Joyce's Ulysses

Course No. 237
Professor James A. W. Heffernan, Ph.D.
Dartmouth College
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Course No. 237
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Course Overview

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
 |  Average 30 minutes each
  • 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
    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
    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

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Your professor

James A. W. Heffernan

About Your Professor

James A. W. Heffernan, Ph.D.
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...
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Joyce's Ulysses is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 77.
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great courses, extremely well taught I am currently doing Ulysses. I am finally able to understand this novel. I have been trying for yesterday. Your course is making it possible.
Date published: 2020-07-19
Rated 5 out of 5 by from SUPERB!!! This is by far the best Great Courses course I have taken. This is my second time listening to it. This course is absolutely indispensable for anyone with an interest in Joyce's Ulysses. The way Prof. Heffernan analyses each book of the novel with reference to corresponding events in Homer's Odyssey is just spectacular. These correspondences that add so much depth and understanding to Ulysses are essential for comprehending a very difficult book. These lectures have made my enjoyment of the novel infinitely greater. Listening to these lectures the second time through is very timely since tomorrow is Bloom's Day!!!
Date published: 2020-06-15
Rated 3 out of 5 by from Perfect for beginners This was not my first time reading Ulysses, so the emphasis on the parallels between Joyce's book and The Odyssey was not what I was looking for. What truly makes the book the landmark that it is is in its use of language, which is not discussed nearly enough for my taste in the lectures.
Date published: 2020-06-05
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Of all the 38 courses that I have listened to, this one is among the most articulate and, arguably, most explanatory. That being said, nevertheless I find some of the presenter’s analogies off the wall but they force one to think, which is an accomplishment since I listen while exercising!!
Date published: 2020-04-25
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Ulysses, and Joyce, my bucket list empowered The Great Courses has made a "bucket list" reread worthwhile. Thank you TGC. I was interested in Joyce because of "Portrait of the Artist and a Young Man", read when I was myself a young man; and the book really struck home. "Dubliners", was also interesting; but the true continuation of Stephen Dedalus is "Ulysses". So I tried "Ulysses" and "Finnegan's Wake", but wound up shelving those difficult reads for a later in life "bucket list" reread. It did not escape notice that many universities had graduate level courses, indicating that Joyce's material was definitely difficult but worth engaging. Of course, a reread of Homer's Odyssey and other prerequisites were obligated. Joyce gives no quarter, he just does his great stuff. Problem is, great words from a century ago will require a preface, an explanation; and if the words are composed around ideas from an ancient story, where the specific reference to the idea may ruin the literature, intervention is required. Heffernan's offering from The Great Courses is the missing guide. Heffernan's delivery is superlative, and motivated as an ancestor of Dublin Irish. Furthermore, the Course Guidebook alone is worth the money to me. The Guidebook has such features as a "Comparative Outline" between chapters of Homer's Odyssey and Joyce's Ulysses; and summaries, for each of the Ulysses chapters in order, which are the ultimate prelude to the challenging material. The Guidebook also provides "Timelines" for the life of James Joyce, and for Irish history to the time of the publication of Ulysses; and these are helpful because Joyce works both into his narrative. The Guidebook also provides an all too short Glossary, a Biographical Notes that use the Glossary, and a Bibliography that includes "Web Sites" and best "Editions", as well as references, essays, critiques, biographies, and such. If one wishes to get the century old terms (Latin, French, German, Spanish, and Greek translations and old English definitions) and line item explanations as reading progresses, "Ulysses Annotated" by Gifford is a necessary companion; especially to chapters 3 and 14. I consider Stuart Gilbert's "Joyce's Ulysses" to be a heralded postscript. One thing about Joyce is that he tells it like it is, with incredible flair for ordinary people, and in relation to like it was 3000 years ago. Not just vernacular, salacious in detail and without compunction, the actions and thoughts and daydreams of everyone with whatever differences. Beware, those faint of heart (and spirit). My reread of Chapter 18 "Penelope", which had riveted my interest in younger days, was much expanded by understanding Joyce's pervasive optimism. But the real payoff was variously Chapter 11 "Sirens", about music and literary music; Chapter 10 "Wandering Rocks" about the concurrent happenings of various Dublin characters; Chapter 9 "Scylla and Charybdis" about the dialectic between the platonic and the material; Chapter 7 "Aeolus" about the "Bag of Winds" embodied by journalists and politicians. I can't do justice to the humor, and objective vernacular, parody. However, the power of great thought in words goes well beyond any parochial ridicule; even if Joyce intended that no one will ever claim total decipherment. But still, was the grand effort worth my time? I encountered the "Animal Farm" by "pig" Bloom speeches (15.1674, 489:8) in "Nighttown" Ch 15, then the incomparable parody of Marx/ Engels in Ch 16, "From each according to need, to each according to deeds". "I said Yes!"
Date published: 2020-03-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Joyce's Ulysses Listening to Joyce's Ulysses as I read was both interesting and enlightening. I recommend it to anyone as determined as I was to read this monster of a book.
Date published: 2019-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Joyce's Ulysses This series of lectures is absolutely delightful and makes reading Ulysses a joy.
Date published: 2019-08-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Critical to understanding Ulysses I love it!!! I am working my way through Joyce's Ulysses. This book has been instrumental in not only understand this comple work, but enhanced my enjoyment of it. I LOVE IT!!!!
Date published: 2019-08-15
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