Ulysses begins at about 8:00 a.m. on Thursday, June 16, 1904, in Dublin, Ireland, when one of its major participants, young Stephen Dedalus, awakens and interacts with his two housemates, the egotistical medical student, Buck Mulligan, and the overly reserved English student, Haines. The narrative ends some twenty-four hours later, when Stephen, having politely refused lodgings at the home of two other principal characters, Leopold and Molly Bloom, discovers he is no longer welcome to stay with Mulligan and Haines. During the sixteen hours of narrative time, the characters move through their day in Dublin, interacting with a stunning variety of individuals, most of whom are fictional but some of whom represent actual people. Ulysses stands as an inventive, multiple-point-of-view (there are eighteen) vision of daily events, personal attitudes, cultural and political sentiments, and observations of the human condition. It is written in a number of differing literary styles, ranging from internal monologue to first-person speculation to question-and-answer from a catechism to newspaper headlines. The work has eighteen chapters. When taken in context with James Joyce's grander design for it (a playful comparison to Homer's epic poem, The Odyssey), Ulysses gains complexity, irony, and dramatic intensity. Not only does Stephen Dedalus become all the more vivid because of his comparison to Telemachus, the son of Ulysses, King of Ithaca, in the Homeric epic. The other main character, Leopold Bloom, may be seen as the wandering Ulysses. In The Odyssey, Ulysses is seen returning to his wife, that symbol of womanly and cultural virtue, Penelope; in the novel, Joyce uses irony to represent Penelope as Molly Bloom, who that very afternoon had an adulterous encounter with her lover, Blazes Boylan.
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Ulysses has been labeled dirty, blasphemous, and unreadable. In a famous 1933 court decision, Judge John M. Woolsey declared it an emetic book--although he found it sufficiently unobscene to allow its importation into the United States--and Virginia Woolf was moved to decry James Joyce's "cloacal obsession." None of these adjectives, however, do the slightest justice to the novel. To this day it remains the modernist masterpiece, in which the author takes both Celtic lyricism and vulgarity to splendid extremes. It is funny, sorrowful, and even (in a close-focus sort of way) suspenseful. And despite the exegetical industry that has sprung up in the last 75 years, Ulysses is also a compulsively readable book. Even the verbal vaudeville of the final chapters can be navigated with relative ease, as long as you're willing to be buffeted, tickled, challenged, and (occasionally) vexed by Joyce's sheer command of the English language.
Among other things, a novel is simply a long story, and the first question about any story is: What happens?. In the case of Ulysses, the answer might be Everything. William Blake, one of literature's sublime myopics, saw the universe in a grain of sand. Joyce saw it in Dublin, Ireland, on June 16, 1904, a day distinguished by its utter normality. Two characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, go about their separate business, crossing paths with a gallery of indelible Dubliners. We watch them teach, eat, stroll the streets, argue, and (in Bloom's case) masturbate. And thanks to the book's stream-of-consciousness technique--which suggests no mere stream but an impossibly deep, swift-running river--we're privy to their thoughts, emotions, and memories. The result? Almost every variety of human experience is crammed into the accordian folds of a single day, which makes Ulysses not just an experimental work but the very last word in realism.
Both characters add their glorious intonations to the music of Joyce's prose. Dedalus's accent--that of a freelance aesthetician, who dabbles here and there in what we might call Early Yeats Lite--will be familiar to readers of Portrait of an Artist As a Young Man. But Bloom's wistful sensualism (and naive curiosity) is something else entirely. Seen through his eyes, a rundown corner of a Dublin graveyard is a figure for hope and hopelessness, mortality and dogged survival: "Mr Bloom walked unheeded along his grove by saddened angels, crosses, broken pillars, family vaults, stone hopes praying with upcast eyes, old Ireland's hearts and hands. More sensible to spend the money on some charity for the living. Pray for the repose of the soul of. Does anybody really?" --James MarcusFrom the Back Cover:
The 1934 text, as corrected and reset in 1961. Ulysses is one of the most influential novels of the twentieth century. It was not easy to find a publisher in America willing to take it on, and when Jane Jeap and Margaret Anderson started printing extracts from the book their literary magazine The Little Review in 1918, they were arrested and charged with publishing obscenity. They were fined $100, and even The New York Times expressed satisfaction with their conviction. Ulysses was not published in book form until 1922, when another American woman, Sylvia Beach, published it in Paris for her Shakespeare & Company. Ulysses was not available legally in any English-speaking country until 1934, when Random House successfully defended Joyce against obscenity charges and published it in the Modern Library. This edition follows the complete and unabridged text as corrected and reset in 1961. Judge John Woolsey's decision lifting the ban against Ulysses is reprinted, along with a letter from Joyce to Bennett Cerf, the publisher of Random House, and the original foreword to the book by Morris L. Ernst, who defended Ulysses during the trial.
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