Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 5, 2009

Ulysses by James Joyce (disordered thoughts of an amateur #1,2,3)

Chapters 1 , 2 & 3: Telemachiad, Nestor, Proteus

Well, I’ve made a start…  

Ulysses is written in three parts, The Telemachiad, The Odyssey and the Nostos, and today I’ve read (twice) The Telemachiad, Chapters 1,2 & 3.  

Source: the Annotated Ulysses

Source: the Annotated Ulysses


 Chapters 1 & 2 are easy enough.  Although it’s not a straightforward narrative, we are introduced to Stephen Dedelus and Buck Mulligan, students who live together in the Martello Tower.  There is a witty parody of the Catholic mass, with Buck wearing white and gold vestments (his dressing gown), lifting his shaving bowl aloft like a chalice, and reciting the Introit.  

Stephen is morose.  His mother has just died, and Buck has offended him by referring to her as the ‘beastly dead’.  As a medical student, he is blase about death, and provokes Stephen by reminding him that he denied her last wish by refusing to pray with her on her death bed.   He’s also not much impressed at Stephen’s insistence on borrowing black clothing for his mourning, considering his behaviour towards his mother.   

All Buck’s jokes are in bad taste (not least The Ballad of Joking Jesus) and he sponges off Stephen who, although he has a position as a schoolmaster teaching history and algebra, seems to have no money.  Buck is equally crass with Haines, an English student,and he pokes fun at the Irishwoman who brings the milk for their tea.  (In one of countless ironies, Haines the Englishman speaks Gaelic to the Irishwoman but she doesn’t understand.)  

Haines and Stephen follow Buck and his friends down to the water (Dublin Bay) where Buck once again touches Stephen for money and demands the key to the tower.  Stephen goes off in a huff, calling Buck a ‘usurper’.   

Chapter 2 begins without preamble, with Stephen taking a history class in the classics.  The boys are not interested and depart with relief to play hockey.  One, Sargent, an unattractive and not very bright boy, remains behind to get some extra help from Stephen, who – still thinking of his mother – tries to imagine how Sargent’s mother must have loved him.  He then collects his pay from the antiSemitic Mr Deasy, a sort of father figure, who lectures Stephen about managing his money wisely.  There are allusions to Hamlet and Iago, which seem fairly straightforward, and (since I am supplementing reading my own ancient Penguin by reading this online through so that I can record my own annotations) I have been able to Google most things that puzzle me such as the Latin quotations from the Mass.  

Chapter 3, however, is written as a poetic stream of consciousness, and it’s not easy to follow what’s going on.  Stephen walks along the beach, a fine mind idling through philosophy, memory and soul-searching.  He ponders his illegitimate birth (p43) , a visit to his unsympathetic aunt Sara and his uncle who’s a lawyer (p44), his adolescent fantasies and ambitions (p46-7), watches a couple and their dog, writes some poetry on the letter that Mr Deasy gave him to post (p54) and there is a reference to Ariel’s poem in The Tempest.  


Full fathom five thy father lies,
Of his bones are coral made:
Those are pearls that were his eyes,
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea change,
Into something rich and strange.
Sea-nymphs hourly ring his knell—
Hark! now I hear them, ding-dong bell.  

Does this mean that his father drowned??  It was his father who summoned Stephen home with a telegram to say that his mother is dying. (p47)  

(Update, later.  No, it doesn’t. I was wrong about this.) 

And what of the meaning of Telemachus?  My recollection of Ulysses is distinctly hazy and I turn out to be indebted to notes I scrawled in the margins of the Penguin.  Telemachus was the son of Odysseus/Ulysses, who in this novel is the famous (yet to appear) Bloom of Bloomsday.  Fatherless Stephen is Telemachus to Bloom the father figure, and in this episode Stephen/Telemachus ‘interviews’ Menelaus who has heard news of Ulysses/Bloom from Proteus, shape-shifting god of the sea. Complicated?? Confusing?? Yes.  

Crib guides include NovelGuide, Ulysses Seen , the Ulysses Project and Ulysses Annotated – but really there is no substitute for reading it, teasing out the allusions and quotations using Google (as I have at BookGlutton) and when all else fails simply reading on in the hope that it will all eventually make sense!  

