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Claire

Ulysses

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Lots of interesting comments here, particularly the stuff about Joyce's joy in language and playfulness with it. I'm not so sure it's playfulness or joy so much as restlessness. I think the reason he played around with style so much is because he found language so limiting for his purposes, at least that's what the professor who lectured us on it when I did my degree said.

 

MisterHobgoblin, what you say about Bloom's outsider status is interesting because it relates to the way in which the Irish treated Jews. It's a shameful part of our history, but our prejudice towards Jews in the past has been abominable; poor Bloom feels its effects in the book.

 

I don't know whether the book should be read with an Irish accent. I have no choice, since I am Irish, but I do think being Irish helps with understanding the book. If anyone is interested in hearing how it sounds, a film of the book was made a few years back, which does evoke the musicality of the language very well. It has it's flaws, but I'd say it's worth a watch. It's called Bloom.

 

nonsuch, I was interested in what you said about the general opinion of Joyce in Ireland. Most of us probably never give the man a second thought, but he is studied extensively in academic circles. It's probably these 'Joyceans' who have created this sense of idolatry. Joyce saw it as his mission to hold a mirror up to his native country and show us our flaws; I suppose some of us would rather not see those flaws.

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I read it all the way through and didn't find it too difficult (the stream of consciousness stuff was certainly the more gruelling) I enjoyed parts of it but overall found the actual story quite boring (people never seem to mention the story when discussing the book and tend to focus on the style)

 

If I read a book that was made of cheese and written with the juice of a rainbow, I would still expect a decent story (Ulysses seems to be exempt from this.

 

We do not always read a novel for its story. In Sterne, Proust, Joyce and Henry James the story is less interesting than the characters. We are less concerned with what happens next than we are in the unfolding of a protagonist as a personality. In fact reader expectation is often deliberately flouted. In Sterne and Joyce, for instance, there's no traditional beginning, development and end. We don't care whether Tristram or Bloom makes his way in the world, has a revelation or dies happy. We are satisfied that we have shared with the protagonist an experience of life's richness, sadness and absurdity. Thus:

 

Mr Bloom turned over idly pages of The Awful Disclosures of Maria Monk, then of Aristotle's Masterpiece. Crooked botched print. Plates: infants cuddled in a ball in bloodred wombs like livers of slaughtered cows. Lots of them like that all over the world. All butting with their skulls to get out of it. Child born every minute somewhere. Mrs Purefoy.

He laid both books aside and glanced at the third: Tales of the Ghetto by Leopold von sacher Masoch.

- That I had, he said, pushing it by.

The shopman let two volumes fall on the counter.

- Them are two good ones, he said.

 

Here Bloom, Mr Everyman, is passing time in a bookshop, idly turning over pages, pondering over life's bitter mysteries and feeling various physical and emotional urges. The reader is both inside Bloom's head at this moment and outside it, aware of the other customers, the shabby patron, the dingy shop and at the same time knowing of his frustrations, sexual, racial and cosmological. What we don't know is that he will later, on impulse, visit Mrs Purefoy in the maternity ward, and meet without knowing it the 'son' he never had. This is the story going on behind, the wall, as it were, on which the fresco of Bloom's life, Everyman's life, gradually takes place.

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But if this particular style of writing has merit then why did the subsequent authors (and readers it would seem) reject it on such a large scale

 

The vast majority of books today are still written with the familiar narrative, style and structure that preceded books like Ulysses

 

Why did writers en masse go back to this structure if books like Ulysses are to be considered so good and so important?

 

have we gone backwards or did we simply over praise "the shock of the new"

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I think many, many modern books owe a debt of gratitude to Joyce. Not least, the seemingly endless supply of books with graphic depictions of sex. But also any novels that deviate from a strictly linear timeline; contain new or portmanteau words; vary from immaculate spelling or punctuation; or use narrative techniques that aren't just an omniscient invisible third person (or an honest first person); or focus on people rather than plot.

 

But it's also worth noting that Joyce demonstrated in Dubliners and, to a certain extent, in Portrait of the Artist, that he could write very well in a more conventional style.

 

And in Finnegan's Wake, he demonstrated that it is possible to have too much of a good thing.

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I would just like to note the fact that today is in fact BLOOMSDAY! I thought long and hard about where to place this statement on BGO but decided it needed to be near its creator. Happy Bloomsday to everyone!

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Hi everyone,

 

I am almost there, although I must admit that I started reading Ulysses about 4 months ago now! I am just entering into Molly's closing monologue (which is about sixty pages long without a full stop!).

