ireland until the 1960’s was especially vilified for Joyce’s anti clericalism . Nonetheless the book and all its venues have been celebrated on Blooms day - 16 June every year since the 40’s

Only a sketchy outline of the book is given here. It is not nearly enough to suffice as a guide .
Take the book and start it. Some readers find in more comprehendible by starting at the 3rd chapter . But take it up .
You’ll find the writing in any chapter exquisite , whichever style he is using . But do start it . Don’t be intimidated
A complete guide to the book is written by Richard Ellman

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