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Last Updated: Wednesday, 16 June, 2004, 15:47 GMT 16:47 UK
Cheat's guide to Joyce's Ulysses
By Neil Smith
BBC News Online

James Joyce
James Joyce's novel Ulysses caused uproar in the 1920s
Wednesday 16 June 2004 marks the 100th anniversary of "Bloomsday", the day celebrated by Irish author James Joyce in his controversial Dublin-set novel Ulysses.

The book has fascinated scholars and baffled readers for decades with its dense prose, obscure puns and allusions to the characters and events of Homer's epic Greek poem The Odyssey.

It has also outraged censors with its choice language and graphic descriptions of basic bodily functions.

However, for all its renown and notoriety, it is a book that few have read and even fewer comprehend.

To rectify this, BBC News Online presents an irreverent simple chapter-by-chapter guide to the key events, characters and Homeric parallels.


The first three chapters introduce would-be writer Stephen Dedalus, familiar to Joyce readers from his earlier novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

James Joyce's grave
Joyce is buried at Fluntern cemetery in Zurich, Switzerland
On the morning of 16 June 1904, Stephen leaves the disused watchtower he shares with "stately, plump Buck Mulligan", vowing never to return.

After teaching at a nearby school he talks to an ageing master who gives him a letter to deliver to the offices of a Dublin newspaper.

He then goes for a long walk on the beach that gives him plenty of time to ponder his literary aspirations and dead mother fixation.


Jewish advertising salesman Leopold Bloom buys a kidney, then returns home to 7 Eccles Street and has it for breakfast. He then defecates. Upstairs Molly, his unfaithful opera singer wife, waits for him to leave so she can entertain her lover.


Bloom attends a funeral at Glasnevin Cemetery, his symbolic encounter with death mirroring Odysseus's descent into Hades. It's a real barrel of laughs.


Bloom and Stephen almost meet in a chapter peppered with tabloid-style headlines.


It's lunchtime, so Bloom stops at Davy Byrne's "moral pub" for a gorgonzola sandwich and a glass of burgundy. He then pays a call to the National Library where he overhears Stephen sounding off about Shakespeare.


Lots of short episodes. Lots of different characters. All connected by a Vice-Regal parade from one side of town to the other.


In a chapter full of song - Joyce's allusion to Homer's deadly Sirens - Bloom narrowly avoids meeting Molly's lover, concert promoter Blazes Boylan.


Bloom has an argument with a pub bore whose blinkered anti-Semitism mirrors Homer's one-eyed Cyclops. He exits, closely followed by a cake tin.


As evening falls, Bloom sees two young girls on the beach and masturbates in a chapter written in the florid style of a romantic penny-dreadful.


Stephen and Bloom meet at last in a maternity hospital in a chapter whose structure is meant to represent both the nine months of pregnancy and the birth of the English language. And they say this book is hard.


(horrorstruck) Blimey, this looks like heavy going.

No kidding! There's over 100 pages of this stuff, all written in the style of a play script. But all you need to know is that Bloom follows Stephen to a brothel where they have lots of freaky hallucinations.


A weary Bloom takes Stephen to a cabman's shelter where they listen to the ramblings of a tattooed sailor who makes little or no senzzzzzzz


Q. What happens next?

A. Bloom and Stephen walk back to Eccles Street. Bloom offers Stephen a bed for the night but Stephen refuses and leaves. Bloom goes to bed. The section is written in a question-and-answer format like a religious catechism.


yes Molly Bloom sits awake in bed yes and remembers her youth in Gibraltar yes and her many sexual partners yes in one unbroken stream of consciousness yes and recalls the day she yes gave herself to Bloom while munching some heavily symbolic seed cake yes

(The 35-page chapter consists of just seven sentences. The final words are: "...and yes I said yes I will Yes.")

We asked users to send in their own summaries - and plenty sent in their views too.

Lord help us all. "Pretentious drivel", "better off with a good walk rather than reading dusty books". What possible hope is there for a country which with such self-righteous philistinism scorns its own treasures? Ulysses is the greatest novel of the twentieth century. It is is wise, warm, witty, affirmative and beautiful. it is less pretentious than a baked bean. Read it. read it out loud to yourself. It won't bite. It wasn't written either to shock or to impress. Only pretentious barbarians believe artists set out shock: and how these philistines delight in revealing how unshocked they are. Those who attack it are afraid of it and rather than look foolish they prefer to heckle what they don't understand. Ignore all this childish, fear-filled criticism, Ulysses will be read when everything you see and touch around you has crumbled into dust.
Stephen Fry, London, UK

Man goes for a walk around Dublin. Nothing happens
David Mosley, Newport Pagnell
The unfortunate and undeniable effect of the novel's clever winded language is to alienate the majority of modern people. Mr Fry claims it will be be read when all else has turned to dust but consider how few people honestly read this 100 year old book beginning to end (despite trying hard) and how many still read, live and understand the 300 year old works of Shakespeare. The problem with Ulysses is that it is not populist enough and feels like an authors fancy for other authors.
Sam LeSpam, London, UK

Sorry Stephen Fry, but I'm not "afraid" of Ulysses. I¿m not "childish" or "fear-filled". Nor am I a "philistine", and having read it I understand exactly what it is- a deliberately difficult modernist experiment.

