4.03.2012

Tackling 'Ulysses'

I have always avoided James Joyce's “Ulysses,” but curiosity finally got the better of me. I want to know WHY the book is in the top 5 on every list of greatest fiction.

After listening to three chapters, I realized I had to know more about the mechanics of the book, so I have copied and read an overview in the online CliffsNotes.

The main character, Stephen, is autobiographical and was the main character in “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man,” which I’ve read. "Ulysses" begins around 8 a.m. on a day in 1904 with Stephen and his two Dublin roommates and covers a 24-hour period.

Its 18 chapters include 18 “viewpoints” and numerous writing styles and literary devices.

Think of witnesses to a wreck all seeing different things.

According to the summary, “Ulysses stands as an inventive, multiple-point-of-view (there are eighteen) vision of daily events, personal attitudes, cultural and political sentiments and observations of the human condition.”

Right down my alley.

It’s a good thing I’ve listened to “The Odyssey,” because this is Joyce’s “playful” version of the Homeric epic. (Much like the movie, “O, Brother, Where Art Thou?”) Stephan, the main character, represents the son who goes looking for his father, Ulysses. The book's protaganist, Leopold Bloom, represents Ulysses. (Bloom's wife Molly is a somewhat tainted Penelope.)

The overview or summary I copied is 11 pages in Microsoft Word and has brief chapter summaries which will help me to better understand the novel without actually reading the chapter summaries.

It's against my better judgment to read reviews or plot summaries before I read a book, but with this one I figure I'll need all the help I can get. Joyce once bragged that a whole cottage industry in books developed trying to explain his works. 

When I was in college I tackled complex subjects by first reading about them in the children’s section of the library or in the World Book Encyclopedia. So, this is what I’ve done with this excellent CliffsNotes summary.

Why the book was banned is a different story, and there is a “Foreword” on my digital Talking Books copy which goes into the ramifications of its role in freedom of expression. (Although Rick Santorum would burn it, and former Attorney General John Ashcroft would drape a cloth over it.)

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

"Dim Wit" covers it nicely.
Only a dim wit would read notes instead of the book.
Only a real dim wit would even suggest what the book is saying, without reading it.

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Susan Vento said...

Hi B.J.,

I have a quick question regarding your blog. If you could send me an email when you get a chance, I would greatly appreciate it!

Best,
Sue

Anonymous said...

We all work our way around a work with every tool we have, it's called research in the interest of understanding. The first comment seems kind of doltish.