NOTES: 1. Reading this so late, so long after its lessons have been absorbed and modified and abandoned and resurrected (see Will Self's Umbrella), I cNOTES: 1. Reading this so late, so long after its lessons have been absorbed and modified and abandoned and resurrected (see Will Self's Umbrella), I can't imagine what it was like for a first-time reader in 1922-23. For those who both loved and hated it, it must have been a hydrogen bomb of a book. The classicists must have been fit for tying. The hubris of rewriting Homer. The classicists must have been apoplectic!
2. In the Hades/Graveyard section (6), Leopold Bloom considers the enormity of death at Dignam's graveside: "Must be 20 or 30 funerals every day [here]. Then Mount Jerome for the Protestants. Funerals all over the world everywhere every minute. Shoveling them under by the cartload doublequick. Thousands every hour. Too many in the world." And later: "Plant him and have done with him. Like down a coalshoot."
3. I suppose what dazzles me most is that this Novel can be so thoroughly packed with subtext, yet remain so readable. Is it the first scalable modern novel? This of course almost guarantees ever richer subsequent readings.
4. Father Conmee. What a great name. Too funny. Not sure if this is a pattern yet, but so far Joyce seems to alternate chapters of rich allusion (Stephen Dedalus and others discussing Hamlet at National Library in the Scylla and Charibdis chapter) with chapters of pretty straightforward action (Conmee, Bloom's peripatetic progress). There's conflation, too, of Odysseus ten-year ordeal at sea with Leopold Bloom as Wandering Jew. Hmm.
5. The Wandering Rocks chapter is Ulysses's center where Joyce parades virtually his entire cast past the reader as the Governor makes what smacks as a triumphal progress through Dublin. This reminds me very much of Henry Fielding's Tom Jones, when all the players cross paths at the inn in the book's middle. Perhaps Fielding was also using a Homeric model?
6. It's hard to endure the jeering layabouts (Lenehan, Dedalus pere, Dollard, etc.) as they make fun of Bloom's misfortune. Bloom who, suffering in silence, we come to like more and more. Also, cross-cutting, filmic. Yet we read (mostly) with assurance. Sure of our way. Again, I can't imagine what the first readers felt. Unlike us they had no precedent.
7. Joyce's penchant for puns annoys. Actually, I'm beginning to hate it. Funny, almost everything else I'm fine with: the purposeful rhymes; the interlarded alternately speculative, abject, or ebullient etc consciousnesses; the rich allusiveness and multiple languages; the use of meaningless, infantile sounds, almost a babble (or perhaps Babel). Yet the puns strike me as sophomoric, someone playing saw amidst the philharmonic. Harsh dissonance. I suppose dissonance is sometimes useful. Penderecki springs to mind, and Coltrane, though these may be extreme examples.
8. On another level the book can be read, at least in part, as an indictment of Irish Anti-Semitism. As expressed cogently on p. 484 of my Everyman edition:
And to the solemn court of Green street there came sir Frederick the Falconer. And he sat him there about the hour of five o'clock to administer the law of the brehons at the commission for all that and those parts to be holden in and for the county of the city of Dublin. And there sat with him the high sinhedrim of the twelve tribes of Iar, for every tribe one man, of the tribe of Patrick and of the tribe of Hugh and of the tribe of Owen and of the tribe of Conn and of the tribe of Oscar and of the tribe of Fergus and of the tribe of Finn and of the tribe of Dermot and of the tribe of Cormac and of the tribe of Kevin and of the tribe of Caolte and of the tribe of Ossian, there being in all twelve good men and true. And he conjured them by Him who died on rood that they should well and truly try and true deliverance make in the issue joined between their sovereign lord the king and the prisoner at the bar and true verdict give according to the evidence, [etc.]
This passage and others ridicules the bigotry and suggests that we are all of us of one tribe. Not to put too fine a point on it, but much else is given similar treatment in this chapter: blind nationalism, especially, which, at time of publication, had done so much to depopulate Europe of its young men. Come to think of it, aside from the well-known exceptions, there are no teeming displays of young men in the novel as there are displays of old men. On p. 632, supporting this observation, there is a deprecation of the "mutilated soldiers and sailors" of Dublin's streets.
9. In the pure-streaming language section now known as "Oxen of the Sun." If this were Kubrick's 2001: A Space Odyssey, this would be the part where Dave has entered the pod and is now speeding through far-flung intergalactic space experiencing a virtuoso display of psychedelic landscapes on the way. Yes, one can see how this would have been completely new in 1922. Then the language turns mock-chivalric/courtly/archaic as Bloom awaits some word on the Purefoy child. (See Erik's excellent comment No. 30 below.) Dixon arrives and so it's hie to the pub where Bloom comes upon a drunken Stephen, and they await Stately, Plump, Buck Mulligan. After long consideration of Mrs. Purefoy's protracted labor, Malachi arrives with the hilarious lament, to wit:
It grieved him plaguily, he said, to see the nuptial couch defrauded of its dearest pledges: and to reflect upon so many agreeable females with rich jointures, a prey to the vilest bonzes, who hide their flambeau under a bushel in an uncongenial cloister or lose their womanly bloom in the embraces of some unaccountable muskin when they might multiply the inlets of happiness, sacrificing the inestimable jewel of their sex when a hundred pretty fellows were at hand to caress, this, he assured them, made his heart weep.
This chapter must include a dozen or so parodies of various narrative modes, each with an almost seamless transition to the next. I can only pick out a handful of them on this first reading. They include the triumphalist battle song, the troubadour's ballad, the bawdy Rabelaisian tale, the ancient Greek drama, epistolary, confessional, gothic, and restoration modes, etc.
10. The early going in the hallucinatory Brothel chapter (15) is as funny as anything in the book. I especially like Bloom's mock trial in the street, which might be called "Bloom's Ordeal," for sexual molestation and general rakishness. The style reminds me of Samuel Beckett who, as we know, thought the world of Joyce. Most of the section is wildly madcap and suggests a sheer ecstatic joy in storytelling. But it is long, too. Stephen's Latin has worn thin. I've stopped translating these passages. That can wait for a second reading. I have to admit I'm a trifle mystified by the long sex-reversal hallucination with Bello and Bloom. I thought at first that it might be a proto-feminist tract whose unseemly length hammers home a commentary about the lowly station of early 20th century women, but but then I thought that's too earnest and forthright for Joyce, who was no one's moralist. This was almost immediately contradicted by a passage in the following chapter (16), set in the cabman's shelter, in which the fate of prostitutes is bemoaned at length.
The chapter (15) is a massive, teeming set-piece in which every character in the book makes an appearance, plus many historical figures not seen before: Shakespeare, Edward the Seventh, Lord Tennyson, etc. This was for me the most wearying slog of the entire book. I put it aside and came back four times before I could finish it. Hope your progress is brisker.
11. Skipped pages 948-1005, a thing I abhor doing. I just felt that if I didn't I would never get to Molly's soliloquy. ...more