(U) Reading Ulysses with the James Joyce Reading Circle

Have you always promised yourself that someday you would read ULYSSES, the greatest novel of Western literature? First-time readers and repeat readers alike find deep humanism and hilarity waiting when they crack open this book. Although Joyce promised to “keep professors busy for centuries,” many of the puzzles will be solved (or at least explored) here. You’ll need a willingness to wrestle the text and one of the good sets of footnotes. You’ll also need an openmindedness to wring the juices from a once censored work. Second-best-of-all, after reading ULYSSES, you’ll celebrate another holiday- Bloomsday, June 16th.

The materials you find on this site are designed primarily to pry open some of the themes, symbols, quotes, and commentary for Ulysses‘ first-time readers. We are also keenly interested in supporting an international community of Joyceans. This is not an attempt to reassemble all the notes and observations made by experts, students, and critics over one hundred years. It doesn’t retell the plot of the novel either. If you would like an overview of the plot, Stuart Gilbert’s James Joyce’s Ulysses offers a good summary of each episode. This website uses some resources frequently. You might wish to look at one or two of those sources. Care is taken to credit those sources where they were used to develop this aid.

There are only two required resources for sitting in the Circle. You will need the text. Any printed version that includes the original pagination in the margins will do [e.g., (5) appears on the first line of page 4 of the Modern Library edition released in 1992]. Original page numbers will guide you from and to the footnotes and aids that assist you while reading the text. Audible versions of the book are enjoyable too. They can enrich your reading. I think it is the rare reader who could fully appreciate this intricate work by hearing it read. I could not.

For footnotes and commentaries written as aids to reading Ulysses, I prefer…

Gifford, Don, and Robert J. Seidman. Notes for Joyce: An Annotation of James Joyce’s Ulysses. New York: E.F. Dutton & Co., 1974.

Optional Resources

Adams, Robert Martin. Surface and Symbol: The Constituency of James Joyce’s Ulysses, New York: Oxford University Press, 1962.

Budgen, Frank. James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1960.

Campbell, Joseph. Mythic Worlds, Modern Words: On the Art of James Joyce. Novato:New World Library, 1993.

Connor, Marc. “The Irish Identity: Independence, History, and Literature.” The Teaching Company, 2016. 31Mar 2020. https://secureimages.teach12.com

Delaney, Frank. Re:Joyce. blog. frankdelaney.com. 2011-2017. [Incomplete due to the untimely death of the author. The blog includes commentary on individual words, phrases, and passages of Ulysses.]

Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1959.

Gilbert, Stuart. James Joyce’s Ulysses. New York:Vintage Books, 1955.

Heffernan, James A.W. “Joyce’;s Ulysses,” The Great Courses, CD ROM, 2001.

Hunt, John. “The Joyce Project: James Joyce’s Ulysses Online,” http://m.joyceproject.com, 24Mar2020.

Kenner, Hugh. Joyce’s Voices. Rochester:Dalkey Archive Press, 1978.

Maddox, Brenda. Nora :The Real Life of Molly Bloom. Boston:Houghton Mifflin Co., 1988.

Joyce, James. James Joyce:The Critical Writings, Mason, Ellsworth and Richard Ellmann, eds. York: Viking Press, 1959.

Joyce, James. Occasional, Critical and Political Writing, ed. Kevin Barry. (Oxford: University Press), 2000.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.

Tindall, William York. James Joyce: His Way of Interpreting the World. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1950.

Tindall, William York. A Reader’s Guide to James Joyce. New York: Farrar, Straus & Giroux, 1971.


What Is Here that Isn’t in Ulysses (U)?

You won’t find a plot summary here. You won’t find the footnotes for the text here either. Instead, you may find a way to open your understanding of Ulysses on four logical pages for each of the novel’s episodes.

