Saturday, July 23, 2005

The first 3 pages

Read first 3 pages (and for convenience say, let’s say my daily quota is 3 ages –whoops, I mean pages). Yes, I read every word, too, a lot of them more than once, trying to get the sense of things.

I’m on a parapet overlooking Dublin bay with Stephen Dedalus and stately, plump Buck Mulligan. Mulligan seems to have a version of Tourette’s syndrome. I don’t fully understand him (what is an oun?), but I like him.

Let me briefly “workshop” this beginning ala “how to write fiction”: No real opening hook. Use of foreign languages a no-no. Pesky adverbs should be deleted. Too many adjectives. General setting clear, but confusion as to the nature of Dedalus’s and Buck’s accommodations. Nice foreshadowing of conflict with the unseen Haines, a fellow resident of the tower who’s raving about shooting a black panther (note: I expect something to come of this setup). When Dedalus says to Buck “You saved men from drowning”, this is authorial intrusion, telling the reader something that should be shown. Dedadlus says he is no hero, which of course leads me to expect that he will prove to be one. Excellent powers of description (“gurgling face..equine in its length..light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.”) Flashback of Dedalus’s refusal to pray for his dying mother despite her request (a telling characterization of Dedalus) is well handled, although it is perhaps best shown in immediate scene.

Okay, okay, that was just a frivolous exercise. But truthfully, if I had opened this novel in a bookstore without any idea of what it was I would have immediately put it down. Why? Because I have this quirk about not wanting to read novels that don’t use standard quotation marks for dialogue (ULYSSES uses dashes to set off dialogue—was this one of Joyce’s literary inventions?). This reflects poorly on me, I know.

Still, I’ve plunged in and found the writing more accessible than I thought I would. A mild spark of interest in the story, as well, but not enough to read beyond my daily quota.


Blogger Mario said...


The dashes are very common all around the world, including France. Remember that Ulysses was first published in France.

I'm not sure if 3 pages a day is a good idea. There's a good chance you'll forget some characters.

Enjoy the book!

8:57 AM  
Blogger Richard Lewis said...

That's going to be the subject of today's post, actually -- the 3 pages a day thing.

Aha, so Ulysses wasn't originially written in English? (Just kidding).

I guess the question is whether Joyce was the first person to use dashes for an English novel.
A trivial question, indeed, for such an august book.

12:40 PM  
Blogger Richard Lewis said...

Or, maybe it was the French typesetters who set the dashes, and that was that.

2:04 PM  
Blogger Mario said...

Well, I don't know if he was the first to use dashes in English, but I don't think so.

Anyway, after so many years in Italy, France and Switzerland, he probably started to like them.

He also used dashes in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.

9:05 PM  
Blogger Segúr 95.20 said...

Joyce is aligning himself with European literature in his use of dashes. He is saying that Ireland must shake off its servile relationship with Britain and take its place at the table of European nations. Mulligan says that their project is to 'Hellenise' Ireland - i.e. make it Greek. Stephen's 'cracked lookingglass of the servant quip"...

5:12 AM  
Blogger Segúr 95.20 said...

"Blood and 'ouns" is an abbreviation of "God's blood and wounds" - abbreviated in Elizabethan times, for instance, precisely because it was blasphemous. You see the phrase in Shakespeare, forget where...probably in Hamlet which turns up a good bit in ULYSSES.

5:17 AM  

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