Bloomsday

Portrait of James Joyce by Djuna Barnes

How to read Ulysses

Ulysses art by Roman Muradov

Selections from one-star Amazon reviews of Ulysses

joyce_ulysses-p2

Ulysses manuscript page

A list of Irish heroes (from “The Cyclops” episode of Ulysses)

“Words,” a page from one of Joyce’s notebooks for Ulysses

Another page of Joyce’s notes, plus links to more

James Joyce talks dirty

Filming Finnegans

James Joyce’s eye glasses prescription

William Faulkner’s Joyce anxiety

Ezra Pound on James Joyce

Marilyn Monroe reads Molly 

Biblioklept’s lousy review (the review is lousy, not the book) of Dubliners

Joyce’s entry on the 1901 Irish Census

Joyce’s caricature of Leopold Bloom

Biblioklept’s review (not so lousy, the review) of a superior full-cast audio recording of Ulysses

James Joyce explains why Odysseus is the most “complete man’ in literature

James Joyce’s passport

Leopold’s Bloom’s recipe for burnt kidney breakfast

“What in water did Bloom, waterlover, drawer of water, watercarrier, returning to the range, admire?”

James Joyce’s death mask


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Download RTÉ’s Superb Audio Production of James Joyce’s Ulysses

patch2James Joyce’s Ulysses might seem like a prohibitively difficult book, but it’s not as hard to read as its reputation suggests. There are any number of strategies for tackling the great tome (although enjoying or experiencing are more fitting verbs here), but one that many readers might overlook is listening to an audio recording.

I’ve tried a few audio versions of Ulysses, and none can hold a candle to RTÉ’s 1982 full cast production. I reviewed it a few years ago, and wrote:

I listened to, absorbed, choked up at, guffawed about, cackled around, and generally loved RTÉ’s 1982 dramatized, soundtracked, sound-effected, lovingly detailed recording of Ulysses, a work crammed with voices to match (if perhaps not equal) Joyce’s big fat work. This recording is not as widely available as LibriVox’s (free) full cast production or Jim Norton’s Naxos reading, but, after sampling both, I’d argue that it’s better. The Irish players bring sensitivity and humor to their roles, but beyond that pathos, the energy of RTÉ’s troupe is what really makes the book sing. Leopold Bloom gets his own voice, as does Stephen Dedalus and Molly (and all the characters). This innovation propels the narrative forward with dramatic power, and clarifies the oh-so indirectness of Joyce’s free indirect style, making the plot’s pitfalls and pratfalls more distinct and defined. There are songs (and dances) and music (and musing) and humming (and hemming and hawing and reverb). There is chanting and chawing and brouhaha. There is chaos and calamity and confusion. There is brilliance and peace and transcendence. It’s all very good, great, wonderful.

You can listen to and/or download the production here (big thanks to reader Eve for sending the link in!).

Summary of Bloom’s Day in Ulysses — Evan Lavender-Smith (From Old Notebooks)

Makes breakfast for his wife. Goes to the butcher. Goes to the post office. Goes to church. Goes to a chemist. Goes to a public bath. Goes to a funeral. Goes to a newspaper press. Goes to a locksmith to canvass an ad. Feeds some seagulls. Goes to a bar. Helps a blind man cross the street. Goes to the museum. Goes to to the library. Visits a bookseller. Window-shops. Goes to a restaurant. Listens to some live music. Writes a love letter. Goes to another bar. Nearly gets in a fight. Masturbates to a beautiful eighteen-year-old exhibitionist giving him a private show. Takes an alfresco nap. Takes up a collection for a widow. Goes to a hospital to visit a pregnant woman. Flits with a nurse. Feeds a stray dog. Goes to a whorehouse. Helps avert a row with the police. Goes to a cabman’s shelter and listens to a sailor tell stories. Breaks into his own house. Urinates under the stars with another man. Watches the sunrise. Kisses his wife on her arse.

It would have been the single busiest, most adventurous day of my life.