Claiming that Ulysses is the greatest novel of the twentieth century is nothing new, but dismissing anyone who doesn't agree with you as "foolish" does sound a bit, well, sixth form-y. Still, at least it's not Finnegans Wake!
Johnny Cullen, london, uk

Cheers BBC. I don't know what Joyce would have to say about it, but I think you've done a fine job! Inspired to pick it up and have a go. Thoroughly enjoyed and would recommend Dubliners also by the man himself, for those who fancy Joyce but might be a bit nervous about Ulysses (like me!)
Nessa, London, UK

Gosh, I hope that's THE Stephen Fry - and well said. I haven't read Ulysses, but I intend to - as an avid reader, I'm fascinated by the books that have been influential to other writers.
Ruth, Reading, UK

My great-grandad appears as a character in the book - old Troy of the Dublin Metropolitan Police. I don't know if people realise that at least some of the characters Bloom encounters in his ramblings were real?
John Kavanagh, Billericay, UK

Tried to read it once, but gave up. What is the point in writing a load of rubbish that fails to entertain and keep one's interest? It may have had some notorierty and shock value in Edwardian days, but now even the 'marked page brigade' would hardly bother with such trash. The scholars may be fascinated but the reality is that Ulysses is an overrated load of rubbish.
Teesside Expat, Kuwait

The book is pretentious hogwash, a classic because the pretentious, intellectual mafia say it is. Don't waste your time on this drivel.
Paul Burns, Liverpool England

Can't claim any originality for this, but I still like someone's summary of Ulysses as: "Man goes for a walk around Dublin. Nothing happens." Joyce himself, when asked to sum up Ulysses in a sentence is supposed to have retorted: "If I could have said what I wanted to say in a sentence then I wouldn't have had to write the bloody novel!"
David Mosley, Newport Pagnell, UK

I wasted three weeks of my life recently reading Ulysses. Had it not been on the on the "Big Read" list I would never had bothered (I'm trying to read all 100). I can summarise it in two words - pretentious drivel!
Pauline Doherty, Fife, UK

Thanks BBC from saving me from any temptation to attempt to read what would appear to be an unmitigated load of rubbish.
Ruth, Camberly, Surrey

Ah now and you haven't even mentioned the conscious stream style writing, the books worth it for that alone, you'll never know a character so well or follow his thoughts to such an extent as Bloom's! Sex and walking, sex and shopping, sex and fireworks, sex and booze-fuelled hallucinations of dizzying heights and terribly lows. It's pretty funny too - once you get used to it!
Rob McElroy, Stoke, Staffs

If you follow Bloom's trail around Dublin it makes a geographic question mark. Also, I tried to read the novel like listening to music, if that makes sense, because it 'reads' in a beautifully musical way.
Christopher Dent, Leeds, UK

I have to admit in my near 60 years I have never read Ulysses. I also have to admit, initially with a touch of guilt, that I have never been in a situation where my conscience has lead me to even have considered that I possibly ought to read it. Reading your guide has restored my faith in my initial judgement! Thank you, BBC.
Tony Hall, Peterborough, Cambs

Ulysses defies any kind of "summary". You got to read it to find out why it is one of the best novels ever written
Pele Roy, Exeter
I'm sure it's a great, innovative and worthwhile piece of art. Unfortunately, that doesn't mean it's not mind-numbingly boring. Is Joyce to the novel what Birtwistle is to the song?
Chris Halligan, Huddersfield, West Yorks

One of the all time favourite books of 20th century literature. I especially liked Joyce's handling of the stream of consciousness technique in narration. And also how time was used in the novel. Probably he was inspired by Bergson!
Joy Roy Choudhury, Calcutta, India

Complete drivel that only reached its lofty "artistic" status by being controversial (at the time) and impenetrable - the "it must be good" syndrome that so many pretentious arty types exhibit.
Kevin, Liverpool, UK

Think I'll stick to Grisham and Clancy for my bed time reading...
Rob, London

Many thanks for your summary. Could you do Remembrance of Things Past next please?
Richard Lucas, Egham, Surrey

Ulysses defies any kind of "summary". You got to read it to find out why it is one of the best novels ever written. James Joyce is born once in a century.
Pele Roy, Exeter, UK

It took me two years to read this book, I had visited Dublin so I read it while following the Dublin Street map, which made it even more time consuming. "I am exhausted, abandoned, no more young. I stand, so to speak, with an unposted letter bearing the extra regulation fee before the too late box of the general post office of human life" Bloom page 642 - blew my mind, made the difficult reading all worthwhile to have found this gem! Thanks for this opportunity.
Veronica Maher, Huddersfield

Author wakes up one morning and decides just how far he can push his luck.....quite far by the sounds of it.
S Gardner, Portsmouth, UK

My copy is bible black and like the bible I've never read it though I've heard it quoted and misquoted and in a hundred years from now we'll all like Joyce be dust and your time and faculties'd be more constructively spent on a solitary morning walk far from your bookshelf and dusty book self.
Ian Jackson, Lancaster, England

A recently modern take on Life and its Loving, most memorably captured and allegorised in the enduring and religiously contemporised The Temptation of Saint Anthony. Perhaps I should give it a read.
Graham Campbell, CyberSpace

Boy refuses to meet dying mum's maker. Man meets butcher. Boy's dad meets man. Man meets editor. Editor meets boy. Boy meets cronies. Man meets classical statue's bottoms. Everybody meets everybody in the streets. Man meets barmaids. Wife meets lover. Man meets bigot. Gerty meets man's eyes. Boy meets drunken soldier. Man meets boy (at last). Boy and man meet lying sailor. Boy's lips meet man's cocoa. Man meets wife's bottom in the bed. Wife meets boy (in her dreams).
Roger Moss, Brighton, England

Born. Eat. Have sex. Die.
Robert Willoughby, London

I watched a performance of this play at the Dublin plays festival, circa 1961/62. Was with a bunch of JJ fans, was suitably shocked at the bits I understood, and marvelled at the rest. Very grateful for your simplified explanation of the novel, better late than never, as they say
Frances Mcdermott, Twickenham , Middx, England.

