Charlotte Reads Classics

Slowly, slowly, she sipped a sentence.

Category: Modern Classics

Reviewing July

July was a month of great books for me, but as it was also the month I went on holiday I haven’t written about any of them! This is a catch up post about some of my highlights.

A Severed Head by Iris Murdoch
This is the first book I’ve read by Iris Murdoch and I would very happily read others. This was a comedy of relationships with really great characters. Ridiculous, yes, but great.

This is Life by Dan Rhodes
READ THIS NOW! I’ve never read a book like it. A quirky adventure around Paris that all begins when Aurelie, as part of an art project, throws a stone that hits a baby. This is so original, enjoyably French, and one of the best books I’ve read in ages.

Chocolat by Joanne Harris
Why oh why did I ever wait so long before reading this? Highly, highly recommend this, especially for some holiday reading. An utterly glorious novel, set in rural France, a real feast of magic and charming characters. The little touches of magical realism are just right – never approaching outright fantasy or silliness. A warning: It is completely impossible to read without having food in the house.

The Lollipop Shoes by Joanne Harris
The second of the series is much darker, slightly bitter, when Vianne is struggling to move on from free spiritedness in order to protect her children. Called something like The Girl with No Shadow in America, this is very much like a dark fairy tale.

Peaches for Monsieur le Curé by Joanne Harris
Yes, I devoured the whole series one after another. Peaches for Monsieur le Curé feels like the real sequel to Chocolat perhaps because the story returns to Lansquenet, the setting of Chocolat. This novel is very much of today’s times – about the clashes of religion in secular France. By this point the main characters felt like old friends and I have to confess when it was over I was really depressed. What a brilliant series.

The Secret History by Donna Tartt
I can’t praise this highly enough! It was sinister and unsettling, gripping, well written, exciting… perfect, really. I was recommended it by a friend as a book to read after you have read something that changes your life, i.e. a perfect antidote to the heartbreak the comes when a truly brilliant book is over. It was great advice and I would say the same. The Secret History is such a good book to follow a great read because it is so absorbing. And brilliant in its own right. I was really unsettled at how the book convinced me  that the murder was completely logical. Read it, honestly it is brilliant.

Jules et Jim by Henri-Pierre Roche
This was a bit of an odd book. On the one hand it was about Paris in the early twentieth century (a plus) and on the other it was about three ridiculous people (slight minus). I loved Jim – said to be a character semi-autobiographically based on Roche’s own life – and I liked Jules more and more as the book went on. The object of their affections, Kate, was a different story altogether. I don’t know how either of them had the patience to put up with her. This is an unusual love triangle but I struggled to really understand both her actions and motivations for them. I don’t think relationships have to be quite as complicated as these three made them out to be! This was a quick read and enjoyable because it was so unique. It was the author’s debut novel written when he was 70 so I suppose it was bound to be different.

The Silent Twin

A book is a door. You open it. You step through. Do you come back?

I have been meaning to read Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit for a long time. It was an experience much heightened by reading it alongside the autobiography Why be Happy When You Could Be Normal?. Oranges has always been read as a story based on Jeanette Winterson’s life, a parallel that seems unavoidable when you call your main character by your own name and give her an upbringing very similar to your own. Winterson refers to her autobiography as Oranges‘ ‘silent twin’ and I read it as a way to compare fiction with fact. I enjoyed reading the two books together and think I got much more from them than if I had read them individually. Actually, I find it hard to separate them now.

These are stories from a specific time. Accrington in the seventies sounds more like the 1940s – I thought the descriptions of daily life were completely fascinating because what was only forty years ago seems so alien now. The religious upbringing and church community had the same effect. In her Introduction to Oranges Winterson says she doesn’t agree with the assumption that women’s writing is constrained to their experiences. Whilst the story of Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit is influenced by her life, she is also quite experimental. The Bible is muddled up with  fiction, biography and altered personal history.

