Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:- Introibo ad altare Dei.
|Martello Tower, Dublin where Joyce lived briefly|
Like Homer's Telemachus, Stephen is edgy and anxious and suspects he is being ‘usurped‘ by treacherous friends. He is particularly upset at overhearing Mulligan's unkind remark about his mother being ‘beastly dead’. Tellingly, he is less concerned about his mother's memory than the 'insult to me'.
The end of A Portrait of a Young Man left Stephen ready to 'flee' his native city and the 'nets' of politics and religion. A year later he is less self-assured but in a state of internal exile, physically in Dublin but ready to leave Ireland behind. Again mirroring Telemachus, Stephen suspects the motives of those who try to dissuade him, telling his nationalist former teacher ‘history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake’.
You can hear a short extract from the BBC version here - Part 1
Stephen doesn't sound much fun. But the story is about Bloom, isn't it?
Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods' roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.After taking breakfast-in-bed to his wife, Bloom spends his day plodding around Dublin fulfilling various humdrum obligations: the funeral of an acquaintance, sales visits, a walk on the beach. We accompany him, entering his inner world through a 'stream of consciousness':
In crucial respects Bloom is an outsider in a very insular society. Though he has converted to Catholicism in order to marry Molly, he is never allowed to forget his Jewish origins. The Citizen pointedly asks which 'nation' he claims allegiance to. Even those not hostile to him, mock his cuckold status.
What is the connection between Bloom and Stephen? Do they know each other?
Not directly. The only connection is that Bloom is acquainted with Stephen's father, Simon Dedalus.
|National Maternity Hospital where Stephen & Bloom meet|
Bloom is haunted by his lost son ('if Rudy had lived') and his paternalism is touched by the drunk and vulnerable Stephen. Though the two men are divided by class, age and religion there is an unspoken filial bond between them.
Why is Ulysses considered to be a groundbreaking novel?
At the end of the novel, Ulysses (Bloom) returns home to his Penelope (Molly). His odyssey is successful in that she remains faithful to him, emotionally if not physically. In her soliloquy, a stream of consciousness without punctuation that mimics the moments between waking and sleeping, her thoughts continually return to Bloom. In this sense he triumphs over Boylan and all his rivals.
|Joyce with his editor Sylvia Beach in Paris|
What is still astonishes is the musicality of the prose - Joyce was an accomplished tenor and he has an unparalleled ear when it comes to mimicing sound. Bloom's cat's progressively more plaintive demands for food are transcribed precisely: "mkgnao", "mrkgnao" and "mrkrgnao".
Is Ulysses a good read. Should I take it to the beach?
It's hard to escape the feeling that for many intellectual trophy rather than a genuinely loved friend. Though it is a 'must-have' for the educated person's bookshelf, it has also been described as the 'most unread' novel of the Twentieth Century. Many get no further than Buck Mulligans showing off in Latin in the opening paragraph - a clear signal that you are in for what is called in Hollywood 'homework'.
So is reading Ulysses worth the effort? I would answer with the last of all those words, Molly Bloom's resounding, 'yes'. And if pushed to present evidence, I would cite Leopold Bloom perhaps the greatest creation in modern literature.
For a brief introduction to the autobiographical elements of Ulysses see this New Yorker review .
Ulysses: Annotated Students' Edition (Penguin)
Dubliners by James Joyce
Biography - James Joyce (Oxford Lives)