Man Ray Joyce

Ulysses


[Dubliners|A Portrait|Ulysses|Finnegans Wake]

Ulysses

(1922)

Modern Library, 1992, ISBN 0-679-60011-6; Hardcover $22.95. Follows 1961 corrections. [Browse/Purchase]

“It is an epic of two races (Israelite-Irish) and at the same time the cycle of the human body as well as a little story of a day (life). It is also an encyclopedia. Each adventure (that is, every hour, every organ, every art being interconnected and interrelated in the structural scheme of the whole) should not only condition but even create its own technique. Each adventure is so to say one person although it is composed of persons – as Aquinas relates of the angelic hosts.”

Ah...this is it, this is the biggie – the book where a “day be as dense as a decade,” Ulysses has sent more beginning readers scrambling for cover than any work written since Moby-Dick and before Gravity’s Rainbow. And why? Is it big? Yes. Is it difficult? At times, yes. Is it boring and dull? No – hell no! And is it impossible for the average person to read? Absolutely not! I have met plenty of people who claim Ulysses as their favorite novel – and these are “normal” people, not necessarily English professors or NSA cryptographers. People who go to work each day, have a passing fondness for Taco Bell, and cried at the end of Titanic. (Though, to be fair, usually they’re also big fans of, well, Moby-Dick and Gravity’s Rainbow.)
So what is Ulysses?

“a little story of a day”
Published in 1922, Ulysses is a remarkably ambitious novel, a labyrinthine work of great humor and technical accomplishment; once denounced as obscene, occasionally accused of being unreadable, and frequently acclaimed as the greatest book of the twentieth century. Its plot is deceptively easy to summarize: during the course of a single day, three main characters wake up, have various encounters in Dublin, and drift off to sleep eighteen hours later. The youngest of the three is the anxious writer Stephen Dedalus, the semi-autobiographical intellectual from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Recently returned to Ireland from his self-imposed exile in Paris, Stephen enters the book shortly after the death of his mother. Next is the indomitable Leopold Bloom; a middle-aged advertising canvasser and non-practicing Jew, the good-natured “Poldy” has never quite fit in with his Catholic countrymen. Finally there’s Bloom’s earthy wife Molly, a voluptuous singer who is planning an afternoon of adultery with her music director. The day in question is Thursday, June 16, 1904 – special to Joyce because it was the day that Nora Barnacle, his future wife, made her fondness clear to him. (At Sandymount Beach. When they were alone. A “fondness” very, ah, handily clarified.)
Although Ulysses takes place on a single day, as Bloom remarks, it is “an unusually fatiguing day, a chapter of accidents,” and includes a funeral, a birth, an episode of adultery, and a drunken spree through the red light district. We begin with Stephen. After awakening by the seaside, Stephen discovers that he doesn’t much like his roommates – a patronizing Englishman named Haines and an irreverent wit named Buck Mulligan – and as the day goes on, it becomes clear that he doesn’t much like himself, either; nor his teaching position, associates, friends, family, country, and religion. Throughout the day he gets in one argument after another, from lofty debates about art and literature to self-loathing disputes with his own conscience. Bloom, on the other hand, begins his day rather pleasantly, frying up a tasty kidney and making a relaxing sojourn to the outhouse. Leaving his home on Eccles Street, he does a little shopping before visiting a public bath and attending a funeral. Bloom then goes about his workday, getting sidetracked here and there with various distractions, such as studiously avoiding his wife’s lover, getting booted from a pub by a psychotic bigot, and engaging in a voyeuristic act of public lewdness. Stephen and Bloom meet up at a hospital around 10 pm, where a woman named Mina Purefoy is giving birth upstairs while Stephen and his buddies serve as midwives to a drinking binge. Falling into the role of surrogate father, Bloom stays with his reckless young friend for the rest of the night, helping Stephen through a drunken epiphany in a brothel in which a defenseless chandelier pays the price for Stephen’s pent-up emotions. After eventually pulling Stephen out of the surreal violence of “Nighttown,” he brings the lad back to Eccles Street for a long, late-night conversation. Slipping into bed with his wife – flushed from her day of erotic exploits – Bloom falls asleep, and the narrative finally passes over to Molly, who until now has remained “off-stage.” Ulysses closes with Molly’s long “soliloquy,” a dreamy reverie largely revolving around her sensual nature and the men in her life. Her final thoughts touch upon her courtship with Poldy, reliving a simpler time as she drifts off to sleep, her love re-affirmed.
Total time and distance from the entrance of “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan” to Molly’s final “yes?” – Eighteen hours and seven hundred and eighty-three pages. At 1.38 minutes per page, that’s a fairly well documented day!

