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Ulysses is a modernist novel by Irish writer James Joyce. It was first serialised in parts in the American journal The Little Review from March 1918 to December 1920 and then published in its entirety in Paris by Sylvia Beach on 2 February 1922, Joyce's 40th birthday. It is considered to be one of the most important works of modernist literature and has been called "a demonstration and summation of the entire movement." According to Declan Kiberd, "Before Joyce, no writer of fiction had so foregrounded the process of thinking".
Ulysses chronicles the peripatetic appointments and encounters of Leopold Bloom in Dublin in the course of an ordinary day, 16 June 1904. Ulysses is the Latinised name of Odysseus, the hero of Homer's epic poem the Odyssey, and the novel establishes a series of parallels between the poem and the novel, with structural correspondences between the characters and experiences of Leopold Bloom and Odysseus, Molly Bloom and Penelope, and Stephen Dedalus and Telemachus, in addition to events and themes of the early 20th-century context of modernism, Dublin, and Ireland's relationship to Britain. The novel is highly allusive and also imitates the styles of different periods of English literature.
Since its publication, the book has attracted controversy and scrutiny, ranging from an obscenity trial in the United States in 1921, to protracted textual "Joyce Wars". The novel's stream-of-consciousness technique, careful structuring, and experimental prose—replete with puns, parodies, and allusions—as well as its rich characterisation and broad humour, have led it to be regarded as one of the greatest literary works in history; Joyce fans worldwide now celebrate 16 June as Bloomsday.
Joyce first encountered the figure of Odysseus/Ulysses in Charles Lamb's Adventures of Ulysses, an adaptation of the Odyssey for children, which seems to have established the Latin name in Joyce's mind. At school he wrote an essay on the character, entitled "My Favourite Hero". Joyce told Frank Budgen that he considered Ulysses the only all-round character in literature. He thought about calling his short-story collection Dubliners (1914) by the name Ulysses in Dublin, but the idea grew from a story written in 1906 to a "short book" in 1907, to the vast novel that he began in 1914.
The action of the novel takes place from one side of Dublin Bay to the other, opening in Sandycove to the South of the city and closing on Howth Head to the North.
Ulysses is divided into the three books (marked I, II, and III), and 18 episodes. The episodes do not have chapter headings or titles, and are numbered only in Gabler's edition. In the various editions the breaks between episodes are indicated in different ways; e.g. in the Modern Language edition a new episode begins at the very top of a new page.
At first glance, much of the book may appear unstructured and chaotic; Joyce once said that he had "put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant", which would earn the novel immortality. The two schemata which Stuart Gilbert and Herbert Gorman released after publication to help defend Joyce from the obscenity accusations made the links to The Odyssey clearer, and also helped explain the work's internal structure.
Joyce and Homer
Joyce divides Ulysses into 18 episodes that "roughly correspond to the episodes in Homer's Odyssey". Homer's Odyssey is divided into 24 books (sections).
It has been suggested by scholars that every episode of Ulysses has a theme, technique and correspondence between its characters and those of the Odyssey. The text of the published novel does not include the episode titles that are used below, nor the correspondences, which originate from explanatory outlines Joyce sent to friends, known as the Linati and Gilbert schemata. Joyce referred to the episodes by their Homeric titles in his letters. He took the idiosyncratic rendering of some of the titles, e.g. "Nausikaa" and the "Telemachiad" from Victor Bérard's two-volume Les Phéniciens et l'Odyssée which he consulted in 1918 in the Zentralbibliothek Zürich.
While the action of Joyce's novel takes place during one ordinary day in early twentieth-century Dublin, Ireland, in Homer's epic, Odysseus, "a Greek hero of the Trojan War ... took ten years to find his way from Troy to his home on the island of Ithaca". Furthermore, Homer's poem includes violent storms and a shipwreck, giants and monsters, gods and goddesses, a totally different world from Joyce's. Joyce's character Leopold Bloom, "a Jewish advertisement canvasser", corresponds to Odysseus in Homer's epic; Stephen Dedalus, the hero also of Joyce's earlier, largely autobiographical, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, corresponds to Odysseus's son Telemachus; and Bloom's wife Molly corresponds to Penelope, Odysseus's wife, who waited twenty years for him to return.
