I quipped to my mother the other day that I wanted to re-read Ulysses and blog about it. In the month of June. And she said, “The whole thing?” Sure, why not? We have just passed the centenary of the release of Dubliners, and Bloom’s Day is coming up (June 16th). Plus, Ulysses is a good book of the kind that is often on people’s bucket lists but seldom read. So I thought, “Why not write up a few of my thoughts about each section and post them?” I will try to keep it short, and perhaps my general impressions will give you a desire to delve into this amazing, beautiful book. Part of this will be chronicling my own path of discovery as I dive back into a work that is one of my favorites, but that I haven’t read in about a decade; part of this will be a sort of general discussion of the book and its themes from as writerly of a perspective as I can manage, since that is perhaps the one thing I can claim expertise in. Maybe. The one thing I will assert is that, unlike William York Tindall, I do not think Ulysses is “too difficult for careless reading” (123). Like any book, it can be read in a multitude of ways; any reasonably focused reader can make her way through it, enjoying the beauty of the language and storytelling without necessarily grasping the historical or philosophical references.
All of my citations will be to the text in the Gabler edition (see below for citation), but I will give an episode.line number citation (e.g., 1.10) so anyone who wants to follow along in one of the free online editions can do so (the line breaks follow the Garland, New York, 1984 critical edition). Do be aware that since the Gabler edition corrects several long-standing typos, the texts may differ slightly. The primary concordance I use is the Gifford—I’ll provide a citation for that when it proves necessary.
For those not familiar with Ulysses, although the chapters are not formally titled, Joyce created two schemas that divided it into eighteen episodes, all of which have names that refer to the Odyssey. These are the Gilbert schema and the Linati schema. I will probably not refer to these frequently, but you should know where some of this material is coming from. Other reference works I will cite as I go along.
As for what is the best way to read the book, I don’t think there’s any one right way to go about it. In high school, the first few times I attempted to make my way through the text, I had only the text itself. The first time I actually made it through, in college, I had the Gifford annotations by my side and frequently read it simultaneously with Joyce’s text. On this reading, I am making my way first through the episodes, then referring to the Gifford to clear up any lingering questions (and draw inspiration for these little essays). Any of these methods may work for you. For those who don’t have time to run to the library before starting this little adventure, this website containing hypertext annotations may be of use to you.
I feel at the outset that I should define my goal more specifically before I begin. This is not meant to be a series of scholarly essays into the text of Ulysses, although some of my essays do take on that form to a certain extent. This is also not meant to simply reproduce the information contained in any of the particular references I’ve consulted. Instead, I want you to read along with me and consider this a kind of book club discussion. You can find an ebook version here at Project Gutenberg or elsewhere on the web. I hope you’ll join me for a brief tour through a magnificent work of art.
Scylla and Charybdis
Oxen of the Sun
 I’d originally planned to post one essay per day between May 29-June 16, but that isn’t happening, is it. Take what you can get, that’s my advice.
Joyce, James. Ulysses. Edited by Hans Walter Gabler, with Wolfhard Steppe and Claus Melchior. New York: Vintage Books, 1986.
Tindall, William York. A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce. New York: The Noonday Press, 1959.