“Our national epic has yet to be written”
Understanding the characters and plot of Ulysses is only half the story. Joyce wanted his “Blue Book of Eccles” to be something a bit larger than the simple narrative of a day; indeed, the numerous bold intentions he brought to Ulysses are one of the reasons it stands as the touchstone of literary Modernism. Joyce wanted Ulysses to be an “epic” and an “adventure” as well as serving as an “encyclopedia.” In order to do this, he wove his text upon a vast loom of hidden “correspondences,” an organizing network of internal interconnections and external allusions. Although I’ll discuss the rest of the correspondences in a moment, it’s important to note right away that the most important of these are the book’s “Homeric parallels.”
As suggested by its very title, Ulysses relates to Homer’s great epic The Odyssey, the tale of Odysseus (known to the Romans as Ulysses) and his travels after the Trojan War. Taking ten years to return home to his faithful wife and grown son, Ulysses went through one adventure after another with his (ever dwindling) crew of (remarkably ill-behaved) sailors: fighting the Cyclops, avoiding the call of the Sirens, being turned into swine by the sorceress Circe, and pissing off just about every minor and major god in the pantheon. Joyce uses The Odyssey as a loose structural framework for his book, arranging its characters and events around Homer’s heroic model, with Bloom as Ulysses, Stephen as his “son” Telemachus, and Molly as “faithful” Penelope. Although the eighteen episodes (as Ulysses’ chapters are usually called) are not named within the text itself, literary tradition – with a little prodding from Joyce – has assigned them titles inspired by The Odyssey, many of them with ironic connotations. Consequently, Ulysses also doubles as a parody of sorts, a mock-epic populated by anti-heroes and fallen mortals.
Although Ulysses is often called a “mock-epic,” Joyce’s intentions are not to ridicule his main characters, least of all Leopold Bloom, his “usyless” Everyman and Noman. Ulysses is never cruel, mean-spirited, or even sardonic: paradoxically, Joyce brings out the nobility of his characters through their very failure to measure up to heroic proportions. Indeed, the pages of Ulysses contain more tenderness, love, and forgiveness that any other book I’ve read – if I were asked to pick one quality to associate with Ulysses, I would simply say “humanity.”
Well, that and “complexity,” perhaps. As mentioned above, Joyce wanted Ulysses to serve as an “encyclopedia.” While the Homeric parallels are the most important structural device in the novel, each chapter is additionally organized around a different hour, color, bodily organ, sense, symbol, literary technique, art, and science as well!
If this is making you feel a bit daunted, or even discouraged from reading the book, don’t worry too much. Most of the correspondences are far from explicit to even the most attentive reader, and become apparent only through repeated study – or by consulting the “Ulysses schemata,” a map of correspondences “leaked” by Joyce in 1920. (So much for paring your nails, Jim.) The correspondences are intended to remain beneath the surface, providing internal dynamics and enhancing a narrative already quite engaging on its own. There’s no reason a first-time reader needs to have Joyce’s schemata memorized to enjoy Ulysses; like the complex musical theory supporting a symphonic movement, you don’t have to understand sonata form and harmonic theory to take delight in the results. Of course, for some readers, part of the fun of taking on Ulysses is solving its “puzzles,” and a deeper appreciation certainly awaits the curious investigator.

