Review & Recommend: Ulysses - James Joyce Episodes 10-12

Ulysses – James Joyce (Episodes 10-12): Review & Recommend | CLASSICS CATCHUPS

Despite having now reached the point of having posted about two thirds of Ulysses (twelve out of eighteen episodes), in terms of pages I’ve covered roughly half. The final episodes of Ulysses are markedly longer than the earliest, and the denser episodes become more regular. I did really enjoy reading episodes ten and eleven, some of the most obviously stylistically different episodes in the novel, as they presented a unique challenge, particularly “The Sirens”. Episode twelve, however, “The Cyclops” was again far denser, focusing on politics, and I really feel like I’ll benefit from rereading this one after having done a lot of reading around it! Bloom, again, is less of a focus in these episodes, and I missed having such laser focus on a single character in these episodes that seem a lot more untied from a protagonist, instead drifting between more minor characters.

Episode ten, “Wandering Rocks” is perhaps more accurately described as a series of vignettes, or super-short stories as opposed to a single cohesive narrative episodes though, of course, each of the nineteen tales the episode is split into tie into one another and intertwine, taking place in some cases in the same moments, following various character’s progression through the city. I was tripped up a bit by the chronology of the episode, initially assuming that all the individual tales would follow on from one another, when they’re more simultaneous than I initially thought. I really enjoyed the style of this episode, with the break inbetween the tales making the lack of focus on a single character feel far more natural. The drift between characters in “Wandering Rocks” allows the city to truly come into its own: here we see Dublin as a busy, bustling city with hundreds of stories happening at any given instance, and offers an insight into a wide variety of different characters, their lives all occurring simultaneously, all existing in the same city on the same day, going about their everyday lives.

In contrast, episode eleven takes Joyce’s experiment with style and form and structure to a whole new level. While “Wandering Rocks” was split into intertwining vignettes, the idea of the short story form is one readers were familiar with, and could easily relate “Wandering Rocks” to a short story collection (if one far more intertwined than typical of such a collection), “The Sirens” takes the form of a fugue, a musical technique. I listened to this episode as I read along, and found it really beneficial. The audiobook was really useful for discerning when the scene changes, and I made a bit of a game out of spotting the recurrence of the initial sequence. The episode opens with a disjointed sequence of brief phrases, which are all featured in the main narrative, that begins after this first sequence. I relied on the audiobook to follow the episode because I kept flicking back to the first pages of the episode to see what phrase I should be looking out for next. There were a couple I seemed to find in the wrong order, and there was one I didn’t notice recur at all, which I’m not entirely sure about. I did thoroughly enjoy this episode, even though the plot became secondary to the finding of the recurring phrases.

The final episode I’ll be covering in this post is “The Cyclops”, but I’m not quite sure where to start. Like “Scylla and Charybdis”, its erudition has overwhelmed me. I did enjoy getting to see Bloom step into his own a bit and defend himself against anti-semitic comments from the Citizen, an unnamed nationalist. I also quite liked the paragraph about love, but beyond this, I took very little from this episode. The jump in style from the fun of “The Sirens” to the dense, difficult, political conversation was jarring, and possible a part of the reason for my struggle: my brain was geared up to pick out specific, predefined phrases rather than comprehend dense narration and dialogue. As a result, most of the episode passed me by, and I missed most of the point and meaning of the conversation and comings and goings of the characters. Maybe next time this is an episode I’ll get more out of.

This section was definitely a rollercoaster of highs and lows, but I’m glad to have pressed through. As of writing this, I’ve already finished my first readthrough and started on a second (I know, I’m dedicated to understanding things that interest me). If you’ve not already seen, links to episodes one to three, four to six, and seven to nine have been linked, and I’ll also link the Yale Modernism essays for these three episodes as well, because they were pretty instrumental in my understanding. You can find them here, here, and here.

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