“You should approach Joyce’s Ulysses as the illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Old Testament: with faith.”
There is a strong argument for studying this huge and intimidating text—book list chart-topper of 100 greatest books of all time, critics’ darling, most lauded/least read, the book that many literary academics dedicate their lives to studying—but you will only know for yourself by diving in. I believe the only way to study it is with a group of hungry, curious readers who all contribute to evoking meaning, through their questions as well as their insights.
The good news: reading Ulysses is fun. And I don’t mean in a frustrating, overly-analytical see-how-much-you-know-way. The language is amazing—even when I don’t understand it. Perhaps, especially when I don’t understand it, because meaning sneaks in through more than my critical faculty. Meaning slides in through sound, through the lushness of the language, through the filmy and substantial images, and suddenly I find myself transported from a walk on a beach to a contemplation of the origins of man—thanks, James Joyce.
Any time spent studying Joyce leaves one a better reader—a broader thinker—even if all the references, repetitions, epiphanies and allusions are not immediately understood.
“Joining the Ulysses salon was one of the best things I have ever done. This was a book I had wanted
to read for years but never got past the first section. I had no idea what the salon would be like and was
very apprehensive about joining up. But Toby so skillfully guided us through it, her knowledge of
the text seemingly inexhaustible, that with her warmth and generosity and sensitivity she got everyone
involved and the satisfaction of participating in the salon and in getting an understanding of this
marvelous work was immense.”
—Ulysses Salon participant
If you would like to request this study or have any questions about it, please contact us.
Please purchase these books in preparation for our study:
- Ulysses by James Joyce Annotated Students\’ Edition (Penguin Modern Classics), ISBN-10: 0141184434 (There are many editions of Ulysses — I find this edition is most coherent and the notes and introduction by Declan Kieberd very helpful; as we will constantly be referencing particular passages, having the same edition will be extremely useful.)
- The New Bloomsday Book: A Guide Through Ulysses by Harry Blamires, ISBN-10: 0415138582
Now, more thoughts as to Why do it? Clifton Fadiman offers a concise list:
1. It is probably the most completely organized, thought out work of
literature since The Divine Comedy.
2. It is the most influential novel (call it that for the lack of a
better term) published in our century. The influence is indirect-
through other writers.
3. It is one of the most original works of the imagination in the
language. It broke not one trail, but hundreds.
4. There is some disagreement here, but the prevailing view is that
it is not “decadent’ or “immoral” or “pessimistic”. Like the work
of many of the supreme artists…it proposes a vision of life as
seen by a powerful mind that rises above the partial, the
sentimental, and the self-defensive.
5. Unlike its original, The Odyssey, it is not an open book. It
yields its secrets only to those willing to work, just as
Beethoven’s last quartets reveal new riches the longer they are
And another perspective:
“Ulysses can be read with passion without intellectually understanding the text. In this case, we identify ourselves completely with the character, our imagination lays hold of his sensation, his pleasure, his reminiscences, and we live with him, we dream with him. The prolonging of the interior monologue in our imagination will provoke pure reverie…Because the interior monologue in its fragmentary incoherence includes, as we have seen before, all the logical structure and grammatical armature of thought.”
Salon participant Shelia Fitzgerald meets The Man on Bloomsday: