I finally finished James Joyce's Ulysses. I had started reading it for the first time right after college but only got about a quarter of the way into it before setting it down and not picking it up again. I finally downloaded the audio book about a month ago and read the whole thing right through. The reader, Jim Norton, was great. I can't imagine the work it took to be able to read that book out loud and make sense out of who is talking at every moment. The book is written to cover 24hrs of time, mostly following Leopold Bloom through Dublin on June 16th, 1904. Once he falls asleep in the wee hours of the morning of the 17th, the narration is taken up by his wife Molly, who lays awake after being woken by Bloom crawling into bed. The funny thing is that it takes over 28 hrs to read. I guess that's to cover the extra time we spend with Stephen Dedalus before he meets Bloom.
I was going to say that next time I go to a bookstore I will be looking for a good study guide to see what they have to say, now that I have read the book for myself, but as I checked back at audible for the reader's name, etc, I just discovered that they have a companion study guide available for download for free. Have I mentioned that I love audible?
I'm thrilled that I finally read this book. In the long run, I think I benefited from stopping when I did, and picking it up again in my mid-thirties. Having now read so many more Irish books and plays, and generally having read and experienced more over the intervening 15 years, I understood so many more of Joyce's references, and of the general attitude of the characters.
There have been several accusations against the book as obscene. It was banned in the US in the early twenties. That ban was overruled in the 30's by Judge John M. Woolsey who declared that the book was not pornographic and therefore not obscene.
I'm just as awkward talking about or defining obscenity as many judges are. There are, of course, the famous statements about how ducks look and walk and quack, and after stating that he may not be able to define pornography, Supreme court Justice Potter Stewart went on to famously say, "but I know it when I see it."
It seems to me that there is an element of easy thrill to pornography. It's supposed to be a short-cut. If getting a thrill takes as much work as leaving the house, meeting someone, getting to know them, romancing them and putting real effort into treating them properly and prioritizing their well-being, for as long as it takes until it is appropriate for the relationship to be fully consummated, then you could have just gone out and done that. To me, that fact that the book is 28hrs long, and the dirty bits might cover an hour or 2 of that time total, is proof enough that the book is literature and not obscenity. It take way too much work to get all the way to Molly's soliloquy at the end, when she contemplates past lovers and considers future candidates. More time and effort than some modern relationships, or so I've learned from television.
That said, there were several points when I thought, "Wait, when was this written?" as the particular language which judge Woolsey described as "Saxon" is more blunt and coarse than I expected. Apparently I have been guilty of nostalgia,and have re-painted the past in gauzy white. Not only did my generation not invent sex or drugs, we also didn't invent those words I first heard on the bus or on the playground. Even so, when compared to the other literature of the 20's and earlier, it must have been a real shock to read those words in a novel. I was startled a hundred years later.
The novel was a lot of work, and I am now plunging into a study guide, and an audio download of a "Bloomsday" performance from a few years ago, but it was worth the work. I can see why it is often heralded as the first modern novel, or the first novel of the twentieth century.
And may I say again, I DID IT!