Books, The Classics Club

Book 460: Ulysses – James Joyce

joyce-james-ulyssesIt’s been three weeks since my last post, but obviously it was worth it. At the end of the month I’ll have a two month recap, but for now you just have to bask in the glory of knowing someone who has completed the infamous Ulysses!

It only took a little over four months, but if you remember I started way back in June with the Serial Reader (app website). Serial delivers 10-15 minute sections of the book daily to you and you make your way through the book. I had concerns about reading the book this way especially with remembering details from previous issues, but overall I had a pretty good experience. This one had 109 sections based on my preference and the first half was great to read by serial, but the last two sections weren’t quite as easily read.

I have no idea what academics would say about Ulysses, but from my perspective I can definitely see why it is considered a classic and a masterpiece. Like I said above, for me the first part is definitely easier to understand and it helped me realize how powerful the book is. The closest book I can think of to compare to is Mrs. Dalloway and I say this because they’re both “day-in-the-life” books. Ulysses is like this but on such a level that it’s hard to even compare.

The story is one day (June 16, 1904) in Leopold Bloom’s life, but rather than being a stream-of-consciousness story of a few hours, it is EVERY single detail of Bloom’s day—everything he ate, everything he said, everyone he saw, every thing he did, but most importantly every stray thought as well. To have the ability to create a person in that much detail is unfathomable. So many authors create characters with such little depth and some create characters that seem to have a lot of depth, but to then read this book and to have this much intimate detail and knowledge of a fictional creation in ONE day of their life is mind-boggling. Seriously, once I figured this out it was so much easier to understand the first portion of the book.

Where the book lost track for me was about half way through when there was a shift from prose to a play type script thing. I’m still not really sure what that part of the story was, but it was very weird. And it led to the end of the novel which was even more confusing because it went super stream-of-consciousness and then got a little misogynist/sexist (see the last quote) but I wasn’t really sure because it was written from a women’s perspective (I think). If not there was a lot of homosexual innuendos in there that just confused me.

The only other thing that really got to me was the super long paragraphs where Joyce went off on a tangent and just listed things or the entire last section where it was a continuous sentence with no punctuation for pages on end (at least the last 20-30 daily sections).

“From his girdle hung a row of seastones which jangled at every movement of his portentous frame and on these were graven with rude yet striking art the tribal images of many Irish heroes and heroines of antiquity, Cuchulin, Conn of hundred battles, Niall of nine hostages, Brian of Kincora, the ardri Malachi, Art MacMurragh, Shane O’Neill, Father John Murphy, Owen Roe, Patrick Sarsfield, Red Hugh O’Donnell, Red Jim MacDermott, Soggarth Eoghan O’Growney, Michael Dwyer, Francy Higgins, Henry Joy M’Cracken, Goliath, Horace Wheatley, Thomas Conneff, Peg Woffington, the Village Blacksmith, Captain Moonlight, Captain Boycott, Dante Alighieri, Christopher Columbus, S. Fursa, S. Brendan, Marshal MacMahon, Charlemagne, Theobald Wolfe Tone, the Mother of the Maccabees, the Last of the Mohicans, the Rose of Castile, the Man for Galway…” (256)

And that’s not even half of the list! It was most of the page on my phone and I couldn’t figure out how to copy multiple pages so this is all I copied. Thankfully, Joyce didn’t do it too often or I probably would’ve given up before I finished the book.

Recommendation: Unless you have some burning desire to read it, you could probably pass. I mean parts of this were really really good, other parts, not so much. I definitely understand the genius behind parts of it, but other parts of it were beyond indecipherable. I’m very glad to say that I have read it, but I don’t think it’s one of those books that I will talk about because let’s face it I probably only understood a quarter to a third of it.

Opening Line: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.”

Closing Line: “…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.” (Whited out to avoid spoilers, highlight to read.)

Additional Quotes from Ulysses
“Across the threadbare cuffedge he saw the sea hailed as a great sweet mother by the wellfed voice beside him. The ring of bay and skyline held a dull green mass of liquid. A bowl of white china had stood beside her deathbed holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting.” (6)

“Sargent who alone had lingered came forward slowly, showing an open copybook. His thick hair and scraggy neck gave witness of unreadiness and through his misty glasses weak eyes looked up pleading. On his cheek, dull and bloodless, a soft stain of ink lay, dateshaped, recent and damp as a snail’s bed.” (27)

“Because you don’t save, Mr Deasy said, pointing his finger. You don’t know yet what money is. Money is power. When you have lived as long as I have. I know, I know. If youth but knew. But what does Shakespeare say? Put but money in thy purse.” (30)

“He stayed in his walk to watch a typesetter neatly distributing type. Reads it backwards first. Quickly he does it. Must require some practice that. mangiD kcirtaP. Poor papa with his hagadah book, reading backwards with his finger to me.” (103)

“Coming from the vegetarian. Only weggebobbles and fruit. Don’t eat a beefsteak. If you do the eyes of that cow will pursue you through all eternity.” (138)

“They say it’s healthier. Windandwatery though. Tried it. Keep you on the run all day. Bad as a bloater. Dreams all night. Why do they call that thing they gave me nutsteak? Nutarians. Fruitarians. To give you the idea you are eating rumpsteak. Absurd. Salty too. They cook in soda. Keep you sitting by the tap all night.” (138)

“Never know whose thoughts you’re chewing.” (142)

“Thoth, god of libraries, a birdgod, moonycrowned. And I heard the voice of that Egyptian highpriest. In painted chambers loaded with tilebooks.” (163)

