The Voyage Of The Damned: Joyce’s Ulysses

Having perused the internet for a succinct definition of a book, I discovered that it is defined as “a written or printed work, consisting of pages glued or sewn together along one side and bound in covers.” Absent in the explanation is word order, paragraphs, or any absurd literary etiquette that has been constructed through the years. It is with the knowledge that the denotation of the word ‘book’ is abstract and flexible, that I turn to the topic of discussion itself: the monarchical twentieth century masterpiece, Ulysses. 

Virginia Woolf wrote of Ulysses, “Never did any book so bore me.” However, both Mrs Dalloway and The Waves draw parallels with the novel, and one wonders if Ms Woolf’s distaste stemmed from her wish to have conceived the idea, rather than Joyce. The plot follows two men, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom respectively, through a day of their lives in Dublin. There is a singular event in Ulysses: the meeting of the two leading figures; an anticlimax that follows the book through to its final pages. The rest of the novel is filled with monologues. The reader assumes they are being addressed by either Bloom or Dedalus, when in fact it is the omnipresent voice of James Joyce himself guiding you through the narrative.

Ulysses was never intended to become a novel. Starting life as a short story addition for The Dubliners, Joyce may have found Ulysses too lacklustre for the compilation, and thus worked on it until Ulysses became not only a novel, but a magnum opus containing the majority of his worldly knowledge. The book itself can be considered as a parting gift, a lingering farewell to those who have yet to travel and to discover, so that they might trace Joyce’s vertiginous learning curve themselves.

I believe that in order to truly understand Ulysses, you must be Joyce himself, as we cannot possibly hope as readers to piece together the words he has flung so desperately from his psyche and comprehend exactly what he means by every sentence. However, the reader does have a window into Joyce’s thoughts, and many have analysed and commented on their views.

Allow me a moment to dispel some of the smog-like rumours that surround Ulysses and prevent so many from reading it:

– Virginia Woolf referred to Ulysses as ‘a stream of consciousness’, which has been much quoted by many of those who are reluctant to venture into the depths of the novel. Ms Woolf’s description makes the novel sound like meaningless words scattered on a page, lacking flow or character dimension. There are developed characters, written with careful detail, and descriptions are ubiquitous. Although speech marks are never used, Ulysses contains dashes at the beginning of each line to signify the placement of dialogue, and it is occasionally written in script form, with the character’s name present as a bold heading before they speak. Ulysses may be complex, and not entirely easy to understand due to the many references, and multi-lingual sentences, but it is not a stream of consciousness. It is a fully formed novel and deserves to be credited as such.

– Ulysses is not difficult to read; it is not a gargantuan challenge that only the very academically astute can accomplish. At 644 pages long, not counting the afterword, it is a mammoth novel, but it is a mammoth novel that can, and ought to be read. It contains a rich amount of detail that must be looked over carefully, as sentences are often referred back to later on in the text. It is, however, extremely enjoyable, and some of the best writing I have had the fortune to read. Examples of this include:

See now. There all the time without you: and ever shall be, world without end.


The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.

– James Joyce is known as the great ‘rule-breaker’ of literature. Yet, as I concluded in the introduction of this piece, there are no rules set out in the definition of a book, only expectations set out by others. In Ulysses, Joyce experiments with genres. Each paragraph of text is superseded by four or so lines of verse; some dialogue is written in script format, almost as if Ulysses were a play, not a novel. Book catalogues, data tables and even a music score can be found in the later pages. The only rule Joyce broke was the rule of conformity.

Shakespeare runs like a thread throughout this novel, mainly his great tragedy, Hamlet. Hamlet has great relevance to Ulysses, and indeed, the characters that fill its weary pages. Stephen Dedalus, it is thought, is both a younger version of Joyce and Hamlet. He shares Hamlet’s troubled parentage – Stephen’s estranged Mother passes during the course of the book, and he struggles to come to terms with the loss of a woman whom he barely knew. If only we were all somebody else, he commiserates beside her grave. Stephen has different shadows haunting him than those of Hamlet, as he is not tormented by his Mother’s sexuality or his Father’s betrayal. He is, however, substantially weighted by the past during the course of the novel, and his uneasiness is displayed by Joyce through many enjambments, devoid of grammar. A more complex theory is that Stephen has to face his fears and become similar to his Father, in order to befriend Leopold Bloom, who is over twenty years his senior. In order for him to follow the path of this novel, the path that fate has laid out for him, he must evolve.  Both Stephen and Hamlet reject their family traditions; they both long for individualism. It is theorised that this is because Joyce was born into an English-occupied Ireland, and never really felt that the country was his own. Shakespeare is a paternal figure in Ulysses; he appears to guide the characters: Leopold Bloom through his wife’s infidelity, and Stephen Dedalus through his pure uncertainty about life.

