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Joyce's "Ulysses"

Get expert help in tackling one of literature’s most notoriously difficult works in this course that unpacks James Joyce’s daring and rewarding novel "Ulysses."
Joyce's Ulysses is rated 4.6 out of 5 by 86.
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Rated 5 out of 5 by from Arduous Curious about this much-ballyhooed book, I loaded the text into my Kindle, watched Prof. Heffernan’s lectures, diligently read the course guidebook and consulted CliffsNotes, “On Homer’s Odyssey” (2000) by Stanley P. Baldwin. I’m telling you, this is one tough read. The lectures are excellent and essential. That said, I only absorbed a fraction of whatever it was that Joyce intended to pitch. No doubt, a serious student of literature could get much more out of this book and from this nicely organized course than this STEM-oriented reader took away. As a speaker, Heffernan is aces. HWF, Mesa AZ
Date published: 2022-12-06
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Excellent course If you already know Ulysses, you'll find this course enjoyable and you'll find more depth in the text. If you don't know Ulysses, you'll learn a great deal and find your reading enriched. Professor Heffernan's discourse contains a nice balance of introductory and detailed content, providing a good review with extra depth for those familiar with Joyce, and a solid background for those who don't know Joyce. His expertise and enthusiasm make this course an excellent experience.
Date published: 2022-11-02
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Great insight! Ulysses is a harder book to read on its own and pull out the meaning and symbolism Joyce so delicately wove into the story. This course is fantastic! The author is animated and shines the brilliance of this book and the author.
Date published: 2022-06-23
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Enlightening Dr. Heffernan made an unreadable (for me) book come alive! His lecturing style was entertaining and helped my appreciation of why this book is so important in Irish literature
Date published: 2022-05-30
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Joyce's Ulysses I've tried to read Ulysses for years. "Joyce's Ulysses" is an excellent explanation of the story, characters, connections to Homer's work, Irish background, and many of Joyce's subtle references and ideas. Professor Heffernan is a fascinating speaker, deeply informed on the subject. At the end, I was thrilled with the glory and beauty of Joyce's work and ethical "soul" so vividly expressed here. I look forward to now reading the book. in its entirety.
Date published: 2022-04-15
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Audio is clear. Very pleased with the content presented by the professor.
Date published: 2022-04-10
Rated 5 out of 5 by from Accepting the challenge of Ulysses After years of unsuccessful intimidation and plodding unsuccessful efforts, I have been able to engage with Ulysses. Recognizing the reading it again and again will provide additional insight, with the incredible teaching of Dr. H., the task is not daunting but enjoyable
Date published: 2021-08-22
Rated 4 out of 5 by from Makes me want to read it. I have enjoyed the material so far, and it makes me want to read it. He makes it not so daunting a task to contemplate. Although the professor is remarkably knowledgeable about every facet of the work and deftly relates Homer’s Odyssey to Joyce’s Ulysses, I personally don’t like his affected personality and attempts at failed humor. He seems quite effete and snobbish, impressed with himself. Nevertheless, I am able to separate the presenter from the content, so I will continue to extract as much information as I am able. I just wish it was a less affected presenter.
Date published: 2021-07-26
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James Joyce's great novel "Ulysses" is a big, richly imagined, and intricately organized book with a huge reputation, which many consider to be as fully conceived and vibrant as anything in Homer or Shakespeare. Dartmouth's Professor James Heffernan lays out the brilliance, passion, humanity, and humor of Joyce's modern Odyssey in 24 exciting lectures that no literature lover should miss.


James A. W. Heffernan

Ultimately, my teaching springs from a passion to learn, which is what I strive to share with my listeners.  School is just the beginning of education. If you want to stay alive to the very end of your life,  never stop learning.


Dartmouth College

Dr. James A. W. Heffernan is Professor of English, Emeritus at Dartmouth College, where he was also Frederick Sessions Beebe '35 Professor in the Art of Writing. He earned his A.B. cum laude from Georgetown University and his Ph.D. in English from Princeton University. Professor Heffernan taught a range of courses at Dartmouth, including European Romanticism, English Romantic poetry, methods of literary criticism, and the 19th-century English novel. For many years he also taught a senior seminar on Joyce's Ulysses that was regularly oversubscribed. Professor Heffernan received five grants from the National Endowment for the Humanities. He published, among other books, Representing the French Revolution: Literature, Historiography, and Art (1992) and Museum of Words: The Poetics of Ekphrasis from Homer to Ashbery (1993). The volume titled British Writers: Retrospective Supplement (Scribner's) includes his comprehensive essay on Joyce's work. He is the coauthor of Writing: A College Handbook, now in its fifth edition. He also published nearly 50 articles. Widely known for his work on the relationship between literature and visual art, Professor Heffernan has lectured at international conferences in Israel, Sweden, Austria, Ireland, Holland, and Germany, as well as in various parts of the United States.