I gave up my first effort to read the book a couple of years ago. Recently I discovered a 4-CD audio book, which although heavily abridged, is helping to give me a flavour of what the story is about. Who knows, I might give reading it another go one day.
Andy Grant, Luton, Beds

Dedalus, a teacher, is cynical about Catholicisim, but suffers guilt over his mother's death. Bloom is an Irish Jew with an unfaithful wife. Both mourn the death of their baby son. Bloom's day sees him face embarrassment, sexual frustration, anti-semitism, and the profundities of birth and death. Dedalus gets drunk with Buck Mulligan and after a few near-misses, meets Bloom. They talk, and realise they are kindred spirits. Bloom comes home. Molly still loves him, despite her affair. Bloom is the hero, Dedalus is the future and Molly is procreation.
Marky, Scotland

A father who lost his son and a son who has lost his parents explore Dublin, both (unknowingly) in search of each other, albeit unknowingly. The theme and structure borrowed from Homer's Odyssey are a metaphor for Joyce's dream of Ireland's journey from a 'priest-ridden' backwater to a country taking its rightful place in the European intellectual and philosphical tradition. Greek myth, latin language, Jewish, Christian & secular traditon, Irish culture, all forge the way forward for Molly, Stephen, Bloom and Ireland.
Charlie Clown, Warrington, Cheshire

I bought the book from a second hand store and started to read it. Incredibly pages 301-350 were repeated twice - there was no 351-400! I only discovered this when I got to 350 the first time....I gave up but always wondered what happened. In some ways I am sorry to have missed it!
R Fleming, Liverpool, UK

Ulysses is very simple and at the same time very hard. Joyce is a perfect example who enforces the idea that you could make art out of nothing at any day you want, even in a single one.
Ukë Maxharraj, Gremnik Kosova

Very stimulating. Could you do Finnegans Wake for us next?
Simon B, London UK

Thanks for what I hope is the first of a series. So useful and time-saving to have shortened versions. How about doing similar with some Shakespeare, a Wagner Opera, a Pinter Play, a Sondheim Musical and Coronation Street? Bet you can't manage The League of Gentlemen though!
Martyn , Leeds, West Yorkshire

Writer with very considerable technical abilities, but limited imagination and conventional views of human nature, describes a day he wished he had lived, but really had never come close to experiencing. Unable to create his own world, he used parallels and parodies. With stock characters and mainly hackneyed situations, the result is a book that attracts talentless academics and the kind of people who pat themselves on the back for great literary insight which they demonstrate by walking around Dublin on Bloomsday. Despite its deficiencies, and the naffness of most of its devotees, it remains a truly great book.
David Jones, Liverpool, UK

The book needed a good editor willing to chop 800 pages out of it. And as for the clever puns and allusions, you might as well watch Countdown instead
David Meadows, South Tyneside
Irish novelist disappears up own back passage. Collects royalty cheque.
Andy Bellinger, Reigate ,UK

Sorry James, life's too short.
Paul, London, UK

This book is the greasy pole of literature. You simply cannot get past page 10 without sliding back to the beginning and trying again to understand what on earth is going on. The best cure for insomnia when Germany are not playing football.
Philip Winter-Taylor, Ashford, UK

What a load of arty rubbish.
David Foster, Poole, Dorset

Read entertainment page on BBC website. Understood perfectly. The End.
Pam, London, UK

Great work - now can you do Finnegans Wake?
Brian Davies, Brussels, Belgium

Joyce goes on almighty bender on June 15, 1904. Sleeps through next day, thus missing first date with Nora Barnacle. Can find no one else to elope to Europe with and write his epic, so returns to mother and nurses her through final illness. Racked with guilt, he joins the Jesuits. Later immortalised as character (Fr. Kinch) in book written by Samuel Beckett. Is also inspiration for Fr. Jack character in BBC comedy series in late 1990s. (By the way, I think Ulysses is one of the best books ever written).
Tony Somers, The Hague, Holland

There is no plot. There are no characters that the reader cares about. I don't know why this qualifies as a novel. The book needed a good editor willing to chop 800 pages out of it. And as for the clever puns and allusions, you might as well watch Countdown instead - their puzzles are far more entertaining.
David Meadows, South Tyneside, UK

The copy I had said that Joyce had spent 10 years writing it. From what I could see he could have done it in 10 minutes after an evening binge drinking.

Pretentious and completely incomprehensible nonsense. I did the second hand bookstall a favour and dumped it in the recycling bin.
Heal, Luxembourg

I'd never heared of this book until today following a link in google, and now having read the summary, I am even less likely to read this book than I was when I'd never heard of it.
Tim Lewis, Maesycwmmer, Wales

A day in the life of Leopold Bloom, an ordinary man with extraordinary yearnings. A day in the life also of Stephen Dedalus, an ordinary man with extraordinary dreams. At the novel's heart are concepts of movement: the physical movements of the protagonists around Dublin; the city brought into motion through passenger vision from cabs, trains and trams, the metre of printing presses, rolling of beer barrels; a cacophany of urban sounds; emotional and moral journeys as pasts are confronted and epiphanies are reached -- all reinforced by the changing rythms and voices of the narrative, by words that so precisely evoke the tread of feet upon sand, the spinning perspective of drunks, music carrying on the air... It concerns what we learn and accept about ourselves through our encounters and observations.
Melanie Wood, Newcastle upon Tyne

Thanks BBC, I always wondered what it was about but couldn't be bothered to read it. Now I definitley can't be bothered to read it.
David, Reading, Berks

Odder than the Odyssey, more Greek to me than Homer. Perhaps one day I shall read it, just out of spite.
Simon Elvin, Plymouth, England

A great book to fall asleep to - but for real good Irish writing go for Flann O'Brien.
Kro, Annecy, France

I gave up my first effort to read the book a couple of years ago. Recently I discovered a 4-CD audio book, which although heavily abridged, is helping to give me a flavour of what the story is about. Who knows, I might give reading it another go one day
Andy Grant, Luton, Beds

Boy meets girl. Girl meets another boy. Boy meets another boy. Girl gets an attack of the guilts. The end.
Kenny Millar, Kirkintilloch, Scotland