If I had to choose a favourite, I think I would pick Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? and not just because truth is stranger than fiction. It is written with the hindsight of age and with the freedom must have arisen from the death of her adoptive parents. I assume Winterson chose not to write or publish a memoir whilst her mother and father were alive, but perhaps this is nothing more than an assumption on my part. I think writing about what was (to outsiders at least) a cruel and unusual upbringing must have been easier when it was hidden behind the label of ‘fiction’. It must be hard to bare all when you are very likely to offend real and named family.

I also loved Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal? because Jeanette Winterson is a reader. In her childhood reading represented passion and exploration. I talked about how this past fortnight has reminded me that reading is about adventure and doesn’t always have to be prescribed or studious. Reading Jeanette Winterson was well suited to this mindset:

It is not only a wild nature that we need as human beings; it is the untamed open space of our imaginations. Reading is where the wild things are.

Dipping My Toes Across the Pond

American classics are everywhere at the moment. Whether it is the run up to The Great Gatsby or just a matter of economics, I can’t escape seeing and hearing about great American novels from the early twentieth century.

I started reading Mrs Bridge completely by chance, when I finished reading The Odyssey sooner than expected and couldn’t bear to be left bookless! The story of Mrs Bridge caught me completely by surprise: It is a reissued classic originally published in 1959. Set in the late thirties / early forties, Mrs Bridge is an upper-middle class housewife, she has three children, hundreds of social engagements, and not enough to occupy her mind. Think Nancy Mitford, but male, American and a generation younger.

Mrs Bridge is so witty yet cuts straight to the heart of human nature – what is the point of life, how should I live and what should I do? Mrs Bridge is a slightly tragic figure: on the outside she has everything – family, friends, prosperity – but inside she is unsettled, unauthentic and unable to understand anyone different to her. She is caught in a unique period of history, trying to uphold the ideals of parents in an increasingly modern world. For example, she continually judges her daughters in terms of what she was free to do two decades earlier, and can’t understand their desire for independence.

I absolutely adored this book – I can’t believe it has been out of print – and I can’t wait for the reissue of Mr Bridge next year. There was no way I could read this and immediately pick up something too far removed, so I chose Revolutionary Road. The characters and marriages are completely different, although both books show the same kind of performance from the wealthier-than-average families: Frank and April Wheeler put just as much effort into how they appear to others – but they are determined to never be compared with the likes of Mr and Mrs Bridge.

I fell in love with Revolutionary Road four years ago. Richard Yates enchants you with his writing, only to break your heart. And I’d forgotten exactly how much heartbreak was in store for me! Again, this is a couple who could have had it all if they could ever be satisfied with their lot, they certainly work incredibly hard to make it seem like they’re extraordinarily happy, but in reality they are flawed, ordinary, shallow people.

If you have the opportunity, read both of these books, because they’re both brilliant. I think I’ve convinced myself to go for F. Scott Fitzgerald and The Rules of Civility for July.

Coming Home

An autobiography is a book a person writes about his own life and it is usually full of all sorts of boring details.
This is not an autobiography. I would never write a history of myself. On the other hand, throughout my young days at school and just afterwards a number of things happened to me that I have never forgotten.
None of these things is important, but each of them made such a tremendous impression on me that I have never been able to get them out of my mind. Each of them, even after a lapse of fifty and sometimes sixty years, has remained seared on my memory.
I didn’t have to search for any of them. All I had to do was skim them off the top of my consciousness and write them down.
Some are funny. Some are painful. Some are unpleasant. I suppose that is why I have always remembered them so vividly. All are true.

– Roald Dahl, Boy: Tales From Childhood

Bloom, Odysseus, Molly and Me

I put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.

I have journeyed through Ulysses and have lived to tell the tale! This book is nothing but filled with highs and lows. The beginning and ending of the book are amongst the best of any book I have read, but the middle was a winding, secret path full of language and styles that I couldn’t quite grasp.

Ulysses has been described as a modernist thesaurus of possibility which, I think, says it all. When I think of Modernism, I think of Joyce and Woolf striving to write individual subjective experiences. They aren’t like Austen or Eliot whose narrators understand and interpret the world for the reader. But modernism is also a break from past traditions of culture, as well as writing; sexuality, humour, frankness, city scenes, consumerism and so on. What a revolution reading this book would be, if you had never even considered the possibility of a book capturing someone’s thoughts and listening to those thoughts as they come sprawling through white noise. To be able to read a book that represented your own life.

