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Acciarino - Notes about Joyce.
[author: Teresa Acciarino - postdate: 2007-12-17]


James Joyce

 is the most important representative writer of Modernism in fiction.

He can be considered the most innovative and experimentalist writer of the century. His form is considered revolutionary; Ulysses came out in 1922 in Paris because he couldn't published it in London since it was banned for obscenity.

The first English edition appeared in 1936.


Ulysses provides a suitable example of the use of mythical method; it adopted the structure of the Odyssey to convey the feelings and atmosphere of  the 20ieth century. It also provides an example of a plot being reduced to the minimum. Events cover only one day in the life of Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus and Molly Bloom. The date of the setting is the 16th of June 1904 recalling the writer's first walk out with his future wife.


Nowadays such date is called Bloom's date; the story is really weak, there are not apparentl events that may considered relevant. What the reader can perceive is the wandering of Leopold, a modern Ulysses, a Jew who is musing on his unfaithful wife. Differently from the classical Penelope, Molly is a sensual woman who does not disdain love affairs.


During his wanderings, Leopold meets Stephen Dedalus, the son he had always wished to have. Significantly he is a teacher. The two characters spend some times together, and after that, Leopold invites Stephen to his home, but the man refuses the invitation. The search for style has turned out in Joyce into a sort of "summa anthropologica" in the place of classical "summa theologica"  of the middle age.

 Joyce wants to investigate the nature of the antropos. That is the human being thus providing a reflection on what to be human being means in the 20ieth century.


The centre of narration is consciousness, its flux area that cannot be stopped and in which all time collides where  past and  futur  expectations blend in the present time of the consciousness. Differently from the interior monologue where, despite the eclipse of the narrator, the intelligent reader can still recognize some connectors and linkers, the adoption of the stream of the consciousness technique disregards syntax and punctuation and therefore reading the novel is really demanding.


The reader must get in tune with the world of the novelist which is the world of the character. There is nothing heroic about their lives. Dublin [Catholic] appears in all its ordinariness. Of course if the Odyssey provided the reader with the adventures of  a hero who was able to cross seas and territories, Leopold's existence is totally uneventful and this explains for the stylistic compression of narration.


There is a parallelism between characters that from the classical work have been reshaped in the new novel. There has been an extensive study on Ulysses and particularly about its structure which results complex and intricate despite the immediate parallelisms (Penelope equals Molly; Stephen equals Telemachus; Ulysses equals Leopold).


The name chosen for the son, Leopold is looking for recalls that of the first martyr Stephen,  so that the implicit parallelism between artist research and martyrdom underlines Joyce's efforts to create sometimes new.


Trying to reach a first conclusion of what may make Joyce's work experimental, the reader should draw the  attention on the problem of point of view, that is; whose is the point of view of narration? Why did Joyce use different linguistic styles? What is the reality presented like? Why is Ulysses considered the real realistic novel? What is the conception of reality that comes out of his work? How does the mythical method reshape myth?


Moreover did Joyce succeed  in conveying the vision of multifaceted reality as well as the different subjective dimensions of character, without running the risk to slip into the subjective and personal dimension of Romanticism?

It is therefore worth asking if and how he managed to obtain the impersonality of art which Modernism was looking forward to?


Joyce's vision of art was neither to teach not to persuade.

He would have considered that advertising. What he was looking forward to was to make people aware of reality through personal perception.


Readers had to reach personal conclusion about the world surrounding them. Joyce's main talent was linguistic, a literary work is made of words, and it is the use of such words that creates an artistic product. He adopted rhythms, forms, themes and sources from an extensive archive. In the hope and the effort to convey the idea of reality that seemed to be figurative. Following Ulysses  there came an other book which is generally said to have been red by five people only in the world. It is Finnegans Wake, in such novel Joyce's  experimentalism is total. He adopts a mixture of linguistic fragments and quotations from other languages, thus contributing to the judgement of those who are commenced that Modernist literature is for a simple elite.


Joyce attended a Jesuit school (rigid orthodox attitude). Top and high level of school he attended. He didn't understand the patriotic attitude in Ireland: he was a cosmopolitan- minded thinker. He left his country: self imposed exile. He went out in 1904 and tamed back only for his mother  funeral. His son died, he entered into a profound crisis. He taught English, he came to Trieste, he met italo Svevo. He moved to Zurich in 1915, then in Paris.


Myth represents a framework within it you can give coherence to the world. The character become the symbol for the human being (summa anthropological).

One of the aims of Modernism is the impersonality of the artist. One structural element of Ulysses is that it can be linked to the classical novel but the links are associated with all aspects of human life.

Ulysses makes of experimentation in technique and language its ultimate aim.

Joyce wanted to study the nature of  man and woman.

Realism: Joyce wanted to be realist conveying the idea of reality in its multiplicity aspects.


The nature of such text allows Joyce to reconcile the opposition between realism and symbolism. Joyce himself in 1920 gave two definition of his work.

  • A modern Odyssey
  • The epic of the human body

While the first definition is rather clear, the second is mode significant.


Ulysses is a sort of summa of the whole physical of body experience of man and negation of his metaphysical experience.


J. Joyce, educated on the writings of Saint Thomas, creates on opposition between Thomas's summa theologica and his summa anthropologica. This is the key of access to the novel. In a letter sent on 21st of September 1920 to Carlo Linati Joyce wrote a syntactical description of the novel. Ulysses characters are again the epic of the human body. They represent the different aspects of the same figures. There is a fundamental structure in the novel with three protagonist: Leopold, Stephen and  Molly.


Leopold is the common sensual man, curious of new experiences but not  efficient. He looks forward to scientific certainties and human relationship he is not able to find.


Stephen is the idealist in search for spiritual values; he rejects every-day routine in the hope of an intellectual coherence. He is a voluntary exiled, very different from Bloom,. But like Bloom is unable to satisfy his deeper expectations. Both are always pursuing a quest, therefore they become two complementary characters. On the narrative level as well as on the thematic level complementarity reveals itself in Bloom's loss of his son.

On his side Stephen has rejected his father and his aspiration is to find an adopted father in the place of his natural one.


Molly Bloom represented the unfaithful wife; in the final monologue she represent the summary of all the women in the novel. She is not only Penelope but with Calypso, the nymph, and Circe.

Molly stands for the essence of the female nature.


The expression of physicist and the absolute acceptance of human condition; not the passive acceptance. "Yes" she pronounces at the end in the monologue:  such affirmation is  inhabited  by a group of sensual images.

Molly represents the solution, the sense of Bloom's and Stephen's frustrated quests.



  • Odyssey
  • The search for a father is connected to the search for a point of reference
  • Exile


Odyssey is the story of a voyage. The voyage back to Ithaca (nostos: ritorno) from where the hero has been long exiled. In Ulysses the journey is toward a father or a son, the acceptance of their human nature.

All this is conveyed in a very complex linguistic tissue which is arranged in the style of musical relation. Frequent is the use of liet motives in narration.

The occurrence of some thematic units finds a solution in a series of musical signs that are expressed according to the theories of Wagner that is by means of leit motives.