First editionFirst edition


Novel, 1922
approx. 286,000 words
On Greatest lists
Notable lines
First line

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

Great lines

Thought is the thought of thought

Stephen jerked his thumb towards the window, saying:
— That is God.
Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee!
— What? Mr Deasy asked.
— A shout in the street, Stephen answered, shrugging his shoulders.

History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea.

What's in a name? That is what we ask ourselves in childhood when we write the name that we are told is ours.

Bury the dead. Say Robinson Crusoe was true to life. Well then Friday buried him. Every Friday buries a Thursday if you come to look at it.

Last line

Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.

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Adrift on the stream of consciousness

I've read this book five times. It's not that I love it so much. I don't.

It may be because I've heard so often that Ulysses is the greatest novel of the twentieth century. Or perhaps because it's so difficult, I figured I had to keep reading it until I got it.

I think I get it now. And I think I'll never read it again.

Oh, I might reread Molly Bloom's long unpunctuated soliloquy that ends the book. She's the randy, concert-singing wife of advertising agent Leopold Bloom whose wanderings around Dublin are followed in much of the book. When Joyce gets around to writing frankly the thoughts passing through Molly's mind, the result is wonderful, much different from the intellectual ramblings of her husband and the other main character, Stephen Dedalus. Molly Bloom's direct, simple language speaks to—and moves—the reader more than all the rest of the novel. It concludes Ulysses on a passionate, life-affirming note.

And I might browse through a few of the other livelier sections, like the phantasmagoric visit to the red-light district by Stephen Dedalus (who has loosened up some since A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man but is still insufferably self-absorbed), a section written as an hallucinatory, demonic piece of theatre.

Ulysses is famous of course for introducing stream of consciousness to fiction. Characters' thoughts, fragments of memory and fantasies are mixed with input from the outside world. But it is all rather academic for me. Despite Joyce's attempts to replicate the flow of sensation through characters' minds with a diverse repertoire of literary effects, I doubt anyone has such intelligible thought processes as the characters in Ulysses do; in my own experience, vast stretches of mental time are passed without any thoughts that are expressed internally in words.

This is a failing of the literary stream-of-consciousness method. An author must either include blank pages, pages of scribbling, musical notes, etc., or give up the pretence that one is reproducing the mental process. An author has to acknowledge that, out of the nearly infinite range of daily human experience, he is selecting specific items to put together artificially to represent through language what is largely inarticulate.

The stream-of-consciousness approach introduced by Joyce has had a great effect on modern writing, but Ulysses may be the over-the-top experiment (we won't even mention Finnegans Wake) that has allowed other writers to use the technique selectively as is appropriate in their writing.

I have to mention the significance of the title. Yes, the peregrinations of the characters around the city is supposed to parallel the journey of Ulysses in Homer's Odyssey until he arrives home to his Penelope (Molly). The trip to "nighttown" (the brothels) is like Ulysses' descent to Hades, and so on.

But this kind of overbearing allegory always leaves me cold. The novel either works with characterization, narrative and such, or it doesn't. Noting that it is structurally similar to some other great work or myth doesn't make it any more interesting for me.

Though it is the sort of intellectual puzzle that excites many literary critics.

— Eric McMillan



James Joyce


A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man

Finnegans Wake


See also:

Laurence Sterne

Tristram Shandy

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