Happy Ulysses Day everyone and hard to believe we've now been reading Ulysses for three months and I have actually stuck to my sixty or so pages a month. I didn't like to tell you as we sat at base camp that I might be tempted to race ahead to the summit and would have to resist.
In fact I'd hate to be ordered to read Ulysses fast. Sixty pages a month feels like just the right amount, usually without pressure and surprisingly pleasurable reading though I'll admit this month's been a bit busier than many, but I'm up to the end of Lestrygonians with Scylla and Charybdis to follow.
I feel as if I'm in my stride with Leopold Bloom now, sort of tagging alongside and really starting to grasp his stream of consciousness...'stream of life' and follow some, though be no means all, of those seemingly unconnected, often throwaway thoughts that he has.
I also began to wonder whether some of those phrases that have entered the vernacular may have had their origins with James Joyce. 'Bitten off more than he can chew' came to mind in this month's reading and strangely, because I might have thought this as I picked the book up back in June. Except I looked it up and that's a phrase that seems to have originated in the US in the 1880s to do with plug tobacco. But in searching I came across this interesting pictorial approach to Ulysses.
Alongside my Ulyssesian reading I've been browsing some of the books on my desk, usually collected writings of authors various, and checking indexes for references to James Joyce because just about everyone has something to say about him.
George Orwell in a talk broadcast in 1942, sets up an unlikely yet fascinating comparison between Ulysses and John Galsworthy's The Forsyte Saga. Both books,
'cover an enormous canvas and get the spirit and social history of a whole epoch between the covers of a book...The Man of Property may not seem to us now a very profound criticism of society, but it seemed so to its contemporaries'
Orwell goes on to shape his comparison focusing on Joyce's interest in
'mere words, the sounds and the associations of words, even the pattern of words on the paper,' *
and I must admit this is something that really becomes apparent when I read Ulysses out loud, which I do quite a lot...I'm seriously tempted to buy an unabridged audio version eventually. I have a feeling it would make for quite lyrical, almost mesmerising listening.
But an even better anecdote came to light as I read The World of Yesterday, Stefan Zweig's autobiography (which I can't recommend highly enough for more reasons than I have space for here but I'll come back to them.)
Stefan Zweig met James Joyce in Zurich soon after the Great War.
Yet to become an exile himself, Zweig was nevertheless deeply moved by those he met who were without a country and uncertain quite where they belonged, and none more so than James Joyce. Describing him as compact, somber man, not prone to high spirits or laughter, in fact 'testy', led Zweig to conclude that Joyce's irritation led to the turmoil that in turn fuelled his creativity.
' A young man with a little brown beard, with keen eyes behind strikingly thick lenses sat, alone in a corner of the Cafe Odeon; they told me he was a highly gifted English author. When I became acquainted with James Joyce... he harshly rejected all association with England. He was Irish. True he wrote in English but did not think in English, and didn't want to think in English...'I cannot express myself in English without enclosing myself in tradition.'
Stefan Zweig goes on to describe Joyce's phenomenal knowledge of languages and his power with words and whilst all this is probably grist to the academic Joycean mill it was new knowledge for me.
I have come to Ulysses with very little background and few pre-conceptions about Joyce the man, and nor have I set out to read everything written about him, in the hope that glimmers of light would emerge when they felt like it. Thus Stefan Zweig's meeting offers me some unique insights and perhaps explains why James Joyce is so keen to subvert what had gone before and push the boundaries of language to its extremes.
I'm wondering how you are all doing and do hope I'm not on a solo climb or I shall start to wobble a bit.
* My Country Right or Left 1940 - 1943 Volume II Essays, Journalism & Letters