Ulysses Reading Group Meeting – Sunday 18 September 2011

This time we’re starting chapter 9. The scene is the National Library where Stephen is expounding his theory of Hamlet. There are lots of literary references, Gilbert and Sullivan as well as Shakespeare and Goethe. We’re meeting as usual in Muir Court at 7.30.

For anyone who has missed one or more meetings this quick recap might be helpful.

In chapter 1 in the Martello Tower at Sandycove we met Stephen Dedalus and his friend Buck Mulligan. There is a tension between them because Stephen thinks Mulligan has made light of the Stephen’s mother’s death and because of the presence of a visitor, Haines.

In chapter 2 we see Stephen in his last day of a teaching job, reflecting on the character of his pupils and having an uncomfortable interview with the headmaster.

In the third chapter we find Stephen walking along Sandymount Strand thinking about his brief stay in Paris and how to develop his poetry. He decides not to visit his Uncle who lives nearby, nor to fulfil his promise to meet Mulligan for a lunchtime drink.

These first three chapters can be an abrupt introduction to Joyce’s unusual style and are packed with references to religion, literature, history and the Dublin of 1904. I’m sure many readers of Ulysses get rather discouraged at this point (not our group of course) and never discover the delights of:

Chapter 4 in which the clock is set back to 8am and we meet Mr Leopold Bloom in the kitchen of his house in Eccles Street. He is preparing breakfast for his wife Molly and for himself and feeding the cat. Bloom has a rich inner life in which he comments and reflects on his physical and social surroundings, his present and past. We are priviy to these thoughts through Joyce’s technique of “stream of consciousness”. We learn a lot about Bloom’s life but in a roundabout and fractured way and the the reader has fit the different pieces together.

We are still with Bloom and his highly individual view of the world in chapter 5 as he makes his way across Dublin to Sandymount where he is to join a group of mourners at the funeral of his friend Paddy Dignam.

In chapter 6 the cemetery at Glasnevin prompts thoughts in Bloom about the physical process as well the finality of death.

In chapter 7 we see Bloom at his place of work, he is an advertisement canvasser for a newspaper. Joyce makes an innovation in style presenting the action in the form of newspapers paragraphs, each with a witty sub title. The discussion in the editor’s office is about speechifying and adopts an appropriately windy and over-blown manner.

By chapter 8 Bloom has food on his mind and as he makes his way from the newspaper office to the library he decides on lunch in Burton’s restaurant in Duke Street. However he is repulsed by the scene in Burton’s and decides on a Gorgonzola sandwich and glass of Burgundy in Davy Byrne’s pub instead. At the end of the chapter he spots Blazes Boylan and takes avoiding action. Molly and Boylan are to meet that afternoon to discuss the programme for a concert tour Boylan is arranging and in which Molly is singing. What else might occur between them is never far from Bloom’s thoughts.

Once we’ve completed chapter 9 we’ll be halfway through Ulysses. In the second half Joyce’s creativity takes flight and we follow the story of Stephen, Bloom and Molly through a different literary style in each new chapter. Given the collective knowledge and expertise that the group has brought to the meetings so far I’m looking forward to some enjoyable and elucidating sessions.

See you all soon,

Ian

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