Updated: Mar 6, 2022
Beginning with Ulysses. Even though this is not the first book written by Joyce, it may be the best place to start, as this was my Journey. You can work backward and forward, as it all comes together in the end. Like Finnegans Wake, a life of resurrection, circular.
Note: I just finished the Epic of Gilgamesh. This epic took a different perspective on this theme. Gilgamesh works in a spiral rather than a circle.
Joyce made a comment that defines Ulysses the best. In 1956, Jacques Benoist-Méchin (translating Joyce writings to French) asked Joyce to see the scheme for the book, Penelope. Joyce replied with:
“I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”
Ulysses is a 736 page book (my 7th Printing) that takes place in a single day, in Dublin. This day is June 16th 1904. The significance of this day is personal to Joyce. According to Richard Allmann, It was the first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle. This is his dedication to her.
Ulysses, as Chris Reich said it best, “shadows“ Homer‘s Odyssey. It is common to reference the chapters in Ulysses as the book names of the Odyssey. Chapter 1 being titled Telemachus.
There are three main characters worth noting for the entire book. Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom, and Molly Bloom.
Stephen Dedalus is James Joyce’s alter ego. He used Stephen in his previous book, A Portrait Of The Artist As A Young Man. There are many similarities to Joyce and his life. Stephen is smart, constantly thinking, and analyzing literature works. Joyce’s father, like Stephens degraded their family by the overuse of alcohol.
Leopold Bloom: Leopold is the hero of this story. He is half Jewish and Molly’s husband. He sells advertising for a local paper.
Molly Bloom: Having an affair on Leopold with Blazes Boylan. She is singer, attractive and has “great” lady curves. Leopold is aware that Molly is having an affair on him.
Common Themes within the book:
The father figure: Stephen’s father is a worthless drunk, so he is looking for someone to be that fatherly figure. There are many references to this theme in the book.
Usurper: There are many references to usurping. Stephen gets usurped by his “friend” Mulligan, Leopold is getting Usurped by Blazes sleeping with his wife, Stephens is usurped by his fathers drinking.
Keys: There are many references to keys throughout the book. Keys open doors of opportunity. They also close and block opportunities. Disposition, homelessness, sexual betrayal, political subjections, metaphysical ignorance.
Religion: There are many references to religion throughout the book. Lots of Religious parody’s. These are interesting to me as I never grew up with a religious background. Other cultures are interesting. Joyce grew up being taught by the Jesuits and wanted to disconnect himself with that life and this felt he lived most of his life in “Exile”. He actually lived in Paris while he wrote this book as he could not live with some of the current and past Irish history/culture.
There were struggles on getting Ulysses published. It was a banned book in many countries for some time due to it’s “Obscene” content. There is a spot in the book where Bloom masturbates on the beach, where Buck makes reference to a candle used as a dildo, and descriptions such as “scrotumtightening sea”. This is outrageous talk during the 20’s. A young American lady, named Sylvia Beech who lived in Paris that agreed to publish the book under the name Shakespeare & Co. Though not a publisher, she did it anyway. It was banned in the US until 1930 and the UK until 1933. First published in the US by Random House in 1934 and in the 1936 in the UK by Bodley Head.
Ulysses is latin for the Greek work Odysseus. This is lightly modeled after Homer’s Epic The Odyssey. Its followed similar plots and ideals in each “book”. Even though Joyce did not title his books/chapters, many reference the same book names respectively. Book 1 Starts with Telemachus.
I am curious if this book would be as popular or legendary if it weren’t to have been banned? Is this something like when you were a young child and your parents or a teacher tell you not to do something? It makes you that much more curious. Regardless, I am thankful it is here.
I am going to focus my writing based on what sparks me. Not everything within the book. What serves me, will be written.
Photo By Brandon Nicklaus
James Joyce Quote:
Allmann , R. (1982). Chapter 30. In James Joyce (pp. 521–521). story, Oxford University Press.
Allmann , R. (1982). Chapter 10. In James Joyce (pp. 156–156). story, Oxford University Press.
Joyce, James, et al. “Introduction.” Ulysses, The O'Brien Press, Dublin, 2013, pp. 9–9.