Thoughts on Ulysses by James Joyce

I love to read.

I love to read classics.

I love to go to used bookstores, purchase books from my favorite authors, and add them to my collection.

 

For some time now I have been keeping a “Bucket-List of Books to Read” and Ulysses by James Joyce has always been at the top of the list. Every time I read one of those lists of “100 Books to Read Before You Die,” I always found Ulysses near the top, and decided that I needed to conquer this behemoth.

My copy of Ulysses is 783 pages long, and is filled with Joyce’s infamous stream-of-consciousness writing style. The novel follows the protagonist Leopold Bloom through Dublin on a normal day [June 16th, 1904].

I started to read Ulysses during one of my first days at my appointed Summer-Internship and finished it in three weeks. Below I will describe some of my interpretations of the book and present some memorable passages.

 

Warning: If you have any desire to ever read Ulysses, there will be spoilers in the next few paragraphs. They will not necessarily ruin the book for you; in fact, they might actually help you decipher Joyce’s difficult prose. But, fair warning nonetheless.

 

Ulysses is a very difficult book to read.

In 1933, the Honorable John M. Woolsey famously lifted the ban on the publication of Ulysses in the United States and had this to say about the novel:

“I have read Ulysses once in its entirety and I have read those passages of which the Government particularly complains several times. In fact, for many weeks, my spare time has been devoted to the consideration of the decision, which my duty would require me to make in this matter. Ulysses is not an easy book to read or to understand. […] It is brilliant and dull, intelligible and obscure by turns. In many places it seems to me to be disgusting, but although it contains, as I have mentioned previously, many words usually considered dirty, I have not found anything that I consider to be dirt for dirt’s sake. Each word of the book contributes like a bit of mosaic to the detail of the picture that Joyce is seeking to construct for his readers.”[Excerpts from The United States District Court, Southern District of New York: United States of America Libelant v. One Book called “Ulysses” Random House, Inc., Claimant. Opinion A. 110-59]

 

I read this selection from Judge Woolsey before I began to read the novel, and after finishing it I realized how right he was. At times the narrative was incredibly brilliant and simultaneously dull. It contained disgusting passages that were painful to push through, supported by sections of beautiful and descriptive prose. There were countless times where I was convinced that I understood the narrative flow only to realize that I was completely blind to the actual story, and there were stretches of pages [sometimes 40 or 50 pages] where I had absolutely no idea what was actually taking place. Joyce’s style of writing weaves in between his characters in such a flawless manner that one become lost in the sea of language and it becomes difficult to discern each character’s thoughts, actions, and spoken words. Reading Ulysses was a long a difficult process. I became incredibly attached to the flawed protagonist Leopold Bloom and was deeply hurt by the novel’s conclusion. After spending so much time, and brainpower, attempting to discern Joyce’s writing technique I began to deeply appreciate the narrative. It took a week or so, and a couple hundred pages, for me to suddenly comprehend the novel’s flow.

For as difficult as it was to understand and complete the book, it was by far one of the greatest pieces of literature I have ever read. Joyce’s parodies, puns, and prose create the most magnificent mural of a monotonous day in the life of Leopold Bloom. The reader learns not only of the rich narrative detail of Bloom’s typical day, but we are also invited into the mind of this character, learning his thoughts, desires, failures, and musings. He is assuredly flawed. Through his thoughts and interactions it is clear that Bloom is weak, obsessive, broken, and lost to the temptations of life. But, I grew attached to him. I rooted for him. From his decision to purchase a pork kidney for breakfast to his erratic night under the influence of Absinthe, Bloom was a rich character that I loved following.

 

Ulysses is a book that most people should try to read. It will be difficult, but the rewards are wonderful. Since completing the book, I have not been able to quit thinking about it, and upon completion the story as a whole actually makes sense.

 

Below I have listed some of the more memorable passages from Ulysses:

 

One of the hardest passages:

 

“Bronze by gold heard the hoofirons, steelrining imperthnthn thnthnthn.

Chips, picking chips off rocky thumbnail, chips. Horrid! And gold flushed more.

A husky fifenote blew.

Blew. Blue bloom is on the

Gold pinnacled hair.

A jumping rose on satiny breasts of satin, rose of Castille.

Trilling, trilling: Idolores

Peep! Who’s in the … peerofgold?

Tink cried to bronze in pity.

And a call, pure, long and throbbing. Lonngindying call.

Decoy. Soft word. But look! The bright stars fade. O rose!

Notes chirruping answer. Castille. The morn is breaking.

Jingle jingle jaunted jingling.

Coin rang. Clock clacked.

Avowal. Sonnez. I could. Rebound of garter. Not leave thee. Smack. La Cloche! Thigh smack. Avowal. Warm. Sweetheart, goodbye!

Jingle. Bloo.

Bloomed crashing chords. When love absorbs. War! War! The tympanum.

A sail! A veil awave upon the waves.

Lost. Throstle fluted. All is lost now.

Horn. Hawthorn.

When first he saw. Alas!

Full tup. Full throb.

Warbling. Ah, lure! Alluring.

Martha! Come!

Clapclop. Clipclap. Clappyclap.

Goodgod henev reheard inall.

Deaf bald Pat brought pad knife took up.

A moonlight nightcall: far: far.

I feel so sad. P.S. So lonely blooming.

Listen!

The spiked and winding cold seahorn. Have you the? Each and for other plash and silent roar.

Pearls: when she. Liszt’s rhapsodies. Hissss.

You don’t?

Did not: no, no: believe: Lidlyd. With a cock with a carra.

Black.

Deepsounding. Do, Ben, do.

Wait while you wait. Hee hee. Wait while you hee.

But wait!

Low in dark middle earth. Embedded ore.

Naminedamine. All gone. All fallen.

Tiny, her tremulous fernfoils of maidenhair.

Amen! He gnashed in fury.

Fro. To, fro. A baton cool protruding.

Bronzelydia by Minagold.

By bronze, by gold, in oceangreen of shadow. Bloom. Old Bloom.

Onerapped, one tapped with a carra, with a cock.

Pray for him! Pray, good people!

His gouty fingers nakkering.

Big Benaben. Big Benben.

Last rose Castile of summer left bloom I feel so sad and alone.

Pwee! Little wind piped wee.

True men. Lid Ker Cow De and Doll. Ay, ay. Like you men. Will lift your tschink with tschunk.

Fff! Oo!

Where bronze from anear? Where gold from afar? Where hoofs?

Rrrpr. Kraa. Kraandl.

Then, not till then. My eppripfftaph. Be pfrwritt.

Done.

Begin!”

 

 

 

Favorite Lines:

 

History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

 

A man of genius makes no mistakes. His errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

 

Love loves to love love.

 

But it’s no use, says he. Force, hatred, history, all that. That’s not life for men and women, insult and hatred. And everybody knows that it’s the very opposite of that that is really life. What? says Alf. Love, says Bloom. I mean the opposite of hatred.

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3 thoughts on “Thoughts on Ulysses by James Joyce

  1. Nice post – one of the hardest passages is one of my favorites. It’s the orchestral overture of the chapter, snippets of what’s to come. More than any other, that chapter – SIrens – focuses on music and sound and thus benefits particularly from reading aloud.

    Here’s my reading of that part of the chapter from an upcoming Librivox audiobook:

    [audio src="http://upload.librivox.org/share/uploads/ge/ulysses_20_joyce.mp3" /]

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