I finished Ulysses this summer and for some reason keep putting off writing about it. I wrote my thoughts on episodes 1-6 back on Bloomsday, June 16, when I first started reading it. I finished it about a week later, but I think it sort of wiped me out and I felt I needed to write some grand post about it and struggled to find the time or the right words.
Overall, Ulysses was less impenetrable than I expected. Yes, it's confusing. Yes, you have to work at it. Yes, I missed a lot. But, it's not impossible. It's also better than I expected. I didn't go overboard with reference materials. I referred to the introduction of my edition a lot, which had a chart of the episodes with the corresponding event from the Odyssey, the narrative form, the body part, the color, etc. This was simple but helpful in giving me a starting point of a reference for each episode. I know I missed a lot, but I was still able to follow along and I think I enjoyed it more than if I had focused too much on reference materials. I might reread it at some point with reference materials and do more of an in-depth study, but for now I'm happy to have read it at all!
Here's a run down of the remaining episodes.
Episode 7: This is written as a newspaper, except not on the fourth-grade reading level most papers use. :) It's the first time Bloom and Stephen meet in the book. The main focus seems to be money vs. art - you can either sell out and make money or stay true to your art but not both.
Episode 8: This is a poetic chapter, in blank verse. This chapter focuses on the feminine. Priests embrace their feminine side - is he saying that makes you closer to God? Is that the ideal? Not feminine or masculine, but something in the middle? Bloom also reflects a lot on labor as he hears about a woman in labor for three days. A baby is born every second, someone dies every second. The circle of life. People don't stop and enjoy life - shows people rushing through dinner like savages.
Episode 9: Bloom, Stephen, and others discuss Shakespeare. They consider his plays autobiographical - should we then consider Ulysses autobiographical, like Portrait of the Artist of the Young Man is? They talk about how Ireland doesn't have a Shakespeare yet, a definitive writer of the Irish experience, a national epic. That's why Joyce was trying to achieve here with Ulysses, and I think he succeeds.
Episode 10: The perspective shifts, starting with a priest who presided over a funeral earlier in the narrative. He walks through a park, and the perspective shifts through various people as they see one another, eventually getting to Bloom and Stephen. I think he's trying to show how we're all connected.
Episode 11: At a pub, we hear snatches of conversations, including the barmaids making fun of Bloom. This section was more like what I expected - hard to comprehend, seemingly random, nonsensical sentences.
Episode 12: This section varied between lists and dialogue. He lists Irish heroes, but half the list isn't Irish. Is he commenting on the Irish, that their own heroes aren't even their own? "Ireland sober is Ireland free." Bloom wonders if he's really Irish, as a Jew.
Episode 13: Some girls play at the beach while Bloom watches. Cissy tries to get Father Conroy's attention, but, like Bloom, he can't keep his eyes off Gerty. Bloom masturbates while watching Gerty (ewwww!!!!). When Gerty leaves, he realizes she is lame and is glad he didn't realize that earlier. Our fantasies are sometimes better than the real thing.
Episode 14: The narrative styles progress through the styles of various authors in chronological author. Shows Joyce's range. This parallels Mina's labor. The men discuss abortion, birth, saving the mother or baby. Bloom says they shouldn't be discussing such topics at that time. We are all born the same but die differently.
Episode 15: This episode takes the form of a play. It's the longest section. It's mainly a series of hallucinations. Bloom pictures being with other women, including wife Molly's best friend. He imagines being ruler of Ireland, Bloomusalem. In his mind, Bloom goes on trial and is a womanly man who bears eight children. Stephen also hallucinates, imagines he's a cardinal, primate of all Ireland. Everyone dreams of power. In real life, they are at a brothel. Boylan offers to let Bloom watch as he does Molly; Stephen hallucinates about his mother.
Episode 16: Ireland is England's Achilles' heel. England will fall. Why has Ireland fought for England more than against it? Bloom is more fatherly to Stephen in this section, which follows a more traditional narrative.
Episode 17: Told through a series of Q&A, Bloom takes Stephen to Bloom's house. Bloom thinks of Boylan and Molly's previous lovers. Molly gets into bed and tells him about her day. She thinks about how she and Bloom haven't had sex in 10 years.
Episode 18: This is Molly's famous monologue - eight paragraphs, 62 pages, no punctuation. Yeah. It's mainly about sex - why do women have a hole, why do men feel compelled to fill it and their bellies? When a women gets old she might as well die. She thinks of her daughter becoming a woman. She imagines being with Stephen, plans to study so he'll think she's smart. She wishes people weren't so uptight about sex. What would it be like to have sex like a man? It hasn't been the same between her and Bloom since their son died.
So what does it all mean? I have no idea. This is just one day in the life of these characters, just a snapshot. It's not enough to judge them. We learn how Molly's perspective differs from Bloom's - you can't judge based on one person's view. We can never get the whole picture. We can't know all.
Ulysses was actually the first book I finished from my Classics Club list, even though I'm just now posting about it. It's the fourth one I'm posting about. I'm hoping to pick up speed on my list a bit this fall.