Part I: Telemachia
Episode 1, Telemachus
It is 8 a.m. Buck Mulligan, a boisterous medical student, calls Stephen Dedalus (a young writer encountered as the principal subject of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man) up to the roof of the Sandycove Martello tower where they both live. There is tension between Stephen and Mulligan, stemming from a cruel remark Stephen has overheard Mulligan making about his recently deceased mother, May Dedalus, and from the fact that Mulligan has invited an English student, Haines, to stay with them. The three men eat breakfast and walk to the shore, where Mulligan demands from Stephen the key to the tower and a loan. Departing, Stephen declares that he will not return to the tower tonight, as Mulligan, the "usurper", has taken it over.
Episode 2, Nestor
Stephen is teaching a history class on the victories of Pyrrhus of Epirus. After class, one student, Cyril Sargent, stays behind so that Stephen can show him how to do a set of arithmetic exercises. Stephen looks at the ugly face of Sargent and tries to imagine Sargent's mother's love for him. Stephen then visits school headmaster Garrett Deasy, from whom he collects his pay and a letter to take to a newspaper office for printing. The two discuss Irish history and the role of Jews in the economy. As Stephen leaves, Deasy said that Ireland has "never persecuted the Jews" because the country "never let them in". This episode is the source of some of the novel's most famous lines, such as Dedalus's claim that "history is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake" and that God is "a shout in the street."
Episode 3, Proteus
Stephen finds his way to Sandymount Strand and mopes around for some time, mulling various philosophical concepts, his family, his life as a student in Paris, and his mother's death. As Stephen reminisces and ponders, he lies down among some rocks, watches a couple whose dog urinates behind a rock, scribbles some ideas for poetry and picks his nose. This chapter is characterised by a stream of consciousness narrative style that changes focus wildly. Stephen's education is reflected in the many obscure references and foreign phrases employed in this episode, which have earned it a reputation for being one of the book's most difficult chapters.
Part II: Odyssey
Episode 4, Calypso
The narrative shifts abruptly. The time is again 8 a.m., but the action has moved across the city and to the second protagonist of the book, Leopold Bloom, a part-Jewish advertising canvasser. The episode opens with the famous line, ‘Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls.’ Bloom, after starting to prepare breakfast, decides to walk to a butcher to buy a pork kidney. Returning home, he prepares breakfast and brings it with the mail to his wife Molly as she lounges in bed. One of the letters is from her concert manager Blazes Boylan, with whom Molly is having an affair. Bloom is aware that Molly will welcome Boylan into her bed later that day, and is tormented by the thought. Bloom reads a letter from their daughter Milly Bloom, who tells him about her progress in the photography business in Mullingar. The episode closes with Bloom reading a magazine story named Matcham’s Masterstroke, by Mr. Philip Beaufoy, while defecating in the outhouse.
Episode 5, Lotus Eaters
Bloom makes his way to Westland Row post office where he receives a love letter from one 'Martha Clifford' addressed to his pseudonym, 'Henry Flower'. He meets an acquaintance, and while they chat, Bloom attempts to ogle a woman wearing stockings, but is prevented by a passing tram. Next, he reads the letter and tears up the envelope in an alley. He wanders into a Catholic church service and muses on theology. The priest has the letters I.N.R.I. or I.H.S. on his back; Molly had told Bloom that they meant I have sinned or I have suffered, and Iron nails ran in. He goes to a chemist where he buys a bar of lemon soap. He then meets another acquaintance, Bantam Lyons, who mistakenly takes him to be offering a racing tip for the horse Throwaway. Finally, Bloom heads towards the baths.
Episode 6, Hades
The episode begins with Bloom entering a funeral carriage with three others, including Stephen's father. They drive to Paddy Dignam's funeral, making small talk on the way. The carriage passes both Stephen and Blazes Boylan. There is discussion of various forms of death and burial, and Bloom is preoccupied by thoughts of his dead son, Rudy, and the suicide of his own father. They enter the chapel into the service and subsequently leave with the coffin cart. Bloom sees a mysterious man wearing a mackintosh during the burial. Bloom continues to reflect upon death, but at the end of the episode rejects morbid thoughts to embrace 'warm fullblooded life'.
Episode 7, Aeolus
At the office of the Freeman's Journal, Bloom attempts to place an ad. Although initially encouraged by the editor, he is unsuccessful. Stephen arrives bringing Deasy's letter about 'foot and mouth' disease, but Stephen and Bloom do not meet. Stephen leads the editor and others to a pub, relating an anecdote on the way about 'two Dublin vestals'. The episode is broken into short segments by newspaper-style headlines, and is characterised by an abundance of rhetorical figures and devices.
