Welcome to Ulysses Wednesday, where I track my progress reading James Joyce’s tale of a day in the life of Leopold Bloom.
Status: on page 97 of 783
It doesn’t seem like much, but I am rather impressed by my progress in the first week. I can follow what is going on in the story, though I have had to read several passages more than once to fully understand them (or better understand them), and – dare I say – I’m almost enjoying it. I was surprised to see that Leopold Bloom, the novel’s main character, does not appear until the fourth chapter (which aren’t labelled as such). I’m not quite sure what the point is of the first three chapters:
A few men are eating breakfast in what seems to be some type of monastery tower on the Dublin seaside, then they go down to the sea to have a bath;
Stephen Dedalus (a character in other Joyce works) is teaching a classroom of schoolboys
Stephen is wandering around Dublin
but perhaps this is laying ground for something that happens later on.
So when we meet Bloom, he is off to buy a kidney for his breakfast. While at the butcher, he is in line behind a young maid who is buying sausages for her masters and becomes quite taken with her; he tries to follow her but loses her in the crowds of the Dublin street. Upon returning home, he prepares the kidney while also making breakfast for his wife, Molly. After breakfast and a visit to the outhouse (yes, it’s described), Bloom begins walking to a funeral of an acquaintance, stopping on the way to pick up a letter at the post office addressed to “Henry Flower”, stop at a Church to hear Mass, order some lotion for Molly and buy soap at the chemist’s, and have a bath at the public bathhouse. When I leave Leopold, he is in a carriage with the coffin of the deceased and a few other men (pallbearers?) heading to the cemetery. As this novel is set in one entire day, and the funeral was to begin at eleven o’clock; I’m going to guess that I am now somewhere between noon and one o’clock in the afternoon.
What has struck me most about what I’ve read is not the story, but Joyce’s play with the English language. He uses alliteration (“.. scanned the shore south, his feet sinking again slowly in new sockets.” ), and rhyming (“Met her once in the park. In the dark. What a lark”); and he seems to have invented various words & phrases with no apparent meaning (“nebeneinander”??) which with me had the effect of paying close attention to the words surrounding it. His descriptions can be quite vivid, and at times stomach-churning; when describing Bloom’s preferred breakfast food, he says:
Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.
Joyce also uses a lot of foreign phrases — French, Italian, Latin — and because there are no annotations one can be at a loss in comprehending these passages (thankfully I know some French). Joyce must have been incredibly intelligent, and he seems to want to give his readers credit for intelligence as well (either that, or he wanted to scare them off).
I do hope the story takes off, but I am quite content reading Ulysses just to appreciate Joyce’s writing.