Wednesday, June 25, 2014


Lecture One--The Story of a Modern Masterpiece
(from Joyce's Ulysses by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)


This lecture explains the special importance of James Joyce’s
Ulysses in twentieth-century fiction, the challenge it presents to a
first-time reader, and the controversies it provoked when first
published. Because Joyce’s novel reconstructs in modern terms the
journey of an ancient Greek king in an epic poem known as
Homer’s Odyssey, this lecture also explains that the structure of
the course is based on the structure of the novel, which traces the
wanderings of Leopold Bloom through the city of Dublin on
Bloomsday: June 16, 1904. While showing how his wanderings
and his homecoming reenact the story of Homer’s hero, the course
will examine his interaction with two other characters: Stephen
Dedalus, who stands for Joyce’s own younger self, and Molly
Bloom, the wife of Leopold, who has an adulterous tryst on the
afternoon of Bloomsday but who is nonetheless eventually joined
by her husband in bed.


I.  Joyce’s Ulysses is difficult, controversial, and supremely important in
the history of twentieth-century English fiction.
A. To first-time readers, it seems an intimidating book. 
B. When first published, it was both denounced and celebrated
1. Several English critics found it obscene.
2. Several American writers hailed it.
C.  T. S. Eliot called it “the most important expression which the
present age has found,” because it established “the mythical
method.” lt developed, he said, “a continuous parallel between
contemporaneity and antiquity,” between the episodes of Homer’s
Odyssey and daily life in modern Dublin.
II. Joyce rewrites Homer’s Odyssey as the story of what happens in
Dublin on a single day, June 16, l904--Bloomsday. The stoly revolves
around three characters: Leopold Bloom; his wife, Molly; and Stephen
A. Stephen, the hero of .Joyce’s earlier novel Portrait ofthe Artist as
a Young Man, is Joyce’s fictional younger self Brilliant, witty,
brooding, bibulous, and complicated to the point of self-
contradiction, he yeams to make his name as a writer. 
B. Leopold Bloom, who corresponds to Ulysses, the wandering hero
of Homer’s Odyssey, is a fascinating anomaly.
1. Though descended from Hungarian Jews, he does not practice
2. Though he does not practice Judaism nor associate with Jews,
he is regarded as Jewish by everyone he meets and is
sometimes subjected to virulent anti-Semitism. 
3. Though haunted by the memory of his dead father and dead
infant son, he relishes life in the present. 
4. Though intellectually curious and keenly interested in books,
he also loves to eat and to satisfy the needs of his body.
C. Molly Bloom, wife of Leopold, chiefly reveals herself in the last
chapter of the book, where her wildly uninhibited monologue
proves her to be another bundle of contradictions.
1. Hours after her adulterous tryst, she rapturously recalls her
first lovemaking with Bloom. 
2. She makes contradictory statements about women. 
3. Though she may sound at times vicious or even depraved, she
can be seen as a victim of sexual neglect.
III. The key to the story of Bloom’s wanderings through the city of Dublin
lies in Homer’s Odyssey. Its hero is Odysseus, but his Latin name is
Ulysses, and Homer’s ancient epic tells the story of how he came back
to his native Ithaca after he mastemrinded the destruction of Troy.

A. Detained by various adventures and some beautiful women,
Ulysses nonetheless yeams to retum to his home, his son
Telemachus, and his supremely faithful wife, Penelope. 
B. During Ulysses’s twenty-year absence, Penelope is beset with
suitors pressing her to marry and devouring her food while
Telemachus feels powerless to act against them. 
C. Prompted by Athene, Telemachus goes off to seek his father. 
D. In the meantime, Ulysses makes his way home.
1. Leaving the nymph Calypso, he reaches the island of the
Phaiakians, where he tells the story of his ten-year voyage. 
2. Reaching Ithaca, he reveals himself to his son Telemachus and
the swineherd Eumaeus. 
3. Entering his house disguised as a beggar, he kills all the
suitors, retakes his house, and is reunited with Penelope.
IV. Joyce’s three main characters differ so radically from their Homeric
counterparts that they challenge us to find the correspondences.
A. Joyce conceives Ulysses as a “complete man”-a man of many
1. He is son, father, and husband, as well as king of Ithaca. 
2. He was originally a conscientious objector to the war against Troy. 
3. Once in the war, he fought to the end. 
4. He was a well-mannered gentleman. 
5. He invented the tank: the wooden horse.
B. Though Bloom is a pacifist who has scarcely ever been to sea and
has nothing like royal power, we will gradually see how his
wanderings around Dublin and his homecoming at the end ofthe
day reenact the story of Ulysses. Nevertheless, his refusal to take
any revenge on Molly’s lover makes us wonder just how Ulyssean
he is. 
C. Stephen and Molly raise special questions about their would-be
Homeric roles.
1. If Stephen Dedalus has no wish to see his biological father,
how can he stand for Ulysses’s devoted son Telemachus, who
sets out to find his father at the beginning of Homer’s epic? 
2. If Molly takes a lover into her own bed on Bloomsday, how
can she be reenacting the role of Penelope, the supremely
faithful wife of Ulysses?
V. Joyce’s novel replays Homer’s ancient song in an unmistakably
modern rhythm and key.
A. Leopold Bloom, the modern Ulysses, is a 38-year-old Dubliner
who makes his living by selling advertising space in a Dublin
B. Instead of making love to exotic women, such as Ulysses does, he
conducts a furtive correspondence with a semi-literate lady typist. 
C. Joyce catches in every possible way the life of Dublin in the early
twentieth century.

Supplementary Reading:

Kenner, Ulysses pp. 1-5.
Norris, Companion, pp. 2l~27.

Questions to Consider:

1. Why should any modem writer use the structure of an ancient epic as
the model for a novel?

2. If Homer’s Ulysses takes ten years to wander all around the
Mediterranean before reaching his home in Ithaca, how can his
adventures be retold by a story that takes place in a single city on a
single day?

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