Ulysses by James Joyce
James Joyce was born in Dublin (Ireland) in 1882. Up till then, writers tended to tell stories about the world as if someone was looking at it from a distance. Joyce tried to write about everyday events by zooming in on what was going on in the mind of the person who was experiencing it.
He does this in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) with a character called Stephen Dedalus. Instead of writing ‘Stephen thought …’, we just enter the stream of thoughts, which are often just flashes, too short to be written out in a full sentence. In his most famous novel, Ulysses (1922), Joyce goes one step further, by letting us follow the ‘stream of consciousness’ of several characters. The result is that the world appears as something that is different to different people. And every animal’s experience of the world is different yet again.
In Ulysses, Joyce tells us how three people experience the same day in the same city: Dublin, 16 June 1904. The three people are Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly, and Stephen Dedalus, the same character as the ‘young man’ in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. In Ulysses, we encounter him in Dublin, after he has been to Paris as a student and would-be artist. In our selected excerpt from the third chapter, Stephen is walking on Sandymount Strand near Dublin.
This episode is famous for its prolonged ‘stream of consciousness’: walking on the beach, Stephen is remembering with self-mockery how he went to Paris with great expectations, taking himself too seriously. He remembers a few scenes from his Paris life in such vivid terms that it almost seems as if he is walking in the French rather than the Irish capital. For instance, he is reminded of Kevin Egan, the exiled Irish nationalist he met in Paris, rolling cigarettes through fingers smeared with ink. These memories are mixed with real-life observations, such as the carcass of a dog; and then a live dog running across the beach. While Stephen tries to figure out the dog’s intentions (‘is he going to attack me?’), Leopold Bloom will open the next chapter with a mental exercise in empathy, wondering what he must look like to his cat. This sustained scrutiny, not just of the world, but of the way it is perceived by both human and other animals makes Ulysses such a brilliant modernist novel.
—Dirk Van Hulle
Some themes and questions to consider
What do you make of the ‘stream of consciousness’ style in this novel?
What questions about the way we see the world could be prompted by this excerpt?
What do you think about how Joyce represents cities?
Stephen Dedalus, who has recently returned from Paris, walks along the beach of Dublin bay, allowing his memories and his perceptions of what is around him to merge as he walks.
From Episode 3 – ‘Proteus’
His feet marched in sudden proud rhythm over the sand furrows, along by the boulders of the south wall. He stared at them proudly, piled stone mammoth skulls. Gold light on sea, on sand, on boulders. The sun is there, the slender trees, the lemon houses.
Paris rawly waking, crude sunlight on her lemon streets. Moist pith of farls of bread, the froggreen wormwood, her matin incense, court the air. Belluomo rises from the bed of his wife’s lover’s wife, the kerchiefed housewife is astir, a saucer of acetic acid in her hand. In Rodot’s Yvonne and Madeleine newmake their tumbled beauties, shattering with gold teeth chaussons of pastry, their mouths yellowed with the pus of flan bréton. Faces of Paris men go by, their wellpleased pleasers, curled conquistadores.
Noon slumbers. Kevin Egan rolls gunpowder cigarettes through fingers smeared with printer’s ink, sipping his green fairy as Patrice his white. About us gobblers fork spiced beans down their gullets. Un demi sétier! A jet of coffee steam from the burnished caldron. She serves me at his beck. Il est irlandais. Hollandais? Non fromage. Deux irlandais, nous, Irlande, vous savez ah, oui! She thought you wanted a cheese hollandais. Your postprandial, do you know that word? Postprandial. There was a fellow I knew once in Barcelona, queer fellow, used to call it his postprandial. Well: slainte! Around the slabbed tables the tangle of wined breaths and grumbling gorges. His breath hangs over our saucestained plates, the green fairy’s fang thrusting between his lips. Of Ireland, the Dalcassians, of hopes, conspiracies, of Arthur Griffith now, A E, pimander, good shepherd of men. To yoke me as his yokefellow, our crimes our common cause. You’re your father’s son. I know the voice. His fustian shirt, sanguineflowered, trembles its Spanish tassels at his secrets. M. Drumont, famous journalist, Drumont, know what he called queen Victoria? Old hag with the yellow teeth. Vieille ogresse with the dents jaunes. Maud Gonne, beautiful woman, La Patrie, M. Millevoye, Félix Faure, know how he died? Licentious men. The froeken, bonne à tout faire, who rubs male nakedness in the bath at Upsala. Moi faire, she said, Tous les messieurs. Not this Monsieur, I said. Most licentious custom. Bath a most private thing. I wouldn’t let my brother, not even my own brother, most lascivious thing. Green eyes, I see you. Fang, I feel. Lascivious people.
