Review & Recommend: Ulysses - James Joyce Episodes 16-18

Ulysses – James Joyce (Episodes 16-18): Review & Recommend | CLASSICS CATCHUPS

The final Ulysses post! (Unless I try to write a more coherent ‘review’, which seems like a rather impossible task…) The final post, the final part of the novel – the part I mistakenly earlier thought was focused on Molly. The last episode, “Penelope”, is focused on Molly, but the section as a whole is about home. Bloom returns home, and invites Stephen into his home, and Molly thinks about her day spent in the home. I enjoyed finally getting to read Molly’s episode, famous for being split into only eight — very long — sentences. Bloom’s return home isn’t quite as momentous as Odysseus’, yet this matches up with Joyce’s intention to tell a modern epic of the everyday man. I did enjoy reading this section, partly because I felt a sense of pride at having made it so far, but it definitely wasn’t quite as fun to read as “Circe” or “Nausicaa” both of which I talked about in my previous post.

I found episode sixteen to be a very dramatic change from the surreal atmosphere of “Circe”. I also found a lot of the episode seemed to pass me by, either my own inattention is to blame, or Joyce is to be praised for succeeding in creating a very hazy style that’s intended to pass the reader by. Either way, I understood the main point of the episode: the night is over, and Bloom is escorting Stephen home. The arguments and interactions with other characters along the way were somewhat lost to me, perhaps imitating Stephen’s intoxicated state. Having a better understanding after reading about the episode I’m hoping that giving it a second read will be enough to give me a deeper understanding and let me get more out of the episode.

Episode seventeen finally brings Bloom home, and Stephen with him. The events of this episode are deliberately obscured by the style, which constantly interrupts the narrative to offer factual, if often uninteresting, interjections. It was, however, rewarding to see more of Bloom and Stephen interacting, finally coming to fulfill the father-son dynamic set up by the book (the first episode focuses on Stephen, and is named “Telemachus” — the same name as Odysseus’ son, and Bloom is the protagonist, the traveller, the parallel for Odysseus). The obfuscation of events in this episode did mean I struggled somewhat to grasp exactly what was going on, beyond Bloom and Stephen conversing, and Bloom’s eventual retirement to his bed, where Molly lays. Aside from the continued Bloom and Stephen interaction, I feel like I didn’t get very much out of this episode, which is sad, as the episode that brings Bloom’s day to a close.

And, finally, episode eighteen. Known as “Penelope”, this episode finally offers a voice to Molly, who has been the subject of the thoughts of so many men over the course of the day, but has never been offered a chance to speak up. Molly’s monologue, as I mentioned earlier, is only eight sentences long, though the sentences aren’t divided by punctuation (the episode features no punctuation), rather by a paragraph break. I fully enjoyed the prose and style of this episode, though I found Molly’s thoughts hard to follow, picking up on the occasional event rather than understanding the full narrative. I already knew the episode ends with (spoilers) Molly’s recollection of Bloom’s proposal, and her acceptance, and I especially enjoyed the last page, knowing already what it was narrating. I imagine that I’d have got more enjoyment out of it had I fully followed the narrative, but I still got a lot out of reading it regardless, so I’m excited to reread it having a better understanding. It may well become my favourite episode after a reread.

Speaking of favourite episodes, I wanted to give a quick shout out to some of the ones I enjoyed most on my first read-through. Episode six, “Hades”, episode eleven, “The Sirens”, episode thirteen “Nausicaa”, episode fifteen, “Circe”, and episode eighteen, “Penelope” are all up there, contending for favourite. Interestingly, some of these episodes are the most overtly experimental with style — the long sentences of “Penelope”, the playscript that forms “Circe”, and the fugue structure in “Sirens”.

Another, final, big thank you to the Yale modernism labs that have really helped me to understand what was happening throughout. “Eumaeus”, “Ithaca” and “Penelope” are linked as always, (note: “Penelope” is the only one of these that doesn’t have the title of the episode in the URL, so I recommend clicking directly on the hyperlink if you’ve previously just been adding the title of the episode to the end of the URL) and I would really appreciate it if anyone was interested in reading my other posts, on episodes one to three, four to six, seven to nine, ten to twelve, and thirteen to fifteen, if you haven’t already.

Overall, I’ve really enjoyed this journey. Without a doubt, this is the most challenging literary journey I’ve undertaken of my own volition, though I’ve not been without help. The internet has been instrumental to getting my understanding to the level its at, but for anything I couldn’t find on the internet, I’ve been asking my boyfriend — seeing as it’s his favourite book, we’ve been reading through it together (initially, anyway. I overtook him with my determination to read an episode a day and only taking days off if I’d been at work). I’m so proud of my own persistence, because it definitely isn’t an easy read, and it is exasperating and nonsensical and incredibly dense at times, but it’s also beautiful and innovative and an absolute feat of literary genius, and so, so worth reading.

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