Young Joan’s research zeal and James Joyce


Young Joan’s research zeal and James Joyce

JOAN HAMBIDGE reread Ulysses and revisited the notes she made when she was younger.


“… they were yung and easily freudened …”

James Joyce in Finnegan’s Wake (1939)


A grand, controversial and gripping novel is Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce.

On June 16, Bloomsday celebrates Joyce's work. Every year in Dublin and elsewhere.

This is a novel that I have lately revisited with great joy and admiration. My copy is falling apart.

Dublin: the city of Joyce. Travelling around Ireland more than 10 years ago, I did one of the James Joyce walking tours. The guide, a woman, recognised my accent as South African.

As a young student at Stellenbosch, during a winter holiday, this reader worked through Ulysses in the Standerton library. Notes made in my green Old Mutual diary, a gift from my father. It was 1978. And next to me Stuart Gilbert's James Joyce's Ulysses: A Study (Penguin, 1969) as a signpost.

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These notes I have kept and am revisiting with this reread. The search for where he deviates from Homer's story. Notes in my young handwriting attest to zeal for research.

What does Joyce leave out and why? How is Ithaca placed towards Dublin?

It's a story of travel. One day in the life of a man who telescopes everything: memories, musings, history.

History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake (40).

June 16, 1904 is the day everything takes place in Ulysses.

At the same time, as a student, I read Etienne Leroux's The Mugu: the anti-hero, the outsider, the actual journey placed versus a psychic, inward journey of one Gysbrecht Edelhart winning a lottery ticket.

He meets people like Vader de Metz; Julius Johnson, a capitalist; the unforgettable Juliana Doepels, the fortune teller.

With the transformation processes taking place in that 1959 novel.

As with Joyce, an analysis of the anti-hero.


Ulysses carried the so-called stream of consciousness  or the monologue intérieur to a climax. Molly Bloom's inner speech ends the novel. Unlike Penelope, she cheated on her husband with one Blazes Boylan. In real life, Joyce was uneasy about his wife's infidelity to him being proven wrong. Molly Bloom is Penelope and Nora Barnacle, Joyce's wife. Stephen Dedalus is Joyce (Telemachus) and Leopold Bloom is Odysseus.

This is how Ulysses ends on page 704:

… yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

Trieste-Zürich-Paris, 1914-1921


Ulysses is likewise a novel of periphrasis. This means saying something longer and less direct, the so-called circumlocution. Long and extensive.

The novel also remains important to literary readers due to the whole issue of censorship and book burning. Joyce had to endure complaints of obscenity. References to the abject and defecation disturbed people. Leroux would later face misery from the censorship board as well.

Shocking today is that Virginia Woolf and DH Lawrence did not like the novel. Ezra Pound and TS Eliot were positive about it.

In 1930, Gilbert published his study of the beginning of the novel. Winston Churchill ordered the book.

In the afterword to the Penguin edition, Richard Ellmann writes about the reaction to the novel. In the US, in particular, the book was suppressed.

Molly Bloom's extended monologue was considered a denigration  of the human condition.

The Dubliner in Joyce's book is an Irish Jew, Ellmann emphasises, highlighting the author's ambivalence towards his city and the house at 7 Eccles Street.

A Jew converted to Catholicism and Protestantism; yet always between jobs and a cuckold.

Never jobless or penniless, but nevertheless.

Joyce responded sardonically to book burnings, saying they would speed up the fires of purgatory.

A novel of peregrination, travels, walks between Ithaca and Dublin. The whole issue of friendship and infidelity is dealt with.


Ulysses is a journey between cities, books and theory. For me, it reveals how I read as a young person — I now look at this book differently. The implicit conversation between The Mugu and Ulysses is certainly there.

The French theorist and philosopher Hélène Cixous is similarly positive about the book.

After all, Cixous wrote a major study on Joyce: The Exile of James Joyce. It covers 765 pages and originally appeared in 1968. It was translated into English in 1972. (This was her doctoral study at the Sorbonne, by the way.)

French theorists have always noticed important texts in other languages, while the moral police foam at the mouth elsewhere.

And Vladimir Nabokov, the agnostic, likewise lectured on this novel, imagining Bloom and Stephen Dedalus's (Joyce's alter ego) travels in this way. In his class notes, he always noted the smallest details of opening a novel to readers.


Cixous, Hélène Cixous. 1976. The Exile of James Joyce. London: John Calder.

Gilbert, Stuart. 1969. James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Study. London: Penguin.

Joyce, James. 1983. Ulysses. London: Penguin.

♦ VWB ♦

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