...not in the least connected to Ulysses to my knowledge, but I am very taken with this picture of Buachaille Etive Mor up near Glencoe since mentioning Susan Fletcher's forthcoming book Corrag earlier this week and the discovery that this is the peak that features on the cover.
Next month, this month and last, which I will have spent taking a leisurely stroll around Circe, have felt like a bit of time to rest up and gather some energy for those final three chapters of Ulysses which will take us from March to April to May to June and Bloomsday. Time to enjoy the scenery and breath in deeply and I must say I'm starting to get a little twinge of pride when I gaze upon my well-thumbed copy of Ulysses now because until Team Ulysses banded together I really never thought I'd do this.
The book has become a constant friend, it's always on a table somewhere, and I must confess it's also been an occasional foe when I've felt slightly defeated, but at times like that I think of Mr Kiberd senior, father of Declan Kiberd author of Ulysses and Us and his assertion that the bits he didn't understand were best left to those who did.
I knew there was a reason I had wanted to remember February 2nd, Candlemas, and it's because it was James Joyce's birthday. As it is I forgot, but I have been doing a bit of reading about Joyce himself and learn that much of Ulysses was written whilst reclining on a bed wearing a white suit and life happening around him which seems to make it even more of an achievement. Declan Kiberd makes the point that whilst novels deal with ready-made societies, 'Ireland in 1904 was still a society in the making' and Ulysses somehow fits this metamorphosis, 'more than a collection of stories...not quite unified enough to be a novel.'
I think I've gathered all that quite clearly now, this far in and on the home run I'm still trying to work out what it is I have read and am reading, and how I might feel when I turn that final page on Molly's exultant and I think probably very happy 'yes' now that I've discovered what she's doing.
I was delighted to read Frank Delaney describing Circe as a psychedelic hallucination because this second instalment has felt exactly like that and I'm wondering if Ulysses achieved any sort of resurgence in popularity in the 1960s as a result. It's like taking a seat at a farcical play or a circus and not quite knowing the cast, the plot or anything about it whatsoever, endless surprises on every page, some that trigger memories from elsewhere in the book, plenty that seem to make no sense at all. If I was really watching this happening I'd be jumping out of my seat with shock and surprise and having heart attacks every twenty seconds, I think I'm just experiencing the literary equivalent.
The Cheat's Guide to Ulysses which I discovered on the BBC website of all places, and written to mark the centenary in 2004, has this as the entry for Circe
(horrorstruck) Blimey, this looks like heavy going.
Stephen's Dead Mother
No kidding! There's over 100 pages of this stuff, all written in the style of a play script. But all you need to know is that Bloom follows Stephen to a brothel where they have lots of freaky hallucinations. "
The banter which follows is hilarious including "Man goes for walk around Dublin, nothing happens" from someone in Newport Pagnall, until in steps Stephen Fry with this retort
"Ulysses is the greatest novel of the twentieth century.
It is is wise, warm, witty, affirmative and beautiful. it is less
pretentious than a baked bean. Read it. read it out loud to yourself.
It won't bite. It wasn't written either to shock or to impress. Only
pretentious barbarians believe artists set out shock: and how these
philistines delight in revealing how unshocked they are. Those who
attack it are afraid of it and rather than look foolish they prefer to
heckle what they don't understand. Ignore all this childish,
fear-filled criticism, Ulysses will be read when everything you see and
touch around you has crumbled into dust."
It seems to be a book that polarises opinion and generates assumptions, mostly perhaps among those who haven't read it and perhaps something to do with a sort of 'holier than though' attitude amongst those who have.
I'm promising myself that I won't become a Ulysses brag-and-boast bore... well until it gets to the Endsleigh Salon theme in October that is... 'The Book You Must Read Before You Die'.
But even then I'm still not sure Ulysses will be my choice.
I think the pendulum of public opinion will forever swing uncontrollably on this book but here's an interesting little quote from Susan Hill writing recently,
'Nor can I read Ulysses, though Stephen Fry, cleverer and better read than anyone I know swears by it. He told me that it was just a case of diving in and swimming fast. Not for me it wasn't, I drowned. But I will go to gallows to uphold the right of Ulysses to be called a classic.'
Even better, here's George Orwell writing a letter to Brenda Salkeld in 1934
'I managed to get my copy of Ulysses safely through this time. I rather wish I had never read it. It gives me an inferiority complex. When I read a book like that and then come back to my own work, I feel like a eunuch who has taken a course in voice production and can pass himself off fairly well as a bass or baritone, but if you listen closely you can hear the good old squeak just the same as ever.'
I wonder does anyone else have a clear picture emerging yet, have you
been feeling, perhaps a bit like me, that you've been on a glorious
word-fest with moments of acute clarity... 'events as they occur in
life and not as they occur in fiction,' according to George Orwell.
But now I find that as the mist (poetic license, I think we'll call it a Scotch mist today) is clearing and the nearer I get to the end, I have a feeling I'm about to become a lifelong fan.