Ulysses Annotated by Don Gifford & Robert Seidman

Ulysses AnnotatedUlysses Annotated by Don Gifford
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Indispensable for a thorough reading of Ulysses.

This is a reference book, with entries arranged in order of their occurrence in the text. Originally compiled to help students in Gifford’s own classes on Ulysses, it sets out to answer just about anything you might want to “look up” while reading Ulysses–which is a lot, and this is a big book.

For example: you’re reading the Lestrygonians episode, and you come across a mention of “lemon platt”. What’s that? Look it up in the Lestrygonians chapter of Ulysses Annotated, and you find: “Candy made of plaited sticks of lemon-flavored barley sugar.” In the next line or so of Joyce’s text you come across the mention of “a christian brother”. What’s that? It’s right here: a paragraph on “a teaching brotherhood of Roman Catholic laymen, bound under temporary vows.”

In a similar way, Gifford goes into references to the Bible, to Irish history, to Greek mythology, to references to Blake, Yeats, Wagner, and many others, to identifying the specific Dublin individuals and businesses named in the text, as well as giving full verses of the many poems and songs alluded to by Joyce, and much else besides these things.

This book is the result of someone’s having done all the “looking up” that can be done with Ulysses, so you don’t have to. It does not attempt to go into the meaning and symbolism of Ulysses very much; for that you need other works. But if you want to read Ulysses with anything more than a slight comprehension, you need this book–unless you already have an encyclopedic knowledge of 1904 Dublin and Ireland; Irish history, culture, and folklore; 19th-century poetry, fiction, opera, and popular music; the Bible; Homer’s Odyssey; the life and works of Shakespeare; the works of Dante, Vico, Milton, Blake, Wilde, Swift, et al; the Catholic mass; Christian theology; Hinduism; and 17th-century English underworld cant. But if you don’t have such knowledge, this book is for you.

If you’re interested in tackling James Joyce’s Ulysses, one of the great novels of the 20th century, then you’ll probably need help in getting the most out of it. Here are some guidebooks that I have found especially helpful.

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