Friday, June 16, 2006


It's Bloomsday.

I've been a part time student of James Joyce's Ulysses for years. I use the word student carefully as I believe it's not a book anyone can take lightly and just "read" it.

There have been times when I've agreed with Roddy Doyle that Ulysses needed a damn good editor to shorten it. However I can never help dipping back into it in phases and researching or learning more from it. I like it on many levels....

* In a simplistic way, as a Dubliner I enjoy it. It's full of places I know well. Also, some of the little expressions which come out in dialogue remind me of things I heard my paternal grandparents saying. A small example would be a description of Paddy Dignam at his funeral..."As decent a little man as ever wore a hat." My Grandad was always using such an expression. I've heard many say that it's a book that is better read out loud, and there is some truth in this. I think there are some parts of the book where you can just chill out and have a laugh, you don't always have to take it so seriously and it includes many interesting working class characters.

* Some of the descriptive images were very powerful. Stephen's description of his mother and her death are very strong. Even a simple description of the sea by Buck Mulligan will strike a chord with many people used to the Dublin coastline..."The snot-green sea...the scrotum tightening sea."

* Its depths and paralleling are of course hunting grounds for scholars. The Homer parallels and the little linked events in different chapters. Then of course each chapter is often in a different style altogether, it's almost like reading multiple but linked stories from different writers. And we have the Stream of Consciousness revised style at the time.

* In another way I'm interested in Joyce's wonderful blend of Dublin and Irishness and the greater World. He is a very free spirit globally. We see considerable analysis of Shakespeare's work and other English writers and Greek literature of course. I can't yet figure out if he was before his time in his view of Irishness or was somewhat taken in by the strong English influence on the artistic Dublin at the time - which maybe encouraged the wider global study. I suppose both views are compatible. There is mention of the Irish language in the book and Irish heritage but it seems subdued and almost strikes one as being of historical interest. The Irish freedom struggle from England is not given any serious analysis to the best of my recollection. This is interesting even though it would have been highly topical as he wrote Ulysses from 1914-1921(albeit abroad), but maybe in the setting of 1904 it was less topical. Joyce clearly liked Dublin and had strong memories as an exile. He used to say he felt he never left Dublin in his heart.

* Some of the beauty of Ulysses is that it constantly causes debate and analysis of meaning for scholars. This is assisted by Joyce's refusal afterwards to offer any help in answering detailed questions on the book. Nothing like a bit of innuendo to get literary sleuths excited.

I could waffle on longer about Ulysses, but one think is certain. The book is considered essential study for literary scholars Worldwide and by many as one of the most important works of literature in the last century. And it is all set on one summer day in Dublin - 102 years ago today. What a national treasure for us.


missmellifluous said...

Happy Bloomsday!

I like your comments on Ulysses. Having just read the novel for the first time, and I must confess to not having read every page, I was struck by the complexity of the novel. It is truly amazing!

When studying this novel at uni we thought the references to hats were quite intriguing, but, like many other references in Ulysses, we were at a loss as to what to make of them.

I agree that Ulysses is very cosmopolitan, both in its references and its depiction of characters, like Bloom for instance. I think this is what makes his novel timeless even though it is situated in a very specific time: June 16, 1904.

Do you think that Joyce addresses the Irish struggle for freedom from England in the cyclops episode? I would be interested in hearing your thoughts on this.

missmellifluous said...

Oh, here's a link to my thoughts, on Ulysses this Bloomsday, if you are interested. No obligation.

John of Dublin said...

Hi, thanks for those thoughts.

Yes, Cyclops is an interesting chapter and is worthy of comment. The citizen guy who is waffling on about Ireland and is a boozer is associated with the cyclops in Homer. He comes across rather negatively I think. This contrasts with Bloom being very balanced and mild mannered and references to "civilised" English commentary. One gets an impression - at least in this chapter - that Joyce sees aspects of the old Ireland as "past it" and perhaps for losers.