“And Jacky Caffrey shouted to look, there was another and she leaned back and the garters were blue to match on account of the transparent and they all saw it and they all shouted to look, look, there it was and she leaned back ever so far to see the fireworks and something queer was flying through the air, a soft thing, to and fro, dark. And she saw a long Roman candle going up over the trees, up, up, and, in the tense hush, they were all breathless with excitement as it went higher and higher and she had to lean back more and more to look up after it, high, high, almost out of sight, and her face was suffused with a divine, an entrancing blush from straining back and he could see her other things too, nainsook knickers, the fabric that caresses the skin, better than those other pettiwidth, the green, four and eleven, on account of being white and she let him and she saw that he saw and then it went so high it went out of sight a moment and she was trembling in every limb from being bent so far back that he had a full view high up above her knee where no-one ever not even on the swing or wading and…” (310)

“Plain and loved, loved for ever, they say. Ugly: no woman thinks she is. Love, lie and be handsome for tomorrow we die. See him sometimes walking about trying to find out who played the trick. U. p: up. Fate that is. He, not me.” (319)

“Therefore, everyman, look to that last end that is thy death and the dust that gripeth on every man that is born of woman for as he came naked forth from his mother’s womb so naked shall he wend him at the last for to go as he came.” (323)

“The elder man, though not by any manner of means an old maid or a prude, said it was nothing short of a crying scandal that ought to be put a stop to instanter to say that women of that stamp (quite apart from any oldmaidish squeamishness on the subject), a necessary evil, w ere not licensed and medically inspected by the proper authorities, a thing, he could truthfully state, he, as a paterfamilias, was a stalwart advocate of from the very first start. Whoever embarked on a policy of the sort, he said, and ventilated the matter thoroughly would confer a lasting boon on everybody concerned.” (460)

“Some person or persons invisible directed him to the male urinal erected by the cleansing committee all over the place for the purpose but after a brief space of time during which silence reigned supreme the sailor, evidently giving it a wide berth, eased himself closer at hand, the noise of his bilgewater some little time subsequently splashing on the ground where it apparently awoke a horse of the cabrank. A hoof scooped anyway for new foothold after sleep and harness jingled. Slightly disturbed in his sentrybox by the brazier of live coke the watcher of the corporation stones who, though now broken down and fast breaking up, was none other in stern reality than the Gumley aforesaid, now practically  on the parish rates, given the temporary job by Pat Tobin in all human probability from dictates of humanity knowing him before shifted about and shuffled in his boxes before composing his limbs again in to the arms of Morpheus, a truly amazing piece of hard lines in its most virulent form on a fellow most respectably connected and familiarised with decent home comfort all his life who came in for a cool 100 pounds a year one time which of course the doublebarrelled ass proceeded to make general ducks and drakes of . And there he was at the end of his tether having often pained the town tolerably pink without a beggarly stiver. He drank needless to be told and it pointed only once more a moral when he might quite easily be in a large way of business if—a big if, however—he had contrived to cure himself of this particular partiality.” (464-465)

“…millions, billions, the nucleus of the nebula of every digit of every series containing succinctly the potentiality of being raised to the utmost kinetic elaboration of any power of…” (508)

“To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity.” (531)

“…I could see his chest pink he wanted to touch mine with his for a moment but I wouldnt lee him he was awfully put out first for fear you never know consumption or leave me with a child embarazada that old servant Ines told me that one drop even if it got into you at all after I tried with the Banana but I was afraid it might break and get lost up in me somewhere because they once took something down out of a woman that was up there for years covered with limesalts theyre all mad to get in there where they come out of youd think they could never go far enough up and then theyre done with you in a way till the next time yes because theres a wonderful feeling there so tender all the time how did we finish it off yes O yes…” (549-550)


20 thoughts on “Book 460: Ulysses – James Joyce”

  1. Ahh, I’m so impressed! I’ve never even successfully made it through Dubliners, and I hear that’s Joyce on the easy setting. Thanks for your review and for attempting to make sense of this for those of us who will probably never read it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks! The only other Joyce I have on my list is A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man which I know even less about. I was surprised at how much I enjoyed this and not surprised at how little I understood.


  2. Congratulations! It’s an achievement to get through Ulysses and an even greater achievement to be able to wholeheartedly say that you found bits of it good 😉
    As you point out with Mrs. Dalloway, one of the great things about having the big U under your belt is it provides a benchmark (or at least a reference) for so many other works of dense and confusing Modernist fiction.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yeah – it’s interesting how much is connected even if only through style but being able to reference back is a lot easier once you’ve read the iconic works. Understanding them is a different story 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  3. *basks in the glory*

    Congratulations! I’ve never had much of a desire to read this since, before now, I had never come across anyone who enjoyed it. Glad to hear you liked parts of it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Ha! There’s not a lot that’s in there to enjoy but I found myself incredibly impressed with the skill it must’ve taken to create something so detailed even if parts were illegible.


  4. Congrats on this bucket list reading achievement. It took me over four months as well with a good ole tree book. I can’t say I enjoyed it at all…but as much as it pains me to say it…I think I may have to give this a reread one day. I know there is brilliance in it. I know there are more subtle allusions to obscure things than any scholar will ever detect. I know Joyce was incredibly well read and is much more sophisticated than I. But for the pleasure of a read…this didn’t do it for me. I much preferred his Künstlerroman, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. But still, like you, glad I read it.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. What an interesting way to read this! I don’t believe I”d like it, since I typically don’t like stream-of-conscious style books, but I enjoyed hearing your thoughts on it. I’m glad you could see why it’s a classic, since hopefully that means you enjoyed it some, even if parts were frustrating.

    Liked by 1 person

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