I think what made Ulysses a scandal is the same thing that makes it readable (in parts). For every classical allusion, there is a joke. There are crude bits, bodily bits, bawdy bits, rude bits. It is frank, honest, and real. Whilst these are things today’s reader can appreciate – I suppose because we have conversations that are all of those things – early readers found the novel depressing and chaotic. I wonder what people will make of it in the future? Imagine Ulysses being quaint and outmoded!

The sentences I really loved were the descriptive ones: Joyce certainly is a master of language. I wasn’t expecting to find sentences like the ones I quoted from Telemachus in a book like this one. And I’ll just mention again how great Molly’s soliloquy is… just so you know I really mean it. IT’S WORTH IT. When I read that episode I wished there had been more of her in the book, but I don’t think the chapter would have had such an impact. It’s impossible to think of ways Ulysses would have been improved, because every little detail that I didn’t like makes the book the book it is. For example, I didn’t like some of the styles Joyce used because I found them confusing, but if you take the experimental parts away then it just wouldn’t be the same.

I would recommend reading The Odyssey first, or at least try looking into the incidents that Joyce names his episodes after. According to Joyce, Odysseus was the greatest character in literature and Charles Lamb’s Adventures of Ulysses was a massive influence. This version of The Odyssey splits the story into individual tales, much like the structure of Ulysses itself. Leopold Bloom and Odysseus are, on the surface, very different people. The absolute ordinariness of Bloom’s day – and the book – meant (I think) that any man’s day is an Odyssey. The puzzles and enigmas referred to in the book aren’t always the classical, mythological, high brow references you might think – you can look those up, after all. The puzzles and difficult parts often occur from ordinary circumstances (like the horse race that confused me so greatly). To fully understand anyone’s life, any person’s thoughts is tricky.

All in all, its been good to read a book I was afraid of. I was taken on a voyage through Dublin, through the history of language, through style and thought and description. Reading Ulysses was my very own Odyssey.

Regeneration: War Books [7/15]

So, I’m back to war! I actually finished this book just before starting Ulysses but didn’t get around to writing about it until now – I’m currently finding my opinions of Ulysses too difficult to summarise! Regeneration is a fantastic book and I’ll definitely read the rest of the trilogy when I allow myself to buy some more books. Surprisingly, a lot of the same people from Goodbye To All That  appeared as characters in this book which was a nice link – Graves himself, Siegfried Sassoon and Wilfred Owen being a few.

The story revolves around Sassoon and his decisions to write his Soldier’s Declaration, which was a kind of open letter that stated why he didn’t want to fight in the war anymore. Sassoon didn’t object to soldiering in principle, but he disagreed with what he saw as the prolonging of war and needless sacrifice of young lives. He is sent to a military hospital called Craiglockhart (which was a real hospital) specialising in healing soldiers with mental traumas like shell shock, loss of speech, and psychological distress. It raised lots of interesting questions about what a ‘normal’ reaction to the horrors of war would be, and why some soldiers couldn’t carry on when others did. It was moving to read about how much the survivors were suffering, but they were only being recuperated so they could be sent back to die.

I enjoyed the mix of historical fact and fiction and liked the emphasis Barker placed on war as a psychologically damaging experience, which is something Louisa Young did with My Dear I Wanted To Tell You. Is healing more of a modern preoccupation? The books I have read recently that have been published in the last twenty years or so have tried to continue the story past the end of the war, which I have found fascinating.

I bought this book from a charity shop a couple of weeks ago, and when I picked it up to start reading I found an old photograph inside. If finds like this aren’t a good reason to buy second-hand books, I don’t know what are. I’m slightly obsessed with wanting to find out when the photo was taken, and who the boy is, who left it in the book and why.

The Nostos and the Chapter that Made it All Worthwhile

It is a drunken, sprawling night. It is the end of the day, everyone is a little bit worse for wear, and it is time to make tracks towards home.