We must also recall the "cracked looking glass of a servant" earlier reference to Irish Art.

It's hard to be sure, but taking everything in the book into account (including Bloom being an Irish Jew), coupled with the revolutionary style of Ulysses, that Joyce simply has a new deeper and more outgoing of view of Irishness, perhaps indeed before it's time.

BTW I read your Blog on Ulysses and your thoughts on Bloom are most interesting and refreshing.

missmellifluous said...

Hi john of dublin,

I just wanted to drop by and say that I am keen to respond to your last comment but am currently preparing for an exam later in the week. So, I will reply in a study break. Discussions of literature are always a great motivation and reward.

I also feel a little hesitant to give my opinions on Irish nationalism, as presented in Ulysses or else where, considering I am an Aussie girl - we haven't exactly figured out what it means to be 'Australian'. In fact, I'd say we're pretty confused. I do find discussions of Irish nationalism and Irishness very interesting though, perhaps because of Australia's confusion, mainly due to my love for Irish literature and the varied ways Irish writer's define themselves and view their nation.

I'd also love to know what else you're reading. Recommendations are always welcome.

John of Dublin said...

Good luck in the exam Missmelliflous!

I actually don't read nearly as much as others, I can be lazy. I often prefer documentaries on TV. My taste in reading is very eclectic. I like something with a bite to it. That reminds me (bite!) - I read Bram Stoker's "Dracula" (another Dublin writer!). It's very tame and seems Dickensian in style although written later - around about 1897. It wouldn't frighten a mouse today. I love one line in it though from Count Dracula talking to Jonathan Harker as the latter cuts himself while shaving.....

"Take care how you cut yourself. It is more dangerous than you think in this country!"

missmellifluous said...

Ha! That quote is great!

Thank you for the wishes for luck. I'll drop back in soon...

missmellifluous said...

Hi john of dublin,

Exams are done and I have finally made it back to your blog.

You are right about Joyce having a new view of Irishness.

I also find it interesting that some critics state the citizen is
modelled on Michael Cusack, founder of the GAA(I saw my first game of hurling this weekend just gone! A very impressive game!). I read up on Cusack and the GAA and their associations with Sinn Fein. I think Joyce is also critiquing this in the cyclops episode.

This broadens the scope of the cyclops episode, I think, and allows Joyce to depict characters who adhere to a romanticised, or
essentialist view of Irish nationalism. I think Joyce recognises that Ireland has been influenced by different cultures for a long time and to deny this is to deny, in part, who the Irish have become. He is not so much scathing of Irishness, but he is clearly opposed to violence.

He also critiques England in the episode. So it's not as if he is pro-English in any way. No one really escapes Joyce's scrutiny.

I'm tempted to talk about more of this episode but I'm waiting on an essay I submitted to come back, so, I'll wait and see how much I can say at a later date.

I've enjoyed chatting about Ulysses with you. Thanks!

John of Dublin said...

Thanks for those comments. You are well studied on Ulysses - I wasn't aware of that Michael Cusack connection. I'm reading it up now.

I think Joyce was a complex Worldly guy - he thought in a very wide way. I suspect he liked Dublin though, you couldn't go into all the detail he did on places and people without liking it. As an exile I'm sure there was some element of absense making the heart go fonder.

I also love the contrasting style of writing in each chapter. For example even the less discussed Wandering Rocks with Father Conmee and the clever compact description of one side of the dialogue he has with people he passes as well as his thoughts. So quintessentially old-time slightly aloof Irish Jesuit priest. A lot of variety and energy in that chapter. He also describes little things so well....

"He walked by the treeshade of sunnywinking leaves..."

"...the jet beads of her mantilla inkshining in the sun."

"....glanced with his drooping eye at a pine coffinlid sentried in a corner"

Glad to share thoughts on this book anytime!

missmellifluous said...

Those quotes are great! Joyce really was a master of language.

I'll be back sometime. Thanks for the discussion!