James Joyce's great novel Ulysses is a big, richly imagined, and intricately organized book with a huge reputation. T. S. Eliot, bowled over by Joyce's brilliant manipulation of a continuous parallel between ancient myth and modern life, called it "the most important expression which the present age has found ... [one] to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape."
Ulysses depicts a world that is as fully conceived and vibrant as anything in Homer or Shakespeare. It has been delighting and puzzling readers since it was first published on Joyce's 40th birthday, February 2, 1922.
Dartmouth's Professor James A. W. Heffernan maps the brilliance, passion, humanity, and humor of Joyce's modern Odyssey in this 24-lecture series.
Enigmas, Puzzles, and Epic Pleasures
It is, perhaps, a book whose pleasures you've always wanted to learn to savor but never quite worked yourself up to reading. And who can blame you? After all, Joyce himself famously boasted that "I've put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant!"
This is where Professor Heffernan's lectures help. Whether or not you have read this book, you'll find that his lectures, the fruit of decades of distinguished teaching, make an excellent guide to the many-layered pleasures of this modern epic.
Illuminating the dramatic and artistic integrity behind the novel's most notoriously challenging passages, he explains why this frank, pathbreaking novel was praised as a landmark and damned as obscene—even banned—as soon as it first appeared.
Professor Heffernan argues that Joyce, for all his waggish gamester's love of masks, mimicry, and literary red herrings, is behind them all the passionate teller of a vitally human tale, "a priest of the eternal imagination" yearning to transmute "the daily bread of experience into the radiant body of everliving life."
A Book of Many Turns
is many books at once:
- An inspired modern reweaving of the fabric of Homer's mighty Odyssey
- A supreme synthesis of realism and symbolism
- A grandly comic and at times bawdy work—a seriocomic parable about art and experience
- A symphonic, kaleidoscopic portrayal of the sights, sounds, and voices of Dublin and every city
- A dazzling work of masterfully handled prose styles and narrative devices.
It is an unsentimental but deeply felt story that uses concrete facts of mundane life in a particular time and place to say something truly extraordinary and universal that speaks to all that is human in us.
Although he discusses selected points from the enormous body of critical scholarship on Ulysses, Professor Heffernan presupposes no special knowledge of literature or of James Joyce. These lectures are meant to be useful and enlightening for anyone who is interested.
You should also be aware that the lectures are frankly worded at times. The language is sometimes profane and sexually explicit. Frankness belongs to the nature of Joyce's art—a point that not all readers have grasped, but it is essential to understanding this novel, according to Professor Heffernan.
Bloom, Stephen, and Molly: Modern-Day Homeric Heroes
Professor Heffernan's lectures follow the novel's structure. Through the many turns of Joyce's prose, you trace the travels around Dublin of Leopold Bloom, a married, 38-year-old, Jewish newspaper-ad salesman, on June 16, 1904, a date now famous around the world as "Bloomsday."
While learning how Bloom's wanderings creatively retrace the return from the Trojan War of Homer's Ulysses, a "man of many turns," you also join Professor Heffernan in observing and analyzing Bloom's involvement with the two other main characters, who like him are both vividly imagined individuals and universal archetypes:
- Stephen Dedalus is a would-be writer who stands in for Joyce's younger self. He evokes Homer's Telemachus, Bloom's dead son, Shakespeare's Hamlet, and sons everywhere and always.
- Molly Bloom is the wife of our latter-day Ulysses. Evoking Homer's Penelope (with Joycean twists), she waits in bed for Bloom to join her at the end of his long day, when she disgorges her interior monologue—written in eight enormous, unpunctuated paragraphs—which gestures toward Finnegans Wake and is one of the most famous passages in literature.
By learning what these characters—and the many other Dubliners they meet—think, do, say, and feel on a single day, you see how Joyce uses each of his 18 chapters to recall and rewrite a particular episode of the Odyssey
"This extraordinarily ambitious project raises challenging questions," says Professor Heffernan. "How can the exploits of an ancient warrior king and heroic voyager be re-enacted by a pacifist who has scarcely ever been to sea and who tolerates his wife's adultery, taking no revenge on her lover? How can Telemachus be reborn in Stephen, who has absolutely no wish to see his father at all? And how can the role of a supremely faithful wife be played by an adulteress?"
By reconstructing the story while analyzing numerous quotes and passages, Professor Heffernan answers these questions—and more.
Wanderers Who Long to Return
At the same time he is drawing parallels between the Odyssey
, Professor Heffernan explains how Joyce replays Homer's ancient song in an unmistakably modern rhythm and key.
You learn that Ulysses is the work of a man steeped in Homer, Dante, Shakespeare, and all of Western literature, but at the same time totally aware of his place in time and determined to catch all its many turnings in every possible way his art can master.
You explore how radically Ulysses departs from earlier models, how Joyce fundamentally reconstructs the relation between time and place in narrative, and how he explodes the assumption that a work of fiction must be dominated by a consistent point of view.
The tale of Leopold Bloom, modern-day wanderer and homecomer, is a timeless story illustrating the age-old theme of wanderers who long to return. Joyce himself, in his maturity blind like Homer but with mind's eye undimmed, would return to the major themes and characters of Ulysses by recycling them in the ever-circling book of dreams, Finnegans Wake.
A Great Teacher
Since 1989 Dr. Heffernan has taught a senior seminar on Ulysses that is regularly oversubscribed.
Michael Groden, Professor of English at the University of Western Ontario, says of Professor Heffernan's lectures: "With calmness, patience, and awareness of the challenge Ulysses presents, he will guide you chapter-by-chapter through the book, showing you both the big picture and many of the text's fascinating details. Let him help you understand Ulysses but, just as important, also show you the book's humanity and the sheer joy of experiencing Joyce's masterpiece."
This course is an excellent introductory guide to the many layers of James Joyce's landmark novel Ulysses.
After considering the controversies it provoked when it first appeared and why it is considered a major contribution to 20th-century literature, the lectures show how Joyce's novel reconstructs the adventures of Ulysses, the protagonist of Homer's Odyssey.
At the same time, the author is totally aware of his place in time and is determined to catch in every possible way the world of the early 20th century.
After considering the amazing variety of styles and multiplicity of viewpoints in Ulysses, the course reviews the novel as a whole and shows how radically Ulysses departs from the novels that came before it.