Episode 8, Lestrygonians
Bloom's thoughts are peppered with references to food as lunchtime approaches. He meets an old flame and hears news of Mina Purefoy's labour. He enters the restaurant of the Burton Hotel where he is revolted by the sight of men eating like animals. He goes instead to Davy Byrne's pub, where he consumes a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of burgundy, and muses upon the early days of his relationship with Molly and how the marriage has declined: 'Me. And me now.' Bloom's thoughts touch on what goddesses and gods eat and drink. He ponders whether the statues of Greek goddesses in the National Museum have anuses as do mortals. On leaving the pub Bloom heads toward the museum, but spots Boylan across the street and, panicking, rushes into the gallery across the street from the museum.
Episode 9, Scylla and Charybdis
At the National Library, Stephen explains to some scholars his biographical theory of the works of Shakespeare, especially Hamlet, which he claims are based largely on the posited adultery of Shakespeare's wife. Bloom enters the National Library to look up an old copy of the ad he has been trying to place. He encounters Stephen briefly and unknowingly at the end of the episode.
Episode 10, Wandering Rocks
In this episode, nineteen short vignettes depict the wanderings of various characters, major and minor, through the streets of Dublin. The episode ends with an account of the cavalcade of the Lord Lieutenant of Ireland, William Ward, Earl of Dudley, through the streets, which is encountered by various characters from the novel.
Episode 11, Sirens
In this episode, dominated by motifs of music, Bloom has dinner with Stephen's uncle at a hotel, while Molly's lover, Blazes Boylan, proceeds to his rendezvous with her. While dining, Bloom watches the seductive barmaids and listens to the singing of Stephen's father and others.
Episode 12, Cyclops
This chapter is narrated by an unnamed denizen of Dublin. The narrator goes to Barney Kiernan's pub where he meets a character referred to only as "The Citizen". There is a belief that this character is a satirization of Michael Cusack, a founder member of the Gaelic athletic association. When Leopold Bloom enters the pub, he is berated by the Citizen, who is a fierce Fenian and anti-Semite. The episode ends with Bloom reminding the Citizen that his Saviour was a Jew. As Bloom leaves the pub, the Citizen, in anger, throws a biscuit tin at where Bloom's head had been, but misses. The chapter is marked by extended tangents made in voices other than that of the unnamed narrator: these include streams of legal jargon, Biblical passages, and elements of Irish mythology.
Episode 13, Nausicaa
All the action of the episode takes place on the rocks of Sandymount Strand, a shoreline area to the southeast of central Dublin. A young woman named Gerty MacDowell is seated on the rocks with her two friends, Cissy Caffrey and Edy Boardman. The girls are taking care of three children, a baby, and four-year-old twins named Tommy and Jacky. Gerty contemplates love, marriage and femininity as night falls. The reader is gradually made aware that Bloom is watching her from a distance. Gerty teases the onlooker by exposing her legs and underwear, and Bloom, in turn, masturbates. Bloom’s masturbatory climax is echoed by the fireworks at the nearby bazaar. As Gerty leaves, Bloom realises that she has a lame leg, and believes this is the reason she has been ‘left on the shelf’. After several mental digressions he decides to visit Mina Purefoy at the maternity hospital. It is uncertain how much of the episode is Gerty’s thoughts, and how much is Bloom’s sexual fantasy. Some believe that the episode is divided into two halves: the first half the highly romanticized viewpoint of Gerty, and the other half that of the older and more realistic Bloom. Joyce himself said, however, that ‘nothing happened between [Gerty and Bloom]. It all took place in Bloom’s imagination’. ‘Nausicaa’ attracted immense notoriety while the book was being published in serial form. The style of the first half of the episode borrows from (and parodies) romance magazines and novelettes.
