ONE hundred years after its publication Ulysses is still one of the most revered novels ever written in English, but it’s also seen as inaccessible by many readers.
‘Strolling through Ulysses’, a one-man show by Robert Gogan will be in Glór on June 9 and it offers both a celebration of the novel and a gentle introduction for the uninitiated.
It brings the audience through the curious events and quirky characters of the novel, in a humorous, entertaining and informative manner, with extracts from the novel which best illustrate the various aspects of Joyce’s writing – the comical, the descriptive and the complex – without compromising the integrity of the book.
Asked about his love for the novel, Robert said he was an early starter.
“When I was about 17 years of age, still going to school, I was very interested in English literature. I’d heard of Ulysses and I said I’ll have a go at this now and I read it. If you’re interested in English literature it can grab you and you want to go back to it because there’s so much stuff in it.
“It’s so well put together and it’s so full of puzzles and things. You just keep going back to it, you get bloody hooked and that’s it, you become a fan like people who are fans of Manchester United or Liverpool, it’s a lifelong thing.”
He says he has now read it 30 to 40 times, while he edited a new edition, which he calls the Ulysses Remastered Centenary Edition.
In this new edition all of the ‘streams of consciousness’ are published in italics, and standard quotation marks are used for the dialogue.
While that wasn’t how Joyce wrote it, he believes the Dubliner would have been open to the adjustment, as he actually believed he was writing something that would be read by the masses.
“He more or less wrote two books when he wrote Ulysses. He first of all wrote a book that he intended the ordinary people to read and he really did expect that Ulysses would be a book that most people around the world would read.
“He also engineered it in such a way that there are, as he said himself, so many enigmas and puzzles in it, that the academics would find an enormous amount of material to argue over.”
He wants ‘Strolling Through Ulysses’ to help break open the novel to people who may be put off by it.
“My main priority and people to whom I’m addressing the show really are people who know nothing about Ulysses, who probably never ever picked up any of Joyce’s stuff at all and would be intimidated by it, unfortunately so many people are intimidated by Ulysses and are almost afraid to pick it up.
“It’s addressed at them for two reasons. First of all I want to tell them the story about Ulysses from the very beginning of the day in episode 1 to Molloy falling asleep in episode 18.
“I want to tell them this is what the book is about. I’m hoping in the process of doing that I build up a certain element of curiosity with some people who’ll say that now they have an idea of how the book goes, they’ll have a go at it again.
“I also want to highlight the fun. My first quote in the first couple of lines of my show is what Joyce says, that there is not one single serious line in the book.”
Too often he feels that discussion of Ulysses keeps people away from it.
“Ulysses was kind of kidnapped by the intellectuals and academics over the years and to a certain extent that still exists.
“Most people who try to read something about Ulysses or do a course on it or read articles end up getting the academic side of the argument, which can be very complex before you even start reading the book and it frightens people off.”
Aside from Dublin and Belfast, he says that Ennis is the next most mentioned place in the novel, with references to a landmark business, that’s still around today.
“Leopold Bloom, the main character, his father died by suicide in the Queens Hotel, 18 years prior to the book on June 27, 1886. He took an overdose and died there.”
There is a suggestion that the older Bloom owned the hotel, but Robert says this is one of the many ambiguities Joyce inserted, that has kept academics debating.
“The general opinion is that he didn’t own the hotel, that there was a scam going on.”