 

I will be the first to admit that Ulysses is difficult, but I also know it to be incredibly worthwhile, brilliant (and confounding too). I remember reading an essay written by Proust in which he said that there were passages in Ulysses that were not inferior to those found in the work of Shakespeare, and this statement has actually helped me with Ulysses. Even though there were times that I was totally lost, suddenly I would stumble upon the most beautiful passage and find myself re-engaging with it.

 

In sum, a wonderful reading experience. Oh, and I know of few, if any, authors that could maintain the stream of consciousness monologue as ably as Joyce).

 

Take it easy, LV

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I'm so pleased you are enjoying Ulysses. It shouldn't be an ordeal and it's such a shame that curriculums make it so. I would respectfully suggest that Ulysses is very different to Shakespeare in both aim and delivery - and vast amounts of it are better than vast amounts of Shakespeare. At their best, they are a match for each other. And as you will discover soon, Joyce could certainly tell a story. Ulysses hangs together to create a picture far more complex and textured that Shakespeare ever undertook.

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So glad you have sustained your reading of Ulysses LV. I quite agree with Mr.H - and I am a Shakespeare fan too - Joyce's writing is sublime and so worthwhile.

 

Once you have seen Bloom through Molly's eyes I hope, that like me, it will make even more sense of the whole piece of work as it did for me. I think those last pages are a masterpiece all of their own.

 

What I love about Joyce's work in Ulysses is how he takes the English language and plays with it. His use of the language at different times in its history and place in the world is so clever.

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Hi everyone,

 

I remember reading an essay written by Proust in which he said that there were passages in Ulysses that were not inferior to those found in the work of Shakespeare, and this statement has actually helped me with Ulysses. LV

 

I wonder which passages. The judgement doesn't seem to make much sense to me, Joyce and Shakespeare are such different animals. It's like saying a whale is 'not inferior' to a lion.

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Well I fall into the category of tried twice and failed, or perhaps the book failed me.

 

David's comments on this book, near the start of this thread, coupled with some of the other praise included in the various posts had just about got me thinking I'd give it another go.

 

Then Nonsuch said

We do not always read a novel for its story.
and that made me think again.

 

I do read a novel for the story. I read them for many other things, but I want a story, I want to lose myself in another world, another life. Live someone elses joys and heartaches, escape from my own. I find too many of the so called high brow authors seem to have forgotten about telling a story or as Nonsuch intimates deliberately don't bother.

 

So now I'm dithering again, should I give it another go? Or should I just concentrate on the three hundred other books on my shelves that are still to be read?

 

I'll let you know.

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This may sound slightly ridiculous but I have been reading Ulysses on my phone! I downloaded the 'Gutenberger' app and the first novel I decided to read was Ulysses. Surprisingly, it lends itself extremely well to the format! You aren't overwhelmed by pages of text, and the stream-of-consciousness writing draws you onwards from one little screen to the next without the feeling of plodding through a giant novel.

 

In little snippets I'm finding it far easier to appreciate Joyce's clever use of language and infinite outside references. The only advice I would give is to read it as it was written – in a stream-of-consciousness manner. There are some who would recommend you read the Odyssey, the Bible and a whole host of other contextual texts before 'embarking' upon Ulysses, but that's only one way to read, and probably not the most enjoyable.

 

Without necessarily understanding every reference or appreciating every clever turn of phrase, I think it's easy enough to get swept up in the enjoyment of language for the sake of language, which I'm sure Joyce intended.

 

For years I'd been the biggest critic of fans of Ulysses, assuming they were just pretentious for loving an 'impossible' novel, but now that I'm actually reading it I'm loving it myself! Don't be put off, it's not impossible to read. It's not easy and definitely not to everyone's taste but it is exciting and original.

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I thought of starting a new thread, but decided to add my comments here.  Hope that's ok Mods.   If not I'm sure you will move it for me.

 

Yesterday I read a review of the just published book The Most Dangerous Book: The Battle for James Joyce's Ulysses by Kevin Birmingham.  It was a glowing review by A.N. Wilson  in The Sunday Telegraph and I have placed it on my Amazon Wish List.  It recounts the history of Joyce's attempts to get this novel published in great detail. Wilson says the book is 'a gripping page-turner'.  And I know David said he could not call Ulysses a novel, but I still think of it as one.   

 

In fact, talking of David, his postings on this subject are some of the best I've seen in explaining Ulysses, which are further expanded by explanatory and positive comments of Mr. HG and others. Reading through this again today really sparks some enthusiasm for this piece of work. 

 

Because I got so much joy from studying Ulysses, I am really looking forward to reading Kevin Birmingham's book.  What I am really waiting for is the paperback copy as it will be lighter for me to handle than the hardback - 415 pages.  And before anyone says this, I know downloading it on Kindle would probably be even lighter - but you know I've never really taken to reading a book on a tablet.  I love the feel of a book in my hands.

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