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Joyce's Ulysses

Joyce's Ulysses

Course No.  237
Course No.  237
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Course Overview

About This Course

24 lectures  |  30 minutes per lecture

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

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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

Ulysses 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 and Ulysses, 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.

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24 Lectures
  • 1
    The Story of a Modern Masterpiece
    What is the special place that Ulysses occupies in 20th-century fiction? Why has the book provoked such strong reactions? How can the challenges it poses for first-time readers be met? Why did Joyce choose to take Homer's Odyssey as the inspiration for his "day in the life" story of Dublin on June 16, 1904? x
  • 2
    Telemachus at the Martello Tower
    Chapter 1 presents one of the three principal characters. He is Stephen Dedalus, the fictional portrait of the artist Joyce as a young man. A 22-year-old schoolteacher of Jesuit education, lofty intellect, and brooding, brilliant wit, he is haunted by his mother's death and his own gnawing sense of being beset, Telemachus-like, by usurpers. x
  • 3
    Nestor at School
    The centerpiece of the second chapter is Stephen's confrontation with the nightmare of history as he teaches his class at Dalkey and collects his pay from headmaster Deasy. Why does Stephen think of history as a bad dream? And how, as man and budding artist, can he learn to awaken from it? x
  • 4
    Proteus on Sandymount Strand
    This chapter, though literally no more than a walk on the beach, can be a sand trap for the unwary reader. But if you know what to look for, Stephen's dense, polysyllabic inner monologue can show you how the imagination of the artist—the imagination of James Joyce—works to grasp and express the unity behind the manifold, mutable world that touches our senses. x
  • 5
    Breakfast with Calypso
    Serving Molly breakfast in bed beneath a picture of a nymph, is Bloom as enthralled as Ulysses was by Calypso? How does Joyce use Bloom's thoughts—and his brief journey out to buy his breakfast—to help us imagine the novel's crucial themes? x
  • 6
    Leopold Bloom and the Lotus Eaters
    Bloom's devotion to his wife and home is tested as he faces an array of temptations to forget both and savor the pleasures of narco-eroticized indolence and plantlike turpitude. But can he—should he—seek escape from the pain that comes from remembering his dead father, or anticipating his wife's adulterous liaison with Blazes Boylan? x
  • 7
    Hades
    How does Joyce use Bloom's trip northwest to Glasnevin Cemetery for the burial of Paddy Dignam to restage Ulysses's visit to the underworld and demonstrate the Bloomian (Joycean?) conviction that "in the midst of death, we are in life"? x
  • 8
    A Bag of Winds
    Inspired by Ulysses's visit to Aeolus, the god of winds, Chapter 7 blows Bloom and Stephen together briefly. Examples of conventional public rhetoric huff and puff beneath mock headlines in a Joycean counterblast to the novel's inner monologues. And at chapter's end, Stephen breathes life into an unconventional story about two Dublin spinsters, some plums, and a statue of Lord Nelson. x
  • 9
    Lestrygonians at Lunchtime
    Re-enacting Ulysses's brush with a race of cannibals, Chapter 8 invites you to join Bloom at his midday meal. By listening to the thoughts of our modern Ulysses as he steers a moderate course through this mundane but highly meaningful activity, you'll learn about his character, his conflicts, and the artistry of James Joyce. When you're done you may be hungry, but it won't be for knowledge. x
  • 10
    Scylla and Charybdis, I
    In moving from Chapter 8 to Chapter 9, you move from the body to the mind, from the lunchroom to the library, from Bloom's concern with physical processes to Stephen's with mental speculations. Why does Stephen feel he must explain his theory of how Shakespeare came to write Hamlet to a gathering of Dublin's literati, even though he has no wish to join them? x
  • 11
    Scylla and Charybdis, II
    What is Stephen's theory of Hamlet? Does he himself believe it? If not, why does he present it? What does it tell you about Stephen's needs as an artist? How does Stephen unwittingly identify Shakespeare with both Ulysses and Leopold Bloom? And why does Stephen (Joyce?) prefer Aristotle to Plato? x
  • 12
    Wandering Rocks
    In the Dublin of Ulysses, Homer's "wandering rocks" (reefs so tricky they seem to move) become characters who bump into each other as Bloom and Stephen make their ways through the afternoon streets. Collectively, these motions move the city that defines both men. In Chapter 10, Joyce has made the city he called "Dyoubelong?" a character in his novel. x
