Monday, July 06, 2015


I finally finished reading James Joyce's Ulysses.  I feel like I've completed the literary equivalent of an Iron Man, only coming in last place and walking for most of the run.

Even with my shaky comprehension,  I can see why Ulysses is considered one of the great masterpieces of literature, but I'm unable to articulate any more than that.  Ulysses is truly impressive. and James Joyce is the indisputable master of the English language.  That said, I struggled with this book and often longed to be done with it.

My first reaction was dismay at the appearance of Stephen Daedelus, who I thought I'd left safely behind in AP English and The Portrait of the Artist of a Young Man.  What in the world is he doing here? And who are these guys he's with?  Are they young priests? Seminarians?  No, I don't think they're priests.  Better consult Wikepedia.  Ah, they're med students.  And so it went for the entire book. Sometimes I had a dim grasp of what was happening and other times I had no idea what I was reading, although I tried to just experience the words themselves and not worry about what was going on.

Ulysses was famously banned for obsenity, and I can see why.  Not that I'm in favor of book banning, but obviously, the sort of person who thinks sexuality has no place in literature is going to be seriously upset by Ulysses.  Molly Bloom's soliloquy, with it's frank sexuality, is one of the more readable and enjoyable parts of the novel.  The "Circe" chapter, on the other hand, is a bit disturbing. But what would be the point of literature if it were never allowed to disturb us?

My neighbor, a grad student in English has read Ulysses many times.  She said that the first time she read it, her speed was twelve pages an hour.  Hah!  I felt like I was speeding along if I managed twelve pages a day.  We went to the Bloomsday celebration at the Tin Whistle, the new Irish pub downtown and drank beer while different local folks read passages from Ulysses, other works by Joyce and other works of Irish literature, and sang Irish songs.  Gorgonzola cheese sandwiches were on the menu for the occasion and it was a really nice evening.

Years ago, in preparation for the GRE subject test in literature, I read about a third of Ulysses--was literally cramming it into my brain while waiting to be admitted to the exam room.  Of course there wasn't a single Ulysses-related question.  I quit reading Ulysses the day of the GRE, but told myself I'd finish it someday and when the fifty classics project came along I included it on the list, but it's the sort of book that must be read multiple times, as intimated by my neighbor. Maybe in twenty years, I'll make another attempt.


  1. I've never attempted Ulysses. I tend to shy away from books people say are hard to read, but you never know, I may give it a whirl one of these days.

  2. I think that the Bloomsday evening sounds good. I think that sometimes the interpretation that comes with someone reading a text they understand can help so much in my own understanding. I've never attempted Ulysses, and I don't see it happening in my future, but it's interesting to read about your experience.

  3. Congratulations! I admire your perseverance.... and LOVE the second sentence of your post. Not sure I'll ever attempt this feat myself though.

  4. Bravo to you for crossing the finish line!

    Is one allowed to attend a Bloomsday celebration if one hasn't read the book?

  5. I read Portrait years and years ago, but never quite got the nerve up for Ulysses. You should get a medal or something for this accomplishment!