For something a bit more lighthearted. James first date with Nora, pictured in the bottom right, next to their daughter and underneath their son, stepped out on their first date on June 16th, 1904. This day, June 16th, became the date Ulysses begins. It’s become known as Bloomsday, after Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses. The day is now celebrated by Joyce fans.
“I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”
Joyce was not being self-deprecating, facetious, or disparaging in any way when he said this about the allusions and themes of Ulysses. It’s a deep book.
With most literature, when you want to convey the essence somebody about a poem, essay, book, or whatever, the best way to do it is describe the plot, the characters, the setting, perhaps throw in a neat tidbit about some clever allusion or why the author writes like this.
Not with Ulysses.
I read the book. Well, not true. I deciphered the book, or, rather, tried to decipher what I could, which was most of it, but at times it was like reading while half-asleep; the letters were on the page, they made words, I could say the words aloud, and identify the subject and verbs of the sentences, but any ideas the words may have carried was lost on me. Repeating the plot to you would not be much better for you than the book was for me at times.
To understand Ulysses, you have to understand Joyce, his style of writing, and the themes and parallels of the book, which is what I’m focusing on. I could go and write out an abridged synopsis of the book, but it wouldn’t help, would add far too much text, and I’d probably get it wrong.
Here are a collection of James Joyce quotes, both directly and from various books, that give an insight into his character and thoughts that the bibliography, though factual, lacked, in my opinion;
“I confess that I do not see what good it does to fulminate against the English tyranny while the Roman tyranny occupies the palace of the soul.”
This quote in particular shows off several characteristics of Joyce that really shine through in Ulysses, and are important in understand it; his irreverence and disdain for the Catholic church, an opinion he developed at a young age, coupled with his Irish nationalism, gave him a cynically realistic view of politics, and of Ireland.
“To say that a great genius is half-mad, while recognizing his artistic prowess, is worth as much as saying that he was rheumatic, or that he suffered from diabetes. Madness, in fact, is a medical expression to which a balanced critic should pay no more heed than he would to the accusation of heresy brought by the theologian, or to the accusation of immorality brought by the public prosecutor.”
Very self aware in this quote, as he was a bit eccentric, and also displaying a lot of wit. It takes a lot of wit, and an equal amount of insanity, to write like he did.
“Christopher Columbus, as everyone knows, is honored by posterity because he was the last to discover America.”
Honestly, this one isn’t too deep or revealing, it’s just very witty and insightful, keeping in line with the above quote.
“The demand that I make of my reader is that he should devote his whole Life to reading my works.”
“Does nobody understand?” – last words
Both of these very much go together. Firstly, again with the self-awareness. Secondly, I would like to use these two quotes to justify any confusing or “lacking” elements in this presentation. This book is incredibly, incredibly complex. I could fill this blog with the word “complex” over and over again and it still wouldn’t contain as much complexity as Ulysses. My mission of sorts in writing this blog is to show how complex the book is.
Here are some more, should anybody like to read them. Link.
A (moderately) short biography:
James Joyce (full name James Augustine Aloysius Joyce) was born on the 2nd of February 1882 to John Stanislaus Joyce and Mary Jane Murray in a small suburb of Dublin, Ireland.
At the age of 17, Joyce enrolled in a local university, where he studied English and Italian. At 21, he traveled to Paris to study medicine, but soon dropped out and spent months of his time, and his family’s money, reading and writing.
Joyce returned home shortly after, summoned by a telegraph sent by his father about his mothers imminent death. He spend his time back home drinking heavily, writing book reviews to survive. He attempted twice to publish an essay/novel on the nature of Aestheticism, the second attempt the essay was reworked into a semi-autobiographical piece that would later become A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
In 1904, he met is would-be wife, Nora Barnacle, with whom he moved to Zurich, Switzerland for a teaching position, which turned out to be a con. He went around to several more schools before settling in a city in Croatia where Nora gave birth to their first son, George, and Joyce managed to convince his brother to join him as a teacher. In 1906 he moved to Rome, and then returned a year later. He spend the next decade or so teaching in Croatia, and traveling to and from Dublin to iron out problems with his publisher. His wife later gave birth to his daughter, Lucia, around this time period.
In 1915, at the outbreak of World War I, Joyce moved back to Switzerland, and met a man who would become a good friend of his, Frank Budgen. Frank would later introduce him to Harriet Shaw Weaver, who would later “sponsor” him, so to speak. His time in Switzerland was perhaps his most productive, writing Exiles, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, and Ulysses.
He moved to Paris in 1920, and remained for twenty more years, finishing Ulysses with help from Harriet. It was around this time he began to gain more and more fame, just as his eyesight became worse and worse. He frequently traveled to Switzerland to undergo treatment for his ailing vision, and for his daughter, who was diagnosed with Schizophrenia. His daughter was treated by Carl Jung, who upon reading Ulysses concluded that Joyce was also suffering from Schizophrenia.
In 1941 he died in Zurich after fleeing Paris from the Nazis.
The site linked is a web-comic which focuses on historical, artistic, and literary humor, Hark! A Vagrant. The subject of this comic in particular are the creepy love letters James Joyce would write to his wife, Nora Barnacle. The comic sums it up pretty well. The letters are linked here, and they’re somewhat funny in weird way, but there’s no way I’ll be opening this link in class. The letters themselves: