Ulysses at 100: James Joyce’s iconic novel is still a captivating paradox

For Jibu Mathew George, assistant professor at the University of English and Foreign Languages ​​(EFLU), a stray remark from his student sums up the experience of reading James Joyce’s 1922 novel Ulysses. “It’s like taking a child to a mall or a department store. There are so many things they could buy there,” says George, who has been teaching novel door blocking for more than 12 years now. . He says there couldn’t be a better analogy for a literary masterpiece that has so much to offer even though it’s based on the events of a single day. The modernist classic, dense and intoxicating, parallels that of Homer Odyssey in its conception, as it follows the encounters and engagements of publicity canvasser Leopold Bloom during an ordinary day in Dublin on June 16, 1904, its dizzying story arc spanning 700 pages.

Irish writer Joyce is required reading in English literature departments around the world. And much has been written about Ulysses in its 100th year of publication: its groundbreaking reinvention of language duly acknowledged, its place as a milestone in Western intellectual history fully cemented in how it remains a “monument to the human condition”. . But how has it aged in India? What are the challenges of teaching a seemingly intimidating classic that takes a lot of patience, at least to get past the first hundred pages. When few “Eng Hons” students dare to walk beyond Joyce’s more accessible early works like Dubliners and A portrait of an artist as a young man? “On one level, Ulysses is very encyclopedic. It contains a lot of diverse data that would otherwise be excluded from a realistic narrative. So, in this sense, students are expected to have a certain cultural repertoire, prior exposure reading texts at different levels, like Homer, of course, the use of language, a little European literature, some understanding of Dickens and Walter Pater, Anglo-Saxon chronicles and Latin prose. On the other hand, the book is also very relatable,” says George, pointing out the gripping paradox that lies at the heart of reading Ulysses. du Soleil”, which a magazine editor described as follows: “I think this episode could also have been called Hades because reading it is like being walked around hell. It is set in a Dublin maternity hospital and the phrase refers to a pastiche of styles as it traces the growth of English as a language. In turn, it is paralleled with the growth of the fetus in the womb. “In India, Joyce at the beginning is read at the undergraduate level, while Joyce later, like Ulysses and Finnegans Wakewhich is even more unique and esoteric, is recommended for masters and later,” adds George who has completed his doctoral thesis on Ulysses. Over the years he has written a number of academic papers on this subject, except for a book titled Ulysses Quotīdiānus: The Reverse Stories of James Joyce’s Everyday Life.

While a serious examination of Ulysses may be more appropriately undertaken at the master’s level, there will always be early readers who experience the complete “newness” of the text with calculations like “I don’t I’ve never been so intrigued.” For Prisha Rewar, now in her third year of BA (Hons) English at Jesus and Mary College, Ulysses was between school and university. For her, it was a “joyful” read, and she was never seen through a “critical literary lens”. She was constantly reminded of Mrs. Dalloway, a 1925 novel by Virginia Woolf about a day in the life of an upper class woman in post-World War I England. Woolf had regarded Ulysses with contempt in her early letters when she first read it. “I kept going back and forth between the two texts. But, the timeline laid out in the book was very new to me. It was a very different classic in a good way. But I have to say I was pretty lost at the end. I couldn’t figure it out. I kept thinking, but what did the ending want you to know? What was the outcome I was supposed to get from the book?” , admits Rewar.

Rimli Bhattacharya, a professor at Delhi University’s Faculty of Arts, teaches Joyce short stories. Although she didn’t teach Odysseus in her master’s class, she recognizes the importance he has taken on. She claims that without the breakthrough Joyce achieved with his style of writing and the play of images in Ulysses, other experiments later in the 20th century would not have taken place, including perhaps by Salman Rushdie him -same. “Students are overwhelmed by Ulysses, but if they have a good navigator who doesn’t always have to be a teacher, someone who has dived into the book and enjoyed it, that can be rewarding,” says Bhattacharya. She studied Ulysses as a text while pursuing her doctorate at Brown University in the 1980s, with Marcel Proust and William Faulkner. “It was my first serious engagement with Joyce. I remember feeling very lost. I asked one of my teachers that it was so rich and sensual, but what can I write about it I felt very helpless writing about it. I think it’s a book that if you let yourself go, you appreciate it a lot more.”

Irene B. Bowles