Let me close this review in the way that Joyce closes Ulysses: with the word ‘yes’. Should this book be read by everyone with an interest in classic literature? Yes. Does it succeed as a novel that has broken away from conformity? Yes. Should you, the reader of this article, pick up this book, and attempt to read it without previous hesitations acting as a barrier? Yes. It is true that Joyce wrote to please himself, but he has pleased many others along the way, and will continue to do so as long as the connotations that come with it are ignored.

Sources: My own interpretation of the novel

Martin Amis’ Ulysses review in War Against Cliche – fascinating and worth a read. 



The Death Of Comedy: RIP Rik Mayall

It is said that laughter is the only cure for grief. Today, following the death of comedian Rik Mayall, we reach a paradox. Born in 1958 to drama teaching parents in Essex, it seems that Mayall, the second of four children, was always destined to be in the spotlight. At three years old, the Mayall family moved to Worcestershire, which is likely to be the reason for Rik’s lack of Essex accent. 

To select a place in Rik Mayall’s life that defined his future and career would be difficult, but Manchester University would certainly be a candidate. In 1976, attending the university to study drama, Rik met comedy partner and longtime best friend Adrian (Ade) Edmondson, along with Ben Elton and Lise Mayer, whom he worked with on The Young Ones


Pictured: Rik in The Young Ones. 

Rik and Adrian, whose official comedy duo name was Edmondson&Mayall, made their name at The Comedy Store. Rik often branched out from their double act; one well known example of this was Kevin Turvey. This role gained him a television role in A Kick Up The Eighties. In 1982, the BBC took an interest in Rik and then girlfriend Lise Mayer’s The Young Ones, and it was commissioned in 1982. Ben Elton and Alexei Sayle joined the writing crew, and Mayall maintained the double act with Adrian Edmondson throughout the show. The public took a definite interest and the pair – later becoming known as ‘the gruesome twosome’ for Bottom antics, gained a regular spot on Saturday Night Live as The Dangerous Brothers. They were both in Blackadder, with Rik’s character Lord Flashheart gaining extensive popularity. 


Mayall as Kevin Turvey. 

After what had so far been a busy decade for him, Mayall starred in Filthy Rich And Catflap as Richie Rich, and followed it up with a stint as Alan B’stard in The New Statesman. The show was extremely successful as a satire of Conservative MPs. It ran for a total of four series. It is also one of my favourite characters Mayall has ever portrayed, besides his character as Richie in Bottom


Above: Rik as Alan B’stard. 

Rik had certainly started as he meant to go in the world of comedy. After rounding off the 80s with a successful TV show, he kickstarted the 90s with another, when he and Edmondson came up with the idea for Bottom following a production of Waiting For Godot. Three series were shown between 1991-1995 (if you’re reading this and hearing of Rik for the first time, I suggest you watch a few of these, as in my opinion this was the finest hour of the partnership). It contains typically British humour and slapstick violence reminiscent of Laurel&Hardy, taken to extremes. A fourth series was also written, but not commissioned by the BBC. 

Later on in the nineties, tragedy struck when Rik went quadbiking at his home in South Devon. He crashed and was airlifted to hospital with two haematomas and a fractured skull. After five days, Mayall was brought out of his coma. His family – wife Barbara, and three children – were warned the life support may have to be switched off. This was his brush with death. 

In 2000, the quarter-century long partnership between Rik and Adrian was dissolved when Rik was eager to continue work on Bottom, but Adrian refused, saying he felt that they were too old to portray the characters. He also stated that since Rik’s coma, he had become harder to work with, and learning lines was not as easy for him. Following this, Rik has done many voiceovers, particularly for Playstation and XBOX games. 

He died this morning, 9th June 2014. Rik Mayall was, to me, and many others, the very pinnacle of British comedy. Although Spike Milligan declared him “vile” and “putrid”, Rik truly understood the importance of laughter, and how to create it. So, if laughter really is the only cure for grief, let us all go and stick an episode of Bottom on. Rave on, Rik Mayall, Rave On. And thanks for all the laughs along the way.