Review: Jocoserious Joyce by Robert H. Bell

Bell’s analysis of Joyce is compelling, practically stating that Ulysses takes the bullying Buck Mulligan’s side over Stephen Dedalus’s over the course of the second half of the book. Folly does indeed abound as the author argues, and the book’s insights have even lead me to believe there is a fifth main character in the novel. The main characters vis-a-vis are Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, Molly Bloom, the city of Dublin, and the ever-changing narrator.

Joyce didn’t show a sense of humor for the first time in this book by a longshot. The misunderstandings between a younger Stephen Dedalus and his Jesuit superiors are nearly as comic as his misunderstandings with the unpretentious Leopold Bloom, who, by the way, along with being more mature than Stephen, is immune to all the nets Stephen set before himself in his Portrait.

Perhaps the most important contribution this book has made to my understanding of the work of Ulysses is a new appreciation for Eumaeus, a long time coming as one of my least favorite parts of the book. Other parts in disfavor for me are Oxen In The Sun and Sirens, although I recognize their importance in context. Eumaeus has emerged as not only an old windbag’s narrative but as one which will make you as old and tired as that very windbag, perhaps properly preparing you for the masterpiece climax of Ithaca and the closing denouement of Penelope.

Many who read Ulysses would describe the work as “dense” but I feel a more apt description would actually be “rich.” Rich texts to me are ones that are both extremely entertaining and extremely educational. These include, of course, Huckleberry Finn, Moby Dick, and The Great Gatsby, along with Sartor Resartus, At Swim-Two-Birds, and all of Poor Richard’s Almanacks (perhaps containing the first examples of DaDa aphorisms along with being the purportedly the first successful hoax). The comic may abound in Ulysses, but how much of it will actually make you laugh out loud? A good percentage for me, for sure, but not all of it by a long shot.

 

Final Grade: B

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