Caveat: Classic Bros For Classic Prose is a book club for all that was started by a few basic bros trying to read literature.
October’s book: Ulysses
Well, if you understood all that you’re a better man than me.
Ulysses requires some superhero powers of comprehension, an arguably ambitious read for a few basic bros, but those who can tough the doorstopper are now worthy to sit on the literary adult table.
Joyce began writing the novel in 1914 as a short story for the collection ‘The Dubliners’, so God only knows how the short blew out to 265,000 words. Finally published in 1922, Ulysses is a sort of sequel to A Portrait of a Young Artist by picking up Stephen Dedalus’s life a year after where Portrait left off. The story begins by introducing Leopold and Molly Bloom and proceeds to map primarily the three main characters’ physical and mental journeys on a single day, June 16, 1904, in Dublin.
As a piece of Modernist art, Joyce sets the novel in modern metropolis and explores real issues and history, similar to ‘Wasteland’ by modernist contemporary T. S. Elliot, through characters’ trivial and significant thoughts in scattered and fragmented prose—mirroring the erratic and incoherent inner dialogue that can plague us all—to achieve a kind of hyper-realism, which had been previously unexplored. (People can’t really speak with the poise, calculation and wit of a character in a Jane Austen novel.)
Pineapple rock, lemon platt, butter scotch. A sugar-sticky girl shovelling scoopful of creams for a Christian brother. Some school treat. Bad for their tummies.
The novel also massages the intellectual slow twitch muscle fibres by touching on the mythic, drawing parallels to Homer’s Odyssey, the Greek Epic. The three main characters Stephen, Bloom, and Molly mirror Telemachus, Ulysses, and Penelope, respectively, and each of the 18 chapters corresponds to an adventure from the Odyssey.
The theme of the struggle for identity through paternity also ties the works together for just as Telemachus’s searches for Odysseus and vice versa, Stephen longs for an ideal father figure and Bloom for a son.
In light of testing readers comprehension skills, Joyce further takes the piss by radically changing prose style as Stephen’s character develops and shifts points of view throughout the novel.
A barren land, bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind would lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters.
From outrage (matrimony) to outrage (adultery) there arose nought but outrage (copulation) yet the matrimonial violator of the matrimonially violated had not been outraged by the adulterous violator of the adulterously violated.
For a novel that’s granted the top position on the ‘Most difficult novels’ list by Goodreads—behind Joyce’s other slog, Finnegans Wake—the plot is incredibly simple and mundane: Stephen teaches history lesson then walks in park. Bloom reads a letter then goes to newspaper office. Stephen speaks at library. Molly cheats on Bloom. Bloom masturbates. Stephen goes to brothel and gets punched. Bloom revives Stephen. Bloom finds out Molly cheated. Molly ruminates on cheating and relationship with Bloom.
Sian Cain, a columnist for the Guardian, deems the novel as the best in the English language and the hardest to read, admitting that “For three months, I glared at its fat, lumpen form on my floor with a vague sense of personal failure”
“When James Joyce finished writing Ulysses, he was so exhausted that he didn’t write a line of prose for a year. I can believe it; I needed a nap after reading 40 pages,” Cane says.
In a world that’s already highly resistant to reading, I’d recommend this book to no one, save the pseudo-intellectuals who’d like to tick it off their list of classics. Guilty.
November's book: Jospeh Heller's Catch-22