From Evan Lavender-Smith’s From Old Notebooks.

 

Five Favorite Fictional Fathers

Literature seems to have an ambivalence toward fatherhood that’s too complex to address in a simple blog post–so I won’t even try. But before I riff on a few of my favorite fathers from a few of my favorite books, I think it’s worth pointing out how rare biological fathers of depth and complexity are in literature. That’s a huge general statement, I’m sure, and I welcome counterexamples, of course, but it seems like relationships between fathers and their children are somehow usually deferred, deflected, or represented in a shallow fashion. Perhaps it’s because we like our heroes to be orphans (whether it’s Moses or Harry Potter, Oliver Twist or Peter Parker) that literature tends to eschew biological fathers in favor of father figures (think of Leopold Bloom supplanting Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses, or Merlin taking over Uther Pendragon‘s paternal duties in the Arthur legends). At other times, the father is simply not present in the same narrative as his son or daughter (think of Telemachus and brave Odysseus, or Holden Caulfield wandering New York free from fatherly guidance). What I’ve tried to do below is provide examples of father-child relationships drawn with psychological and thematic depth; or, to put it another way, here are some fathers who actually have relationships with their kids.

Prospero and Miranda--William Maw Egley

Prospero and Miranda–William Maw Egley

1. Prospero, The Tempest (William Shakespeare)

Prospero has always seemed to me the shining flipside to King Lear’s dark coin, a powerful sorcerer who reverses his exile and is gracious even in his revenge. Where Lear is destroyed by his scheming daughters (and his inability to connect to truehearted Cordelia), Prospero, a single dad, protects his Miranda and even secures her a worthy suitor. Postcolonial studies aside, The Tempest is fun stuff.

2. Abraham Ebdus, The Fortress of Solitude, (Jonathan Lethem)

Like Prospero, Abraham Ebdus is a single father raising his child (his son Dylan) in an isolated, alienating place (not a desert island, but 1970′s Brooklyn). After Dylan’s mother abandons the family, the pair’s relationship begins to strain; Lethem captures this process in all its awkward pain with a poignancy that never even verges on schlock. The novel’s redemptive arc is ultimately figured in the reconciliation between father and son in a beautiful ending that Lethem, the reader, and the characters all earn.

3. Jack Gladney, White Noise (Don DeLillo)

While Jack Gladney is an intellectual academic, an expert in the unlikely field of “Hitler studies” (and something of a fraud, to boot), he’s also a pretty normal dad. Casual reviewers of White Noise tend to overlook the sublime banality of domesticity represented in DeLillo’s signature novel: Gladney is an excellent father to his many kids and step-kids, and DeLillo draws their relationships with a realism that belies–and perhaps helps to create–the novel’s satirical bent.

4. Oscar Amalfitano, 2666 (Roberto Bolaño)

Sure, philosophy professor Amalfitano is a bit mentally unhinged (okay, more than a bit), but what sane citizen of Santa Teresa wouldn’t go crazy, what with all the horrific unsolved murders? After his wife leaves him and their young daughter, Amalfitano takes them to the strange, alienating land of Northern Mexico (shades of Prospero’s island?) Bolaño portrays Amalfitano’s descent into paranoia (and perhaps madness) from a number of angles (he and his daughter show up in three of 2666‘s three sections), and as the novel progresses, the reader slowly begins to grasp the enormity of the evil that Amalfitano is confronting (or, more realistically, is unable to confront directly), and the extreme yet vague danger his daughter is encountering. Only a writer of Bolaño’s tremendous gift could make such a chilling episode simultaneously nerve-wracking, philosophical, and strangely hilarious.

