9 hours ago
Thursday, 14 August 2014
Re-reading the 'classics' (for the last time?) - James Joyce's 'Ulysses'.
This was my fourth reading, first time being in 1972, most recent being 1997, and it's number three in my venture to re-read as many of the established 'classics' as I can before my lights are switched off - which I want to think won't be by myself, unless it's my own decision.
The first book in my enjoyable task was Orwell's '1984', which I did a blog about in June. Then I read Hardy's 'Jude the Obscure', which I liked more than my previous two readings, and which I didn't post a blog about.
Now comes the third, and as with the other two, it's another one I've been savouring through a leisurely read and, consequently, getting more out of it than previous encounters.
This hefty novel, first published in 1922, has retained right up to the present day, at least part of its notoriety. The initial outrage was largely based on some 'earthy' language and sexual descriptions, resulting in condemnations and even burnings of early editions. But that was and is a hopelessly myopic and distorted view of an evident (at least to some of us) masterpiece. A number of authors, I believe, would cite this as their favourite novel of all, Anthony Burgess being just one of them. It would be very high on my list too. Anyway, the sexual aspect is but a minor part of the entity, its inclusion having been an obvious sitting target for those who'd do anything to prevent others reading of what they, the condemners, disapprove.
All the action takes place on just one day in Dublin, 16th June 1904, the anniversary of that day now being widely known in Ireland as 'Bloomsday'. It follows the conversations and meanderings of, mainly, two characters, Stephen Dedalus and his friend Leopold Bloom (whose root-Jewishness is sometimes pertinent) - but also featuring the latter's wife, Molly.
Much of the language is discursive and whole sections of the work are written in varying styles - straight narrative, entitled short sections, theatrical script, Q & A and, perhaps most famously, Molly's long monologue over the closing pages (in my edition, over 40 pages) of non-stop 'stream of consciousness' without punctuation (so no sentence endings) over life, death, men, relationships, sex, child-bearing - and much more.
The novel is, by turns, melancholic, comical, reflective, abstruse, gently irreverent (notably to the Catholic Church), political, mundane and fabulous (in the manner of a beast of myth), yet by confining all the action to a mere 24 hours within specific Dublin localities it remains self-contained without over-reaching itself.
It's not an easy read. It requires attention, which is no bad thing. It's not a novel one can let 'wash over one'.
There are parallels, so I read, with the Greek mythical hero of the title, with correspondences in the characters encountered, but, due to my ignorance of that subject, I missed them. But it wasn't important. If the work is given due concentration it repays its dividends in a big way.
I hope I get a chance to read it a fifth time. But I do seriously think that for anyone who has a feeling for good literature but who hasn't yet experienced this work, then 'Ulysses' has got to be compulsory reading