The blue fuse burns deadly between hands and burns clear. Loose tobaccoshreds catch fire: a flame and acrid smoke light our corner. Raw facebones under his peep of day boy’s hat. How the head centre got away, authentic version. Got up as a young bride, man, veil, orangeblossoms, drove out the road to Malahide. Did, faith. Of lost leaders, the betrayed, wild escapes. Disguises, clutched at, gone, not here.
Spurned lover. I was a strapping young gossoon at that time, I tell you. I’ll show you my likeness one day. I was, faith. Lover, for her love he prowled with colonel Richard Burke, tanist of his sept, under the walls of Clerkenwell and, crouching, saw a flame of vengeance hurl them upward in the fog. Shattered glass and toppling masonry. In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me. Making his day’s stations, the dingy printingcase, his three taverns, the Montmartre lair he sleeps short night in, rue de la Goutte-d’Or, damascened with flyblown faces of the gone. Loveless, landless, wifeless. She is quite nicey comfy without her outcast man, madame in rue Gît-le-Cœur, canary and two buck lodgers. Peachy cheeks, a zebra skirt, frisky as a young thing’s. Spurned and undespairing. Tell Pat you saw me, won’t you? I wanted to get poor Pat a job one time. Mon fils, soldier of France. I taught him to sing The boys of Kilkenny are stout roaring blades. Know that old lay? I taught Patrice that. Old Kilkenny: saint Canice, Strongbow’s castle on the Nore. Goes like this. O, O. He takes me, Napper Tandy, by the hand.
O, O the boys of
Weak wasting hand on mine. They have forgotten Kevin Egan, not he them. Remembering thee, O Sion.
He had come nearer the edge of the sea and wet sand slapped his boots. The new air greeted him, harping in wild nerves, wind of wild air of seeds of brightness. Here, I am not walking out to the Kish lightship, am I? He stood suddenly, his feet beginning to sink slowly in the quaking soil. Turn back.
Turning, he scanned the shore south, his feet sinking again slowly in new sockets. The cold domed room of the tower waits. Through the barbacans the shafts of light are moving ever, slowly ever as my feet are sinking, creeping duskward over the dial floor. Blue dusk, nightfall, deep blue night. In the darkness of the dome they wait, their pushedback chairs, my obelisk valise, around a board of abandoned platters. Who to clear it? He has the key. I will not sleep there when this night comes. A shut door of a silent tower, entombing their blind bodies, the panthersahib and his pointer. Call: no answer. He lifted his feet up from the suck and turned back by the mole of boulders. Take all, keep all. My soul walks with me, form of forms. So in the moon’s midwatches I pace the path above the rocks, in sable silvered, hearing Elsinore’s tempting flood.
The flood is following me. I can watch it flow past from here. Get back then by the Poolbeg road to the strand there. He climbed over the sedge and eely oarweeds and sat on a stool of rock, resting his ashplant in a grike.