Sorry? What just happened here? Um.
Matt Oakes, London

I have read the book several times.It is difficult, but don't be discouraged it is worth the effort. Try reading sections aloud (an Irish accent helps) and it will come alive. Good luck to all who make the journey. G. S.
G Smith, Derby

Watch the Coen Brothers "O'brother, where art thou?" It'll all become much clearer!
Robin Hull, London UK

James Joyce
wrote something choice,
and lots of publishers said:
"This stuff'll never be read!"
Adrian Dover, Birmingham, UK

Thanks BBC. I always wondered what it was all about but could not be bothered to read it. Now i don't need to. Great!
Mark, Kent, UK

Precis. Geezer has a day off has an identity crisis. Other geezer has breakfast , his wife has other plans. Mad day out in Dublin. Two geezers eventually meet. Mad night out in Dublin. They go their separate ways. Geezers wife does review of lovers. end.
Paul James, Berkshire, UK

Why all the fuss? Sounds like a perfectly ordinary day to me.
Rob, Warwick University

An Irishman goes for a job at a building site and the foreman says if he can answer a couple of questions he can start straight away, Michael says "fine". The foreman says, "What's the difference between a Joist and a Girder?" Michael says, "Oh that's easy, Joyce wrote Ulysses and Goethe wrote Faust".
Jel, Brussels

This book is a private joke where the beholder must be fluent in the classics. That said, a read of Dubliners and Portrait will get you into the proverbial plays for the Premiership that is Ulysses. Anthony, A Dublin man in NY
Anthony May, Queens NY

Father, Son and Hamlet's Holy Ghost. Agenbite of inwit. Boy is father to man. Holy Roman / English empire. Artist meets scientist. Homer's plan subverted, to music. What is a nation? Plumtree's Potted Beef to their heels. Pork butchers will inherit the earth. Earth in space. Earth mother.
Pete Taylor, Carnforth England

yes he said lifting heavyweight tome makes good doorstop yes whilst munching lightweight yes non-symbolic sandwich thus considering meaning of said book yes is it a work of great literary imagination yes and will it be fawned over yes by legions of pretentious highbrow literary critics yes but is it actually any good yes well no actually.
J Pearce, Hindhead, UK

I recommend you buy the students' edition, which has lots of helpful notes. This will make the whole thing somewhat clearer. But not completely clear, because that wouldn't be any fun. If you wanted an easy read, you should have bought Harry Potter.
Stephen Coltrane, UK

Bloke decides to walk around Dublin forming big geographic mark by his trail, with loads of fun and laughs along the way. Goes to bed and kisses wife's buttocks before going to sleep. Nooo! Oh yes.
Christopher Dent, Leeds, UK

Suddenly, nothing happened!
Louis Brandt, Leicester, UK

The Tracy Emin of publishing perhaps?
Tony White, London
Sleep... God... pubgrub... death... school...Shakespeare... masturbation... one-eyed anti-semites... urination... brothel...Johannes Jeep... and love. Simple, really.
James Lloyd, Sandycove, Co. Dublin

'Ulysses' was a cartoon TV series broadcast on Children's BBC (Phillip Schofield era) in the late eighties about a big spaceship with a bearded man on it. It ran for about twelve zillion months (approx) and made about as much sense as the book. Not enough Dublin in it, and not as good as 'The Mysterious Cities of Gold'.
Ross Lowe, Derby, England

Clever old Joyce,
writer of prose,
difficult book
but don't turn up your nose

searchers for meaning
are tearing their hair
not enough clues
its really not fair

this big solid tome
the best way i've found
read it like a poem
don't expect solid ground

the language that flows!
the elegant prose!
just enjoy what you read
my advice if you heed
keeps you going and you'll tend
to get to the end.

Ullyses in 80?
No problem matey!

Neil Coward, Blackpool, Lancs

Your summary has made me want to try and read it again - I have 2 failed attempts under my belt, but now I have renewed yes determination yes! It is a very odd book. Thanks for the helpful summary. Off to buy some seedcake!
David Boocock, Madison, USA

Hard up author comes up with 'novel' way to get sex, drugs and bodily functions into one place and thus sets the standard for rock and roll. There is nothing diffficult in this book so long as you read it as if having a conversation with the lads near to the end of an evening down the pub!
Chris, Leicester, England

Was this James Joyce's idea of an enormous practical joke on the literary establishment? The Tracy Emin of publishing perhaps?
Tony White, London, UK

Life is too short, don't bother trying to read this book unless you have lots of time.
Gwo Tzer Ho, edinburgh

I read on the train home last night of a new 22 CD compilation that has just been released of the novel. It is read by the actor who's famous for his role as the Bishop in Father Ted (who's name escapes me right now) and is meant to be very accessible. In a deeply unfashionable swipe at our obsession for 'real-time' it stretches for 27 hours - Blooms odyssey takes 18 - but with the authentic Irish voice and multiple character voices it sounds like a great way to get into what is an unfairly stigmatised work.
Tom Quinn, London, UK

Ulysses is, in parts, a very funny book. The precis and remarks, above, remind me of the Dublin response to "Oirish jokes". "Why are Oirish jokes so stupid? So that the English can understand them" Pity there are so many inaccuracies in the precis but "tabloid Joyce" is an oxymoron.
Pat O'Connell, Dublin, Ireland

One can only appreciate Joyce's exquisite attention to literary detail if one has lived outside ones own native land for a long time. He wrote about an Ireland that had long since ceased to exist, and a Dublin that was later swept away by a revolution and civil war. He left us for posterity a literary photograph, which only an Irish expatriate could have written.
John De Roche, Irishman living in Europe

Yes, I still feel guilty about not finishing the book after eagerly, yes, taking the J.J. module as part of my BA in English Literature, which I graduated from in '96! Yes! Did buy and listen to the talking book, heavliy abridged! Yes! Wish your precis had been around then, still better late than never! Yes
Susan McIntosh, Bognor Regis, England

