About this Recording
NA401112 - JOYCE, J.: Ulysses (Abridged)
English 

James Joyce

James Joyce

Ulysses

 

Ulysses is one of the greatest literary works in the English language. It created a stir as soon as it was published in 1922, partly because of the experimental nature of the writing and formal design and partly because in certain passages it contained more than usually explicit language. Indeed, the book was banned in parts of the world until 1936, and a New York court required expert witnesses to testify to its artistic merit. Despite such auspicious notoriety, Ulysses has remained more famous than popular, and for one simple reason: it is a very difficult book to read. Not so difficult as Joyce’s final novel, Finnegans Wake, to be sure, but difficult nevertheless.

 

The proof of its greatness, however, is that it rewards effort with an endless feast of delights, the more delightful for being hard won.

 

Put simply, Ulysses is an account of a single day in Dublin, June 16, 1904, seen from the perspective of three characters: Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom and Bloom’s wife Molly.

 

Readers of Joyce’s earlier novel, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, will recall Stephen Dedalus as its central character — Joyce’s own alter ego. Indeed, the confusion of fact with fiction continues in Ulysses. Virtually all the characters, from Bloom himself to the dozens of Dubliners with whom he collides during the course of the day, are based in some way on real people known to Joyce, just as all the references to the streets and buildings of Dublin are factually correct in every detail.

 

Leopold Bloom, an advertising canvasser, is the real protagonist of this novel. He is Ulysses. Ulysses was the Roman name for Odysseus, and this novel is, in one way, an updated version of Homer’s epic tale: The Odyssey. In Homer, Odysseus wanders for several years over several seas, before returning home at last to his faithful wife Penelope. In Joyce’s novel, Bloom wanders for but a day through the streets of Dublin, before returning at last to his faithless wife Molly. In Homer, Odysseus escapes from the cave of the one-eyed Cyclops, the Cyclops hurling rocks after his ship as he sails away. In Joyce, a drunken Irish nationalist, blinded by the sun in his eye, hurls a biscuit tin after Bloom (Jewish, and therefore a foreigner) as he makes his escape on a jaunting car. This is one of the many hundreds of clever parallels with The Odyssey, most of them so subtle that they go unnoticed.

 

Musical references abound too. At the start of Bloom’s day, he takes breakfast

into Molly, still in bed, along with the morning post. This includes a card from the impresario Hugh ‘Blazes’ Boylan, informing Molly of the program she is to sing in a forthcoming concert tour which he is arranging for her. On the program are the seduction duet ‘La ci darem’ from Mozart’s Don Giovanni, and the popular ‘Love’s Old Sweet Song’. Boylan is to call that afternoon to go through these with her — though in point of fact he and Molly have rather more than musical rehearsal in mind. Bloom is well aware of all this, and for this reason ‘La ci darem’ and ‘Love’s Old Sweet Song’ are very much in his thoughts throughout the day. In the final chapter, too — Molly’s famous ‘stream of consciousness’ monologue — snatches of the two numbers rise

constantly to the surface, both consciously (as she imagines how she will perform them) and unconsciously (to accompany her careful breaking of wind).

The ‘stream of consciousness’ technique, for which the novel is so famous, is one of the things, which makes it so hard to read. Different trains of thought constantly intercept one another (as they do in real life), often without helpful punctuation, often leaving ideas or even words incomplete, and often making it hard to separate reality from fantasy, trivial matters from matters of significance. This last problem is particularly tricky, for in Joyce apparently trivial events or remarks can suddenly assume a huge significance.

 

An example: when Bloom is pestered by Bantam Lyons wanting to borrow his

newspaper to check on the horses running in the Gold Cup later that day, Bloom tells him to keep the paper, as he was only planning to throw it away. By coincidence (and unbeknown to Bloom), there is a horse called ‘Throwaway’, running in the race, with odds of twenty to one. Bantam Lyons takes Bloom’s remark to be a tip and hurries off excitedly. Much later, when Throwaway actually wins the race, there is huge resentment among the assembled company at Kiernan’s pub that Bloom had kept this tip to himself, and it is this which leads to the argument, which ends with the biscuit tin episode.

 

Even more unusual, perhaps, than the stream of consciousness passages, is the chapter describing Bloom and Stephen’s adventures in ‘Nighttown’ — the brothel area of Dublin — in the early hours of the morning. This chapter, the longest in the book, is set out like a play script, with capitalized character names, followed by stage directions and lines spoken by that character.