A bloated carcass of a dog lay lolled on bladderwrack. Before him the gunwale of a boat, sunk in sand. Un coche ensablé Louis Veuillot called Gautier’s prose. These heavy sands are language tide and wind have silted here. And these, the stoneheaps of dead builders, a warren of weasel rats. Hide gold there. Try it. You have some. Sands and stones. Heavy of the past. Sir Lout’s toys. Mind you don’t get one bang on the ear. I’m the bloody well gigant rolls all them bloody well boulders, bones for my steppingstones. Feefawfum. I zmellz de bloodz odz an Iridzman.
A point, live dog, grew into sight running across the sweep of sand. Lord, is he going to attack me? Respect his liberty. You will not be master of others or their slave. I have my stick. Sit tight. From farther away, walking shoreward across from the crested tide, figures, two. The two maries. They have tucked it safe mong the bulrushes. Peekaboo. I see you. No, the dog. He is running back to them. Who?
Galleys of the Lochlanns ran here to beach, in quest of prey, their bloodbeaked prows riding low on a molten pewter surf. Dane vikings, torcs of tomahawks aglitter on their breasts when Malachi wore the collar of gold. A school of turlehide whales stranded in hot noon, spouting, hobbling in the shallows. Then from the starving cagework city a horde of jerkined dwarfs, my people, with flayers’ knives, running, scaling, hacking in green blubbery whalemeat. Famine, plague and slaughters. Their blood is in me, their lusts my waves. I moved among them on the frozen Liffey, that I, a changeling, among the spluttering resin fires. I spoke to no-one: none to me.
The dog’s bark ran towards him, stopped, ran back. Dog of my enemy. I just simply stood pale, silent, bayed about. Terribilia meditans. A primrose doublet, fortune’s knave, smiled on my fear. For that are you pining, the bark of their applause? Pretenders: live their lives. The Bruce’s brother, Thomas Fitzgerald, silken knight, Perkin Warbeck, York’s false scion, in breeches of silk of whiterose ivory, wonder of a day, and Lambert Simnel, with a tail of nans and sutlers, a scullion crowned. All kings’ sons. Paradise of pretenders then and now. He saved men from drowning and you shake at a cur’s yelping. But the courtiers who mocked Guido in Or san Michele were in their own house. House of... We don’t want any of your medieval abstrusiosities. Would you do what he did? A boat would be near, a lifebuoy. Natürlich, put there for you. Would you or would you not? The man that was drowned nine days ago off Maiden’s rock. They are waiting for him now. The truth, spit it out. I would want to. I would try. I am not a strong swimmer. Water cold soft. When I put my face into it in the basin at Clongowes. Can’t see! Who’s behind me? Out quickly, quickly! Do you see the tide flowing quickly in on all sides, sheeting the lows of sand quickly, shellcocoacoloured? If I had land under my feet. I want his life still to be his, mine to be mine. A drowning man. His human eyes scream to me out of horror of his death. I... With him together down... I could not save her. Waters: bitter death: lost.
A woman and a man. I see her skirties. Pinned up, I bet.
Their dog ambled about a bank of dwindling sand, trotting, sniffing on all sides. Looking for something lost in a past life. Suddenly he made off like a bounding hare, ears flung back, chasing the shadow of a lowskimming gull. The man’s shrieked whistle struck his limp ears. He turned, bounded back, came nearer, trotted on twinkling shanks. On a field tenney a buck, trippant, proper, unattired. At the lacefringe of the tide he halted with stiff forehoofs, seawardpointed ears. His snout lifted barked at the wavenoise, herds of seamorse. They serpented towards his feet, curling, unfurling many crests, every ninth, breaking, plashing, from far, from farther out, waves and waves.
Cocklepickers. They waded a little way in the water and, stooping, soused their bags and, lifting them again, waded out. The dog yelped running to them, reared up and pawed them, dropping on all fours, again reared up at them with mute bearish fawning. Unheeded he kept by them as they came towards the drier sand, a rag of wolf’s tongue redpanting from his jaws. His speckled body ambled ahead of them and then loped off at a calf’s gallop. The carcass lay on his path. He stopped, sniffed, stalked round it, brother, nosing closer, went round it, sniffling rapidly like a dog all over the dead dog’s bedraggled fell. Dogskull, dogsniff, eyes on the ground, moves to one great goal. Ah, poor dogsbody! Here lies poor dogsbody’s body.
