Later On

A blog written for those whose interests more or less match mine.

How to read ‘Ulysses’? With gratitude.

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With gratitude and with others, it would seem. Manisha Aggarwal-Schifellite writes in The Harvard Gazette:

Four years ago, Sorcha Ashe ’22 enrolled in the seminar “Complexity in Works of Art: Ulysses and Hamlet” with a lofty goal: read one of the most challenging novels in the modern English canon.

“‘Ulysses’ has kind of a lore around it as being an impossibly complicated book, and I definitely thought that it was going to be beyond me when I started,” said Ashe, an integrative biology concentrator from St. Paul, Minnesota. “But I had always wanted to read it because my father is Irish and it’s his favorite book.”

Guided by instructor Philip Fisher, Felice Cowl Reid Professor of English, Ashe and her classmates journeyed together through James Joyce’s Irish modernist classic, which was first published in book form in February 1922. The rewards were equal to the task.

“I found it to be one of the most enjoyable reading experiences I’ve ever had,” Ashe said. “To get to talk about those challenging parts and the enjoyable parts with other people made the experience so much more valuable than it would have been if I had read it on my own. It was such a joy to hear different people’s takes on the same set of words.”

Ashe’s struggle and delight with the novel echo century-old refrains from Joyce’s contemporaries. Fellow modernists including Virginia Woolf and T.S. Eliot reacted with confusion and envy to the author’s combination of rich prose, shifting perspectives, and Homeric allusions in a meandering interior story that spans but a single day.

“Virginia Woolf was quite defensive about ‘Ulysses’ when it came out, because she said it was boring and overrated,” said Beth Blum, an assistant professor of English and Joyce scholar. “But after sitting with it more, she saw what he was trying to do and appreciated it. She began to see that Joyce was, as she put it, trying to get thinking into literature.”

Eliot lamented: “It is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape.”

The book’s hold on literary culture is matched by few others, Blum noted. Internet searches yield multiple “how-to” guides for reading the novel, numerous essays debating whether one should even try, and arguments about which version should be read — with or without typos. All of these elements have coalesced into mythology, said Blum.

“Reading a book like ‘Ulysses’ represents a form of cultural capital and education, but the novel is also associated with a more democratic experience of humanity through the common man, Leopold Bloom,” she said, referencing Joyce’s protagonist. “Approaching the novel as a personal challenge allows you to reckon with difficulty and learn to persevere in the face of ambiguity and uncertainty. I think that is part of the reason why it continues to appeal to people and endures.”

Reflecting on her College experience with “Ulysses,” Ashe said the novel altered . . .

Continue reading.

Note this post on which edition/printing to read. The inexpensive Kindle editions, for example, are generally from the first printing and riddled with typos.

Written by Leisureguy

28 February 2022 at 9:02 pm

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