“One can’t arrive at one’s valuation of […] Ulysses after a week of reading and two or three weeks of thought about it. Next year, or in twenty years, one may. For it is as if a new continent with new traditions had appearead and demanded to be run through in a month. Ulysses contains the undiscovered mind of man; it is human consciousness analyzed as it has never before been analyzed. Certain books change the world. This, success or failure, Ulysses does: for no novelist with serious aims can henceforth set out upon a task of writing before he has at least formed his own private estimate as to the rightness or wrongness of the methods of the author of Ulysses. If it does not make an epoch – and it well may! – it wll at least mark the ending of a period.”
From one of the first reviews of Ulysses
“But that is where he [Joyce]is so brilliant in giving vision to those without vision in Irish literature beforehand, and to giving voice to those without voice. That’s where his revolutionary status lies as a writer. She [Lily, the servant girl in The Dead] is an absolutely key character but I have to respect what Joyce does, which is that he keeps her at the beginning and she appears at the meal, and she appears at certain stages.”
From an interview here
Joyce captured the delicious pain, the secret shame and cruel paradoxes of unrequited love [in Araby ]- how the sufferer longs to declare herself, while also desperately wanting to hide her affliction, to hug it to herself because it is a tender feeling, too fine for the grubby world.
The other discovery I made reading Araby was to see my own city being mirrored back at me. “We walked through the flaring streets, jostled by drunken men and bargaining women, amid the curses of labourers, the shrill litanies of shop-boys who stood on guard by the barrels of pigs’ cheeks, the nasal chanting of street singers. . .” In my mind’s eye I pictured Moore Street of my own time, or imagined Henry Street the week before Christmas, and realised how close our Dublins were. The traces of the Edwardian city were much closer to the surface in the 1970s, but even if they hadn’t been, the city Joyce spent his whole writing life trying to recreate in exile, was right there in Araby – the dismal streets, the brown houses, the dark dripping gardens, the empty gloomy rooms, the shuttered lives. The young narrator’s sense of idealised love may have been reduced to rubble in the narrow and unforgiving confines of the down-at-heel city, but that same city would prove the foundation of Joyce’s art.
from an article on first reading Dubliners
I confess I have not cleared a path through all seven hundred pages, I confess to having examined only bits and pieces, and yet I know what it is, with that bold and legitimate certainty with which we assert our knowledge of a city, without ever having been rewarded with the intimacy of all the many streets it includes.
Borges reviewing Ulysses
“For years I thought this was the most perfect sentence possible: “on his wise shoulders through a checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins”. I read it in Ulysses as a teenager and my breath caught in my throat. The sun flung spangles. My heart skipped. Dancing coins. I’ve never forgotten it. It’s a sentence that says very little and I have the impression that it was a bit throwaway for Joyce, written at full flow. But it’s so beautiful it broke my heart.”
“The great novella is Joyce’s The Dead. A simple binary structure (a party, a hotel room) supports the evocation of an entire social milieu (decorous and fractious by turns) with extraordinary warmth. They seem to play out in real time, the dancing and singing at the aunts’ annual dinner, the family tensions, the barbed exchange about national identity. Then Gabriel and Gretta’s exchange in their hotel room, the muted drama of his disappointed ardor, her piercingly sad revelation of a boy who once loved her and died, and at last, Gabriel’s final, drowsy, shamed reflections on his own lovelessness, and on mortality, prompted by memories of the evening’s merrymaking—these are among the most exquisite passages of prose fiction in the entire canon. I’d swap The Dead’s concluding pages for any fifteen from Ulysses.
In the New Yorker, writing about short fiction
“The fact that any of us are actually writing novels post-Joyce has often struck me as hard to justify, to put it mildly.”
in interview with TMO magazine
Tags: james joyce