James Joyce Reads a Passage From Ulysses, 1924

Today is “Blooms­day,” the tra­di­tion­al day for book lovers to cel­e­brate James Joyce’s mas­ter­piece, Ulysses (text — audio). To mark the occa­sion we bring you this rare 1924 record­ing of Joyce read­ing from the Aeo­lus episode of the nov­el. The record­ing was arranged and financed by the author’s friend and pub­lish­er Sylvia Beach, who brought him by taxi to the HMV (His Mas­ter’s Voice) gramo­phone stu­dio in the Paris sub­urb of Bil­lan­court. The first ses­sion did­n’t go well. Joyce was ner­vous and suf­fer­ing from his recur­ring eye trou­bles. He and Beach returned anoth­er day to fin­ish the record­ing. In her mem­oir, Shake­speare & Com­pa­ny, Beach writes:

Joyce had cho­sen the speech in the Aeo­lus episode, the only pas­sage that could be lift­ed out of Ulysses, he said, and the only one that was “declam­a­to­ry” and there­fore suit­able for recital. He had made up his mind, he told me, that this would be his only read­ing from Ulysses.

I have an idea that it was not for declam­a­to­ry rea­sons alone that he chose this pas­sage from Aeo­lus. I believe that it expressed some­thing he want­ed said and pre­served in his own voice. As it rings out–“he lift­ed his voice above it boldly”–it is more, one feels, than mere ora­to­ry.

The pas­sage par­al­lels the episode in Home­r’s Odyssey fea­tur­ing Aeo­lus, god of the winds. As a pun, Joyce sets it in a news­pa­per office where his hero Leopold Bloom stops by to place an ad, only to be stymied by the blus­tery noise of the print­ing press­es and of the var­i­ous “wind­bags” in the office.

One char­ac­ter tries to enter­tain a cou­ple of his friends with a mock­ing recital of a politi­cian’s speech print­ed in the day’s news­pa­per. Here is the pas­sage Joyce reads:

He began:

–Mr. Chair­man, ladies and gen­tle­men: Great was my admi­ra­tion in lis­ten­ing to the remarks addressed to the youth of Ire­land a moment since by my learned friend. It seemed to me that I had been trans­port­ed into a coun­try far away from this coun­try, into an age remote from this age, that I stood in ancient Egypt and that I was lis­ten­ing to the speech of a high­priest of that land addressed to the youth­ful Moses.

His lis­ten­ers held their cig­a­rettes poised to hear, their smoke ascend­ing in frail stalks that flow­ered with his speech…Noble words com­ing. Look out. Could you try your hand at it your­self?

–And it seemed to me that I heard the voice of that Egypt­ian high­priest raised in a tone of like haugh­i­ness and like pride. I heard his words and their mean­ing was revealed to me.

From the Fathers
It was revealed to me that those things are good which yet are cor­rupt­ed which nei­ther if they were supreme­ly good nor unless they were good could be cor­rupt­ed. Ah, curse you! That’s saint Augus­tine.

–Why will you jews not accept our lan­guage, our reli­gion and our cul­ture? You are a tribe of nomad herds­men; we are a mighty peo­ple. You have no cities nor no wealth: our cities are hives of human­i­ty and our gal­leys, trireme and quadrireme, laden with all man­ner mer­chan­dise fur­row the waters of the known globe. You have but emerged from prim­i­tive con­di­tions: we have a lit­er­a­ture, a priest­hood, an age­long his­to­ry and a poli­ty.


Child, man, effi­gy.

By the Nile­bank the babe­maries kneel, cra­dle of bul­rush­es: a man sup­ple in com­bat: stone­horned, stonebeard­ed, heart of stone.

–You pray to a local and obscure idol: our tem­ples, majes­tic and mys­te­ri­ous, are the abodes of Isis and Osiris, of Horus and Ammon Ra. Yours serf­dom, awe and hum­ble­ness: ours thun­der and the seas. Israel is weak and few are her chil­dren: Egypt is an host and ter­ri­ble are her arms. Vagrants and day­labour­ers are you called: the world trem­bles at our name.

A dumb belch of hunger cleft his speech. he lift­ed his voice above it bold­ly:

–But, ladies and gen­tle­men, had the youth­ful Moses lis­tened to and accept­ed that view of life, had he bowed his head and bowed his will and bowed his spir­it before that arro­gant admo­ni­tion he would nev­er have led the cho­sen peo­ple out of their house of bondage nor fol­lowed the pil­lar of the cloud by day. He would nev­er have spo­ken with the Eter­al amid light­nings on Sinai’s moun­tain­top nor even have come down with the light of inspi­ra­tion shin­ing in his coun­te­nance and bear­ing in his arms the tables of the law, graven in the lan­guage of the out­law.

For more of Ulyssesclick here to find out how you can down­load it as a free audio book. And to hear a clear­er record­ing of Joyce’s voice made five years after this one, see our 2012 post: “James Joyce Reads ‘Anna Livia Plura­belle’ from Finnegans Wake.”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Hen­ri Matisse Illus­trates 1935 Edi­tion of James Joyce’s Ulysses

Stephen Fry Explains His Love for James Joyce’s Ulysses

Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe Reads Joyce’s Ulysses at the Play­ground (1955)

by | Permalink | Comments (1) |

Sup­port Open Cul­ture

We’re hop­ing to rely on our loy­al read­ers rather than errat­ic ads. To sup­port Open Cul­ture’s edu­ca­tion­al mis­sion, please con­sid­er mak­ing a dona­tion. We accept Pay­Pal, Ven­mo (@openculture), Patre­on and Cryp­to! Please find all options here. We thank you!

Comments (1)
You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

Leave a Reply

Open Culture was founded by Dan Colman.