  • 13
    The Sirens of the Ormond Hotel
    In Chapter 11, Homer's seductive songstresses become a pair of barmaids at the hotel where Bloom takes a meal and the air is full of song. Like Ulysses, Bloom is tempted by music's charms, especially when it evokes romantic or national feeling, but he keeps his distance. At the end of this chapter of musical effects (amazingly handled in Joyce's extraordinary prose), Bloom pipes his own fundamental comment on Irish nationalism. x
  • 14
    Citizen Cyclops, I
    The gigantic one-eyed savage of Chapter 12 is a myopic, chauvinistic, anti-Semitic drunk known simply as "the citizen." Caught in Barney Kiernan's pub with him, Bloom (whose thoughts you do not hear) must assert himself and then escape with a Ulyssean mixture of boldness and prudence. This first lecture on "Cyclops" treats just the portions "spoken" by the unnamed narrator, also hostile to Bloom, who recounts the episode as a barroom anecdote. x
  • 15
    Citizen Cyclops, II
    Interspersed with the colloquial narrator's voice in Chapter 12 are 32 passages in which Joyce parodies—brilliantly and often hilariously—a dazzling number of writing styles from pseudo-epic romance to modern legal briefs and political reportage. Why does Joyce include the writings of the "parodist"—who often undercuts Bloom—in this section where Bloom is perhaps at his most heroic? x
  • 16
    Nausicaa at the Beach
    Homer's young princess appears as Gerty MacDowell, a sentimental young woman who constructs a romantic fantasy around Bloom when she sees him at Sandymount Strand. Storm-tossed and tired after his long harsh day, Bloom seeks relief in Gerty's gaze. But his thoughts and feelings turn again toward Molly and home. x
  • 17
    Oxen of the Sun
    Chapter 14, which places Bloom and Stephen in the waiting room of the National Maternity Hospital at 10 p.m., shows Joyce at his most masterful. Patterned on the nine months of pregnancy, it recapitulates in nine successive, pitch-perfect prose styles the gestation and development of the English language, from Anglo-Saxon diction through Victorian eloquence. x
  • 18
    Circe of Nighttown, I
    Written in playscript form, this longest chapter features the transformations, hallucinations, and displays that occur when Bloom protectively follows Stephen to Bella Cohen's brothel in Dublin's bawdy-house district, and unlike Ulysses in the palace of Circe, gives up the magic plant that wards off the enchantress's power. x
  • 19
    Circe of Nighttown, II
    Stripped of his talismanic potato and thus unable to resist, Bloom must endure a hallucinatory series of humiliations and shape-shifts at the hands of Bella Cohen. How will Bloom face these down, regain his self-command, and continue with his mission of safeguarding Stephen and returning home? x
  • 20
    Eumaeus
    In Chapter 16, Homer's kindly old swineherd Eumaeus appears as the keeper of a cabman's shelter where Bloom and Stephen go to talk and rest after the older man guides the younger out of Nighttown. The chapter's cliché-ridden, newspapery language of exhaustion gives way to something more human when Bloom, preparing to return home, urges Stephen to "lean on me." x
  • 21
    Return to Ithaca, I
    In the penultimate chapter, written as a catechetical or scientific series of questions and answers that highlights both the characters' humanity and their universal significance, Stephen and Bloom enter Bloom's house "by a stratagem" and then sit and talk. Stephen politely declines an invitation to stay, but not before they have shared a generous moment of communion over the "massproduct" of hot cocoa. x
  • 22
    Return to Ithaca, II
    After Stephen leaves, Bloom's thoughts turn to Molly upstairs. While Stephen becomes the "centrifugal departer," Bloom is "the centripetal remainer," seeking his center in Molly. But his journey to their marriage bed is an ordeal which demands that he try and restore order to both his disarranged house and his own troubled spirit. x
  • 23
    Molly Bloom Speaks
    Lying in bed, Mrs. Marion Bloom thinks of everything she's ever done or felt and every man she's ever known. Yet her uninhibited and sometimes self-contradictory monologue finally shows her thoughts returning home. Her husband remains the only man who understands her, and the memory of their first ecstatic lovemaking leads to Molly's great and final "Yes." x
  • 24
    Joyce and the Modern Novel
    Why does Joyce reject the rules of conventional plotting and leave major questions unresolved? How does Ulysses fit in with the history of English-language fiction? How does Ulysses point to Finnegans Wake? Why does Joyce bind his universalizing, polytropic vision to the richly particularized streets of Dublin on a quite specific day? And how does he succeed so brilliantly at this? x