5. The father, The Road (Cormac McCarthy)

What happens when Prospero’s desert island is just one big desert? If there is a deeper expression of the empathy and bonding between a child and parent, I have not read it. In The Road, McCarthy dramatizes fatherhood in apocalyptic terms, positing the necessity of such a relationship in hard, concrete, life and death terms. When the father tells his son “You are the best guy” I pretty much break down. When I first read The Road, I had just become a father myself (my child was only a few days old when I finished it), yet I was still critical of McCarthy’s ending, which affords a second chance for the son. It seemed to me at the time–as it does now–that the logic McCarthy establishes in his novel is utterly infanticidal, that the boy must die, but I understand now why McCarthy would have him live–why McCarthy has to let him live. Someone has to carry the fire.


Blah Blah Bloomsday

How to read Ulysses

A list of Irish heroes (from “The Cyclops” episode of Ulysses)

“Words,” a page from one of Joyce’s notebooks for Ulysses:

Another page of Joyce’s notes, plus links to more

James Joyce talks dirty

Filming Finnegans

James Joyce’s eye glasses prescription:

William Faulkner’s Joyce anxiety

Marilyn Monroe reads Molly 

Biblioklept’s lousy review (the review is lousy, not the book) of Dubliners

Joyce’s entry on the 1901 Irish Census

Joyce’s caricature of Leopold Bloom:

Biblioklept’s review (not so lousy, the review) of a superior full-cast audio recording of Ulysses

James Joyce explains why Odysseus is the most “complete man’ in literature

James Joyce’s passport:

Leopold’s Bloom’s recipe for burnt kidney breakfast

James Joyce’s death mask:


James Joyce’s Caricature of Leopold Bloom

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From Richard Ellman’s great big bio James Joyce.

James Joyce’s Burnt Kidney Breakfast

Another entry in our ongoing series of literary recipes to celebrate Thanksgiving.

Leopold Bloom, hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses likes kidneys for breakfast. In fact–

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

Okay, so there’s not much to this recipe. First, you’ve gotta buy the kidney–

A kidney oozed bloodgouts on the willowpatterned dish: the last. He stood by the nextdoor girl at the counter. Would she buy it too, calling the items from a slip in her hand? Chapped: washingsoda. And a pound and a half of Denny’s sausages.

Then you cook it with some butter in a frying pan (don’t forget to share with the cat, and don’t forget the pepper)–

While he unwrapped the kidney the cat mewed hungrily against him. Give her too much meat she won’t mouse. Say they won’t eat pork. Kosher. Here. He let the bloodsmeared paper fall to her and dropped the kidney amid the sizzling butter sauce. Pepper. He sprinkled it through his fingers ringwise from the chipped eggcup.

Then take your lazy adulterous wife her breakfast that you’ve lovingly prepared for her (she’ll need her strength for later). Oh, and don’t forget about the kidney that’s still cooking for you (unless you’re making some kind of subconscious symbolic burnt offering or something)–

—There’s a smell of burn, she said. Did you leave anything on the fire?

—The kidney! he cried suddenly.

He fitted the book roughly into his inner pocket and, stubbing his toes against the broken commode, hurried out towards the smell, stepping hastily down the stairs with a flurried stork’s legs. Pungent smoke shot up in an angry jet from a side of the pan. By prodding a prong of the fork under the kidney he detached it and turned it turtle on its back. Only a little burnt. He tossed it off the pan on to a plate and let the scanty brown gravy trickle over it.

Enjoy with gravy, toast, and a cup of tea–

Cup of tea now. He sat down, cut and buttered a slice of the loaf. He shore away the burnt flesh and flung it to the cat. Then he put a forkful into his mouth, chewing with discernment the toothsome pliant meat. Done to a turn. A mouthful of tea. Then he cut away dies of bread, sopped one in the gravy and put it in his mouth. What was that about some young student and a picnic? He creased out the letter at his side, reading it slowly as he chewed, sopping another die of bread in the gravy and raising it to his mouth.

He sopped other dies of bread in the gravy and ate piece after piece of kidney.

