Ulysses is a modernist novel by Irish writer James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920 and then published in its entirety in Paris by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, Joyce’s 40th birthday. It is considered to be one of the most important works of modernist literature and has been called “a demonstration and summation of the entire movement”. According to Declan Kiberd, “Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking”.
Ulysses chronicles the peripatetic appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer’s epic poem the Odyssey, and the novel establishes a series of parallels between the poem and the novel, with structural correspondences between the characters and experiences of Leopold Bloom and Odysseus, Molly Bloom and Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus and Telemachus, in addition to events and themes of the early 20th-century context of modernism, Dublin, and Ireland’s relationship to Britain. The novel is highly allusive and also imitates the styles of different periods of English literature.
Since its publication, the book has attracted controversy and scrutiny, ranging from an obscenity trial in the United States in 1921, to protracted textual “Joyce Wars”. The novel’s stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose—replete with puns, parodies, and allusions—as well as its rich characterisation and broad humour, have led it to be regarded as one of the greatest literary works in history; Joyce fans worldwide now celebrate 16 June as Bloomsday.
“Ulysses will immortalize its author with the same certainty that Gargantua immortalized Rabelais, and The Brothers Karamazov immortalized Dostoyevsky…. It comes nearer to being the perfect revelation of a personality than any book in existence.”
–The New York Times
“To my mind one of the most significant and beautiful books of our time.”
-Gilbert Seldes, in The Nation
“Talk about understanding “feminine psychology”– I have never read anything to surpass it, and I doubt if I have ever read anything to equal it.”
“In the last pages of the book, Joyce soars to such rhapsodies of beauty as have probably never been equaled in English prose fiction.”
-Edmund Wilson, in The New Republic
Frank G. Dunn
Great book. Must be read in conjunction with supporting materials in order for the structure to make sense. These are generally available online. I read it for an online course. Great way to do the book.
I have read Ulysses at least three or four times (and once with Gilbert Stuart’s authorised translation) and always found unsounded depths that I had not suspected. Every chapter introduces new narrative techniques, new perspectives and characters, and new voices. This is a book that definitely requires some homework to fully appreciate. I would recommend the aforementioned Gilbert Stuart commentary and biography, the Frank Budgen criticism, and especially the classic Richard Ellman biography. There is precious little here not to love regardless of your literary tastes, but like most good things, this book asks you to work for it. As Leopold Bloom goes through this day in Dublin, all kinds of things are happening all around him and it is a virtual reality experience in four dimensions – ending with for me one of the most beautiful chapters ever written, the stream of conscious dialog of Bloom’s wife posing as Ulysses’ Penelope. It is of such texture and voluptuousness that it is impossible to capture without first hand experience of having read it. If you put forward one personal challenge for a great summer read, make it Ulysses!
I was recently in Dublin and spent a good 30 cold minutes with a strong wind on the turret where Buck Mulligan has his shave in Chapter 1 – amazing! I cannot even begin to express how this book moves me. When I get the classic GR question when friending “what is your favorite book and why?”, I always answer “Ulysses, because I learn more about myself everytime I read it!”
First, about the haste. This book is a page-turner. Forget Stephen King. Joyce is the man you read in bed, furiously tongue-fingering the pages to see what seminal modernist technique he invents, masters, inverts, spins on its head like a circus freak with a whirligig in his bonce. The first five episodes set the pace perfectly, setting the reader up for the all-singing all-dancing feats of outrageous showboating that follow in the remaining thirteen chapters, each adding a few Jenga blocks to the superseding chapters to challenge the reader and keep her on her toes. Look, Joyce loves his reader! He’s the most unpatronising author this side of L.L. Cool J.! Joyce believes in you. He believes everyone has the capacity within them to crack his boggling Enigma code, and if that isn’t some heartwarming Sunday school moral, what is? So what if Joyce was wrong and every reader would need The New Bloomsday Book merely to scratch the surface of this amorphous, expanding superbrain of a book? Ulysses is an infinite novel. Unlike Finnegans Wake, where every attempt at some semblance of lucidity and meaning falls flat—the book a distant satellite fated to drift forever in space—Ulysses is an infinitely re-readable supernova of emotional and intellectual replenishment. Pure aesthetic pleasure. Everything that followed Ulysses expanded, plundered and rehashed Ulysses. It was the end and beginning of literature. If you like any books at all, anything post-Ulysses, you’re an ideal candidate to read Ulysses. It will break your heart, and your brain.