Episode 14, Oxen of the Sun
Bloom visits the maternity hospital where Mina Purefoy is giving birth, and finally meets Stephen, who has been drinking with his medical student friends and is awaiting the promised arrival of Buck Mulligan. As the only father in the group of men, Bloom is concerned about Mina Purefoy in her labour. He starts thinking about his wife and the births of his two children. He also thinks about the loss of his only ‘heir’, Rudy. The young men become boisterous, and even start talking about topics such as fertility, contraception and abortion. There is also a suggestion that Milly, Bloom’s daughter, is in a relationship with one of the young men, Bannon. They continue on to a pub to continue drinking, following the successful birth of a son to Mina Purefoy. This chapter is remarkable for Joyce's wordplay, which, among other things, recapitulates the entire history of the English language. After a short incantation, the episode starts with latinate prose, Anglo-Saxon alliteration, and moves on through parodies of, among others, Malory, the King James Bible, Bunyan, Pepys, Defoe, Sterne, Walpole, Gibbon, Dickens, and Carlyle, before concluding in a haze of nearly incomprehensible slang. The development of the English language in the episode is believed to be aligned with the nine-month gestation period of the foetus in the womb.
Episode 15, Circe
Episode 15 is written as a play script, complete with stage directions. The plot is frequently interrupted by "hallucinations" experienced by Stephen and Bloom—fantastic manifestations of the fears and passions of the two characters. Stephen and Lynch walk into Nighttown, Dublin's red-light district. Bloom pursues them and eventually finds them at Bella Cohen's brothel where, in the company of her workers including Zoe Higgins, Florry Talbot and Kitty Ricketts, he has a series of hallucinations regarding his sexual fetishes, fantasies and transgressions. Bloom is put in the dock to answer charges by a variety of sadistic, accusing women including Mrs Yelverton Barry, Mrs Bellingham and the Hon Mrs Mervyn Talboys. When Bloom witnesses Stephen overpaying for services received, Bloom decides to hold onto the rest of Stephen's money for safekeeping. Stephen hallucinates that the rotting cadaver of his mother has risen up from the floor to confront him. Terrified, Stephen uses his walking stick to smash a chandelier and then runs out. Bloom quickly pays Bella for the damage, then runs after Stephen. Bloom finds Stephen engaged in a heated argument with an English soldier, Private Carr, who, after a perceived insult to the King, punches Stephen. The police arrive and the crowd disperses. As Bloom is tending to Stephen, Bloom has a hallucination of Rudy, his deceased child.
Part III: Nostos
Episode 16, Eumaeus
Bloom and Stephen go to the cabman's shelter to restore the latter to his senses. At the cabman's shelter, they encounter a drunken sailor named D. B. Murphy (W. B. Murphy in the 1922 text). The episode is dominated by the motif of confusion and mistaken identity, with Bloom, Stephen and Murphy's identities being repeatedly called into question. The rambling and laboured style of the narrative in this episode reflects the nervous exhaustion and confusion of the two protagonists.
Episode 17, Ithaca
Bloom returns home with Stephen, makes him a cup of cocoa, discusses cultural and lingual differences between them, considers the possibility of publishing Stephen's parable stories, and offers him a place to stay for the night. Stephen refuses Bloom's offer and is ambiguous in response to Bloom's proposal of future meetings. The two men urinate in the backyard, Stephen departs and wanders off into the night, and Bloom goes to bed, where Molly is sleeping. She awakens and questions him about his day. The episode is written in the form of a rigidly organised and "mathematical" catechism of 309 questions and answers, and was reportedly Joyce's favourite episode in the novel. The deep descriptions range from questions of astronomy to the trajectory of urination and include a famous list of 25 men perceived as Molly's lovers (apparently corresponding to the suitors slain at Ithaca by Odysseus and Telemachus in The Odyssey), including Boylan, and Bloom's psychological reaction to their assignation. While describing events apparently chosen randomly in ostensibly precise mathematical or scientific terms, the episode is rife with errors made by the undefined narrator, many or most of which are intentional by Joyce.
Episode 18, Penelope
The final episode consists of Molly Bloom's thoughts as she lies in bed next to her husband. The episode uses a stream-of-consciousness technique in eight sentences and lacks punctuation. Molly thinks about Boylan and Bloom, her past admirers, including Lieutenant Stanley G. Gardner, the events of the day, her childhood in Gibraltar, and her curtailed singing career. She also hints at a lesbian relationship, in her youth, with a childhood friend named Hester Stanhope. These thoughts are occasionally interrupted by distractions, such as a train whistle or the need to urinate. The episode famously concludes with Molly's remembrance of Bloom's marriage proposal, and of her acceptance: "he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes." The episode is also concerned with the occurrence of Molly’s early menstrual period. She considers the proximity of her period following her extra-marital affairs with Boylan, and believes her menstrual condition is the reason for her increased sexual appetite.
