On Reading Ulysses for the First Time

  1. Don’t panic.
  2. Don’t panic if after the first episode you haven’t understood much.
  3. Don’t panic if you don’t know if you’ve come to the end of the first episode.
  4. Everything comes to those that wait.
  5. Everything will be revealed by Linati and Gorman-Gilbert.
  6. Everything comes in twos and threes.
  7. If time permits, read Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
  8. If further time permits, read Homer’s Odyssey.
  9. If further time permits (after time permitting and further time permitting), read Frank Budgen’s James Joyce and the Making of ‘Ulysses’.
  10. Time is of the essence as it happens. All events take place on one day, 16 June 1904; ‘Bloomsday’ to later devotees.
  11. The novel begins twice, once with Stephen’s early morning and once with Bloom’s.
  12. The novel ends twice, once with Stephen and Bloom having ‘found’ each other and once with Molly’s soliloquy in bed.
  13. The novel’s space also matters.
  14. The Blooms live at number 7 Eccles Street on the north side of Dublin; Stephen is staying at the Martello Tower 9  miles south of Dublin on the coast at Sandycove (where the novel begins).
  15. Bloom is an advertising agent, Stephen for the time being a school-teacher. Dublin is where they meet.
  16. Consult the Linati schema and the Gilbert-Gorman plan.
  17. Begin now.
  18. I will. Yes.

A condensed version of a handout David Pierce gave to his students as preparation for reading Ulysses. It must be twenty years since I read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. My next reading stop.

8 thoughts on “On Reading Ulysses for the First Time

  1. >Time for me to revisit Portrait too I think. There was a time in high school when I was absolutely obsessed with the novel. My teenage copies of both Portrait and Stephen Hero are heavily annotated. Still have them but am a little wary of suffering my adolescent perspectives in middle age. Cowardly, I know. But perhaps those thoughts will surprise me?

  2. >Frances – I know how you feel. I came across some of my teenage poetry recently. Less said …Portrait got to me deeply when I read it first. I have been wary to reread in case it has less impact.

  3. >I'm destined, it seems, to fail Ulysses, for I've never gotten past page 300-and-something, and I've tried on four different occasions. I'm not a fan of this book, which surely reveals a lot about my limitations as a reader, I'm sure. In part I read the Search to prove to myself that I wasn't a half-bad reader, or at least a reader who could muster the necessary energy to soldier on. Periodically, I pick up Ulysses and thumb to a random page, but the experience is always the same: I stare at the words like a traveller at a foreign bit of food who fully expects to enjoy roasted scorpion only to get stung when it touches his mouth. Who knows, maybe the fifth time's a charm… Cheers, Kevin

  4. >Kevin – I adored reading Don Quixote recently, so much I am reading a children's version to my daughter. The previous two occasions I tried to read the book and failed are an anathema to me now. I am so pleased that I tried a third time.

  5. >Can't wait to hear how the Joyce project goes. I reread Portrait last year and it was worth it (and I meant to follow Portrait with Ishiguro's An Artist of the Floating World – have you read that?)I'd like to read Ulysses…maybe I'll join you!

  6. >verbivore – I'm half way through A Portrait and enjoying it, but on a very different level from when I read it twenty years ago, which I am finding fascinating. I enjoy Ishiguro but haven't read that book: did you?I'm about ready for Ulysses but think I might read the Odyssey first. I've read chunks in the past but never cover to cover.

  7. >Dear Anthony,I would add to all of those instructions–if it is at all possible to do so, Visit Dublin and walk at least the main routes in Ulysses. Bloom's walk in Laestrygonians is a fairly compact tour through the south Side of the city–taking in the Davy Byrne's, the library and museum and much of the Grafton Street Shopping area. The maternity hospital is just a short walk away down by Merrion Square where you have the added benefit of being able to see the recline statue of Oscar Wilde, Oscar Wilde's childhood home, and if you hook up the street near the home you can walk by the Chemist's Bloom goes to in the morning.If one can afford a long-weekend, it's worth the trip. A train out to Sandycove/Dun Laoghaire to see the Martello Tower, you pass by the Forty Feet and the Strand Stephen walks down in the second or third episode.I can say that it made a world of difference in my appreciation of Ulysses as a work of art. Perhaps it shouldn't have. But it does.Oh, and I'm not all that certain reading the Odyssey will provide much more light than _Portrait of the Artist_ does. Yes, he sort of arranged things around the titles of episodes in the Odyssey–but the allusions are very remote–one would struggle to make much sense of the Laestrygonians in such context and good luck with Cyclops or Oxen of the Sun.shalom,Stevenshalom,Steven

  8. >Steven – I recall reading your Joycean exploration of Dublin with great pleasure. It is good advice. David Pierce makes a similar suggestion; when teaching Ulysses his starting point was to get the students to walk the routes, learn the map.I needed little excuse to revisit A Portrait and am enjoying my rereading. I've yet to decide whether to read the Odyssey all the way through. I've read most of the major set pieces before.

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