Tales From The Telemachiad

I have finished Part I of Ulysses, otherwise known as The Telemachiad. Surprisingly, it is great so far – the stream of consciousness parts are challenging but enjoyable, and the plot has been OK to follow. I get the feeling I’m being broken in gently but I have to say Joyce’s descriptions of the scenery are fantastic. I think his style of writing is great for capturing the essence of a place.

A quick note on the format of my posts whilst I’m reading: I won’t bother with chapter descriptions because I know lots of people are going to be reading Ulysses, but for my own reference I’ll give the place and time of each episode, a link to The Odyssey , and then I’m just going to mention all the bits I found interesting whilst I was reading.

Episode I – Telemachus, 8am, The Martello Tower

Photo by Alain le Garsmeur

As introductory paragraphs go, this one is not too daunting. Not as daunting as I had imagined anyway! You are immediately thrown into the landscape and the dynamic between the three men.

The Odyssey: Telemachus is the son of Odysseus and Penelope, and the first four books of The Odyssey are about Telemachus searching for news of his father. Stephen Dedalus is linked with Telemachus: Whilst his father is gone Penelope has had plenty of suitors who try to usurp Odysseus and Telemachus. In Ulysses, Buck Mulligan is called a ‘usurper’.

  • Pain, that was not yet the pain of love, fretted his heart. Stephen is mourning the death of his mother. Joyce excellently describes grief and separates it from the love you have for the person before they die and after you have come to terms with their death.
  • The ring of bay and skyline held a dull green mass of liquid. A bowl of white china had stood beside her deathbed holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting. I liked the association of the sea caught in the bay outside and his mother’s sick bowl. It is setting a tone of earthiness and the body. The image is continued across a few pages, as Stephen’s mood deepens and he becomes more introverted. A cloud began to cover the sun slowly, shadowing the bay in deeper green. It lay behind him, a bowl of bitter waters. Love the language, especially the last five words.
  • Memories beset his brooding brain. Her glass of water from the kitchen tap when she had approached the sacrament. A cored apple, filled with brown sugar, roasting for her at the hob on a dark autumn evening. Her shapely fingernails reddened by the blood of squashed lice from the children’s shirts. I like the visuals here, and the collecting of memories. It makes Stephen’s loss seem raw, that he has these images near the surface where he can recall them at a moment’s notice.
  • The nickel shavingbowl shone, forgotten, on the parapet. Why should I bring it down? Or leave it there all day, forgotten friendship? I have read somewhere that Joyce intended to make a departure from the greek epics by way of abstaining from grand themes like battles and heroism. Instead, he writes about incredibly ordinary things and makes them big.

Episode II – Nestor, 10am, The School

The Odyssey: Homer’s Nestor was a wise councillor who befriended Telemachus, seen by the Schoolmaster Mr. Deasy giving Stephen advice.

  • History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake. 
  • – That is God.
    Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee!
    – What? Mr Deasy asked.
    – A shout in the street.  

Episode III – Proteus, 11am, Sandymount Strand

I think this is my favourite chapter so far, even though it is the first real stream of consciousness monologue. It struck me just how revolutionary this novel must have been when it was first published. I do find the style tricky but I think that is the nature of the beast. Can you ever fully understand someone else’s uncensored, unexplained thoughts?

The Odyssey: Proteus is a sea-god, and is named ‘The Old Man of the Sea’ by Homer. He is a shape-shifter and insightful about the future.

  • 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. Again, the language is fantastic, these are sentences to be read aloud. I read this part whilst sitting in a windowless room, so was overcome with wanting to go walking out on the sand with the wind whipping around. If there is lots of writing like this in the rest of Ulysses I’ll be really pleased.
  • His shadow lay over the rocks as he bent, ending. Why not endless till the farthest star? Darkly they are there behind this light, darkness shining in the brightness, delta of Cassiopeia, worlds. Me sits there with his augur’s rod of ash, in borrowed sandals, by day beside a livid sea, unbeheld, in violet night walking beneath a reign of uncouth stars. I throw this ended shadow from me, manshape ineluctable, call it back. Endless, would it be mine, form of my form? Hmmm….
All good fun so far. Who would have guessed?