“his usylessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles*,” or: A few words on narrative

*Finnegans Wake, 179.26-27

Ulysses is famous for many things, from its complex structural tropes to its avowed difficulty, from its brilliantly realized characters to its notorious “obscenities;” but what really marks it as the twentieth-century classic is its revolutionary prose, a combination a stream-of-consciousness immediacy and protean flexibility. In Ulysses, the narrative does not merely convey the story, it acts as a collaborative agency, often shifting between a kaleidoscope of styles in order to illuminate alternate meanings, resonances, ironies, or counterpoints within the text. Like Picasso depicting a scene from all perspectives, Joyce has playfully distorted his medium to better capture the whole picture. When Stephen muses on the beach, the stream-of-consciousness narrative is as abstruse and fleeting as his rambling thoughts. Later, when young Gertie is preoccupied with her own seaside dreaming, the girlish prose sprouts the flowery embellishments of a Gothic romance. A whirlwind tour of a printing press is bracketed by blustery headlines, while the narrow-minded conversations clouding the air of a nationalist pub are mocked by the adoption of ridiculously epic forms. The musical “Sirens” episode begins with a linguistic overture, the chapter unfolding and developing across a dazzling array of borrowed musical forms. And in one of his most virtuoso performances, the episode known as “Oxen of the Sun,” Joyce forces his entire instrument – the very language of the narrative itself – into a sympathetic pregnancy that parallels the birthing scene it’s assigned to describe. Like a growing fetus, the narrative evolves from its Anglo-Saxon and Latin roots through nine stages of development – represented by stylistic parodies of authors from Milton to Swift – to its thunderous birth into modern polyglot slang. But even after this, Joyce is far from finished. The longest episode in the novel, “Circe,” takes the form of a surreal play, creating a stage upon which Bloom’s innermost thoughts, fears, and fantasies are brought to life in an hallucinatory trip through a brothel district, a Walpurgisnacht in which all the day’s themes are reintroduced, exchanged, remodulated, and brought to varying degrees of resolution. After Stephen and Bloom retire to Eccles Street for a late-night discussion – which takes the form of an exhaustive and exhausting catechism – we are finally plunged into the sleepy consciousness of Molly. One of the most famous sequences in the book, Molly’s long soliloquy is a mazy, unpunctuated outpouring where time and identity slip and dissolve, her dreamy (and occasionally delightfully bitchy) reverie building to an ecstatic affirmation of life.

Advice for the First-Time Reader; Or, in the words of Tim Conley:

IN CASE OF JOYCE BREAK GLASS

Basics
As wonderful as Ulysses may be, it is still a difficult book to read, and if you want to approach it with a determined gleam in your eye, there’s a few thing you may do to ease the way. First of all, clear your reading calendar – set aside a full month or two, at the very least. Accept the fact that you are about to undertake something of a project – enjoyable and rewarding, but a little more demanding than curling up with an old favorite like Horatio Hornblower. You may want to find out if any local reading groups are tackling Ulysses, or you might even want to start your own. More people than you might think are interested in reading Ulysses, and starting a reading group could be just the stimulus they need. You may also want to check the Internet – there are several friendly online communities that host group readings of Ulysses, and they’re usually sympathetic to interested newbies.
Oh, and despite my use of potentially scary words like “determined,” “demanding,” and “tackling,” remember that many people consider Ulysses to be a comic novel. If at any point you feel confused or frustrated, just giggle knowingly and skip a page or two – trust me, no one understands all of Ulysses the first time through. (It’s like Neo falling off that virtual building in The Matrix: everyone misses the jump the first time....)

