The James Joyce Reading Circle

There Has NEVER Been a Better Time to Read Ulysses

Taking a Seat in the 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 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 reader. It 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 need an overview of the plot, Stuart Gilbert’s James Joyce’s Ulysses is a good one. This website uses some resources frequently as this website. You might wish to look at one or two of those sources. Care is taken to credit those sources where they are 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

Pages in tens of thousands have been written about Ulysses for every page of the text. Every week I choose one hundred pages or so from the newly written papers recommended to me. You will also find personal favorites from the critical writing and commentary you find about Joyce’s work. Below I have listed a few great works of the many you may find helpful.

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.

Delaney, Frank. Re:Joyce. blog. 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,”, 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 the Novel?

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 enjoy Ulysses on four logical pages for each of the novel’s episodes.

An introductory page: This page includes the episode name created by James Joyce to show the reader how the text is shaped by 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 amusing quip from the text. There is also a painting here usually symbolic of an episodic theme.

Important Themes: This page delineates 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 will 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 great ideas in the current episode.

copyright@don ward 2020

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7 thoughts on “The James Joyce Reading Circle

  1. Although episode six takes place in the lead up to and aftermath of a funeral, I find it to be the most humerous so far. The four men in the carriage on their way to Paddy Dignam’s burial gossip like old ladies at a sewing circle and give truth to the saying that when three Irishmen talk together no one wants to be the first leave because the other two will surely be talking about him.
    In Poldy’s inner dialogue he cracks “come forth Lazarus! He came fifth a lost the job.’


  2. This morning reading the “Scylla and Charybdis” episode.”Wait. Five months. Molecules all change. I am other I now. Other I got pound.” Entering Month Five of the global plague, will I become Unmade? Overmade? Doublebaked and Crumbled? Certainly Glazed at least. ~Don


  3. Is there such a thing as an allusion to a text that has not yet been written? When Stephen says the phrase “Gone with the wind, he mentions in the very next sentence “Tara” which is the setting of Margaret Mitchell’s 1936 book ‘Gone With The Wind’.


    1. Nothing new under the sun? Maybe not. Mitchell’s title is taken from a 19th century poem by Dowson also about the demise of the Southern culture. I would have bet it was a biblical reference like “Inherit the Wind.” I suppose an Irish novel would have a better claim to the reference to Tara. Your point is well taken, however, and exactly what James Ramey said as discussed in the Episode 1 “What They Are Saying.” Joyce is the champion at collecting and connecting allusions.


  4. The JJRC will withhold posting temporarily in observance of a raucus Bloomsday 2020. Writing about “Giacomo Joyce” will resume on or about June 18. Meanwhile, sing like Molly. Dance like Maginni. Blossom like Bloom. Then, if necessary, sue someone like Denis Breen. Slåinte! ~Don


  5. Montréal Bloomsday underway. Opening ceremony wonderfully informative connecting the 1918 pandemic referred to in the “Hades” episode to our current plight. Thank you Michael Kenneally, Chair of Concoirdia’s School of Irish Studies.


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