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  • “Preparatory to anything else”: Introduction to Joyce’s “Hades”
  • Robert H. Bell (bio)

The following notes for the Hades episode of Joyce’s Ulysses aim to be as comprehensive and useful as possible. Organized by line numbers in Gabler’s 1986 Random House Corrected Text, 1 they provide definitions, annotations, and critical comments by Gifford, Thornton, Ellmann, Benstock, Senn, Johnson, Kiberd, and other editors and scholars; countless critics have contributed explications of specific passages and details. These notes are intended for all audiences: the boldface entries will be most helpful to beginning readers; the “regular” type entries are directed toward intermediate readers, and the italicized entries are for dedicated scholars and advanced Joyceans.

These notes for Hades will eventually be one part of James Joyce’s Ulysses in Hypermedia. 2 James Joyce’s Ulysses is, for many reasons, an ideal literary work to present in the newly emerging form of computer-based hypertext or hypermedia. For students and other beginners, the widely varied contents that are possible in a hypermedia Ulysses can help to make the book more enjoyable to read, and for experienced readers and scholars the presentation in this new format will make Ulysses more fruitful and rewarding to study. In addition, Ulysses in Hypermedia will teach us a great deal about the differences between presenting a text in print and on a screen and about the ways in which a text originally written for print changes when it is put into an electronic hypermedia environment. Over one hundred fifteen Joyce critics, scholars, and enthusiasts from around the world are contributing to the project, and an advisory board of thirteen leading hypertext authors and scholars is overseeing the work. The project’s Director is Michael Groden, Professor of English at the University [End Page 363] of Western Ontario.

Hades is the sixth episode in Ulysses, the first three of which are devoted to Stephen Dedalus, the next three to Leopold Bloom. Just as we learned the most about Stephen in his solitary meditations on the beach in episode three, we are afforded particularly rich insight and privileged access into Bloom in episode six. Bloom’s “descent” into the underworld in Hades anticipates and foreshadows his later, more harrowing travail in episode 15, the Circe episode. In both instances, Bloom survives rigorous challenges and disheartening discoveries. In both episodes, our hero not only endures but triumphs, in remarkable if not traditional or spectacular heroic fashion.

As the Hades episode begins, it is eleven in the morning. Mr. Bloom attends the funeral of an acquaintance who died of alcoholism, Paddy Dignam. Bloom joins the funeral cortege at the Dignam home in Sandymount, a suburb of Dublin on the coast southeast of the city, and travels by carriage across Dublin to the Prospect Cemetery in Glasnevin, north of Dublin. Bloom was not particularly close to Dignam, nor is he easily accepted or especially well-regarded by his peers attending the funeral: Simon Dedalus, Martin Cunningham, Jack Power, and John Henry Menton.

The narrative point-of-view and technique in Hades are consistent with the first five episodes. We move back and forth between Bloom’s internal, subjective consciousness and an external, more reliable perspective. The procession across Dublin and into the cemetery is a lucid recreation of a very real world; Joyce’s setting is vividly accurate in its evocation of Dublin, of streets and buildings, statues and memorials, pubs and people and places. Virginia Woolf singles out Hades for praise: “The scene in the cemetery . . . with its brilliancy, its sordidity, its incoherence, its sudden flashes of significance, does undoubtedly come so close to the quick of the mind that . . . it is difficult not to acclaim it a masterpiece.” 3

Almost uniformly, with some brief exceptions, we see events from Bloom’s point-of-view or observe Bloom in action. The so-called Initial Style, the narrative Rock of Gibraltar, persists, and by this point in the reader’s odyssey, is both accessible and reassuring; in this episode we usually know where we are and what’s what. The action is clear and uncomplicated; characterization lucid and revealing. By itself, Joyce’s chapter is no more difficult than, and of a...

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