Ulysses, Chapter 1: It’s not as bad as I thought

joyce towerHere is what I forget sometimes: that books are deemed classics for a reason. Although I am 20 pages in, I would say this book qualifies.

I read the chapter straight through and tried not to get tripped up by the latin quotes or the sometimes odd language. Once I finished, I looked up a summary of the chapter to see if I understood it. I wasn’t too far off. First, I wasn’t sure how many people were actually involved – it was sort of like a Russian novel where people were called by different names – so I wasn’t sure if there were three or four dudes. Second, Joyce basically drops you right in the middle of a scene with no explanation – so I didn’t know if they were on a ship (there is lots of talk of the sea) or on some sort of battlefield or castle.

It turns out there are three dudes, and they are living in a tower. The tower is actually based on one that Joyce stayed in (pictured above) for six nights in 1904. (It’s now a museum dedicated to the author.) The main character in the chapter is Stephen Dedalus (who I remember from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) and if I recall correctly, is a representation of the author. Basically, Stephen gets mad at the dudes he is sharing the space with and gives him they key and it looks like he won’t return.

The chapter is ‘titled’ Telemachus – he is the son of Odysseus and is a central character in Homer’s Odyssey. Telemachus is the one who goes out searching for his father when all of the suitors come calling on his mother. Here is what we know: Ulysses is based on the Odyssey BUT does not follow it exactly. (Also, Ulysses is the Latinized version of the name Odysseus, according to Wikipedia.) So I take from this that Dedalus is going on some sort of journey.

There are some strange words – BJ and I just had a discussion on what an ashplant is. It’s a walking stick, FYI. It’s sort of like (but not as difficult as) reading Shakespeare or Chaucer. There are strange words put together in a way that we don’t use here. However, it’s very lyrical. The sounds of the words paint a picture. I know that sounds super weird, but that’s how it seems to me. Even though I don’t exactly know what’s going on, the way the words sound give you a clue. If you haven’t read it, you will just have to trust me on this one. The other difficult thing is, I think he also makes up words. So I can’t tell the made up words from the ones that I just don’t know the definitions of.

I think what makes this so interesting is – you can just read it and get the gist of what is going on. Or you can study it and get into the meaning and symbolism. But you don’t have to do both to enjoy it. Keep in mind, I am only 20 pages in so I might change my mind.

Overall, I liked it. It’s definitely challenging but not impossible. Let’s see what happens next!

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