Haven't read the book, but I've listened to the Kate Bush song The Sensual World, which is about the book. For anyone who doesn't want to spend weeks reading the book, this 5 minute song is an absolute boon. Highly recommended.
Kev, Essex, UK

It is quite typical of the pompous boorishness of the BBC to try and denegrate an Irish masterpiece. You will never understand it and of course you will always be envious.
Pol.O'Gallan, Warwickshire

For those wanting the more verbose, original and complete version of Ulysses, it can be found in html form on gutenberg.net for free. Although by comparison it makes reading Shakespeare seem like childsplay.
Olly, Cambs, UK

I studied Joyce last year for my AS Level, reading Dubliners which i think is the greatest set of short stories ever written. Socio-economic comment, religious satire, political satire, sex, alcoholism and some prophetic visions about the future of Ireland, all shrouded in characteristion, extended metaphor and analogies. I did't get past the first chapter of Ulysses however, so thanks for finishing it off for me! :D
Ben, Leeds,UK

You don't read Ulysses for the plot, you read it for the prose - and if you don't like the prose, don't read the book. Ulysses is not just a journey around Dublin, it is a journey around history, society and language. The text comes in wonderful waves of lucidity and obscurity just as, one suspects, Bloom lives his life. It is a terribly moving and ultimately very sad work, but quite, quite beautiful. It has given so much pleasure to so many people, and that can't be bad.
Nick Brown, London, UK

A short hallucanatory journey through life encapsulating all the themes of a good pub argument, women, adultery, religion, politics.
Jack O'Sullivan, Kent, UK

A very good précis. Incidentally, most eminent joycean scholars now agree that Bloom's breakfast kidney (chapter 4) is an ironic allusion to silent film star Buster Keaton. Fancy that.
Francis O'Shaughnessy, London, UK

Why do so many people complain about the lack of plot? If you want a thriller, go read one.
Justin Holmes, Tonbridge
It's all about coming home, like The Odyssey, the irony being that you never really left in the first place. Consequently Bloom and Stephen walk around Dublin in circles. They cannot escape who they are no matter how much they try - "the mole on my right breast is where it was when I was born, though my body has been woven of new stuff time after time". "I am other I now" says Stephen, and yet he remains obsessed with his dead mother, and his father Simon keeps popping up in the text. Joyce ran away to Paris, Shakespeare ran away to London, Odysseus ran away to war, but they take it all with them: Joyce continued to write about Dublin, Stephen argues that Shakespeare's whole canon reflects his life, and the whole of The Odyssey focuses on Odysseus trying to get home - "each returns after a life of absence to that spot of earth where he was born, where he has always been". So much more to this book though, well worth reading...accept that you don't have to understand every word and it is easier to appreciate.
Rachel Horton, London, UK

Amusing to see so many inferiority complexes displayed by your correspondents - look for the words "arty" used as an insult (stick to your Grisham then, the world's highest paid typist), and "pretentious" - which is the word of choice for those who believe that because they don't get something, it must have no merit. I have tried and failed to read Ulysses but I know enough people who get great and genuine pleasure out of it to know that that's my responsibility and not Joyce's.
Alan Simpson, Belfast, NI

To all those who are proud of never Having read Ulysses I would ask since when has ignorance become a valid point of view?
Garrett McColgan, London, UK

I tried reading it when I was 16 and was defeated. Thank you for reminding me about it, I'll give it another go. I know that sometimes when you put more in you get more out.
Rod Humphris, Bath, UK

Why do so many people complain about the lack of plot? If you want a thriller, go read one. If you think of Ulysses as a (very) long poem, and are prepared to read it as much for the richness of the language itself as for its content, then you may find yourself rewarded.
Justin Holmes, Tonbridge, Kent

Ulysses remains one of the most enjoyable books I have ever read, but the key to enjoying it is to not try to understand it. Just take your time, be proud of yourself when you understand one of the millions of literary references (Homer's Odyssey is just the tip of the iceberg), don´t think too hard about the ones you don´t, and get caught up in Joyce's stream-of-conciousness, be carried away by the amazing possibilty of language, appreciate all the different types of people and ways of life that flit through the pages of thia masterpiece, and put it down agreeing with Molly Bloom that the thing to do is say yes to all the experiences life has to offer! Then, if you thought that wasn´t too hard, try Finnegan's Wake...
Alexandra Skwara, London, UK

It could be a myth, but apparently a fan, upon meeting Joyce, said "I must shake the hand that wrote Ulysses", to which Joyce replied "it's done other things aswell"!
Gary, Newcastle, UK

For those interested to read the book but have trouble reading it, here are some tips on how to read the book and probably even finish it: Be familiar with the 'Stream of Conciousness' style of writing, When in doubt read ALOUD for Joyce's books are meant to be read that way, Note that the novel is out to destroy the English language so forget everything you know about conventional English linguistics. It worked for me. Hope it'll help you. Regards.
Khalid, Singapore

I believe I'm right in saying that Joyce's own wife once said to him 'Why don't you write something that people want to read?' And Mark Twain certainly once said 'a classic is a book everyone wishes they had read, but no one has actually read'. By this definition Ulysses is certainly a classic - probably THE classic. My advice is steer well clear of anyone who has read this book or (IMHO much more likely) claims to have read it.
John Lewis, Wolverhampton

Twenty-five years ago our English teacher tried to get us to read "A Portrait of the Artist". She gave up after three sessions because none of us could follow it. I'm glad she didn't try explaining Ulysses to the class, although disappointed she didn't point me in its direction.
Paul, Hailsham, UK

The people who have sent you their comments fall into four groups: those who have read the book and enjoyed it; those who have read the book and not enjoyed it; those who have tried to read the book and not enjoyed it; and those who have not read the book but still feel entitled to dismiss it as rubbish. The last group is depressingly large. For what it's worth, I am in the first group and no amount of outraged condemnations based on ignorance will ever persuade me that it is not one of the greatest half dozen books in the world.
Robert Matthews, Scarborough, England