Molly corresponds to Penelope in Homer's epic poem, who is known for her fidelity to Odysseus during his twenty-year absence, despite having many suitors.
The publication history of Ulysses is complex. There have been at least 18 editions, and variations in different impressions of each edition.
According to Joyce scholar Jack Dalton, the first edition of Ulysses contained over two thousand errors but was still the most accurate edition published. As each subsequent edition attempted to correct these mistakes, it incorporated more of its own, a task made more difficult by deliberate errors (See "Episode 17, Ithaca" above) devised by Joyce to challenge the reader.
Notable editions include:
Gabler's "corrected edition"
Hans Walter Gabler's 1984 edition was the most sustained attempt to produce a corrected text, but it received much criticism, most notably from John Kidd. Kidd's main theoretical criticism is of Gabler's choice of a patchwork of manuscripts as his copy-text (the base edition with which the editor compares each variant), but this fault stems from an assumption of the Anglo-American tradition of scholarly editing rather than the blend of French and German editorial theories that actually lay behind Gabler's reasoning. The choice of a composite copy-text is seen to be problematic in the eyes of some American editors, who generally favour the first edition of any particular work as copy-text. Less subject to differing national editorial theories, however, is the claim that for hundreds of pages—about half the episodes of Ulysses—the extant manuscript is purported to be a "fair copy" that Joyce made for sale to a potential patron. (As it turned out, John Quinn, the Irish-American lawyer and collector, purchased the manuscript.) Diluting this charge somewhat is the fact that the theory of (now lost) final working drafts is Gabler's own. For the suspect episodes, the existing typescript is the last witness. Gabler attempted to reconstruct what he called "the continuous manuscript text", which had never physically existed, by adding together all of Joyce's accretions from the various sources. This allowed Gabler to produce a "synoptic text" indicating the stage at which each addition was inserted. Kidd and even some of Gabler's own advisers believe this method meant losing Joyce's final changes in about two thousand places. Far from being "continuous", the manuscripts seem to be opposite. Jerome McGann describes in detail the editorial principles of Gabler in his article for the journal Criticism, issue 27, 1985. In the wake of the controversy, still other commentators charged that Gabler's changes were motivated by a desire to secure a fresh copyright and another seventy-five years of royalties beyond a looming expiration date.
In June 1988 John Kidd published "The Scandal of Ulysses" in The New York Review of Books, charging that not only did Gabler's changes overturn Joyce's last revisions, but in another four hundred places Gabler failed to follow any manuscript whatever, making nonsense of his own premises. Kidd accused Gabler of unnecessarily changing Joyce's spelling, punctuation, use of accents, and all the small details he claimed to have been restoring. Instead, Gabler was actually following printed editions such as that of 1932, not the manuscripts. More sensationally, Gabler was found to have made genuine blunders, the most famous being his changing the name of the real-life Dubliner Harry Thrift to 'Shrift' and cricketer Captain Buller to 'Culler' on the basis of handwriting irregularities in the extant manuscript. (These "corrections" were undone by Gabler in 1986.) Kidd stated that many of Gabler's errors resulted from Gabler's use of facsimiles rather than original manuscripts.
In December 1988, Charles Rossman's "The New Ulysses: The Hidden Controversy" for the New York Review revealed that Gabler's own advisers felt too many changes were being made, but that the publishers were pushing for as many alterations as possible. Then Kidd produced a 174-page critique that filled an entire issue of the Papers of the Bibliographical Society of America, dated the same month. This "Inquiry into Ulysses: The Corrected Text" was the next year published in book format and on floppy disk by Kidd's James Joyce Research Center at Boston University. Gabler and others rejected Kidd's critique, and the scholarly community remains divided.
Gabler edition dropped; publishers revert to 1960/61 editions
In 1990, Gabler's American publisher Random House, after consulting a committee of scholars, replaced the Gabler edition with its 1961 version, and in the United Kingdom the Bodley Head press revived its 1960 version. In both the UK and USA, Everyman's Library also republished the 1960 Ulysses. In 1992, Penguin dropped Gabler and reprinted the 1960 text. The Gabler version remained available from Vintage International. Reprints of the 1922 first edition are also now widely available, largely due to the expiration of the copyright for that edition in the United States.