Episode XVI –  Eumaeus, 1am, the Cab Shelter

As everyone is now quite drunk by this point, I didn’t pick up much of what was happening. I suppose these are the deep and seemingly meaningful conversations you have when you are drunk, that don’t stand up to the light of day. I had well and truly lost the thread of what was happening in this part.

The Odyssey: Eumaeus is the faithful swineherd in Ithaca who gives the disguised Odysseus shelter when he first returns home.

Episode XVII – Ithaca, 2am, the House

Reportedly Joyce’s favourite section. Perhaps because it is written in a weird question and answer format that reminded me of exam papers at school. Bloom is finally home for the night and goes through little routines that summarise the day’s events before he goes to sleep. A famous line I had heard before happens in this section:

  • For what creature was the door of egress a door of ingress?
    For a cat. 

The Odyssey: Ithaca is Odysseus’ home. When he returns, he arrives in disguise and doesn’t reveal his identity to everyone.

Episode XVIII – Penelope, 3am / unspecified, the bed

This chapter is SO GOOD. It is so good that it was worth reading all the preceding chapters – this was my reward. In fact, the episode of In Our Time I mentioned in my last post states that this is the best place to start. I would say that if you were going to read any snippet of Ulysses it should be this chapter. The last episode of the novel is a soliloquy from Bloom’s wife Molly. In other words, it is a five thousand word sentence. But in reading terms, it is joy.

  • first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

The Odyssey: Penelope was Odysseus’ wife. She waited for him to return, stalling her many suitors by saying she would wed again only after she had finished a tapestry she was making. She would weave the tapestry during the day and unweave each day’s work at night.

I’VE READ ULYSSES! Wrap up post to follow soon, and then normal reading shall resume.

Sirens, Circe and the Devil’s in the Detail

I’m determined to finish this now! I’ve read too much to just give up. I was feeling ready to stop after the last couple of episodes, but after listening to the In Our Time podcast about Ulysses (radio 4, originally broadcast on Thursday) I am feeling much more excited again. To any other flagging Ulysses readers I highly recommend it.

Episode X – Wandering Rocks, 3pm, the Streets of Dublin

I enjoyed this section after the trickiness that the previous episodes have been but only after I got into the mindset of not caring who I was reading about, and just enjoying each scene as just that: a tiny piece of action, a small incident that happens on a normal day.

  • Stephen Dedalus watched through the webbed window the lapidary’s fingers prove a timedulled chain. Dust webbed the window and showtrays. Dust darkened the toiling fingers with their vulture nails. Dust slept on dull coils of bronze and silver, lozenges of cinnabar, on rubies, leprous and winedark stones. I think this could be Miss Havisham’s house. I enjoy reading Joyce’s descriptive sentences, I think because these seem to be what I am most used to reading.
  • Shakespeare is the happy hunting ground of all minds that have lost their balance. I just thought that quote was really funny to share with my fellow book bloggers!

The Odyssey: The wandering rocks are a group of rocks between which the sea is always violent. They are one of two routes home to Ithaca, Odysseus chooses to avoid them.

Episode XI – Sirens, 4pm, The Concert Room

More form to learn! This episode is to be read like a fugue, which is a technique in classical music where two or more voices sing and repeat a theme is introduced in the beginning. At first I thought this would be an awful chapter to understand (look at the first page!) but it has turned out to be my favourite so far. I went back and read the first couple of pages when I had finished and it made more sense. I liked it because of the direct parallel’s to the greek myths. I also started to feel sorry for Bloom and his knowing about Molly’s affair.

The Odyssey: Femme fatales that sing enchanting music to try to lure sailors onto the rocky coast of their island. They are only described as mermaids in folk-lore after The Odyssey, to Homer they looked like women.

Episode XII – Cyclops, 5pm, the Tavern

This section is written like an epic poem, with the actual plot mixed in. Is Joyce being ironic? He writes about things like a description of a handkerchief. Or is this part of the whole meaning behind Ulysses? Is the ordinary epic?

This section also made sense of the earlier incident (back in Lotus-Eaters, I think). Bloom meets a man called Bantam Lyons who asks for his newspaper. When Bloom says he was about to throw it away anyway, the man actually thinks he is being given a tip. Fun fact: A horse called Throwaway won the real life Gold Cup at Ascot on 16th June 1904. Thus proving that is must be pointless trying to read Ulysses without the help of the internet!

