Ulysses is a novel by the Irish author James Joyce, first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920, then published in its entirety by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, in Paris. One of the most important works of Modernist literature, it has been called "a demonstration and summation of the entire movement".
Ulysses chronicles the passage of Leopold Bloom through Dublin during an ordinary day, 16 June 1904 (the day of Joyce's first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle). The title alludes to Odysseus (Latinised into Ulysses), the hero of Homer's Odyssey, and establishes a series of parallels between characters and events in Homer's poem and Joyce's novel (e.g., the correspondence of Leopold Bloom to Odysseus, Molly Bloom to Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus to Telemachus). Joyce fans worldwide now celebrate 16 June as Bloomsday.
Ulysses contains approximately 265,000 words from a lexicon of 30,030 words (including proper names, plurals and various verb tenses), divided into eighteen episodes. Since publication, the book attracted controversy and scrutiny, ranging from early obscenity trials to protracted textual "Joyce Wars." Ulysses' stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose—full of puns, parodies, and allusions, as well as its rich characterizations and broad humor, made the book a highly regarded novel in the Modernist pantheon. In 1999, the Modern Library ranked Ulysses first on its list of the 100 best English-language novels of the 20th century.
Ulysses is usually deemed to be Joyce’s greatest achievement, and it is the zenith of modernist writing in the novel form but is barely recognizable as a novel or as any other kind of writing. It brings together anecdotes, journalistic writing, drama, questionnaire, bawdy episodes, stream of consciousness writing, archaisms, neologisms and - surprisingly - more. It was serialized first in the Little Review in 1918 and published first in Paris in 1922, although its censorship for obscenity in America and England were not lifted until the mid-1930s. In terms of its story it defies abridgement or explanation except that it all takes place on one day, 16 June 1904, or ‘Bloomsday’, which was the anniversary of Joyce’s first walk with his beloved Nora Barnacle. It (very) loosely follows the episodes of Ulysses from the Odyssey of Homer though in a reordered form, with Stephen Dedalus representing Telemachus, Leopold Bloom Ulysses and Molly Bloom Penelope. The central characters explore various sites and happenings around Dublin such as a newspaper office, a brothel, a funeral, and public houses. It is an immense achievement of innovation or a confusing mess depending on one’s opinion, but regardless it is an extraordinary reading experience. To read it without the many books of annotation that have been drawn up as guides is to miss the inordinate number of literary allusions, Irish in-jokes, subtleties and so on. It is, however, the only way actually to enjoy the novel. Acknowledging that you are not the perfect reader (i.e. in possession of all of human knowledge) will allow you to find yourself in Bloom and his companions rather than a century’s worth of critics and scholars. If you truly love it or are an English student read it with notes the second time through.
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