We Review RTÉ’s Full Cast Audio Recording of James Joyce’s Ulysses

My third (complete) trip through James Joyce’s Ulysses finds me just as (or even more than) stunned as the previous two journeys, a bit (very much) unequal to properly reviewing the book, but this time with an easy out — I listened to an unabridged, full cast audio recording. The aforementioned “easy out” is resting on the received greatness and goodness (and evilness) of the book, which I will hardly contend with and heartily endorse (and do very little real critical work to support my endorsement). Ulysses is fantastic. But what about this audio recording?

First thing’s first — I listened to, absorbed, choked up at, guffawed about, cackled around, and generally loved RTÉ’s 1982 dramatized, soundtracked, sound-effected, lovingly detailed recording of Ulysses, a work crammed with voices to match (if perhaps not equal) Joyce’s big fat work. This recording is not as widely available as LibriVox’s (free) full cast production or Jim Norton’s Naxos reading, but, after sampling both, I’d argue that it’s better. The Irish players bring sensitivity and humor to their roles, but beyond that pathos, the energy of RTÉ’s troupe is what really makes the book sing. Leopold Bloom gets his own voice, as does Stephen Dedalus and Molly (and all the characters). This innovation propels the narrative forward with dramatic power, and clarifies the oh-so indirectness of Joyce’s free indirect style, making the plot’s pitfalls and pratfalls more distinct and defined. There are songs (and dances) and music (and musing) and humming (and hemming and hawing and reverb). There is chanting and chawing and brouhaha. There is chaos and calamity and confusion. There is brilliance and peace and transcendence. It’s all very good, great, wonderful.

So: Who is a full cast unabridged audio recording of Ulysses for? Say, for instance, can someone who’s never read Ulysses listen to this instead?

I don’t know.

Here’s what I think though: Ulysses begs to be read aloud, is musical, soundical. Beyond obvious chapters like episode 11, “Sirens,” an overtly musical interlude that actually hurt my throat the first (second?) time I read it (even though I read it that time silently) — beyond the obvious musicality of “Sirens,” Ulysses hums and thrums and bristles and thumps with lively, vocal, melodious, rhythmic energy, pulses in sound and vision. The full cast reading, to cling to a hoary cliché, brings this sound and vision to life, animating Joyce’s words with a just vitality. But I’ve tripped into details, put carts before horses — the prime advantage for an audio recording of Ulysses to newbies is probably how clearly (and audibly, ahem) it delineates the book’s plot. But –

At the same time, I think anyone reading the book for the first time will want to read it along with the audio recording. Read along as in literally read along with, or, more likely read first or after — chapter by chapter that is. Yes, I think, yes, that’s what I’d recommend (lagersoaked now as my brain might be) — read a chapter first, then listen, then read another (or reread). Rinse. Lather. Repeat.

The Cast at Work

Now I retreat to that ugly bastard of literary criticism, reader response shtick, the stuff of fellows who can’t make real claims on the work itself but rather hide behind how the book made me feel and think and blah blah blah. Sorry. I break myself against Ulysses. And it’s not even the book, truth be told (to trot out another hoary cliché) — I’ve reviewed books here that sought to rival Ulysses, books that undoubtedly contend with it — it’s more the critical tradition that accompanies Ulysses that daunts me. But enough. Anyone who wishes to read pages of graduate school work on the subject, written by moi, may apply below. Suffice to say for now that I loved loved loved listening to this audio recording.

Perhaps because I was so familiar (or familiar enough) with Joyce’s themes at this reading/auditing, I was able to relax during this odyssey through Joyce’s epic. To put it another way, I felt no need to be “on” — to pick up allusions, to grasp at threads — and trip over them. Instead, I found a human dimension to Joyce’s work, one I’d felt there before, but perhaps not fully experienced (I am not claiming that I have fully experienced Ulysses). I laughed. I angered. I spit. I snarled. I cried (yes, I cried; at the mention of Rudy at the end of “Circes,” and then, again, at the end of the novel, just a bit, when I felt (felt) Molly’s love for her husband). There might have been a stirring at the loins.