The Story of a Modern Masterpiece

01: The Story of a Modern Masterpiece

What is the special place that "Ulysses" occupies in 20th-century fiction? Why has the book provoked such strong reactions? How can the challenges it poses for first-time readers be met? Why did Joyce choose to take Homer's "Odyssey" as the inspiration for his "day in the life" story of Dublin on June 16, 1904?

33 min
Telemachus at the Martello Tower

02: Telemachus at the Martello Tower

Chapter 1 presents one of the three principal characters. He is Stephen Dedalus, the fictional portrait of the artist Joyce as a young man. A 22-year-old schoolteacher of Jesuit education, lofty intellect, and brooding, brilliant wit, he is haunted by his mother's death and his own gnawing sense of being beset, Telemachus-like, by usurpers.

31 min
Nestor at School

03: Nestor at School

The centerpiece of the second chapter is Stephen's confrontation with the nightmare of history as he teaches his class at Dalkey and collects his pay from headmaster Deasy. Why does Stephen think of history as a bad dream? And how, as man and budding artist, can he learn to awaken from it?

31 min
Proteus on Sandymount Strand

04: Proteus on Sandymount Strand

This chapter, though literally no more than a walk on the beach, can be a sand trap for the unwary reader. But if you know what to look for, Stephen's dense, polysyllabic inner monologue can show you how the imagination of the artist—the imagination of James Joyce—works to grasp and express the unity behind the manifold, mutable world that touches our senses.

31 min
Breakfast with Calypso

05: Breakfast with Calypso

Serving Molly breakfast in bed beneath a picture of a nymph, is Bloom as enthralled as Ulysses was by Calypso? How does Joyce use Bloom's thoughts—and his brief journey out to buy his breakfast—to help us imagine the novel's crucial themes?

30 min
Leopold Bloom and the Lotus Eaters

06: Leopold Bloom and the Lotus Eaters

Bloom's devotion to his wife and home is tested as he faces an array of temptations to forget both and savor the pleasures of narco-eroticized indolence and plant-like turpitude. But can he—should he—seek escape from the pain that comes from remembering his dead father, or anticipating his wife's adulterous liaison with Blazes Boylan?

30 min

07: Hades

How does Joyce use Bloom's trip northwest to Glasnevin Cemetery for the burial of Paddy Dignam to restage Ulysses's visit to the underworld and demonstrate the Bloomian (Joycean?) conviction that "in the midst of death, we are in life"?

30 min
A Bag of Winds

08: A Bag of Winds

Inspired by Ulysses's visit to Aeolus, the god of winds, Chapter 7 blows Bloom and Stephen together briefly. Examples of conventional public rhetoric huff and puff beneath mock headlines in a Joycean counterblast to the novel's inner monologues. And at chapter's end, Stephen breathes life into an unconventional story about two Dublin spinsters, some plums, and a statue of Lord Nelson.

31 min
Lestrygonians at Lunchtime

09: Lestrygonians at Lunchtime

Re-enacting Ulysses's brush with a race of cannibals, Chapter 8 invites you to join Bloom at his midday meal. By listening to the thoughts of our modern Ulysses as he steers a moderate course through this mundane but highly meaningful activity, you'll learn about his character, his conflicts, and the artistry of James Joyce. When you're done you may be hungry, but it won't be for knowledge.

30 min
Scylla and Charybdis, I

10: Scylla and Charybdis, I

In moving from Chapter 8 to Chapter 9, you move from the body to the mind, from the lunchroom to the library, from Bloom's concern with physical processes to Stephen's with mental speculations. Why does Stephen feel he must explain his theory of how Shakespeare came to write "Hamlet" to a gathering of Dublin's literati, even though he has no wish to join them?

30 min
Scylla and Charybdis, II

11: Scylla and Charybdis, II

What is Stephen's theory of "Hamlet"? Does he himself believe it? If not, why does he present it? What does it tell you about Stephen's needs as an artist? How does Stephen unwittingly identify Shakespeare with both Ulysses and Leopold Bloom? And why does Stephen (Joyce?) prefer Aristotle to Plato?

31 min
Wandering Rocks

12: Wandering Rocks

In the Dublin of Ulysses, Homer's "wandering rocks" (reefs so tricky they seem to move) become characters who bump into each other as Bloom and Stephen make their ways through the afternoon streets. Collectively, these motions move the city that defines both men. In Chapter 10, Joyce has made the city he called "Dyoubelong?" a character in his novel.