While much ink has been spilt over the faults and theoretical underpinnings of the Gabler edition, the long-awaited Kidd edition has yet to be published, as of 2015. In 1992 W. W. Norton announced that a Kidd edition of Ulysses was to be published as part of a series called "The Dublin Edition of the Works of James Joyce". This book had to be withdrawn when the Joyce estate objected. The estate refused to authorise any further editions of Joyce's work for the immediate future, but signed a deal with Wordsworth Editions to bring out a bargain version of the novel in January 2010, ahead of copyright expiration in 2012.
Written over a seven-year period from 1914 to 1921, the novel was serialised in the American journal The Little Review from 1918 to 1920, when the publication of the Nausicaä episode led to a prosecution for obscenity under the Comstock Act of 1873, which made it illegal to circulate materials deemed obscene in the U.S. mail. In 1919, sections of the novel also appeared in the London literary journal The Egoist, but the novel itself was banned in the United Kingdom until 1936. Joyce had resolved that the book would be published on his 40th birthday, 2 February 1922, and Sylvia Beach, Joyce's publisher in Paris, received the first three copies from the printer that morning.
The 1920 prosecution in the US was brought after The Little Review serialised a passage of the book dealing with characters masturbating. Three earlier chapters had been banned by the US Post Office, but it was John S. Sumner, Secretary of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, who had instigated this legal action The Post Office did partially suppress the “Naussicaa” edition of The Little Review. Legal historian Edward de Grazia has argued that few readers would have been fully aware of the orgasmic experience in the text, given the metaphoric language. Irene Gammel extends this argument to suggest that the obscenity allegations brought against The Little Review were influenced by the Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven's more explicit poetry, which had appeared alongside the serialization of Ulysses. At the trial in 1921 the magazine was declared obscene and, as a result, Ulysses was effectively banned in the United States. Throughout the 1920s, the United States Post Office Department burned copies of the novel.
In 1933, the publisher Random House and lawyer Morris Ernst arranged to import the French edition and have a copy seized by customs when the ship was unloaded. The publisher contested the seizure, and in United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled that the book was not pornographic and therefore could not be obscene, a decision that was called "epoch-making" by Stuart Gilbert. The Second Circuit Court of Appeals affirmed the ruling in 1934. The US therefore became the first English-speaking country where the book was freely available. Although Ulysses was never banned in Ireland by the Censorship of Publications Board, the government used a customs loophole which prevented it from being allowed into Ireland. It was first openly available in Ireland in the 1960s.
Literary significance and critical reception
In a review in The Dial, T. S. Eliot said of Ulysses: "I hold this book to be the most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape." He went on to assert that Joyce was not at fault if people after him did not understand it: "The next generation is responsible for its own soul; a man of genius is responsible to his peers, not to a studio full of uneducated and undisciplined coxcombs."
Ulysses has been called "the most prominent landmark in modernist literature", a work where life's complexities are depicted with "unprecedented, and unequalled, linguistic and stylistic virtuosity". That style has been stated to be the finest example of the use of stream-of-consciousness in modern fiction, with the author going deeper and farther than any other novelist in handling interior monologue and stream of consciousness. This technique has been praised for its faithful representation of the flow of thought, feeling, mental reflection, and shifts of mood. Literary critic Edmund Wilson noted that Ulysses attempts to render "as precisely and as directly as it is possible in words to do, what our participation in life is like—or rather, what it seems to us like as from moment to moment we live." Stuart Gilbert said that the "personages of Ulysses are not fictitious", but that "these people are as they must be; they act, we see, according to some lex eterna, an ineluctable condition of their very existence". Through these characters Joyce "achieves a coherent and integral interpretation of life".
Joyce uses "metaphors, symbols, ambiguities, and overtones which gradually link themselves together so as to form a network of connections binding the whole" work. This system of connections gives the novel a wide, more universal significance, as "Leopold Bloom becomes a modern Ulysses, an Everyman in a Dublin which becomes a microcosm of the world." Eliot described this system as the "mythic method": "a way of controlling, of ordering, of giving a shape and a significance to the immense panorama of futility and anarchy which is contemporary history". Novelist Vladimir Nabokov called Ulysses a "divine work of art" and the greatest masterpiece of 20th century prose, and said that "it towers above the rest of Joyce's writing" with "noble originality, unique lucidity of thought and style".