Update 6 July 2009  

I have found a marvellous site to guide my understanding of the structure of this novel.  Notes on James Joyce’s Ulysses  written by Gerry Carlin & Mair Evans show how every episode/chapter is structured around a complex schema comprising   

  • about an hour of Bloomsday
  • a scene somewhere in Dublin
  • an organ of the body
  • one of the Arts
  • a colour
  • a symbol
  • a narrative technique, and
  • correspondences supporting some theme, and 
  • parallels with Homer’s Ulysses.

It is the epic of two races (Israel-Ireland) and at the same time the cycle of the human body as well as a little story of a day (life)… It is also a kind of encyclopaedia. My intention is not only to render the myth sub specie temporis nostri but also to allow each adventure (that is, every hour, every organ, every art being interconnected and interrelated in the somatic scheme of the whole) to condition and even to create its own technique.
(James Joyce, Letters, 21st September 1920)  

Cross-posting from the Carlin and Evans Notes [1], Episode 1 can be seen to be structured like this:   

TIME: 8.oo am.
SCENE: A Martello tower (erected by the British to repel French invasion during the Napoleonic wars) at Sandycove on the shore of Dublin Bay, 7 miles southeast of Dublin.
ART: Theology
COLOURS: White, gold
TECHNIQUE: Narrative (young)
CORRESPONDENCES: Telemachus, Hamlet-Stephen; Antinous-Mulligan; Mentor-the milk woman. (Hamlet, Ireland and Stephen, Mentor, Pallas [Athena], the suitors and Penelope. Sense: Dispossessed son in struggle).
Homeric Parallels: In the council of the gods which opens Homer’s Odyssey, Zeus decides that it is time for Odysseus to return home. In Ithaca, Telemachus, son of Odysseus and Penelope, is disgusted with the behaviour of the suitors toward his mother in his father’s absence (the suitors are led by the arrogant Antinous, and they mock the threatening omens sent by Zeus), and he seeks counsel from the gods. Pallas Athena, goddess of the arts of war and peace, domestic economy, wit and intuition, is revealed as Odysseus’ patron. She advises Telemachus to travel in search of his father.

Chapter 2 uses the Catechism as a literary style, and Chapter 3 is an interior (male) monologue.  For more detail from the Carlin and Evans site, click on the links.  

For an online version with links explaining allusions and parallels, see Difficult Books, the Ulysses Project.  (They’ve done Episodes 1 & 2 so far.)  

Oh, and for a really beaut (non-pompous) guide to reading and interpreting Ulysses, see Wandering Rocks and for a plot summary for those who are pressed for time, see Ulysses for Dummies. (Thanks to Brendan at the JoycePortal for this.)  

[1] I have searched without success for a way to contact the authors of this site, to seek their permission to quote this small block of text.  If anyone has their contact details please let me know.  

Page referenceshere  are to my battered old copy of the Penguin Ulysses, 1979 ISBN 014003000x (which uses the 1960 Bodley Head edition, which was the 10th edition and has different page numbers to its predecessors.)  

Links to my disordered thoughts for other chapters are below. NB Page references to anything before Chapter 11 are to my 1979 Penguin, and after that are to my Penguin 2000 reprint.  

  • Intro  
  • Chapters 1,2,3  (Telemachus, Nestor, Proteus)
  • Chapter 4   (Calypso)
  • Chapter 5   (The Lotus Eaters)
  • Chapter 6   (Hades)
  • Chapter 7   (Aeolus)
  • Chapter 8   (Lestrygonians)
  • Chapter 9    (Scylla and Charybdis) 
  • Chapter 10  (Wandering Rocks) 
  • Chapter 11  (Sirens)
  • Chapter 12  (Cyclops)
  • Chapter 13   (Nausicaa)
  • Chapter 14   (Oxen of the Sun)
  • Chapter 15   (Circe)
  • Chapter 16   (Eumaeus)
  • Chapter 17   (Ithaca)
  • Chapter 18   (Penelope)

  • Responses

    1. Would have joined in but didn’t feel quite strong enough to tackle Ulysses twice in a decade! Wrote about 3000 words in my Honours year on the ‘Penelope’ chapter. Probably still have the essay rattlin’ around somewhere.
      Love the level of your discussion here. Off to Sydney for a few days or I’d comment in more depth.
      You may get me in yet!


    2. Oh Steph, do join in!


    3. Hey Lisa, thanks for commenting on our Ulysses reading project site, also for calling attention to that Notes page. We’ll definitely be using that. It’s surprising how many people are using the web and social networking resources to get through Joyce. But I’m also finding it pretty fun and helpful. And it’s so cool you’re in New Zealand (Kiwi rock rules…I love the Clean, the Chills and the Bats) …which is nothing like we’re I’m at… Madison, Wisconsin, USA.