An introductory page: This page includes the episode name created by Joyce to show the reader how the text parallels Homer’s Odyssey. Every episode of Ulysses is unique in its style, setting, and symbolism. These elements are woven together like threads on Penelope’s loom. Joyce guided two devotees through matrices that connect the style of the writing, the symbolic color, the organ of the body it reflects, the time, location, etc. One matrix is called the Linati Schema. The other, the version we will use, was developed for Stuart Gilbert. You will find it a valuable guide to your reading. On this introductory page, you will also find a favorite quote. It may be representative of the writing style of the episode, of a theme of the novel, or an quote from the text. There is also a painting here usually symbolic of an episodic theme and a word map of these four pages.

Important Themes: This page explores concepts and relationships that are important to the message of the novel.

Important Symbols and Quotes: Here you’ll learn the significance of some events, characters, and philosophies. The basic facts are all in the various volumes of notes for Ulysses. Here you find why they are important to the episode.

Ideas of the Great Joyceans: So many great minds have spent so many hours thinking about this book that it can provide a lifetime of food for thought. On this page (What They Are Saying), you will find some options for how you might interpret one or more of the ideas in the current episode.

6 thoughts on “(U) Reading Ulysses with the James Joyce Reading Circle

  1. I’m a veteran reader of Ulysses, having read it six times, but I am always happy to read it again and to find out more about this fascinating text. It is such a rich, and enriching book, and every time I re-read it I find many new aspects and interesting , small details which I thoroughly enjoy exploring and discussing with fellow readers of the text, both veterans like myself, and people reading it for the first time. I shall be very happy to sit in the reading circle.

    1. Welcome, Elizabeth! I am quite decrepit so I have lost count of the number of times I’ve read U. This year’s reading was something in excess of my twenty-fifth voyage, and I probably learned more this trip than ever before (or maybe it was in the very first reading). I certainly find that I have a greater affection for Poldy and Molly with my last reading. Is your blog on WordPress? I’ll look for you there first. I’ll anxiously await any feedback or comments about the text. Best ~Don Ward

  2. Merry Christmas from Papal Poldy, Anglican, and Born-again too. Happy Hanukah from Mensch Bloom, Solace of Solstice from The Dark-Backed Rosicrucian. Henry Flower adds a belated Jolly Diwali.
    The James Joyce Reading Circle

  3. Thank you.
    One year ago, I downloaded publishing software. I had found six readers who would tackle Ulysses for the first time. The plague was descending; the reading circle only collected once before a self-imposed virtuality began.
    At its birth, the James Joyce Reading Circle was embarrassingly roughhewn, existing solely for the use of those six brave readers. It was a full-time endeavor for the remainder of cruel 2020, serving up first one episode of Ulysses per month, then one per week. Essays about the mostly-neglected Giacomo Joyce followed, twice per week. Essays “about Dubliners” now are in progress. This week an essay “about ‘A little Cloud'” will be added.
    I am neither bragging nor complaining. Today, there are sixty-eight folders on the JJRC. There have been about 2500 page hits. That means nothing. Over much of the JJRC’s existence, files were added one onto another in a single folder. What does seem significant, is there have been nearly 1100 reader sessions. Considering the original readership was to be six, this is gratifying – not because of my effort but because of Joyce’s llure and the readers’ fascination.
    I read somewhere–somewhere that I can’t recall or authenticate– that seven percent of those who undertake a reading of Ulysses read through to the echoing “YES.” If I can encourage six people more to finish the adventure, it has been worthwhile.
    Finishing where I started as Sunny Jim was likely to do. I’ll extend another… (Thank You.)

  4. This post is inspired by a social media comment by Jack Davidson who commented that his copy of Ulysses needed to be reinforced because it was likely to be carted anywhere.

    This is inspirational. I think there should be a tradition of photos of U at various global destinations. Like the children’s book tradition of photo ops with Flat Stanley. And who would Joyce assign the task of carting those 750 pages around the globe? That lucky cartoon would be none other than Flat Stannie. If you would like to submit a picture of your copy of the Gospel According to Sunny Jim, please submit it as a Comment at https://jamesjoycereadingcircle.com/…/reading-ulysses…/
    …or message the pic to the James Joyce Reading Circle on FB. Thanks, Don

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