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  • Critical Companions for Reading Ulysses
  • Christopher DeVault
Sean Latham, ed. The Cambridge Companion to Ulysses. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014. xxv + 229 pp. $29.99

IN THE PREFACE to The Cambridge Companion to Ulysses, Sean Latham notes, “every year or so news arrives of some iconoclast who dismisses the work as nonsense, condemns its complexity as elitist, or laments the way it has destroyed the fine traditions of the novel.” Such dismissals are largely indicative of the broader reputation of James Joyce’s novel as an elitist, incomprehensible quagmire that many people own, but few have actually read, which informs Latham’s decision to focus his preface on the numerous reasons why we should engage the novel. Acknowledging that “[r]eading Ulysses is a significant undertaking, one that will demand vast amounts of your time, attention, and patience,” Latham highlights several benefits to reading this “lofty monument” of “modern Western and now world culture,” from its celebration of everyday life to its important ethical and political concerns. However, what some might consider the most surprising of Latham’s conclusions is that Ulysses “links us to communities of readers,” noting that the Joyce community “includes many literary scholars to be sure, but is by no means exclusive to them.” This recognition not only [End Page 423] belies these iconoclasts by showing that Ulysses “commands a global audience,” but it also highlights the primary benefit of the Companion itself. Consisting of fourteen essays from an all-star team of Joyce scholars, the Companion never feels exclusive to that academic community. Instead, it provides thorough, compelling examinations of thematic and stylistic aspects of Ulysses that are inevitably tied back to the larger questions of the novel’s value that unite its scholarly and common readers. In so doing, The Cambridge Companion to Ulysses not only “explains” the text effectively to a broad audience, but does so in an engaging manner that welcomes all readers into this ever-expanding Joycean community.

The Companion is divided into four sections, with Part I giving “an overview of the career of the cultural object we call Ulysses.” Michael Groden provides an exemplary introduction to the collection by tracing the history of genetic examinations of Ulysses. Groden offers an effective explanation of the aims and methods of genetic criticism, as well as insightful examples of how manuscript analysis has shed light on the numerous potential versions of Ulysses. Joseph Brooker then gives a comprehensive account of the audience reaction to Ulysses, examining not only its initial charges of obscenity and difficulty, but also how Ulysses’s critical and popular legacy grew throughout the twentieth and twenty-first centuries, while Jonathan Goldman provocatively traces Ulysses’s role as a “key signifier” of contemporary popular culture as a commodity to be owned, if not always understood. Part II then initiates the Companion’s focus on the text itself by exploring general thematic and stylistic aspects of Ulysses. Scarlett Baron begins fittingly by demonstrating the difficulty of determining how Ulysses begins. By focusing on the complexity of the question itself, close readings of the multiplicities of “Telemachus,” and interpretations of “Calypso” and “Aeolus” as possible new beginnings to the novel, Baron compellingly reads Ulysses more as “an organic continuum of beginnings than as a concatenation of discrete end-stopped sections.” Margot Norris examines the character parallels between the main characters and their Homeric counterparts, revealing continuities and discontinuities that illuminate Ulysses’s open-endedness in opposition to The Odyssey’s resolution. Enda Duffy reads Ulysses as a novel of two dates (the 1904 of the novel’s setting and the 1914–1921 of its composition) and uses that dual setting to argue that the text is as much looking forward to Irish independence as it is looking back into Ireland’s past. Finally, Maud Ellmann argues that the Nostos episodes create a “throwaway [End Page 424] aesthetic” that elides the idea of a conclusive homecoming in Ulysses and allows the waste of language and meaning to break through the fantasy of closure and celebrate a “thousand tiny sexes” in the prose. In this way, Ellmann celebrates infinite endings in a manner similar to Baron’s multiple beginnings, which effectively demonstrates...


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pp. 423-427
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Will Be Archived 2021
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