      Just one note on your post, Stephen’s fatherless only insofar as he willfully disowns his dad. Simon Dedalus is very much alive and even spends some time with Bloom going to the funeral in the Hades chapter. But Stephen wants nothing to do with pop because he thinks he’s a drunk and encroaches on his artistic ambitions.

      We are going to get through this thing. Stop by anytime. We will, too.


    4. Thanks for mentioning Difficult Books’ Ulysses Project. I’ve tweeted a link to this page, and hopefully that will bring you a bit of traffic. We all need all the help we can get.

      Eric’s right. A lot of people are working through this book online, and there are more of each day.

      We’ve been bogged down with school work this summer but will try to catch up once it finishes.

      Keep up the good work and good luck with Ulysses.


    5. Thanks for visiting mine last week and pointing out your Greene and Du Maurier reviews.

      You are brave to read Ulysses – it is something I have never attempted but it seems you are finding the key to it. I have heard of people who read and re-read it and find new things every time. For myself I’m still struggling with 6 volumes of Proust and that’s enough for my life I think!

      I shall continue to read your experiences with joyce with interest


    6. Ah Tom, once you get to the end of Proust, everything else after that will seem just a bit tame…and before you know it, you’ll be looking for more challenging books too! It took me 18 months to read the whole six volumes in (preBlog)04/05, (of course I read other things alongside it) and since then I’ve tackled a few ‘difficult’ books (War and Peace; Dr Zhivago; and 5 Patrick Whites including the big one, Voss.
      Actually I’d like to read Proust again, to pick up on all the things I’ve missed, but I need to read a few other things first (like Dante, Victor Hugo, Goethe) LOL


    7. Thanks for the commentary. When I first read Ulysses, I did so without guidance or schema, and think it was a more rewarding experience, if frustrating at times. I’m planning to jump in again – more knowledgable this time – inspired by the social network discussions going on. I picked up some books about Joyce and Ulysses on a recent trip to Ireland and hope to share what I learn from them. You might find the audio version I recorded useful – link’s on my blog sidebar.


    8. Hey Brendan, yours is a great site and I can see that I’m going to spend a bit of time this weekend exploring the links.
      I think you’re right about a first reading: just go with the flow. But when re-reading it’s fun to go exploring for the riddles and puns and symbolism and so forth – a bit like doing cryptic crossword puzzles where half the fun is admiring the cleverness of the creator, I think.


    9. Dear Lisa,
      Picture this. I drag myself in to my parents’ house in Sydney as a staging post on my journey back to Orange, from an absolutely exhausting, exhilarating week of the wild knitting of tea cosies. I ask my 82 year old bookaholic left-school-at-15 dad, as a way of bonding,cementing the ties of love…”What r u reading at the moment Dad?” He produces his copy of ‘Ulysses’!!!!!!!!!!!!!
      Have the Gods spoken, or what???? He comments that it’s fairly tough going. He’s read other works by Joyce. He is a non-computer person and I weep at the thought that he can’t read the blogs. Perhaps I can cut and paste a few to send to him, I think.
      I resign myself to fate. Locate my own copy, and ring my favourite Sydney mail order book store to send 2 copies of the annotated ‘Ulysses’ so that we non-classically educated yobs can decipher some of the references.
      Soooooooooo, I’m IN! I know when the universe has spoken!


    10. Fantatsic! Lured the fish in LOL!!!!
      Great to have you aboard:)


    11. […] Onward to Chapters 1,2,3… […]


    12. […] Chapters 1,2,3  (Telemachus, Nestor, Proteus) […]


    13. […] guide Tindall says that as well as laying down his commandments, Shaun is also celebrating a mass (reminiscent of Chapter 1 in Ulysses), signalled by this introit of exordium at the beginning and ite missa est (Latin, usually […]


    14. […] … um …’activities down on the beachfront’.  It was also because of Stephen Dedelus and his mates’ parody of the Roman Catholic Mass.  Australians couldn’t read E.M. Forster’s Maurice because it was an empathetic […]


    15. […] … um …’activities down on the beachfront’.  It was also because of Stephen Dedelus and his mates’ parody of the Roman Catholic Mass.  Australians couldn’t read E.M. Forster’s Maurice because it was an empathetic […]


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