Ulysses is a modernist novel by Irish writer James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920 and then published in its entirety in Paris by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, Joyce's 40th birthday. It is considered one of the most important works of modernist literature and has been called "a demonstration and summation of the entire movement."According to Declan Kiberd, "Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking".
Ulysses chronicles the peripatetic appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904.Ulysses is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey, and the novel establishes a series of parallels between the poem and the novel, with structural correspondences between the characters and experiences of Leopold Bloom and Odysseus, Molly Bloom and Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus and Telemachus, in addition to events and themes of the early 20th-century context of modernism, Dublin, and Ireland's relationship to Britain. The novel is highly allusive and also imitates the styles of different periods of English literature.
Since its publication, the book has attracted controversy and scrutiny, ranging from an obscenity trial in the United States in 1921, to protracted textual "Joyce Wars". The novel's stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose—replete with puns, parodies, and allusions—as well as its rich characterisation and broad humour, have led it to be regarded as one of the greatest literary works in history; Joyce fans worldwide now celebrate 16 June as Bloomsday.
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce (2 February 1882 – 13 January 1941) was an Irish novelist, short story writer, poet, teacher, and literary critic. He contributed to the modernist avant-garde and is regarded as one of the most influential and important authors of the 20th century. Joyce is best known for Ulysses (1922), a landmark work in which the episodes of Homer's Odyssey are paralleled in a variety of literary styles, most famously stream of consciousness. Other well-known works are the short-story collection Dubliners (1914), and the novels A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Finnegans Wake (1939). His other writings include three books of poetry, a play, his published letters and occasional journalism.
Joyce was born in Dublin into a middle-class family. A brilliant student, he briefly attended the Christian Brothers-run O'Connell School before excelling at the Jesuit schools Clongowes and Belvedere, despite the chaotic family life imposed by his father's unpredictable finances. He went on to attend University College Dublin.
In 1904, in his early twenties, Joyce emigrated to continental Europe with his partner (and later wife) Nora Barnacle. They lived in Trieste, Paris, and Zürich. Although most of his adult life was spent abroad, Joyce's fictional universe centres on Dublin and is populated largely by characters who closely resemble family members, enemies and friends from his time there. Ulysses in particular is set with precision in the streets and alleyways of the city. Shortly after the publication of Ulysses, he elucidated this preoccupation somewhat, saying, "For myself, I always write about Dublin, because if I can get to the heart of Dublin I can get to the heart of all the cities of the world. In the particular is contained the universal.
When James Joyce finished writing Ulysses, he was so exhausted that he didn’t write a line of prose for a year. I can believe it; I needed a nap after reading 40 pages.
For the last three months, I’ve glared at its fat, lumpen form on my floor with a vague sense of personal failure. I’ve opened Ulysses twice, determined to finish it, and achieved getting all the way to page 46 (it’s a bit longer than that). I have read so little both times I started that I have never bothered with a bookmark; it seemed too sad flagging such a hollow achievement.
At first, it was fun. Ulysses isn’t like anything else I’ve read. There are a plethora of lines that I immediately decided to use on a daily basis, like: “Lend us a loan of your noserag” (“Ho!” thought I, filing it away for “things to say next time I have a cold”) and: “We’ll have a glorious drunk to astonish the druidy druids” (filed away under “things to holler on a night out”).
Even when staring at cramped pages without absorbing a word, I thought nice thoughts about it: I like the community this book has spawned, its inherent sense of freedom and celebration of all things rude and true. I like that it created a holiday. I like that the anarchic style and language allows for readers to pick and choose how they read it – some recommend skipping chapter three, some recommend reading it only after reading ABOUT it, some recommend reading it mostly aloud – but I still get stuck.
Why do I get stuck? I’m not entirely sure myself. On the ‘Most difficult novels’ list on Goodreads, Joyce takes the top two spots, with Ulysses in top position and Finnegans Wake plodding behind for second place. A lot of the Goodreads top 10 – Moby-Dick, Gravity’s Rainbow – are weighty tomes, but I like big books (and I cannot lie). I think what is holding me hostage to page 46 is the language: the big fat bursts of Chaucerian English, sprinkled with slang and jaunty dialogue that, while entertaining me, is also leaving me a little lost.
There are a few other “worthy” works of literature I’ve yet to read – including fellow top 10-ers Infinite Jest and War and Peace – but they only spark little pangs of shame that I have not read and/or enjoyed them. I really want to love Ulysses and I feel deeply frustrated that all the while appreciating its uniqueness and its weightiness and its Joyceness, I can’t finish the damn thing.
Virginia Woolf thought Ulysses was – not in her words – bollocks, calling it – in her words– “an illiterate, underbred book” as she raged in her diaries about the pressure to finish it: “I... have been amused, stimulated, charmed interested by the first 2 or 3 chapters--to the end of the Cemetery scene; & then puzzled, bored, irritated, & disillusioned as by a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples.” But then Nabokov loved it. It seems Ulysses is a different experience for everyone: I’ve read it likened to sex (sometimes unpleasant, big pay off at the end), Jazz-fusion (an innovative of genre), and a boxing match (wanting to punch yourself in the face at page 46, probably).
I like James Joyce: I enjoyed Dubliners, his excellent choice of spectacles and his frankly odd erotic letters to Nora Barnacle (“Dirty little Fuckbird” is another fantastic Joyce-ism, filed away under ‘things I won’t say in front of my nan’). So, people who love Ulysses, what am I getting wrong? Or is it okay to struggle, and proceed victorious to page 800-odd on the third, fourth, eighteenth try?
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