A Reading of “Ulysses”

May 24, 2014   //   by Christina   //   Latest News, Personal  //  No Comments

On our tour through the UK, we decided to also pop in for a visit to Dublin, Ireland.  While gathering information for nearby attractions through the brochures set into our hotel’s reception area, I came upon an ad for “Sweny’s Pharmacy”.  I noticed they did readings of Joyce novels.  What a wonderful interlude while in Dublin, to listen to the words of one of their literary leading lights.  Even better?  Sweny’s Pharmacy features in one of Joyce’s most famous novels, Ulysses

We were greeted with a cup of tea and the thick tome of “Ulysses”.  “So,” I began, to the only other participant who had arrived before us, “a reading, huh?”  “Yes,” the older man, a full head of white hair and sparkling eyes, replied “it’s fun to read aloud.” My husband and I glanced at each other.  We’d have to read aloud?  Not exactly what we were expecting.  “Yikes,” I whispered, “I’ve never read Ulysses before.”  My husband shook his head, “Me neither.”  I knew James Joyce liked to make up words, and Ulysses was rumored to be notoriously difficult to read.  As I flipped through the pages while we waited, my concerns didn’t lessen.  Instead of freaking out further, I looked around and struck up a conversation with the owner of the establishment.  All the interior decorations of Sweny’s Pharmacy are original, all dark wood and glass and apothecary drawers.  The only major differences were likely the books piled before us and the shelves peeking out from the back section groaning underneath the weight of still more books.  The owner riffled around and returned with Ulysses translated into Chinese.  I wonder how many other translations lay in the back. 

I wanted to know if the same people showed up each week, so I asked our original friend with the sparkling eyes.  “Different members of the same core group,” he replied.  As others showed up at the door, he leaned back over, “Each gathering we have takes on its own character.  Sometimes we have analytical ones who like digging into the words.  Sometimes we have the ones who enjoy the history behind Joyce.  Today, we have the mad ones.”

A dark-haired man, around our age or a few years older, began the chapter with a quick introduction to what we were to expect in the following pages.  He spoke of character development and observations and symbolism with such passion, his hands weaving pictures through the air, he made what was essentially a Cliffs Notes summary of the chapter quite fascinating.  He followed by reading the first page.  Turns out the chapter we started with contained the section that featured Sweny’s Pharmacy.  What luck!

Around we went, each reading a page, some slower than others, in a multitude of accents.  Giggles broke out over particularly funny or salacious passages.  We reveled in Bloom’s train of thoughts, of the familiar made unfamiliar in such a way as to clarify our own world.  Like we had cleaned the lens of our eyes and saw everything anew.  Read aloud, I could grasp bits and pieces of what Joyce was trying to say, when before it’d looked like gibberish.  Especially read aloud in thick Irish accents.  Two hours later, we finished two chapters, our throats a bit hoarse, our cheeks and hearts warm .  My experience at Sweny’s had given me new inspiration and motivation to focus back on the novel I’d been editing the past year or so. 

As we walked back to our hotel room, the musical rhythm of Joyce’s words still bouncing around in my skull, I gazed over the River Liffey and imagined Joyce walking by us, also enjoying the cool night air. 


**For more information on readings, check out their webpage.  Donations are encouraged but not required.  Everyone likes hanging out at the nearby pub afterwards. 

Leave a comment

%d bloggers like this: