I figure it will encourage me to keep going if I report at intervals on my progress. I’ve finished books 1-6, which is a third of the way episode-wise, but maybe a sixth page-wise. It is easier to read this second time, so when I pass the point I got to before, it might be more difficult. It’s really not as impossible as its reputation. You just can’t expect to get it all, but I think anyone with a reasonable amount of reading experience can enjoy it (or at least the first half!) especially if they’ve read Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and liked that. I probably should have reread that. Ulysses starts with Stephen Dedalus, the young man of the earlier book, living in a martello tower with Stately, plump Buck Mulligan and an Englishman named Haynes. How this happened is not clear, but Stephen doesn’t seem any too happy about it. We meet these characters on the morning of June 16th, 1904 and spend a few hours with them, mostly Stephen, and then switch to Leopold Bloom. Bloom is in advertising and married to a woman named Molly. We follow him in great detail as he cooks himself a kidney, reads his morning mail, takes his wife her breakfast and goes to a funeral for a man named Paddy Dignam. As you’re probably aware, all this takes 100 pages or so because you get the characters’ thoughts – Bloom’s and Dedalus’ – as they do these things and it can be extremely obscure and confusing. Partly because we are not Dubliners from 1904, but mostly because thoughts are fragments of things recollected. No one is spelling them out and giving you the background detail, some things become clear and some don’t.
Fortunately, we do live in the age of Google and many people have studied Ulysses in the past nearly 100 years. There are books about it, there are websites about it. I started reading at The Joyce Project, but that had so many notes it bogged things down too much, so I consult it now only when things seem too obscure. It’s not always helpful, but it offers a lot of notes and ideas, pictures are sometimes very useful – of the martello tower, for a start – explaining Joyce actually lived in one for a brief period. I have a print version I bought a million years ago (Ulysses has been on my TBR a long time) and a 99 cent Kindle version. Two different editions paginated very differently, but I can’t tell how different they are textually. Every time I’ve compared passages they’ve been the same.
I look many things up on the web, but by and large, I’m enjoying it. It’s very vivid. I feel as though I can picture it all. And Bloom is kind of a sweet guy. Randy as hell, but sweet. The way he brings up Molly’s breakfast and talks to the cat.
— Afraid of the chickens she is, he said mockingly. Afraid of the chookchooks. I never saw such a stupid pussens as the pussens.
Proteus still a difficult section. Stephen’s thoughts being more on philosophy and less on women, but just slog on, you’ll get through it and back to the easier parts. Joyce has no inhibitions and he’s highly irreverent, so if that’s going to bother you, you should probably give it a miss. It opens with Buck Mulligan mocking the church, his friend, and all and sundry.
— Thanks, Stephen said. I can’t wear them if they are grey.
— He can’t wear them, Buck Mulligan told his face in the mirror. Etiquette is etiquette. He kills his mother but he can’t wear grey trousers.
If Joyce thought any subject taboo, I don’t know what it is. One of my favorite lines is Bloom musing on the resurrection:
Get up! Last day! Then every fellow mousing around for his liver and his lights and the rest of his traps. Find damn all of himself that morning.
I always have thought that would be problematic. And a bit later
Who passed away. Who departed this life. As if they did it of their own accord. Got the shove, all of them.
I wonder if he chose Bloom to be a non-Catholic to allow him to reflect on these things with more impartiality. An outsider’s view.
Internetting for pics and quotes et cetera I came across a podcast started by Frank Delaney doing one sentence at a time in order to open up Ulysses to everyone. Unfortunately, that is such an incredibly long project that he died 7 years in, which somehow seems very Joycean. Anyhow, there are hundreds of them and I intend to give a listen and see if it helps. I was also looking for a good audio book. I want it read by an Irish person or people. There are a couple free ones read by Americans, but that just sounds all wrong.
Delaney’s first podcast is here: http://blog.frankdelaney.com/2010/06/episode-1-we-meet-buck-mulligan.html
Also one thing I recognized which I did not know the first time I attempted to read it, a reference to the song The Rocky Road to Dublin. My favorite version is by The Pogues, but there is much wailing and gnashing of teeth at their version. There are many others, but for me The Pogues are it.
Lal the ral the ra
The rocky road to Dublin.