A load of polysyllabic verbosity!
Paul, Farnham, UK

I recently read Ulysses for the second time for an hour each day on a regular train journey. I can understand why people use words like 'pretentious' and 'drivel' to describe it, but then I could use words like 'cliched' and 'crap' to describe the kind of novels that most people read. Each of us has a different outlook on what is enjoyable to read, and we read for different reasons. Joyce has a great deal of appeal to me on a variety of levels, and I think his work is absolutely unique.
Michael, Charlotte, NC. USA

Great stuff BBC - I prefer your version. The original is the literary equivalent of a cow in formaldehyde!
Brian T, Marlow, UK

Books like Ulysses are like an ancient whisky sat on the dusty shelf, not meant for drinking, just for decoration. Everyone holds it in high regard but tasting it is just gonna bring disappointment. Books like this need to be written to remind us writers how far you need to go before you can be classified as insane.
Matt Batchelor, Chepstow

Can't we just agree that it is rubbish. It's a snob thing - no one has read it so no one can argue with the dogma that it is the greatest novel of the twentieth century. But it fails on every count - it is almost unreadable, intensely boring and trivial. Almost any other book is preferable for packing into your holiday luggage!
Brian Rosenwald , Bolton, UK

I feel compelled to confront the detractors of this book. Are we saying that if a book is not as immediately comprehensible as your average Jackie Collins effort, that it does not deserve time for exploration. Ok, let's just write-off most of the greatest books ever written. Like most great books, Ulysses demands an effort from the reader and you get out what you put in.
Mike, Hamilton

I read it, but could not find anyone to go with me to Dublin today. My friends all think I'm crazy for enjoying the book, but seeing the bloomsday party helps me know that at least I'm not alone.
Catherine, Atlanta, USA

Apparently if you chart out Bloom's wanderings in Ulysses, on a map of Dublin, it forms the shape of a question mark.
Tony Moran, St. Albans, UK

A chap, Dedalus (no feathered wings),
Verbosely does certain things,
After hundreds of pages,
Which seem to take ages,
The fat lady finally sings.
(P.S. - I haven't read it!)
Nigel Macarthur, London, England

I've never got through all of Ulysses myself, despite being required to read it on my course. But it is my laziness that stops my doing so, not an inherent reluctance to attempt to read something challenging and, at times, boring. It's really sad to read a message board on which lots of people proudly proclaim opinions that amount to little more than wilful and incurious ignorance.
David Ring, Oxford

Read the first three pages three times. Decided to read on, in the hope that it would all become clear. Think I got as far as Bloom buying a kidney before I remembered that I read for pleasure and shelved it. Just read your guide to the first three chapters and had no idea that that's what was happening! (Always read books that you want to read, not that you think you should read.)
Stephen, Maidstone, Kent, UK

I was amazed, visiting old friends in Dublin in their 60s -- they took me around Dublin, pointing out places of interest in the novel. It must be that natives are somehow steeped enough in the places to be able to cut through the novel. Neither of them was educated beyond age 16, yet they spoke more clearly of the novel than a lot of literary scholars.
Rowan, Faroe Islands

You force your language down our throats, Joyce regurgitates it to you in splendid colour and you call it drivel? Irony at its best :-)
Joe Lafferty, Dublin

Had heard the book mentioned a few times before, now I think I will have to pick up a copy and read it. Sounds most interesting!
Jack, Hull, UK

For those who'd criticise it without reading it - "illiteracy is a nightmare from you aren't trying to awake".
Joel, Herts, UK

Ulysees is a brilliant book. It can be used both as an excellent paperweight and to prop up wonky table legs.
Dave Washer, London, UK

Someone requested a condensation of Proust. Here it is: "Boy eats bun, then thinks about it, a lot"
Gerard Clarke, London, UK

Very Good BBC. I've read Ulysses and several other Joyce books. They're all heavy going, disjointed and obscure as far as I'm concerned. But you can get into them if you're as bored as I've been at certain times in my life. You capture the main thread well BBC, but with just not enough detail to allow Lit. students to rip it off in their essays instead of reading something that really will benefit them if they do.
Stephen Alexander, Girona, Spain

Maybe it was written to give the nascent profession of 'literary criticism' something to critique?
Geoff, Liverpool, UK

One man's drivel is another's deep understanding
Kevin, North Wales
Nice, friendly introduction, but you left out this famous advice: just read it, and have fun. (BTW, I found Stuart Gilbert's companion book a great assist.)
Frank Lynch, Brooklyn, NY, USA

For those who'd criticise it without reading it - "illiteracy is a nightmare from which you aren't trying to awake".
Joel, Herts, UK

Just because something is difficult does not make it over-rated or rubbish. Ulysses takes effort, much effort - but you give it that effort you are rewarded with a book that is a friend for life.
Kenneth Murray, Edinburgh, Scotland

You know how modern art looks as though it's all just "splodges" of paint slapped onto a canvas (must be canvas, old bit of kitchen top just won't do).... this book sounds like the same thing... some people will marvel other will scoff.. very often these things are just a case of the emperor's new clothes !
Doug McDougall, Swindon

Uh? (There - managed to reduce it to one syllable)
Pete, Manchester

The point of the book is that the description of a day in the life of a very ordinary man deserves a 1000 plus page mix of pretentious, infuriating and brilliant prose. It reveals the epic and heroic in us all, despite our terrible failings. The early 20th century had Joyce. We've got Big Brother. I know which i prefer.
nick flynn, london

Great parts of the book seem pointless. I am currently working on internet applications and have to look at "Packets" of data. If I capture and look at everything I get a "stream of consciousness" of my network and whilst that does represent what is happening it is confusing unless you filter down to what you want to look at. The key is that one man's drivel is another's deep understanding.
Kevin, Deganwy, North Wales

