6 Facts About ‘Ulysses’ You Need to Know

Haven’t read ‘Ulysses’? Here are six facts about James Joyce’s controversial book, ‘Ulysses’ that you should know before you pick it up.

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James Joyce in 1915, 7 years prior to Ulysses

James Joyce’s controversial novel Ulysses had everyone scratching their head. Let’s take a look at some interesting tidbits about the Modernist text.

A century has passed since the publication of Irish Modernist writer James Joyce’s Ulysses. The story has launched debates among readers and scholars throughout the years, and reasonably so. It is among one of the most complicated, head-scratching reading journeys a person can embark on. Here are a few reasons why, as well as a few fun facts. 

Brush up on Homer’s The Odyssey.

Joyce takes the premise of Homer’s epic and creates a comedic parody of it in Ulysses. Rather than writing a years-long journey home, Joyce condenses his epic into a single day of Dublin life. Each chapter is named after an event or character within the ancient text. As you read through the chapters, you’ll notice some thinly veiled allusions to the characters like the Cyclops.

The Odyssey Book Cover via Amazon
Image via Amazon

Ulysses is chock-full of comedic language.

His comedic phrasing brings levity to some of the more dense bits of writing. I mean who thinks to find snot and male genitalia as descriptors in a literary masterpiece? Puns are nothing new, even in 1922, but even I got a snicker out of the gator joke.

“The sea, the snotgreen sea, the scrotumtightening sea.”

James Joyce, Ulysses

“Who made those allegations? says Alf.

“I” says Joe. “I’m the alligator.”

James Joyce, Ulysses

Joyce wrote it to confound on purpose. 

Joyce incorporated a massive amount of allusions within the eighteen chapters of his novel with intent. He wanted his readers to discuss it at length:

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

James Joyce

Add in chapters written by anonymous narrators, style and tone changes, and Joyce succeeded in his endeavor. 

Confusion. Wikimedia Commons
Image via Wikimedia Commons

James Joyce launched the stream-of-consciousness writing style.

What and how we think internally is vastly different from how we present ourselves o the outside world. Joyce founded stream-of-consciousness narrative style with Ulysses, which sparked a revolution among Modernist writers like Virginia Woolf and William Faulkner. This particular style of writing can easily confuse the reader as tangent thoughts are thrown into the prose like a toddler attempting to clean their room. 

Ulysses was banned for being pornographic.

It took the US 12 years to allow the publication of the novel due to the sexual content, which sparked the ban lift in England. Compared to today’s “sexually explicit” content it’s mild at best, but we’re not coming out of the sexually repressed Victorian Era here, are we?

Writing Dublin from memory.

Joyce hadn’t lived in Ireland for over a decade when he wrote Ulysses. All of his descriptions of the city were from memory.

Dublin street 1900-1914
Image via Wikimedia Commons

Chapters of Ulysses were actually published earlier than 1922.

Prior to Sylia Beach with Shakespeare and Company publishing the novel as a whole in 1922, Joyce published chapters of Ulysses as episodes between 1918 and 1920. The episodes stopped when they were deemed too obscene for public consumption.

1st edition copy of Ulysses by James Joyce
Image Via Wikimedia Commons – 1st edition copy of Ulysses

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