The book did have its critics, largely in response to its then-uncommon inclusion of sexual elements. Shane Leslie described Ulysses as "literary Bolshevism ... experimental, anti-conventional, anti-Christian, chaotic, totally unmoral". Karl Radek called Ulysses "a heap of dung, crawling with worms, photographed by a cinema camera through a microscope". Virginia Woolf stated, "Ulysses was a memorable catastrophe—immense in daring, terrific in disaster." One newspaper pundit stated it contained "secret sewers of vice ... canalized in its flood of unimaginable thoughts, images, and pornographic words" and "revolting blasphemies" which "debases and perverts and degrades the noble gift of imagination and wit and lordship of language".
Ulysses in Nighttown, based on Episode 15 ("Circe"), premiered off-Broadway in 1958, with Zero Mostel as Bloom; it debuted on Broadway in 1974.
In 2006, playwright Sheila Callaghan's Dead City, a contemporary stage adaptation of the book set in New York City, and featuring the male figures Bloom and Dedalus re-imagined as female characters Samantha Blossom and Jewel Jupiter, was produced in Manhattan by New Georges.
In 2012, an adaption was staged in Glasgow, written by Dermot Bolger and directed by Andy Arnold. The production first premiered at the Tron Theatre, and later toured in Dublin, Belfast, Cork, made an appearance at the Edinburgh Festival, and eventually performed in China. In 2017 a revised version of Bolger's adaption, directed and designed by Graham McLaren, was premiered at Ireland's National Theatre, The Abbey Theatre in Dublin, as part of the 2017 Dublin Theatre Festival. It was revived in June 2018, and the script was published by Oberon Books.
In 2013, a new stage adaptation of the novel, Gibraltar, was produced in New York by the Irish Repertory Theatre. It was written by and starred Patrick Fitzgerald and directed by Terry Kinney. This two-person play focused on the love story of Bloom and Molly, played by Cara Seymour.
In 1967, a film version of the book was directed by Joseph Strick. Starring Milo O'Shea as Bloom, it was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Adapted Screenplay.
In 2003, a movie version Bloom was released starring Stephen Rea and Angeline Ball.
In 1988, a documentary, the episode "James Joyce's Ulysses" in a series titled The Modern World: Ten Great Writers, was shown on Channel 4, where some of the most famous scenes from the novel were dramatised. David Suchet played Leopold Bloom.
On Bloomsday 1982, RTÉ, Ireland's national broadcaster, aired a full-cast, unabridged, dramatised radio production of Ulysses, that ran uninterrupted for 29 hours and 45 minutes.
The unabridged text of Ulysses has been performed by Jim Norton, with Marcella Riordan. This recording was released by Naxos Records on 22 audio CDs in 2004. It follows an earlier abridged recording with the same actors.
On Bloomsday 2010, author Frank Delaney launched a series of weekly podcasts called Re:Joyce which took listeners page-by-page through Ulysses, discussing its allusions, historical context and references. The podcast ran until Delaney's death in 2017, at which point it was on the "Wandering Rocks" chapter.
BBC Radio 4 aired a new nine-part adaptation dramatised by Robin Brooks and produced/directed by Jeremy Mortimer, and starring Stephen Rea as the Narrator, Henry Goodman as Leopold Bloom, Niamh Cusack as Molly Bloom and Andrew Scott as Stephen Dedalus, for Bloomsday 2012, beginning on 16 June 2012.
The song "Flower of the Mountain" by Kate Bush (originally the eponymous track off The Sensual World) sets to music the end of Molly Bloom's soliloquy.
Thema (Omaggio a Joyce) is an electroacoustic composition by Luciano Berio, for voice and tape. Composed between 1958 and 1959, it is based on the interpretative reading of the poem "Sirens" from chapter 11 of the novel. It is sung/voiced by Cathy Berberian, with technical elaboration on her recorded voice. Umberto Eco, a lifelong admirer of Joyce, also contributed to its realisation.
The instrumental track "June 16th" on Minutemen’s 1984 album Double Nickels on the Dime makes reference to the date of the novel in its title.
Jacob Appel's novel, The Biology of Luck (2013), is a retelling of Ulysses set in New York City. The novel features an inept tour guide, Larry Bloom, whose adventures parallel those of Leopold Bloom through Dublin.
List of editions in print
Facsimile texts of the manuscript
Serial text published in the Little Review, 1918-1920
Facsimile texts of the 1922 first edition
Based on the 1932 Odyssey Press edition
Based on the 1939 Odyssey Press edition
Based on the 1960 Bodley Head/1961 Random House editions
Based on the 1984 Gabler edition