Although an important episode in the narrative, it also becomes a wild

phantasmagoric fantasy, with lines given to THE GASJET and THE FAN, as well asbrief appearances by LORD TENNYSON and KING EDWARD THE SEVENTH. The whore-mistress Bella Cohen appears in male apparel and is referred to as BELLO as she booms out her orders to Bloom (now female) and whips and threatens him.

 

Bloom has come to the brothel to keep an eye on young Stephen Dedalus who is far too drunk for his own good. When Stephen wildly smashes a gas lamp and races out of the house, Bloom follows after him and eventually takes him home to his own house to sober him up.

 

The chapter which follows, takes yet another unusual literary form: that of question and answer. Here, answers given to direct questions about the sequence of events as they unfold are often elaborate, even pedantic, and usually very amusing, with no detail going unspoken. At the end of the chapter, Bloom, now finally home in bed with Molly (they sleep head to toe, however), drifts off to sleep with two last questions: When? Going to a dark bed there was a square round Sinbad the Sailor roc’s auk’s egg in the night of the bed of all the auks of the rocs of Darkinbad the Brightdayler. Where?

The final chapter, Molly’s interior monologue, begins with a marvelous and subtle joke. Listening to her husband’s final sleepy murmurings she has taken them to be a request for morning room service: Yes because he never did a thing like that before

as ask to get his breakfast in bed with a couple of eggs…

Ulysses abounds with jokes such as this; for, long and difficult as it is, it is in fact

a comic novel. For the reader many of the jokes have to be dug out, worked out

through careful study — but for the listener many of the barriers to understanding

simply disappear. This is why the present recording will be so valuable to those

countless readers who have begun reading the book but “never got around to finishing it.” Brought to life through the spoken word, the difficulties melt away, to leave a

narrative as natural, as amusing and as moving as anything you have ever read.

A NOTE ABOUT THE ABRIDGEMENT

To record the whole of Ulysses would be a vast project, and would result in some

15 cassettes. In order to keep the issue to a size, which would not deter listeners either financially or in terms of sheer duration, a decision was made at the outset to limit this recording to four cassettes.

 

This has meant editing on a considerable scale. The outline of Bloom’s day remains, however, and we believe that enough of the narrative, color and variety have been retained to leave a version that will be satisfying as a first encounter with the book.

 

For those who already know Ulysses well, we hope that there will also be much here that will provide further elucidation as well as a great entertainment.

As with any abridgement, the starting point has been to maintain all that is essential to an understanding of the narrative. Of the first three chapters, we have retained only the opening of the first (Telemachus) — a famous opening and the important first account of Stephen’s mother’s death. The second chapter (Nestor) — with headmaster Deasey’s gleeful observation that Ireland has had no history of persecuting the Jews because ‘“she never let them in” — has regrettably gone. For reasons of balance, so too has the third, ‘Stephen’ chapter (Proteus) — ineluctably invisible in this case.

 

In the next two chapters (Calypso and The Lotus Eaters) only small edits have been made. It is here that we meet Leopold and Molly Bloom, and that many of the themes which are to recur throughout the book are first encountered — the music for the tour, the death of Paddy Dignam, the Gold Cup, and so on.

From here on we have selected key points in Bloom’s day: the meeting with Mrs. Breen and her litigious husband, lunch and its attendant nostalgic reminiscences (The Lestrygonians), political debate at Barney Kiernan’s (The Cyclops), Bloom’s erotic episode at the beach (Nausicaa), the fantastic events in Nighttown (Circe), Bloom’s return to Eccles St. (Ithaca) and Molly ’s final soliloquy (Penelope). All of these chapters have been editted to a greater or lesser extent, so that what we present here is clearly not Ulysses but ‘readings from Ulysses’. Our hope is that listeners will be intrigued and captivated by this material and subsequently feel emboldened to take on the book in its entirety. With the sound of these readings in their ears, this should now seem a far less daunting prospect.

 

All the music used in this presentation is music specifically referred to in Ulysses. Indeed, Don Giovanni and The Flying Dutchman are models for the book almost as important as The Odyssey itself. And the popular Love’s Old Sweet Song permeates the text.

 

Notes by Perry Keenlyside.   


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