JJ's books probably holds the record for the no. of books bought but not read, read but not understood , understood but not impressed, impressed but not read . Joyce sent a signed copy of the 1st publication of Ulysses to a cousin and later asked her what she thought of the book . She said she never bothered to read it. Christies would be delighted to get hold of that copy. ' Signed copy still in box . Postmarked Paris 1922. Part of the estate of great grand niece of the author'. Three generations of sensible owners!
G Sun, Dublin Ireland

Oh come on people. Some things are worth making the effort for. If you fancy having a go at reading it have a go but if not quit moaning. No one would go to a performance of an Opera by Wagner and expect Boyzone to appear. Some art is difficult and the journey to experiencing it fully is half of the joy in approaching it in the first place. It's reverse snobbery to constantly condemn such works as Ulysses for being "difficult". Or do you all just want to read easy pap? I for one want to be challenged from time to time to save my braincells dying of atrophy through lack of use...
Jenny, Bristol

Thanks BBC. I promise I will read this book and promise to try and understand and even enjoy it and i promise not to send sneering emails rubbishing it if i don't.
Chris, London, London

I prefer the ever-honest and straightforward writing style of Charles Bukowski over this brain twister any day.
M. Zban, Lancaster, PA USA

Man writes book full of Homeric, Shakespearean, Catholic allegory designed as superficial novel but with crossword puzzle depth of layers, devising a Tristram Shandy< style of changing formats and the first proper use of stream of consciousness style. Readers discover book is best studied rather than read (highly recommend Don Gifford's Annotated Notes), most recoil in horror and make derogatory comments while the few who persevere find that they gain two things. The first: their enjoyment of detecting the multi-faceted meanings gives longevity to the occasional(!) reread or scan of it. The Second: they are considered artsy fartsy but those who didn't persevere!
Michael Corkery, Cork, Ireland

Thanks BBC. As my New Years resolution I vowed to read four classics this year. I have now read 1.5. Any chance of some help with The Count of Monte Cristo?
Daniel Rowlson, Kenilworth, UK

Some of your correspondents give up so easily! The real thing is really good, not so much for the story, but for the language, the fun, and the insight. Strongly recommended for a reading holiday in the sun.
Julian Davis, stockport, UK

After stroking his fine beard, which was remarkably reminiscent of Barry Gibb from The Beegees, he managed to annoy the Greek Gods and was punished to travel through space, whilst his crew were frozen in a state of animation, until he found the Kingdom of Hades. There's a little red robot called NoNo, who was slightly annoying, and his spaceship looked like an aerobee with a flaming apple in the middle. Oh hang on, that's the cartoon isn't it? My namesake was weird.
Seamus Seoighe, Crystal Palace, London

Always wondered what it was about and whether it was connected to Homer's Odyssey. Now I know and won't waste my money buying it. It's amazing how people get away with making money out of rubbish - now it's the turn of the Harry Potter "novels".
Rita Kennedy, Skegness, Lincs

1. Read this book to yourself in an Irish accent. 2. Read this book fast, it is about rhythms. 3. If you do not understand something, don't worry, don't go back, don't analyse, it is not meant to be understood. 4. It is about texture not narrative.
Malcolm Martin, Surrey, UK

Who needs sleeping pills. I have read Ulysses every night for the past eight years and never have trouble getting to sleep. I'm nearly up to page six.
David, Kendal Cumbria

A good try, but I wonder what Joyce himself would think of your "Cheat's guide..". Good wishes to all the Ulysses' fans gathered in Dublin. I was just wondering if they were served a "pint" with the special breakfast or was it before opening time?
Matt Hande, Recife, Brazil

Well, I read it a few years back and quite liked it, especially the stream of consciousness that makes up the last chapter- very clever. Took 3 years to finish it, mind, but certainly better than Lord of the bleedin' Rings- up a hill, down a hill. Meet some elves, sing a song. Bit of plot. Up a hill....
Matt, Berkshire, UK

Ahem: 'the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit' - life's never too short for beauty of that power. All these 'salt of the earth' types protesting that Ulysses is 'arty rubbish' seem to me merely to be a little bit scared of any hard work in reading (or thinking). Any reward is best earned, in literature as in life! And if you won't make the effort, or can't make that effort a success, then don't simply hate that which has overwhelmed you.
LJ, London, UK

I am very grateful to you for explaining this. Thank you. No wonder that bloke who developed the BBC website got an OBE.
Dafydd, London UK

Joyce is laughing at us all while we try to make sense of his utter nonsense!
Joe, Ireland
When the RSM in 'It Ain't Half Hot Mum' referred to Lah-de-dah, Gunner Graham's reading material (Ulysses)as Usless, he wasn't far wrong. I've heard Joyce's novel described as an onion with many layers. And just like an onion this turgid tripe encourages tears to be wept.... Try Puckoon by Spike Milligan for the true Irish experience!
Martin , Southampton, England

No-one can possibly understand even half of it. Does that matter? Does anyone understand as much as half of the Bible? Let the words wash over you, and enjoy the bits you do get. Appreciate the language, even when it's in a tongue you don't know a word of. If it isn't for you, read something else instead. What's the problem?
Rupert Taylor, Bristol, England

For all of you who feel the book is rubbish, pretentious, etc. I think Joyce would laugh with you and Bloom would agree with you. Bloom did not spend the day reading pretentious tripe, he went out and lived life. Ironically those who would rather not read Joyce, and would rather live life, better reflect the nature of humanity he conveys in his novel than those who pretend to be intellectuals and try and re-enact Bloomsday. I believe Joyce would himself had no time for such pretentious airs and graces.
James Regan, London, England

You have all missed the point! JJ was an alien from the planet Zarg. His book was meant to be read by humans and therefore make them susceptable to mind control, ready for the invasion that never came due to global warming and UHT milk. Oh, no I never did read it.
Gary, Southend Essex