  • Your God was a jew. When the Citizen is abusing Leopold I liked the people he listed as jewish, with the final dig being God.

The Odyssey: Cyclops are a race of one-eyed giants, Odysseus meets one called Polyphemus who eats some of his men. Odysseus manages to escape by blinding the cyclops with a heated stake. Right at the beginning of  the chapter, the unnamed narrator says Did you see that bloody chimneysweep near shove my eye out with his brush?

Episode XIII – Nausicaa, 8pm, Rocks on the Strand

I liked this chapter – Joyce is writing in the style of a nineteenth century romance, and that is a style that I am familiar with! The scene is told from two different perspectives and they link up satisfyingly: The first is a young girl, Gerty, fantasising about romance, the second is a strange man watching her, who turns out to be Bloom. The first quotation is from Gerty’s thoughts, the second from Bloom’s.

  • No prince charming is her beau ideal to lay a rare and wondrous love at her feet but rather a manly man with a strong quiet face who had not found his ideal, perhaps his hair slightly flecked with grey, and who would understand, take her in his sheltering arms, strain her to him in all the strength of his deep passionate nature and comfort her with a long long kiss. It would be like heaven. For such a one she yearns this balmy summer eve. With all the heart of her she longs to be his only, his affianced bride for riches and poor, in sickness in health, till death us two part, from this to this day forward.
  • Say a woman loses a charm with every pin she takes out. Pinned together. […] Always know a fellow courting: collars and cuffs.

The Odyssey: Nausicaa is a young girl and possible love interest for Odysseus after she finds him washed ashore on her island.

Episode XIV – Oxen of the Sun, 10pm, the Maternity Hospital

I know Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus are in the hospital where Mrs. Purefoy gives birth to a son. I know that Joyce traces the history of the English language in this episode. I didn’t find either of these things out by actually reading the chapter. I read it, and it made no sense to me at all.

The Odyssey: Also known as the Cattle of Helios, they are the sun god’s symbol of fertility. Odysseus tells his men not to harm them, but they are too hungry to obey. Zeus punishes the crew by destroying the ship with a lightening bolt.

Episode XV – Circe, 12am, the Brothel

This episode is SO LONG! About 150 pages long! I thought it would be ok to read because it is written as a play, complete with stage directions. I foolishly thought knowing who was speaking would be easier to follow. It wasn’t. Sigh. But this section isn’t as slow to read as you’d think from looking at it.

The Odyssey: Circe is a goddess of magic, who turns Odysseus’ men into pigs after a meal. Odysseus protects himself from her potions, frees his men and they stay on the island for a year, feasting. Not really learning a lesson, it would seem.

So… I have read 522 out of 682 pages, I have finished Part II and am about to move onto Part III. The end is in sight…

Ulysses So Far

Episode IV – Calypso, 8am, Leopold Bloom’s House

This is first encounter with Bloom, the man himself, is quite ordinary.

The Odyssey: Calypso keeps Odysseus detained on her island for several years, trying to make him her immortal husband. Eventually, Zeus orders her to set him free because it was not their destiny to be together forever.

  • Ahbeesee defeegee kelomen opeecue rustyouvee double you. I just really liked the idea that if you are following someone’s train of thought, a lot of the time it’s just nonsense, background noise.

Episode V – Lotus-Eaters, 10am, Westland Row and Turkish Baths

The Odyssey: When Odysseus and his crew stop on the land of the Lotus-Eaters, they are given a drug that makes them forget their home.

  • Nice kind of evening feeling. No more wandering about. Just loll there: quiet dusk: let everything rip. Forget. Tell about places you have been, strange customs.
  • Rum idea: eating bits of a corpse why the cannibals cotton to it.
  • Penance. Punish me, please. Great weapon in their hands. More than doctor or solicitor. Woman dying to. And I schschschschschsch. And did you chachachachacha? And why did you? Look down at her ring to find an excuse. Whispering gallery walls have ears. Husband learn to his surprise. God’s little joke. Then out she comes. Repentence skin deep. Lovely shame.