Prerequisite Reading & Ulysses Guides
Back to that gleam of determination. One of the best ways you can gear up for climbing Mount Ulysses is by doing a little literary prep-work. To begin with, you’d do well to read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man first. Not only will it give you a taste of Joyce’s inventive prose, more importantly, it introduces Stephen Dedalus and his family. If Ulysses is The Lord of the Rings, Portrait is The Hobbit. If you are really into it, read Dubliners, too. It’s not nearly as crucial in terms of being a “prequel,” but Dubliners introduces a few minor characters that pop up during the course of Ulysses’ long Thursday. In fact, Joyce’s first notion of Ulysses was as a story for Dubliners.
I would also advise that you brush up on two other great works or literature: Homer’s The Odyssey, which provides the loose framework for the book, and Shakespeare’s Hamlet, which is discussed at length by many of the characters, particularly in the “Scylla and Charybdis” episode. Additionally, you might wish to read Yeats’ short poem “Who Goes with Fergus?” This poem surfaces from time to time in Stephen’s mind, and some of its images occasionally float through the novel.
While these so-called “prerequisites” are not absolutely necessary, they may help anchor you more firmly to the narrative and provide you with a few useful frames of reference – especially the Homeric parallels. Knowledge of each chapter’s Homeric counterpart opens up a world of intriguing associations, delightful allusions, and delicious ironies, further enriching one’s appreciation of Joyce’s sprawling masterpiece.
Finally, I recommend that you pick up a Ulysses guidebook or a set of annotations; Joyce makes a zillion references to outside events, politics, music, historical figures, etc., and it is often helpful to know what he is talking about. I recommend Blamires’ New Bloomsday Book, which is a detailed walk-through of the novel, and Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated, essentially the Ulysses bible. You will find many more guides and books about Ulysses, but I feel that these two are the best start.

Which Edition?
Ulysses has had a long, strange publishing history, and there are still controversies over which edition is closer to being “definitive.” Although the first-time reader will probably notice zero difference between editions, it’s a fun little story to tell, so I’ll give the basic outline of “The Joyce Wars.”
The original edition of Ulysses published in 1922 had many, many errors – which wasn’t all that surprising. After all, the damn thing was enormous, the language and typography were offbeat, it had already been serialized in various magazines, and Joyce was an extensive reviser, spreading revisions over numerous drafts, fair-copies and typescripts. Although Joyce partially oversaw attempts to correct subsequent editions, it wasn’t until 1961 that a “corrected and reset” text was made. This edition stood for over a decade, until a team of researchers headed by German scholar Hans Walter Gabler decided to produce an improved and more accurate edition. Returning to the original sources – reams of papers, scripts, drafts, early editions, etc. – the team worked from 1974-1984 to produce a “Critical and Synoptic Edition.” This was eventually published with great fanfare in 1986 as “The Corrected Text.” This edition was intended to replace all previous versions, which were removed from publication.
It didn’t take long for Gabler's edition to come under fire, and this new text was soon attacked by a team of Joyce scholars lead by the American John Kidd. Claiming that Gabler’s “corrected” text was essentially worse than the 1922 original, the arguments between Gabler and Kidd became known as “The Joyce Wars,” a rather heated and often snarky academic scandal played out to a largely indifferent public. By the early 1990s, Kidd had made enough of an impact that Random House had decided to keep both 1961 and 1984 versions in print, and the “Corrected Text” was downgraded to the “Gabler Edition.” Given that the Joyce Wars are not over, and Ulysses’ copyright isn’t getting any fresher, it seems inevitable that we’ll soon have more versions, whether the long-promised “Kidd Edition” or something new. (Internet Joycean Jorn Barger has made his own “clean-up” of the Gabler version as well.)
So what does all this mean to the common reader?
There are currently three different “versions” of Ulysses available, plus a fourth “Reader’s Edition” that severely edits the text for – ahem – clarity. The first, and least read, is the original 1922 edition, filled with errors and omissions. Like a dotty but beloved old aunt, it remains in the attic, paring her nails above the hoopla playing out among the youngsters downstairs. Although Oxford publishes a nice, compact and affordable version, there’s also now a “facsimile” of the original available from Orchises Press – complete with the famous “Greek blue” cover and a lovely storage box. (All editions are featured below, with cover images and links.)
Next is the most common edition of Ulysses, the 1961 “corrected and reset” text, which was pulled off the shelves from 1986 to 1990. Known for the huge letters that begin each section of the book, the 1961 text has two common versions, the Vintage paperback and the Modern Library hardcover from Knopf. If the 1961 version is your choice, I advise the Modern Library edition; for only a few dollars more, you get the binding of a hardcover, and you can support the Modern Library, a fine and worthy series.
The third current version of Ulysses is the controversial “Gabler” edition. It has more frequent line numbers and the chapters are clearly numbered, but it doesn’t have those nifty capital letters that I'm rather fond of. It does, however, make more claims to an increased textual authority, and for the most part, I tend to think that the Gabler corrections feel right. Unfortunately, the most common U.S. Gabler edition is the Vintage paperback, the one with the horrible cover that looks like a Colorform-Fun nightmare. (An astute reader might note that since Vintage and Knopf are imprints of Random House, they are covering all their bases quite nicely.)
Finally, there is the new “Reader’s Edition,” as edited by Danis Rose. This edition actually – are you ready for this? – alters Joyce’s text, untangling some of his longer sentences, breaking down and hyphenating his compound words, and adding punctuation to Molly’s soliloquy. Needless to say, this is blasphemy to most Joyceans, and if you choose the Rose edition, don’t be surprised if they throw rocks at you when you walk across campus. In my opinion, Rose’s “easier” version isn’t worth it – if you are really serious about reading Ulysses, a few compound words aren’t going to scare you away. It’s like making Wagner’s Ring Cycle more “compact” by cutting out a tuba and sacking a dwarf or two.

