A Joycean interlude

John recently mentioned that he’s reading James Joyce’s Ulysses. This is a footnote on his comment for anyone who might be inclined to take up his mention of the book.

Through sheer good luck I came across the Osher Lifetime Learning Institute affiliated with Dartmouth College in the fall of 2020. It has been my goal to do the assigned reading I didn’t get to or get the most out of in my favorite college literature courses. Reviewing the Dartmouth Osher course offerings, I found two that met my needs. The first — the one I happened onto — was Professor James Heffernan’s course on chapters 7-12 of Ulysses.

Professor Heffernan was a member of the English Department when I was an undergraduate and is now retired from college teaching. He is an expert on the Victorian novel and on Joyce, among many other things. I regretted not having taken a course from him when I could. He gave the 24-part Great Courses lecture series on Ulysses and taught the book for something like 50 years. He must be one of the foremost living scholars of Ulysses. I couldn’t believe my luck in finding the course with its availability via Zoom.

The video below give us the first four minutes of Professor Heffernan’s 24-part course. The lectures and the accompanying course book that he wrote for it are accessible here for a price that depends on the format you choose. If you have any interest in help reading Ulysses, they are well worth the price.

Professor Heffernan also gave the Lannan Foundation lecture on chapter 9 of Ulysses on June 16 (i.e., Bloomsday), 2020. In chapter 9 Joyce alter ego Stephen Dedalus delivers a lecture on Shakespeare. Stephen argues that the key to Shakespeare’s life is the ghost scene in Hamlet. Professor Heffernan’s son Andrew is an actor who makes a cameo appearance to place the relevant passage from Hamlet before us. The lecture was followed by a separate question and answer session. The Lannan Foundation has posted video (below) and podcast versions here.

I took my first stab at Ulysses in a college course on the modernist novel taught by Professor Peter Bien. We spent three weeks reading the book with the help of annotations prepared by Professor Bien himself. I wrote my term paper on the novel. I gave it the title “Love Sings Duets,” which I intended as an allusion to “Lucy in the Sky With Diamonds,” if you know what I mean.

As of 1972, the keys to the kingdom of Ulysses reposed in the hands of Joyce’s friends Stuart Gilbert and Frank Budgen. Joyce laid out the scheme of the novel to them and they turned his explanation into books that spelled out the basics for readers who wanted help. I found the brilliant literary critic Hugh Kenner on my own.

Great strides have been made in the provision of resources for Ulysses in the past 50 years. Random House has published a corrected text of the novel (“The Gabler edition”) and it has been exhaustively annotated by Don Gifford and Robert Seidman in a book that has celebrated its twentieth anniversary edition.

Professor Heffernan also directed us to a dramatic reading of the novel broadcast on Raidió Teilifís Éireann (RTÉ). It is accessible here in its entirety. I enjoyed it and found it helpful.

Ulysses is a humane and humanizing novel. It repays the effort it requires of readers many times over. One comment of Professor Heffernan’s on this point has stuck in my mind. “I used to think I can’t believe Joyce took seven years to write it,” he said. “Now I can’t believe it only took him seven years to write it.”

A footnote to my footnote. Jefferson Airplane concluded side 1 of their 1967 album After Bathing At Baxter’s with an homage to Ulysses (“Rejoyce,” written by Grace Slick).

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