I found a confirmation of my favorite episodes: “Circe,” foremost, an apocalyptic carnival brought to a bristling boil in the Irish cast’s capable choir. The aforementioned “Sirens” sings of course; far more pleasant, really, to hear than read. “Telemachus,” sure, who can nay-say an opener like that, although it’s really just the opener to the prelude to the real opener “Calypso” — great stuff. What earthy joy to meet Bloom. “Hades” — a sad treat. “Aeolus” — a funny treat, windily rebounding in vim and vigor and vigorous vim. The library episode — “Scylla and Charybdis” — I’ve always thought of it as Hamlet and Stephen, or grandfathers and ghosts — becomes clearer in the voices of RTÉ’s cast. Clearer not in the sense of: “Now I understand what Stephen’s getting at,” but clearer in the sense: “Now I see where Stephen sees what he is not quite sure he is getting at.” That chapter on pig-headed closemindedness, “The Cyclops” — a triumph, a magnitude, a bold chuckle. And “Penelope.” Well, yes, great stuff.

It’s more remarkable, I suppose, the ways in which RTÉ’s recording illuminated those chapters I’d struggled with, those that had made me yawn. The first, tedious, purposefully clichéd half of “Nausica” tried my patience (get back to Bloom!) — but the actress who reads it highlights the chapter’s tedium, its commonplaces — even as it/she rushes to that juicy climax. “Proteus”: far more manageable than I’d remembered. And “The Oxen of the Sun” (aka that chapter that I never really read properly) — well, with a full band of nasty drunken med students, a bold narrator (and a sympathetic nurse), this stumbling rock becomes a springboard to the madness I so love (and have loved) in “Circe.” In the once-trying catechism of “Ithaca,” the actors find a rhythmic bounce, a dry crunching that explodes in the wet gush of “Penelope.” And didn’t I say, yes, great stuff.

What this audio recording does best is humanize Joyce’s characters. While there is never a doubt that they are set against their mythotypical forebears, I found in Joyce’s characters this time a deep specificity, a concreteness of place, a realness. I found no need to situate a Bloom-as-Odysseus correspondence. Molly did not have to be an earth goddess. Stephen was freed from the burden of Hamlet. Sure, metempsychosis was in play, but it was a backdrop, not a foregrounding, determining analytical program. I think the audio recording helped transmit this humanity, a humanity that was always there, obscured by the clutter of critical tradition.

If I haven’t been clear: Very highly recommended.

The Miracles of Leopold Bloom

A passage from “Circe,” my favorite chapter of Ulysses–

BLOOM: Shoot him! Dog of a christian! So much for M’Intosh!

(A cannonshot. The man in the macintosh disappears. Bloom with his sceptre strikes down poppies. The instantaneous deaths of many powerful enemies, graziers, members of parliament, members of standing committees, are reported. Bloom’s bodyguard distribute Maundy money, commemoration medals, loaves and fishes, temperance badges, expensive Henry Clay cigars, free cowbones for soup, rubber preservatives in sealed envelopes tied with gold thread, butter scotch, pineapple rock, billets doux in the form of cocked hats, readymade suits, porringers of toad in the hole, bottles of Jeyes’ Fluid, purchase stamps, 40 days’ indulgences, spurious coins, dairyfed pork sausages, theatre passes, season tickets available for all tramlines, coupons of the royal and privileged Hungarian lottery, penny dinner counters, cheap reprints of the World’s Twelve Worst Books: Froggy And Fritz (politic), Care of the Baby (infantilic), 50 Meals for 7/6 (culinic), Was Jesus a Sun Myth? (historic), Expel that Pain (medic), Infant’s Compendium of the Universe (cosmic), Let’s All Chortle (hilaric), Canvasser’s Vade Mecum (journalic), Loveletters of Mother Assistant (erotic), Who’s Who in Space (astric), Songs that Reached Our Heart (melodic), Pennywise’s Way to Wealth (parsimonic). A general rush and scramble. Women press forward to touch the hem of Bloom’s robe. The Lady Gwendolen Dubedat bursts through the throng, leaps on his horse and kisses him on both cheeks amid great acclamation. A magnesium flashlight photograph is taken. Babes and sucklings are held up.)

