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Ulysses, by James Joyce

I had read this many many years ago, on a train from Tuscany to Calais in the days before the Channel Tunnel (either in 1989 or in 1990). Since then I've got much more into modernist literature, which I think meant that I got a lot more out of it. It's still necessary to have some notes to hand to explain just what the heck is going on, and perhaps that's a problem in taking it as a novel rather than a textbook. But I found I enjoyed it more, and I think not only because I am twice as old now as I was the previous time.

Some particular highlights: I love the Scylla and Charybdis scene in the National Library, partly because I have spent time there myself, and I've also handled letters from Richard Best (who famously told the BBC years later that he was a real person, not a character in some dirty book). I had forgotten how brutal the depiction of the Citizen in the Cyclops episode is, especially bearing in mind that the basis of the character is Michael Cusack. And I'd forgotten how lyrical and sexy Molly Bloom's soliloquy is at the end (I guess when I was reading it the first time I had been on a train all night, and had stopped concentrating). On the other hand, I found the Wandering Rocks and Sirens episodes boring and confusing, and the Oxen of the Sun episode doesn't quite deliver (ho, ho) on its promise.

My doctoral thesis was on Irish scientists of the 1890-1930 period, which of course Ulysses fits into very nicely. I was struck by just how often astronomy and astronomers are invoked - Sir Robert Ball, who I once wrote an essay about, actually appears in person in a dream sequence, and his books are mentioned several times, as is his successor in Dunsink, Charles J Joly. (I have even been invoked by Joyce scholars.) I don't think Joyce is making any grand points about literature and science; it's just that astronomy was an important part of popular culture, then as now.

It's also interesting just how long a shadow the May 1882 Phoenix Park murders cast over the story. Joyce would have been three months old at the time, and can therefore have had no personal memory of the events, but I guess for the generation who grew up in Ireland between then and 1916 it was their JFK moment - complete with conspiracy theories, and with the extra thrill of surviving, identifiable, well-known accomplices to the assassination.

Anyway, I shall probably read it again, and maybe I won't leave it another quarter of a century to do so.

A few weeks ago I was in Zürich, and I made the pilgrimage up the hill to the cemetery beside the zoo, where Joyce rests for eternity, and in a nice bit of reflexivity, can be seen casting a glance on his own grave as a thought strikes him while reading.



There are worse fates.

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pink_halen
Jul. 19th, 2015 08:08 pm (UTC)
James Joyce

We saw this statue of James Joyce in Pula Croatia. He taught English there for 6 months.


In October 1904 the 22-year-old James Joyce eloped from Ireland to mainland Europe with his girlfriend (and future wife) Nora Barnacle. He sought work with the Berlitz English-language schools in Zürich and Trieste, but the organization found him a post in Pula instead, where he was paid £2 for a sixteen-hour week teaching Austro-Hungarian naval officers (one of whom was Miklos Horthy, ruler of Hungary between the wars). Despite their straitened circumstances, the couple enjoyed this first taste of domestic life – although Joyce viewed Pula as a provincial backwater, and, eager to get away at the first opportunity, accepted a job in Trieste six months later.

Though Joyce had a productive time in Pula, writing much of what subsequently became Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the city made next to no impact on his literary imagination. In letters home he described it as “a back-of-God-speed place – a naval Siberia”, adding that “Istria is a long boring place wedged into the Adriatic, peopled by ignorant Slavs who wear red caps and colossal breeches.”

There are few places in modern Pula that boast Joycean associations: the Café Miramar, where Joyce went every day to read the newspapers, was until recently a furniture store; there are current plans to turn the building into a luxury hotel. You can always, however, enjoy a drink in the café-bar Uliks (“Ulysses” in Croatian), situated on the ground floor of the apartment block which once housed the language school (see The west coast); the terrace boasts a life-size bronze sculpture of the artist himself sitting on one of the chairs, and there’s a small glass cabinet containing Joyce memorabilia inside.

Read more: http://www.roughguides.com/destinations/europe/croatia/istria/pula/james-joyce-pula/#ixzz3gMzQ0yLD


Edited at 2015-07-19 08:08 pm (UTC)
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