I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book. —James Joyce
Back when I was a sophomore at Kent State University, I had the good fortune to study under Dr. Culleton, who is, though I didn’t know it at the time, a Joyce fanatic. She tricked me and the rest of our British Novelists class into falling in love with Joyce.
It began simply enough. The reading list included Conrad’s Nigger of the Narcissus, Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray and Joyce’s Ulysses. We blasted through most of the reading list and hunkered down with U, as it came to be called, for most of the semester.
Some of us were excited, others intimidated, still others stressed out that we wouldn’t “get” it. Dr. Culleton was so in love with Joyce, and she wanted so badly for others to see his brilliance that her patience guided her teaching of the book, never allowing us to become discouraged, always enthusiastic and finally overjoyed when we all “got” it. We got it so much, and loved Joyce so much that Dr. Culleton petitioned the Dean to allow her to teach a James Joyce seminar class the following semester, and we all attended.
Since that first time though, I’ve completed U five times. I even was paid by one of the other instructors at the university to teach him how to read it. Each time, the book is more interesting, more funny, less complex and more enjoyable.
For Joyce, the special significance of 16 June 1904 was that on that date he had his first date with 20 year old Nora Barnacle, a chambermaid he’d met on 10 June on Nassau street. She’d stood him up on the 14th (or 15th?), but he wrote her a note asking for another meeting, and by August (‘heavenly summer”) they were in love.
When the book was published, however, a huge scandal ensued, many claiming that the book was “obscene” or “pornographic”. It was contraband in the United States, and had to be shipped to America in a false book jacket.
But it is not pornographic or obscene. It is beautiful. Each chapter is written in a different style, culminating with Molly’s stream-of-consciousness soliloquy at the end. Plenty of guidebooks exist on how to read Ulysses, but the best piece of advice I can give to anyone is to not get too wrapped up in the details of it the first time though. Dr. Culleton compared reading Ulysses to seeing someone walking in a snowstorm. You see them out the window, you cannot get any details about them, but the important thing is that you see them.
Happy Bloomsday. Tip a pint for Bloom.
(Note: I was unable to find online the best edition of Ulysses. If you plan to buy it, pick up ULYSSES, The Corrected Text, edited by Hans Walter Gabler.)