Many years ago just for fun I took a course called Three Great Novels, but I only remember one of them – James Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses. It may sound like hyperbole but reading Ulysses in that class changed my life, at least my reading life, as I now measure every work of fiction I read against that great book.
Since then I’ve reread Ulysses several times and every June 16th for years I’d celebrate Bloomsday at Symphony Space in New York. Then I heard about the James Joyce Summer School in Dublin.
“I’m going to Ireland!”, I announced to my family.
“Promise you won’t eat meat.”, my husband said. (It was the year of the mad cow.)
Classes were offered in all of Joyce’s famous works and of course I signed up for Ulysses. But the enrollment for that course was very large and it was decided there’d be two sections – a beginner and an advanced section with Fritz Senn, the world famous Joycean, teaching the advanced. Each of us was to decide by next morning in which class we belonged.
I called home with my dilemma. I explained that some of the other students would be reading Ulysses for the first time, obvious candidates for the beginner class. But others were well-versed in Joyce including a professor of Irish literature at a top American university, and a scholar from Sofia who had translated Ulysses into Bulgarian of all languages! I asked my family what I should do.
“I bet you’re just as smart as any of them”, my son said, “and you love that book, in fact you obsess over it! Go for the advanced class.”
So I did, and that summer in Dublin my appreciation of James Joyce increased tenfold.
And, I must admit, so did my capacity for Guinness on draft.
Dana Susan Lehrman