OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATelemachus was the son of Odysseus, and the first three chapters of Joyce’s novel parallel those in Homer’s original, telling the story of the Dublin student who might be Joyce’s proxy in the book. Joyce didn’t name his chapters in the published editions, but critics almost always do! Telemachus, Nestor and Proteus form the trio that open the book. In them we see Stephen Dedalus, recently bereaved, and planning to leave the Martello tower where he lives with the medical student Buck Mulligan, a man above his class, but below his wit.

An Englishman called Haines – the French for ‘Hatred’ some have pointed out – is in residence. Joyce was in the Martello tower on the morning of the day in question, with the two men parodied, satirised even, in that opening chapter. An incident took place during the night, not entirely dissimilar to the one described, and, so legend and story has it, it set Joyce off on his own Odyssey of travel, and of storytelling. Following this opening chapter in which the three men breakfast and go for a swim, Stephen surrendering his key to the tower, we see Stephen teaching in a local school, and, in the third chapter, walking on the beach.

The narratives, as is almost obligatory with this novel, are mostly interior. Joyce puts us inside Stephen’s mind, reflective rather than speculative, measuring always, the world against himself, and himself against it. There is some jaw cracking language: the ‘ineluctable modality of the visible’ springs to mind, but that’s the sort of lad Stephen is.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAWe’ve met him before. He was the ‘Young Man’ that the ‘Artist’ was portrayed as in Joyce’s first published novel, but A Portrait was not Stephen’s first outing. There is a famous, earlier novel manqué. Consigned to the fire by Joyce, but rescued by his sister, Stephen Hero is a wordier, less structured book, and has been kept in print solely by the fame of its creator, and the paucity of works published by him. Even as a school-kid, I couldn’t resist getting a copy to complete my collection. I’m not convinced though, you would read either of these two novels for ‘fun’.

Intellectual, self absorbed, somewhat priggish, Stephen, who, in this early manifestation, has had a sexual encounter with a prostitute, seems curiously uninterested in the goings on that Ulysses was banned for. Even in the brothel, late on Bloomsday, Stephen doesn’t show any real interest in the women. A good dose of Molly Bloom, perhaps we are thinking, would make a man of him. She certainly speculates about that possibility.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe artist portrayed in Joyce’s rendering of Stephen is the one without love, without compassion. His cleverness has trumped his humanity. The Joyce that was celebrating the day he embarked upon his lifelong relationship with Nora Barnacle is showing us, perhaps, the boy he left behind.

We’re having what I’ve described as an ‘assisted reading’ of Ulysses here at the Facets of Fiction factory, over the next few weeks – but who will be assisting, and who assisted you may well wonder!OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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