Thursday, 14 August 2014

Re-reading the 'classics' (for the last time?) - James Joyce's 'Ulysses'.

My cinema-going being suspended due (with enormous regret) to 'circumstances' it has enabled me to finish this 700+ pager in shorter time than I'd have otherwise managed.

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


  1. I think I will get this for my kindle for our drives to Scotland. something meaty to keep me going

    1. If you're after something 'substantial', Sol, then this is for you. You'll possibly find it as perplexing as I did first time, but if you're willing to persist and are not put off by the occasional bout of ripe language then you ought to get a lot out of it.

  2. whats the news on your face and your arm? any better?

    you know John and I will keep asking!

    1. On my face it was the lower lip that had been bitten and which swelled up, making me look like.....well, I'd better not say, But that's receded a lot in appearance at least, though it's still sore.
      The wrist, on which I'm using an ice-compress every four hours, has also improved, though still painful. Before, the hand had puffed up but now the swelling has definitely diminished, though still noticeable.
      However, I can't bend my arm properly or straighten it to its full extent, something I omitted to tell the doctor as at that time it was the wrist that was the overwhelming concern. When I told the X-ray chap about my arm he told me curtly that I was only there for a wrist X-ray - for which I still await the result. So, until I can see the doctor again (appointment still nearly 3 weeks away) I've started to put an ice-compress on the arm-joint as well. It does all seem to be improving, though very slowly - and I do wish there was something to lessen the constant pain, which can just about be tolerated.
      So that's the current state of play. Thanks for asking.

  3. not liking the sound of that Ray. Maybe you just need to go to A&E and wait. if it is broken it needs seeing to

    1. Not sure if that's really necessary, Sol, in view of marked improvement now with regular ice compresses. Still a bit painful and left arm is not up to full capacity, though I can now touch my forehead (just) which had been impossible immediately following, and yesterday managed for first time to carry a light-weight partly full shopping bag. There's no swelling on arm at all I can detect but if I turn it the 'wrong' way I do get a gut-wrenching stab of pain which I think is a pulled muscle, which I'm also treating with ice. But swelling of hand has gone down a lot. If I had genuine concern that I'd broken something I would seek further advice but as at now things are definitely starting to look up.
      Thanx for asking.