THE WOMEN: Little father! Little father!

THE BABES AND SUCKLINGS:

Clap clap hands till Poldy comes home,
Cakes in his pocket for Leo alone.

(Bloom, bending down, pokes Baby Boardman gently in the stomach.)

BABY BOARDMAN: (Hiccups, curdled milk flowing from his mouth) Hajajaja.

BLOOM: (Shaking hands with a blind stripling) My more than Brother! (Placing his arms round the shoulders of an old couple) Dear old friends! (He plays pussy fourcorners with ragged boys and girls) Peep! Bopeep! (He wheels twins in a perambulator) Ticktacktwo wouldyousetashoe? (He performs juggler’s tricks, draws red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo and violet silk handkerchiefs from his mouth) Roygbiv. 32 feet per second. (He consoles a widow) Absence makes the heart grow younger. (He dances the Highland fling with grotesque antics) Leg it, ye devils! (He kisses the bedsores of a palsied veteran) Honourable wounds! (He trips up a fit policeman) U. p: up. U. p: up. (He whispers in the ear of a blushing waitress and laughs kindly) Ah, naughty, naughty! (He eats a raw turnip offered him by Maurice Butterly, farmer) Fine! Splendid! (He refuses to accept three shillings offered him by Joseph Hynes, journalist) My dear fellow, not at all! (He gives his coat to a beggar) Please accept. (He takes part in a stomach race with elderly male and female cripples) Come on, boys! Wriggle it, girls!

James Joyce’s Burnt Kidney Breakfast

Leopold Bloom, hero of James Joyce’s Ulysses likes kidneys for breakfast. In fact–

Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liverslices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

Okay, so there’s not much to this recipe. First, you’ve gotta buy the kidney–

A kidney oozed bloodgouts on the willowpatterned dish: the last. He stood by the nextdoor girl at the counter. Would she buy it too, calling the items from a slip in her hand? Chapped: washingsoda. And a pound and a half of Denny’s sausages.

Then you cook it with some butter in a frying pan (don’t forget to share with the cat, and don’t forget the pepper)–

While he unwrapped the kidney the cat mewed hungrily against him. Give her too much meat she won’t mouse. Say they won’t eat pork. Kosher. Here. He let the bloodsmeared paper fall to her and dropped the kidney amid the sizzling butter sauce. Pepper. He sprinkled it through his fingers ringwise from the chipped eggcup.

Then take your lazy adulterous wife her breakfast that you’ve lovingly prepared for her (she’ll need her strength for later). Oh, and don’t forget about the kidney that’s still cooking for you (unless you’re making some kind of subconscious symbolic burnt offering or something)–

—There’s a smell of burn, she said. Did you leave anything on the fire?

—The kidney! he cried suddenly.

He fitted the book roughly into his inner pocket and, stubbing his toes against the broken commode, hurried out towards the smell, stepping hastily down the stairs with a flurried stork’s legs. Pungent smoke shot up in an angry jet from a side of the pan. By prodding a prong of the fork under the kidney he detached it and turned it turtle on its back. Only a little burnt. He tossed it off the pan on to a plate and let the scanty brown gravy trickle over it.

Enjoy with gravy, toast, and a cup of tea–

Cup of tea now. He sat down, cut and buttered a slice of the loaf. He shore away the burnt flesh and flung it to the cat. Then he put a forkful into his mouth, chewing with discernment the toothsome pliant meat. Done to a turn. A mouthful of tea. Then he cut away dies of bread, sopped one in the gravy and put it in his mouth. What was that about some young student and a picnic? He creased out the letter at his side, reading it slowly as he chewed, sopping another die of bread in the gravy and raising it to his mouth.

He sopped other dies of bread in the gravy and ate piece after piece of kidney.