Joyce is laughing at us all while we try to make sense of his utter nonsense!
Joe, Ireland

Having read Ulysses a couple of times and thoroughtly enjoyed it, I must still say I found your summary very useful. It stimulated my memory and made me think of re-reading it again! To those who say this is simply pretentious drivel, consider that some may enjoy a different reading experience and subject matter than yourself. They might also call books you enjoy drivel, but both are wrong as it doesnt matter where the pleasure in reading comes from, just that its there.
James Wright, Bristol, UK A girlfriend once recommended I should read Ulysses. I briefly tried, then dumped her.
Bill Basham, Lymington, UK

So James Joyce was the Damien Hirst of the literary world, knocking out a bunch of old codswallop that anyone could do if they didn't have better things to get on with, telling you that you're intellectually inferior as you don't understand the message, and then waiting for the bewildered and confused intellectuals, who refuse to admit they don't get it either, to applaud? How does that song go? "Money for nothing ..."
Mark Grady, Walton-on-Thames, Surrey

I'm slightly ashamed to admit that I had no idea that the 16th June was such an important date until I heard all the hype on Radio 4 in the past few days. To me, 16th June has always just been my birthday (43 today!), but I am now inspired to actually plough through Ulysses to find out what all the fuss is about. Oh, and as for the book being pretentious rubbish, maybe some of the previous contributors should look a little closer to home...(to paraphrase Sybil Fawlty) Pretentious? Toi?
Delia, Surrey, UK

I was pleased when my son's English teacher compared his writing to that of James Joyce. Now I'm worried!
greta mackenzie, miami, usa

I'm not certain Joyce ever read it. Still, good summary. Try the bible next: nothing, light, people born & died, judgement, the end.
Hugh, Netherlands

I'm afraid I can never take James Joyce seriously any more, having seen Tom Stoppard's "Travesties". Imperator vestitum non habet, I'm afraid,
Herbert, Leeds, UK

As a schoolboy and later as a student my father implored me to read this book. And every Bloomsday he would dutifully go off to Dublin with his "Joyce cronies" and follow the question mark around Dublin. [The late Frank Delaney was one of these cronies]. I tried, seriously tried, about 3 times only to be baffled and bewildered by the second page. After my father died I resolved to read it from cover to cover come Hell or high water. I also remembered many of the comments of my father: "Its full of twists and turns and dead ends. If it annoys you and perplexes you then Joyce has succeeded". He was right, several times I threw the book away in annoyance! And when I eventually finished the book I felt bewildered, even cheated. But then was that what Joyce wanted?
Joe Murphy, Belfast, N. Ireland

Ulysses is available as an unabridged audiobook. I've just asked my library to get a copy. Might help some people? I'm looking forward to enjoying it!
Kate Francis, Sheffield, England

Yes the book is impenetrable in places and only intelligible to a Joyce scholar. But it is a timeless classic and the final chapter, the Molly Bloom soliloquy, stands as some of the most astounding writing in the English language
Paul Watson, Bootle, UK

I thought Ulysses was a hugely entertaining read. If you want difficult you should try to read Finnegans Wake (I'd be grateful for a cheat's guide to that if you've got one handy).
Trevor Pake, Edinburgh

Ulysses was a mystery to me sober, but became curiously enjoyable after three or four glasses of Guinness. I suspect James Joyce may have also had a glass in his hand when he wrote it.
Keith, kortenberg, belgium

Read "James Joyce for the ordinary reader" by Anthony Burgess. This excellent book provides all the answers to Joyce's opus magnus Ulysses.
Kieran O'Keeffe, Corby

Ulysses looks really daunting, but it's really fun to read, plus, since the plot is not hugely important, you can read the chapters in any order and you never really have to finish it if you don't want to. If you want it to make some sense, try Harry Blamyres's 'New Bloomsday Book' for in-depth explanations of each chapter, but its probably more fun to read it independently.
Lisa Melvin, Loughborough, Leicestershire

Pure Poetry. You must not read it you must savour it. I really don't understand the complaints. It's not difficult nor terribly challenging. "Finnegan's Wake" is a bit more of a challenge. My summary: A bespectacled and poor Irish novelist recounts the broader tragico-comedic history of humankind by microscopically mapping the events of a day in the life of one man.
Patrick Standen, Burlington, VT, USA

Anyone of us could write a book like Ulysses that is so quirky and dense as to be incomprehensible to the rest of the world, but that wouldn't make us clever or cool. It would just make us look stupid because we thought we could fool people into thinking that we were clever and cool. Thankfully, Joyce failed to do this. We saw through him. I advise those who haven't read it to forget about this esoteric rubbish and restrict their reading to worthwhile books.
Ian Marr, Dundee, Scotland

Ulysses is to literature, what Everest is to mountains. We know they're the greatest - even if only the literary foothills are ever reached.
Bob, Dublin

So it would seem the great James Joyce has had the last laugh, we are still puzzling over his book after 70 years and no doubt for many years to come. This is a book that reads you, any comments on it are a reflection on yourself. With that in mind, this book is full of life, wit and hope.
David Foster, Aberdeen, Scotland

Glad to see that Ulysses is still enraging the bourgeois in spirit after all these years. What do you expect from a book that reflects both the stream and sewer of thought? When life gets up your nose, one excellent way to clear it is to borrow Stephen Dedalus's handkerchief. As for the summary - or reductio ad absurdum - of the book given here, it reminds me of Patrick Kavanagh's poem "Who killed James Joyce?" Here's to Buck Mulligan!
Patrick , Reading, UK

If James Joyce was around today to write Ulysses 2 would it resemble the stream of consciousness unfolding in this on-line debate? Ulysses is not pretentious nonsense. It's a lovely book. It does however take a bit of time and effort to get to grips with. Persevere and you too will be able to visit a living, breathing Dublin as it existed 100 years ago today.
Mike Haskins, Norwich, Norfolk

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