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Ulysses (Oxford World's Classics) Paperback – September 1, 2011

3.8 out of 5 stars 861 customer reviews

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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.

Excerpt. © Reprinted by permission. All rights reserved.

STATELY, PLUMP Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:

--Introibo ad altare Dei.

Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:

--Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful jesuit.

Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.

Buck Mulligan peeped an instant under the mirror and then covered the bowl smartly.

--Back to barracks, he said sternly.

He added in a preacher's tone:

--For this, O dearly beloved, is the genuine Christine: body and soul and blood and ouns. Slow music, please. Shut your eyes, gents. One moment. A little trouble about those white corpuscles. Silence, all.

He peered sideways up and gave a long low whistle of call, then paused awhile in rapt attention, his even white teeth glistening here and there with gold points. Chrysostomos. Two strong shrill whistles answered through the calm.

--Thanks, old chap, he cried briskly. That will do nicely. Switch off the current, will you?

He skipped off the gunrest and looked gravely at his watcher, gathering about his legs the loose folds of his gown. The plump shadowed face and sullen oval jowl recalled a prelate, patron of arts in the middle ages. A pleasant smile broke quietly over his lips.

--The mockery of it, he said gaily. Your absurd name, an ancient Greek.

He pointed his finger in friendly jest and went over to the parapet, laughing to himself. Stephen Dedalus stepped up, followed him wearily halfway and sat down on the edge of the gunrest, watching him still as he propped his mirror on the parapet, dipped the brush in the bowl and lathered cheeks and neck.

Buck Mulligan's gay voice went on.

--My name is absurd too: Malachi Mulligan, two dactyls. But it has a Hellenic ring, hasn't it? Tripping and sunny like the buck himself. We must go to Athens. Will you come if I can get the aunt to fork out twenty quid?

He laid the brush aside and, laughing with delight, cried:

--Will he come? The jejune jesuit.

Ceasing, he began to shave with care.

--Tell me, Mulligan, Stephen said quietly.

--Yes, my love?

--How long is Haines going to stay in this tower? Buck Mulligan showed a shaven cheek over his right shoulder.

--God, isn't he dreadful? he said frankly. A ponderous Saxon. He thinks you're not a gentleman. God, these bloody English. Bursting with money and indigestion. Because he comes from Oxford. You know, Dedalus; you have the real Oxford manner. He can't make you out. O, my name for you is the best: Kinch, the knife-blade.
He shaved warily over his chin.

--He was raving all night about a black panther, Stephen said. Where is his guncase?

--A woful lunatic, Mulligan said. Were you in a funk?

--I was, Stephen said with energy and growing fear. Out here in the dark with a man I don't know raving and moaning to himself about shooting a black panther. You saved men from drowning. I'm not a hero, however. If he stays on here I am off.

Buck Mulligan frowned at the lather on his razorblade. He hopped down from his perch and began to search his trouser pockets hastily.

--Scutter, he cried thickly.

He came over to the gunrest and, thrusting a hand into Stephen's upper pocket, said:

--Lend us a loan of your noserag to wipe my razor.

Stephen suffered him to pull out and hold up on show by its corner a dirty crumpled handkerchief. Buck Mulligan wiped the razorblade neatly. Then, gazing over the handkerchief, he said:

--The bard's noserag. A new art colour for our Irish poets: snotgreen. You can almost taste it, can't you?

He mounted to the parapet again and gazed out over Dublin bay, his fair oakpale hair stirring slightly.--
----
--God, he said quietly. Isn't the sea what Algy calls it: a grey sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea. Epi oinopa ponton. Ah, Dedalus, the Greeks. I must teach you. You must read them in the original. Thalatta! Thalatta! She is our great sweet mother. Come and look.

Stephen stood up and went over to the parapet. Leaning on it he looked down on the water and on the mailboat clearing the harbour mouth of Kingstown.

--Our mighty mother, Buck Mulligan said.

He turned abruptly his great searching eyes from the sea to Stephen's face.

--The aunt thinks you killed your mother, he said. That's why she won't let me have anything to do with you.

--Someone killed her, Stephen said gloomily.

--You could have knelt down, damn it, Kinch, when your dying mother asked you, Buck Mulligan said. I'm hyperborean as much as you. But to think of your mother begging you with her last breath to kneel down and pray for her. And you refused. There is something sinister in you . . .

He broke off and lathered again lightly his farther cheek. A tolerant smile curled his lips.

--But a lovely mummer, he murmured to himself. Kinch, the loveliest mummer of them all.

He shaved evenly and with care, in silence, seriously.

Stephen, an elbow rested on the jagged granite, leaned his palm against his brow and gazed at the fraying edge of his shiny black coat-sleeve. Pain, that was not yet the pain of love, fretted his heart. Silently, in a dream she had come to him after her death, her wasted body within its loose brown grave-clothes giving off an odour of wax and rosewood, her breath, that had bent upon him, mute, reproachful, a faint odour of wetted ashes. Across the threadbare cuffedge he saw the sea hailed as a great sweet mother by the wellfed voice beside him. The ring of bay and skyline held a dull green mass of liquid. A bowl of white china had stood beside her deathbed holding the green sluggish bile which she had torn up from her rotting liver by fits of loud groaning vomiting.


From the eBook edition. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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Product Details

  • Series: Oxford World's Classics
  • Paperback: 980 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (September 1, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199535671
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199535675
  • Product Dimensions: 7.7 x 1.9 x 5.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (861 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #87,495 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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
I have frequently heard Ulysses proclaimed the best book ever written, but I could never understand why. I purchased this edition of the novel three years ago, and since then it sat on my shelf, a mighty 900 page undertaking that I kept putting off. I was reluctant to read it, for I have often heard how difficult it was to get through. Finally, I have read it, and though I believe it presumptuous to call any one book "the best book of all time", I certainly believe that Ulysses could claim that title. First off, it is not a difficult read. If you could get through A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, you can get through Ulysses. I heartily recommend this edition because of the brilliant introduction by Declan Kibard. Before I read Ulysses, I could not understand how this could be the best book of all time. According to my understanding, it was a novel detailing, in 900 pages, one day in the life of a Jewish Irishman, Leopold Bloom. A totally unremarkable day at that. After reading Kibard's introduction, I was fiercely eager to begin the novel. In his introduction, totally some 70 pages, Kibard answers the precise question I had: Why would this book be called the best of all time? This book is never boring, and is actually a quite enjoyable read. It is arranged in 18 chapters, and to me, the most astounding aspect of this piece of literature is the fact that every chapter is written in a different style. Joyce wanted to show that "originality" in terms of style was merely a new arrangement of previous styles, and so shows his brilliance as a writer by changing his technique and method completely in each chapter. It is indeed difficult to believe they were written by the same person.Read more ›
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