30 min
The Sirens of the Ormond Hotel

13: The Sirens of the Ormond Hotel

In Chapter 11, Homer's seductive songstresses become a pair of barmaids at the hotel where Bloom takes a meal and the air is full of song. Like Ulysses, Bloom is tempted by music's charms, especially when it evokes romantic or national feeling, but he keeps his distance. At the end of this chapter of musical effects (amazingly handled in Joyce's extraordinary prose), Bloom pipes his own fundamental comment on Irish nationalism.

31 min
Citizen Cyclops, I

14: Citizen Cyclops, I

The gigantic one-eyed savage of Chapter 12 is a myopic, chauvinistic, anti-Semitic drunk known simply as "the citizen." Caught in Barney Kiernan's pub with him, Bloom (whose thoughts you do not hear) must assert himself and then escape with a Ulyssean mixture of boldness and prudence. This first lecture on "Cyclops" treats just the portions "spoken" by the unnamed narrator, also hostile to Bloom, who recounts the episode as a barroom anecdote.

30 min
Citizen Cyclops, II

15: Citizen Cyclops, II

Interspersed with the colloquial narrator's voice in Chapter 12 are 32 passages in which Joyce parodies—brilliantly and often hilariously—a dazzling number of writing styles from pseudo-epic romance to modern legal briefs and political reportage. Why does Joyce include the writings of the "parodist"—who often undercuts Bloom—in this section where Bloom is perhaps at his most heroic?

30 min
Nausicaa at the Beach

16: Nausicaa at the Beach

Homer's young princess appears as Gerty MacDowell, a sentimental young woman who constructs a romantic fantasy around Bloom when she sees him at Sandymount Strand. Storm-tossed and tired after his long harsh day, Bloom seeks relief in Gerty's gaze. But his thoughts and feelings turn again toward Molly and home.

30 min
Oxen of the Sun

17: Oxen of the Sun

Chapter 14, which places Bloom and Stephen in the waiting room of the National Maternity Hospital at 10 p.m., shows Joyce at his most masterful. Patterned on the nine months of pregnancy, it recapitulates in nine successive, pitch-perfect prose styles the gestation and development of the English language, from Anglo-Saxon diction through Victorian eloquence.

31 min
Circe of Nighttown, I

18: Circe of Nighttown, I

Written in playscript form, this longest chapter features the transformations, hallucinations, and displays that occur when Bloom protectively follows Stephen to Bella Cohen's brothel in Dublin's bawdy-house district, and unlike Ulysses in the palace of Circe, gives up the magic plant that wards off the enchantress's power.

30 min
Circe of Nighttown, II

19: Circe of Nighttown, II

Stripped of his talismanic potato and thus unable to resist, Bloom must endure a hallucinatory series of humiliations and shape-shifts at the hands of Bella Cohen. How will Bloom face these down, regain his self-command, and continue with his mission of safeguarding Stephen and returning home?

31 min

20: Eumaeus

In Chapter 16, Homer's kindly old swineherd Eumaeus appears as the keeper of a cabman's shelter where Bloom and Stephen go to talk and rest after the older man guides the younger out of Nighttown. The chapter's cliché-ridden, newspapery language of exhaustion gives way to something more human when Bloom, preparing to return home, urges Stephen to "lean on me."

30 min
Return to Ithaca, I

21: Return to Ithaca, I

In the penultimate chapter, written as a catechetical or scientific series of questions and answers that highlights both the characters' humanity and their universal significance, Stephen and Bloom enter Bloom's house "by a stratagem" and then sit and talk. Stephen politely declines an invitation to stay, but not before they have shared a generous moment of communion over the "massproduct" of hot cocoa.

31 min
Return to Ithaca, II

22: Return to Ithaca, II

After Stephen leaves, Bloom's thoughts turn to Molly upstairs. While Stephen becomes the "centrifugal departer," Bloom is "the centripetal remainer," seeking his center in Molly. But his journey to their marriage bed is an ordeal which demands that he try and restore order to both his disarranged house and his own troubled spirit.

31 min
Molly Bloom Speaks

23: Molly Bloom Speaks

Lying in bed, Mrs. Marion Bloom thinks of everything she's ever done or felt and every man she's ever known. Yet her uninhibited and sometimes self-contradictory monologue finally shows her thoughts returning home. Her husband remains the only man who understands her, and the memory of their first ecstatic lovemaking leads to Molly's great and final "Yes."

30 min
Joyce and the Modern Novel

24: Joyce and the Modern Novel

Why does Joyce reject the rules of conventional plotting and leave major questions unresolved? How does "Ulysses" fit in with the history of English-language fiction? How does "Ulysses" point to "Finnegans Wake"? Why does Joyce bind his universalizing, polytropic vision to the richly particularized streets of Dublin on a quite specific day? And how does he succeed so brilliantly at this?

31 min