Final Words
The last thing I’d like to add is this: Ulysses rewards multiple readings! Once you’ve read it a first time, it will become like a friend, always waiting on your bookshelf to provide you with a few quotes or even a re-reading of a favorite chapter. And each time through, the book grows increasingly more comfortable, eagerly revealing fresh surprises and new meanings. It may indeed be a labyrinth – but one that you can cheerfully call home, and one whose delights you will treasure forever.

Suggested Guides
A more complete listing of guides to Ulysses may be found on the Brazen Head’s Criticism page. Here are two of the most useful for the beginning reader:

The New Bloomsday Book (3rd Edition)

Harry Blamires

1. Routledge Press, 1996, ISBN 0-415-13857-4; Hardcover $100.00. [Browse/Purchase]

2. Routledge Press, 1996, ISBN 0-415-13858-2; Paperback $24.95. [Browse/Purchase]

A revision of a classic 1966 guide, this is one of the more handy companions to Ulysses. Pleasantly compact, it’s easy to carry around for that unexpected reference fix, fitting snugly against a copy of Ulysses in any book bag. Essentially a “walk-through” of the text, the The New Bloomsday Book is logically organized in 18 chapters, each one summarizing and clarifying an episode of the novel. Blamires makes helpful correlations throughout, and alerts the reader to various recurring elements and themes. One of my favorite aspects about the book is its tone – unlike some beginner’s guides to Ulysses, Blamires’ guide never condescends to the reader, nor does it come across as lecturing or pedantic. It’s also one of the less anal-retentive guides, making sense of the text without beating it to death for every little bit of symbolism the author can find (or invent). If you are looking for a simple and useful guide rather than a biblical opus of annotations, the Blamires will serve you well.

