Lecture Twenty-Four -- Joyce and the Modern Novel
(from "Joyce's Ulysses" by Professor James A.W. Hefferman of Dartmouth College)
This final lecture situates Ulysses in the history of English fiction,
suggests a possible answer to one of the questions raised by its
ending, and briefly considers the sequel to Ulysses-Finnegans
Wake. The absence of decisive answers to many of the questions
raised by this novel exemplifies Joyce’s refusal to follow the rules
of conventional plotting, for here is chiefly a story of characters
who lack clear-cut motivation and achieve almost nothing specific
by the end. To set Joyce’s novel beside its nineteenth-century
predecessors is to see that he virtually exploded the form while
nonetheless binding his universalizing vision to the richly
particularized streets of Dublin on a quite specific day. His story is
timeless because we are all wanderers who know what it means to
return, and for this reason, it is at least possible that Bloom and
Molly will return to each other sexually. In any case, Joyce himself
returned to the major themes and characters of Ulysses when he
recycled them in the ever-circling “riverrun” of Finnegans Wake.
I. The ending of Ulysses leaves major questions unanswered because
Joyce has no use for the conventional rules of plotting, which require
clear-cut motivation and decisive resolution.
A. Different as they are, nineteenth~century novels such as Jane
Austen’s Pride and Prejudice and Charles Dickens’s Great
Expectations resolve nearly all their conflicts by means of
1. At the end of Pride and Prejudice the heroine and herB. By contrast, the chief characters of Ulysses lack clear motivation
sister--who will inherit very little from their father and are
therefore, looking for suitable husbands--marry rich and
handsome young men.
2. At the end of Great Expectations, three pairs of characters are
married, and the hero--who has gratified his desire for
gentility with the aid of a mysterious benefaction--still
expects to gratify his desire for Estella by marrying her.
and achieve almost nothing specific by the end.
1. Stephen takes no specific steps toward any profession andC. Joyce avoids the sensationalism of earlier novels.
does not even know where he will spend the night when he
leaves Bloom’s house.
2. Bloom can hardly say who he is when he tries to leave a
message for Gerty on the beach, and his plan to adopt Stephen
as a surrogate son goes nowhere.
3. We do not know whether Bloom and Molly will ever again
have sex, and we don’t know whether Molly’s affair with
Boylan will continue.
1. Though Dignam is buried, nobody dies in this novel.
2. Except for the ghostly visitations of Stephen’s mother and the
wild hallucinations of the “Circe” chapter, Joyce eschewg
violence, terror, horror, and bloodshed.
3. In spite of its passages of obscenity, this novel offers nothing
like the sex scenes furnished by nineteenth-century soft-porn
Il. Ulysses is also distinguished from earlier fiction by its dazzling
diversity of voices and styles.
A. Before Joyce, novels were largely dominated by a single narrative
B. Ulysses speaks with many voices and from many different
1. Chapter 7 apes the layout of a newspaper.
2. Chapter 12 includes 33 parodies interspersed with the
3. Chapter 13 suddenly lurches in the middle from one viewpoint
4. Chapter I4 parodies every stage of the English language from
Anglo-Saxon to high Victorian.
III. In spite of its bewildering diversity, Ulysses differs 3 narrative of events
realistically situated in space and time.
A. Joyce sets his narrative in a fully realized place,
1. He painstakingly re-creates the sights and sounds and smellsB. Throughout the novel, Joyce registers the passage of time.
2. Because Molly grew up in Gibraltar, he packed her
monologue with so many facts about the island that a native of
the place refused to believe Joyce had never set foot on it.
1. Once he learns that Boylan is coming to see Molly at 4:00,
Bloom can hardly keep his eyes off his watch or any available
2. Even lying awake in the wee hours of the morning, Molly
counts the hours as well as the days.
IV. Nevertheless, Joyce manipulates time in various ways.
A. He turns back the ticking of the clock to show that two or more
things are happening at once.
1. Chapters l-3 take Stephen through the morning fromB. He ruptures time or treats a particular event as timeless.
breakfast to his walk on Sandymount Strand; likewise,
chapters 4-6 take Bloom through his morning from breakfast
through Paddy Dignam’s funeral.
2. In chapter 10, “Wandering Rocks,” many people make their
way through Dublin at the same time, and each has business
of his or her own.
1. The long hallucinations of the “Circe” chapter are essentially
timeless breaks in the realistic passage of the night.
2. The parodies of chapter l2 sometimes recast its action in a
wholly different period of time.
3. The succession of styles in chapter 14 prompts us to see the
events of the night-and of the whole day-as timeless
reenactments of events long past.
V. Joyce’s story is timeless because Bloom reincarnates Ulysses, the
archetypal wanderer who finally comes home.
A. Building on the principle of reincarnation, Joyce repeatedly
bridges the gaps between Ulysses and Bloom.
B. His novel takes its shape at once from the structure of a day and
the structure of Homer’s epic.
1. The structure of Ulysses is tripartite: a three-chapter
Telemachiad introducing Stephen, a long central section on
the wanderings of Bloom, and a final three-chapter section on
2. Even the seemingly uncontrolled monologue of Molly at the
end is dictated by a principle of symmetry; it balances the
male monologue of Stephen in chapter 3.
VI. Though we don’t know for certain what happens at the end to the
relation between Molly and Bloom, the final chapter gives us reason to
believe that they may resume having sexual intercourse.
A. In asking Molly to serve him breakfast in bed, Bloom makes it
clear that the day after Bloomsday will be different.
1. By the end of the monologue, it’s also clear that she hasB. The resumption of sexual relations between them is a distinct
agreed to serve him.
2. Though this doesn’t mean that he will ever treat her as a
servant, it may mean that he seeks to revive the reciprocity of
their first love, with each giving and taking in equal shares.
1. Bloom is perfectly capable of having sex with Molly again,
and nothing in the novel tells us definitely that it cannot
2. Molly finds Bloom not only more refined than Boylan but
VII. Joyce’s own next move was to spend 17 years writing Finnegans
Wake, published in 1939. Pursuing the course begun by Ulysses,
Joyce’s last novel offers a night vision of the world in which history is
A. Taking its title from an Irish ballad about a man who dies and is
revived by whiskey, this novel treats death and regeneration. lt
exemplifies the process of returning and recycling that we have
seen in Ulysses.
1. Leopold Bloom, the paterfamilias of Ulysses, is succeeded byB. Though timeless and universal in its range, the novel’s vision of
a pub owner named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker.
2. Molly herself becomes Humphrey’s wife, Anna Livia, whose
name evoked the River Liffey.
3. The night vision of Finnegans Wake recalls and recycles the
nocturnal monologue of Molly Bloom.
4. The novel begins in the middle of a sentence that begins at the
very end of the novel, so the end takes us back to the
universal history keeps its eyes on Dublin, the world of Ubfsses.
1. Its very first sentence refers to a castle and a river that may
respectively symbolize the city-building of mankind and the
fertility of womankind.
2. It also evokes Howth Head, where Molly and Bloom first
consummated their love.
3. Together, castle and river signify a city whose rivers flow to
the sea, which Buck Mulligan blessed on the very first page of
Vlll. In Ulysses, Joyce unweaves and reweaves the work of an ancient poet
who remains forever alive because his tale can be reanimated by each
Questions to Consider:
1. If Joyce aims to tell a timeless story in Ulysses, why does his novel
seem so preoccupied with specific times of the day and night?
2. Does Joyce finally persuade you that Leopold Bloom is the
reincarnation of Homer’s Ulysses?