Cycling book review: “Ulysses” by James Joyce

Although regarded by discriminating readers as the greatest novel of all time, and regarded by less discriminating readers as gibberish, “Ulysses” by James Joyce is unquestionably one of the greatest books in any language about cycling, better even than “Positively False” by Floyd Landis.

After recently completing this mammoth read from Mammon at the pace of 25 pages per day (est. 2.6 minutes per page), I realized that far from being a modern allegory about Odysseus, “Ulysses” is in fact a book about bicycling.

In the spirit of the freshman English class that I failed, what follows are my textual references to support my novel thesis about this most novel novel. After 782 pages of careful analysis I discovered that Joyce writes movingly and with passion, depth, and understanding about bicycling exactly thirteen times. Here they are.

  1. “They passed from behind Mr Bloom along the curbstone. Beard and bicycle. Young woman.”
  2. “His eyes followed the high figure in homespun, beard and bicycle, a listening woman at his side.”
  3. “Gerty MacDowell loves the boy that has the bicycle.”
  4. “As per usual somebody’s nose was out of joint about the boy that had the bicycle off the London bridge road always riding up and down in front of her window.”
  5. “W. E. Wylie who was racing in the bicycle races in Trinity college university.”
  6. “But he was undeniably handsome with an exquisite nose and he was what he looked, every inch a gentleman, the shape of his head too at the back without his cap on that she would know anywhere something off the common and the way he turned the bicycle at the lamp with his hands off the bars and also the nice perfume of those good cigarettes and besides they were both of a size too he and she and that was why Edy Boardman thought she was so frightfully clever because he didn’t go and ride up and down in front of her bit of a garden.”
  7. “His right hand holds a bicycle pump.”
  8. “He smites with his bicycle pump the crayfish in his left hand.”
  9. “Love on hackney jaunt Blazes blind coddoubled bicyclers Dilly with snowcake no fancy clothes.”
  10. “He had sometimes propelled her on warm summer evenings, an infirm widow of independent, if limited, means, in her convalescent bathchair with slow revolutions of its wheels as far as the corner of the North Circular road opposite Mr Gavin Low’s place of business where she had remained for a certain time scanning through his onelensed binocular fieldglasses unrecognisable citizens on tramcars, roadster bicycles equipped with inflated pneumatic tyres, hackney carriages, tandems, private and hired landaus, dogcarts, ponytraps and brakes passing from the city to the Phoenix Park and vice versa.”
  11. “of course hes mad on the subject of drawers thats plain to be seen always skeezing at those brazenfaced things on the bicycles with their skirts blowing up to their navels even when Milly and I were out with him at the open air fete”
  12. “pretending to read out the Hebrew on them I wanted to fire his pistol he said he hadnt one he didnt know what to make of me with his peak cap on that he always wore crooked as often as I settled it straight H M S Calypso swinging my hat that old Bishop that spoke off the altar his long preach about womans higher functions about girls now riding the bicycle and wearing peak caps and the new woman bloomers God send him sense and me more money”
  13. “can Milly come out please shes in great demand to pick what they can out of her round in Nelson street riding Harry Devans bicycle at night”




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18 thoughts on “Cycling book review: “Ulysses” by James Joyce”

  1. Nick wainwright

    It still seems like the book was translated from polish by Google Translate. Had he not heard of punctuation?!

    1. Seriously?

      Next you’ll be complaint about the polysyllabic words.

      Go read Finnegan’s Wake as pertinence.

  2. This might help me get through the book! I got ALMOST half through before abandoning it. I really enjoyed the campaign book that gives you the Cliff Notes (youngsters would say SparkNotes) version. My husband says that if you read Moby Dick as a comedy, it’s brilliant. That’s also on my list. You just need a hook, since the classics don’t provide the hook often.

  3. Oh good lord. Squanky, ain’t this bag o’worms best left unopened? The secret of unpenetrable prose is that it is unpenetrable. Because literature was assigned, forced on ’em, most of y’all never really read it. Or at least not with any effort. A pox on both yer mouses, I say!

    No really. Don’t mess with the good stuff. The stupidization of amerika is at it’s penultimate about-to-explode…we may possibly be getting ready to vote the Joker into office and that, at least, will be a wild ride…

    Worldchamp…the big secret about moby dick (obvious references aside) (hey, people still called it a dick back in the day) hang on… oh yeah the big secret about Moby Dick (Or, The Whale) as it was called., is that the serialized novel was its ownself the great white whale. Herman got paid by the word and he could use the money. Much like this comment.

    Whatever the case, whaatever…

  4. Oh, now I get it. If Ullysses was about the bike, then Lance Armstrong’s, “Its Not About the Bike” was a rebuke of Joyce’s positions. Who knew?

  5. Seth, you are using periods (punctuation…..) WAY to liberally…………………………………………………………………………

  6. Yes, Ulysses is all about bike racing. In fact, there’s an important indirect reference that Joyce scholars have long know about– the path of Bloom’s perambulations through Dublin on the day the novel takes places was actually determined by road closures for bicycles races that took place that day.

    BTW, you missed a few bicycle references in the text.

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