Ulysses Annotated

Don Gifford & Robert J. Seidman
University of California Press, 1989, ISBN 0-520-06745-2; Paperback $29.95. [
Browse/Purchase]

This large book is pretty much the “Ulysses Bible.” Vast and aggressively comprehensive in scope, Gifford and his researchers have created an astonishingly complete glossing of the text. Every episode is introduced with a summary, a detailed map, and a breakdown of Homeric parallels and schemata correspondences. From there, the annotations supply background information for every name, place, event, and historical personage. Poems and songs – even those only briefly mentioned in the text – are often printed in full, and translations are provided for everything from Latin phrases to Anglicized Irish slang. The more tricky episodes are often given more detailed treatment as well. The musical devices of “Sirens” and the rhetorical tropes of “Aeolus” are explicated, while “Oxen of the Sun” is given a full analysis, each paragraph clarified in terms of the author and/or style that Joyce parodies in his evolving prose. Gifford also points out several of Joyce’s errors and miscalculations as well. (Excuse me – “portals of discovery.”) This is not a quick reference book for the faint of heart; but for a full study of Ulysses it is simply invaluable.

Selected Web Links
Over a dozen additional links to Ulysses-related material may be found on the Brazen Head’s Links page. Here are a few of the more general resources:

Michael Groden’s Overview of Ulysses – This page, designed to supplement a college course, is a wonderful chapter-by-chapter overview of Ulysses, complete with summaries, time frames, Homeric parallels, study questions, and commentary.

The Internet Ulysses – Jorn Barger’s amazing resource on Ulysses, it breaks it down chapter by chapter, with Homeric parallels, maps, links, real audio readings, even songs. It also contains a copy of the famous “Ulysses schemata” of correspondences.

Haveth Versions Everywhere -- Daniel Klym’s page details the academic scandal over Gabler’s “corrected text.” If you are interested in “The Joyce Wars,” this is a good place to start.

Other U.S. Editions
As discussed above, there are numerous in-print editions of Ulysses in addition to the Modern Library edition that heads this page. Here are a few readily available ones:

Ulysses

Vintage “1961” edition, 1990, ISBN 0-679-72276-9; Paperback $17.00. [Browse/Purchase]

Follows 1961 corrections.

Ulysses

Vintage “Gabler” edition 1986, ISBN 0-394-74312-1 Paperback $19.00. [Browse/Purchase]

Follows Gabler’s 1984 corrections. Edited by Claus Melchior.

Ulysses

Penguin, 2000, ISBN 0141182806; Paperback $15.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Follows 1961 corrections. Introduction by Declan Kiberd.

Ulysses

Oxford University Press “World’s Classics” edition, 1999, ISBN 0192828665; Paperback $15.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Text is the “uncorrected” 1922 original.

Ulysses

Orchises Press 1998, ISBN 0914061704; Hardcover $75.00. [Browse/Purchase]

A facsimile of the First Edition published in Paris in 1922.

Ulysses – A Reader’s Edition

Trans-Atlantic Publications “Reader’s Edition,” 1997, ISBN 0330352296; Hardcover $47.50. [Browse/Purchase]

Edited by Danis Rose. Makes unauthorized alterations to text for sake of reading ease.

The “Joyceworks” Pages

Book through eternity junction – Back to the “Joyceworks” main page. There you will find the standard Brazen Head menu.

The Artfull Eye – “Why read James Joyce?” A somewhat fanatical essay on Joyce, his works, his importance, and why people write somewhat fanatical essays about him.

Quailigans Quake – A small essay on Joyce’s narrative technique, and a few general words of advice on how to first approach to his work.

The Essential Canon – Joyce’s major works:

Dubliners
A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man
Ulysses
Finnegans Wake

The Minor Arcana – A listing of Joyce’s “lesser” works, including his poetry, Stephen Hero, Giocomo Joyce, and Exiles.


Minbad the Mailer and Hinbad the Hailer and Rinbad the Railer and Dinbad the Kailer and Vinbad the Quailer – Send email to the Great Quail – comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions . . . all are welcome!

Spiral-Bound – Click here for information about Spiral-Bound, The Modern Word’s monthly electronic newsletter. From this page you can read about Spiral-Bound, browse archived past editions, sign up for the Spiral-Bound e-group, and subscribe to the newsletter itself.


–Allen B. Ruch
22 June 2003