Episode VI – Hades, 11am, The Graveyard

This chapter was really depressing, I suppose a compliment to Joyce’s writing the everyman’s thoughts about death. Accurate, but a bit much!

The Odyssey: Hades is the greek god of the Underworld, who is quick to anger when someone tries to cheat death. In greek mythology, all the living people who went into the Underworld were heroes.

  • Thanking her stars she was passed over. Extraordinary interest they take in a corpse. Glad to see us go when we give them such trouble coming. Job seems to suit them. Huggermugger in corners. Slop about in slipperslappers for fear he’d wake. Then getting it ready. Laying it out. Molly and Mrs. Fleming making the bed. Pull it more to your side. Our windingsheet. never know who will touch you dead. Wash and shampoo. I believe they clip the nails and the hair. Keep a bit in an envelope.
  • They’re so particular. Lay me in my native earth. Bit of clay from the holy land. Only a mother and deadborn child ever buried in one coffin. I see what it means. I see. To protect him as long as possible even in the earth. The Irishman’s house is his coffin.

Episode VII – Aeolus, 12pm, The Newspaper Office

This chapter has probably been the most difficult so far, it was a real struggle (that I didn’t succeed in overcoming) to keep track of who was in the room, or even which room they were in, let alone what they were talking about.

The Odyssey: Homer’s Aeolus was the god of winds. He gives Odysseus a bag full of the captured winds so he could sail home. Unfortunately, his men open the bag, thinking it was full of riches, and the ship is blown off-course.

  • You pray to a local and obscure idol: our temples, majestic and mysterious, are the abodes of Isis and Osiris, of Horus and Ammon Ra. Yours serfdom, awe and humbleness: ours thunder and the seas. Israel is weak and few are her children: Egypt is a host and terrible are her arms. Vagrants and daylabourers are you called: the world trembles in our name. You = Jews Us = Egypt ???
  • Sophist wallops haughty helen square on proboscis. Spartans gnash molars. Ithacans vow pen is champ. I assume this section is one of the ones people mention about you needing to be a real academic to get all the references. I didn’t, these are a couple of quotes to demonstrate why!

Episode VIII – Lestrygonians, 1pm, Davy Byrne’s Pub

Again, this is all about the body, it made me chuckle that when we are hungry everything comes round to food.

The Odyssey: The Lestrygonians are a tribe of giant cannibals, who ate many of Odysseus’ men.

  • Flakes of pastry on the gusset of her dress: daub of sugary flour stuck to her cheek. Rhubarb tart with liberal fillings, rich fruit interior.
  • Let out to graze. Best moment to attack one in pudding time.
  • I wouldn’t be surprised if it was that kind of food you see produces the like waves of the brain the poetical. For example one of those policemen sweating Irish stew into their shirts; you couldn’t squeeze a line of poetry out of him. Don’t know what poetry is even.
  • Sad booser’s eyes. Bitten off more than he can chew. Am I like that? See ourselves as others see us. 
  • God made food, the devil the cooks.

Episode IX – Scylla and Charybdis, 2pm, The National Library

I take the bit about the newspaper office being the most difficult back, this is. What the hell is this about? I have no idea! Suggestions welcome!

The Odyssey: Being between Scylla and Charybdis is the ancient greek equivalent of being between a rock and a hard place. Scylla was a six headed sea monster, Charybdis a whirlpool, and Odysseus had to choose which was the lesser evil. Other than this chapter being a literary minefield, I’m not sure how this links together.

  • All these questions are purely academic, Russell oracled out of his shadow. I mean, whether Hamlet is Shakespeare or James I or Essex. Clergymen’s discussions of the historicity of Jesus. Art has to reveal to us ideas, formless spiritual essences. The supreme question about a work of art is out of how deep a life does it spring. I imagine this is the nature of many great debates!
  • What is a ghost? Stephen said with tingling energy. One who has faded into impalpability through death, through absence, through change of manners. […] Who is the ghost from limbo patrum, returning to the world that has forgotten him? This is being said about the ghosts in Hamlet, although I quite like the idea of this being the ghosts in literature in general.

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?