—Tatters! Out of that, you mongrel!
The cry brought him skulking back to his master and a blunt bootless kick sent him unscathed across a spit of sand, crouched in flight. He slunk back in a curve. Doesn’t see me. Along by the edge of the mole he lolloped, dawdled, smelt a rock and from under a cocked hindleg pissed against it. He trotted forward and, lifting again his hindleg, pissed quick short at an unsmelt rock. The simple pleasures of the poor. His hindpaws then scattered the sand: then his forepaws dabbled and delved. Something he buried there, his grandmother. He rooted in the sand, dabbling, delving and stopped to listen to the air, scraped up the sand again with a fury of his claws, soon ceasing, a pard, a panther, got in spousebreach, vulturing the dead.
The full text can be found for free at Project Gutenberg.
Ulysses is a great example of Ezra Pound’s motto ‘Make it new’. To give shape to this novel, Joyce takes Homer’s Odyssey (the story of Odysseus’s adventurous return home to his wife Penelope after the Trojan war) and makes it new: the main character Leopold Bloom makes breakfast, leaves his house, wanders around the city and returns home only late at night. The main difference with Odysseus is that Bloom is not heroic, at least not in the ancient Greek sense. One of the motivations for his delayed homecoming to his ‘Penelope’ is that he knows his wife is cuckolding him that afternoon with another man and he wants to avoid a confrontation.
Besides Leopold and Molly Bloom, the third protagonist is follows Stephen in episodes through his young life in Dublin, until he decides to go to Paris and realize his artistic ambitions. He leaves the maze of his country, his family, and his religion – not unlike the mythical Daedalus, the architect of the Minotaur’s labyrinth who escaped from it by devising wings from wax and feathers for himself and his son Icarus. But Stephen turns out to be less of a Daedalus than an Icarus, the overconfident young man who flew so close to the sun that his wings melted. In our selected excerpt from the opening chapters of Ulysses,
Both novels zoom in on private and individual experiences of the rapidly changing modern urban environment, but do it in different ways, like ‘telling’ versus ‘showing’. While Portrait explicitly ‘tells’ readers that ‘Dublin was a new and complex sensation’, Ulysses enacts or ‘shows’ it by making them feel that sensation.
The following resources are on the Oxford English Faculty’s Open Educational Resource site Great Writers Inspire.
Detailed Biography of James Joyce
Written by Cleo Hanaway.
“James Joyce: Here Comes Everybody”
Article by Cleo Hanaway on anti-Joyce views, or why “Not everyone considers Joyce a 'great' writer…”
Literature and form: Multiple Plotting (audio and video version)
A lecture on ‘multiple plotting’ in Ulysses and other novels by Catherine Brown.
What is Modernism?
Article by Rebecca Beasley.
Podcast series: Questioning genre
About the Contributor
Dirk Van Hulle is Professor of Bibliography and Modern Book History at the University of Oxford and director of the Centre for Manuscript Genetics at the University of Antwerp. With Mark Nixon, he is co-director of the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project (www.beckettarchive.org), series editor of the Cambridge UP series ‘Elements in Beckett Studies’ and editor of the Journal of Beckett Studies. His publications include Textual Awareness (2004), Modern Manuscripts (2014), Samuel Beckett’s Library (2013, with Mark Nixon), The New Cambridge Companion to Samuel Beckett (2015), James Joyce’s Work in Progress (2016), the Beckett Digital Library, a number of volumes in the ‘Making of’ series (Bloomsbury) and genetic editions in the Beckett Digital Manuscript Project, which won the 2019 Prize for a Bibliography, Archive or Digital Project of the Modern Language Association (MLA).