Lecture Titles

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James A. W. Heffernan
Ph.D. James A. W. Heffernan
Dartmouth College

Dr. James A. W. Heffernan is Professor of English, Emeritus at Dartmouth College, where he was also Frederick Sessions Beebe '35 Professor in the Art of Writing. He earned his A.B. cum laude from Georgetown University and his Ph.D. in English from Princeton University. Professor Heffernan taught a range of courses at Dartmouth, including European Romanticism, English Romantic poetry, methods of literary criticism, and the 19th-century English novel. For many years he also taught a senior seminar on Joyce's Ulysses that was regularly oversubscribed. Professor Heffernan received five grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He published, among other books, Representing the French Revolution: Literature, Historiography, and Art (1992) and Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery (1993). The volume titled British Writers: Retrospective Supplement (Scribner's) includes his comprehensive essay on Joyce's work. He is the coauthor of Writing: A College Handbook, now in its fifth edition. He also published nearly 50 articles. Widely known for his work on the relationship between literature and visual art, Professor Heffernan has lectured at international conferences in Israel, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Holland, and Germany, as well as in various parts of the United States.

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Reviews

Rated 4.5 out of 5 by 43 reviewers.
Rated 5 out of 5 by The Royal Road into Ulysses With wit, substance, and humor Professor Heffernan takes the listener on a tour through Joyce's master work that is both scholarly and enormously entertaining. As a guide through this dense yet sublime work of literature, it is hard to imagine anyone better--or more qualified--that Heffernan. I have listened to his lectures multiple times and each experience brings new levels of comprehension and delight. I highly recommend this series to anyone interested in literature, Ireland, or the Classics. October 10, 2014
Rated 2 out of 5 by For effete snobs only I thought that I would enjoy reading "Ulysses" by James Joyce. I tried it and didn't like it. I thought that I would appreciate it if I read it simultaneously with a Great Courses lecture series. The lecturer let us know that if we hadn't read Homer's "Odyssey", we weren't worthy of Ulysses. Fine. The book and the course are for (as a former Vice President said) effete snobs only. Chalk it up to experience. October 9, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by The Best I have now taken and reviewed over 100 courses from TGC. Several of these courses were truly great, even memorable. I recall with real fondness and gratitude the teaching of such giants as Weinstein, Spiegelman, Kloss, Greenberg, Ressler, and Kinney. But, as hard as it is to deem one course from all the superb, 5 star courses I've experienced as the best, I have no hesitation in doing so with Heffernan's extraordinary work on Joyce's Ulysses. In my view, this course does everything a great course should do. There was never a single moment in the entire course when I lost interest or was distracted for any reason. The teaching was thoroughly engaging, challenging, and inspiring throughout. It is a particular pleasure while studying a piece of great literature to have the teaching itself be of high literary quality. The professor was extremely artful in constructing and delivering the course. His hard work, brilliance, passion, and creativity in the teaching add so much to learning. Professor Heffernan has a very deep knowledge and understanding of the Ireland from which this superb novel emerges - its history, its politics, its literature and culture, and the landscape, especially of Dublin. This adds great value. The professor obviously has a profound regard for Joyce, which complements his powerful mastery of the author and this amazing and complex novel. All of this, too, is indispensable to the course's remarkable success, especially when the professor so ably connects various characters and pieces of the plot from within the novel as well as from other works of Joyce. I have had no previous exposure to Heffernan's teaching, but it's clear that he loves literature and is generally quite good at teaching it. In particular, his deep understanding and skill in teaching the trajectory of the novel before and through Joyce's work was also a real asset. More important to the particular challenge in this course, a command by the professor of both the Joyce novel and the Homeric tale upon which it was "based" is absolutely required. Heffernan exercised this command brilliantly, indeed with genius. As the professor conceded, he did frequently "go out on a limb" in his theories about how the two texts relate to each other. Sometimes it did seem a stretch. (But sometimes Joyce's work itself seems a stretch!) Here's the key point, though: it's an extraordinarily beautiful thing to explore what Joyce does in Ulysses, and it's equally beautiful to have Heffernan's guidance in the exploration. The positives of this course go on and on. Let me close by praising the professor's acting (and singing!) skills. It enriches the course greatly to have a professor of literature who can recite dialogue so beautifully in character. Yes, notionally, it's hard to label one of many great courses as the best. But, for someone interested in a special learning experience in fine literature, I put this course at the top. September 28, 2014
Rated 5 out of 5 by I finally understand Ulysses :Like many people I have puzzled over Joyce's masterpiece for years trying several times to read it but never getting past the "fried kidney" Who calls this great literature?? While to fully appreciate his achievement will take many more times thru the book, Heffernan has made me see the beauty and wonder of this great work. He is clear. concise. excited about the process and truly a wonderful teacher. My only complaint is perhaps they are not long enough, but you could clearly spend months on one chapter. Heffernan's lectures are superior to one of many books explaining Ulysses like GIlbert or Campbell I would strongly recommend these lectures to anyone who wants to see what Joyce is doing February 24, 2014
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