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Ulysses (Penguin Modern Classics)

3.8 out of 5 stars 892 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0141182803
ISBN-10: 0141182806
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Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Ulysses has been labeled dirty, blasphemous, and unreadable. In a famous 1933 court decision, Judge John M. Woolsey declared it an emetic book--although he found it sufficiently unobscene to allow its importation into the United States--and Virginia Woolf was moved to decry James Joyce's "cloacal obsession." None of these adjectives, however, do the slightest justice to the novel. To this day it remains the modernist masterpiece, in which the author takes both Celtic lyricism and vulgarity to splendid extremes. It is funny, sorrowful, and even (in a close-focus sort of way) suspenseful. And despite the exegetical industry that has sprung up in the last 75 years, Ulysses is also a compulsively readable book. Even the verbal vaudeville of the final chapters can be navigated with relative ease, as long as you're willing to be buffeted, tickled, challenged, and (occasionally) vexed by Joyce's sheer command of the English language.

Among other things, a novel is simply a long story, and the first question about any story is: What happens?. In the case of Ulysses, the answer might be Everything. William Blake, one of literature's sublime myopics, saw the universe in a grain of sand. Joyce saw it in Dublin, Ireland, on June 16, 1904, a day distinguished by its utter normality. Two characters, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, go about their separate business, crossing paths with a gallery of indelible Dubliners. We watch them teach, eat, stroll the streets, argue, and (in Bloom's case) masturbate. And thanks to the book's stream-of-consciousness technique--which suggests no mere stream but an impossibly deep, swift-running river--we're privy to their thoughts, emotions, and memories. The result? Almost every variety of human experience is crammed into the accordian folds of a single day, which makes Ulysses not just an experimental work but the very last word in realism.

Both characters add their glorious intonations to the music of Joyce's prose. Dedalus's accent--that of a freelance aesthetician, who dabbles here and there in what we might call Early Yeats Lite--will be familiar to readers of Portrait of an Artist As a Young Man. But Bloom's wistful sensualism (and naive curiosity) is something else entirely. Seen through his eyes, a rundown corner of a Dublin graveyard is a figure for hope and hopelessness, mortality and dogged survival: "Mr Bloom walked unheeded along his grove by saddened angels, crosses, broken pillars, family vaults, stone hopes praying with upcast eyes, old Ireland's hearts and hands. More sensible to spend the money on some charity for the living. Pray for the repose of the soul of. Does anybody really?" --James Marcus --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.

Review

Ulysses is the most important contribution that has been made to fictional literature in the 20th century. It will immortalize its author ... -- The New York Times Book Review, Dr. Joseph Collins --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 1040 pages
  • Publisher: Penguin Classic (March 28, 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0141182806
  • ISBN-13: 978-0141182803
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 1.8 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (892 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #722,232 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

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By A Customer on April 26, 2000
Format: Paperback
Ulysses is one of those big, mad bellwethers of a book that X will tell you is the biggest, best, most important blah blah blah and Y will tell you is a load of badly written tripe. Neither X nor Y tend to notice that the book consciously encourages both responses...but, well, I'll get back to the academic riffing in a minute.
I first tried to read Ulysses aged about 14 (I was an annoying little boy that way) and didn't get very far. The first three chapters are set in and around the mind of Stephen Dedalus, one of the most ridiculously clever and over-educated characters ever conceived, as he takes breakfast with some friends, teaches in a school some miles south of Dublin and walks along a beach. Along the way, his mind ruminates on subjects as diverse as 16th century underworld slang, his dead mother, and something he calls "the ineluctable modality of the visible" which I'm still struggling with. But he's a curiously ambiguous character, this Stephen; he fancies himself as a poet and rebel but when, on the beach, he picks his nose, he has a quick look around to see that nobody's watching before he smears the snot on a rock. (Joyce likes to poke fun at pretension this way - although he doesn't suggest that Stephen's ideas or rebel stance are completely hollow, either.)
The 14-year-old me didn't get that far. I gave up. It wasn't until I was 19 or so that I got as far as chapter four and encountered a Mr. Bloom, pottering around the kitchen making breakfast, that I started to get a grip. Bloom is one of the most likeable characters in fiction. He's a quiet, rather shy, oddly intelligent advertising salesman married to a voluptuous siren of a wife, Molly.
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By A Customer on April 24, 2000
Format: Hardcover
This is a wonderfully crafted book -- the physical object, that is, and not just the text. (Because if you're willing to pay this much for a copy of "Ulysses" you obviously take that for granted.) The volume is larger in size than typical hardcover books today, meaning that the type is a decent readable size and the margins are generous (for the note jotting fiends among us). Great care has clearly been taken in the choice of paper and the sewn binding, which allows the book to lay flat during reading and insures years of re-reading. Although there is no dustjacket the cover is made of very durable material; various cover protectors can be found to stand in or, for the really paranoid, a slipcase can be made or found. It should be added that the text is presented as originally published, so there are no notes or glosses to help the first-time or casual reader; neither are the episodes keyed to any of the line numberings found in other editions. However, those wishing to refer to notes would be best off buying one of the helpful readers' companions by Gifford or Blamires anyway. In relation to other available editions, this one occupies a vast middle ground between the throwaway mass-market paperbacks on the one hand and the out-of-reach collectors' editions on the other. The book's durability and elegant though understated presentation should prove most attractive to those readers who intend to read the text again and again, whether for pleasure or for study. In short, this volume is a keeper.
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Format: Paperback
O.k. to start with...for all of you out there who are interested in reading "Ulysses" but are intimidated by all of the rest of you out there who say it's unreadable, take my advice. Read this book. It's absolutely ridiculous to say this book can't be read. I can't say you're going to find it interesting or enjoyable, but you can read it.
There are people who would have you believe you have to wage a massive campaign of pre-"Ulysses" study before delving into Joyce's novel. I've heard it's necessary to read biographies of Joyce, read all of his other literature, read about the history of Dublin, read Greek mythology...even study Dublin city maps!!! Don't you believe any of this. "Ulysses" is perfectly approachable having read none of the above. I admit that reading "Portrait of the Artist" first is helpful, and at least having some passing knowledge of "The Odyssey" won't hurt, but being familiar with these other works will only help you appreciate some of Joyce's nuances. Being unfamiliar with them will not prevent you from digesting "Ulysses."
Now, for the book itself. Is "Ulysses" good? That's become an almost irrelevant question to ask. Do you have to like "Ulysses?" No. Do you have to admit that it is the greatest novel ever written? No. Anyone denying that the book was influential in altering the course of literature would just be foolish. However, I don't think "Ulysses" is the be-all and end-all of 20th Century literature, and the new ground that Joyce broke would have been broken anyway had he not done it first. He was certainly an innovator, but other authors (Faulkner comes to mind) use Joyce's modernist approach to fiction and do it better.
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