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Issue 466, 8 May 2001

James Joyce reading group

The James Joyce Reading Group meets in the School of English for two hours once a month, except in vacations when meetings may be less frequent, to read, very slowly and very scrupulously, an episode of James Joyce's modernist masterpiece, Ulysses.

To `read' in this context means, first, to listen to a taped reading of the episode, at the moment this is the last chapter of the book known as `Penelope' and consisting of the notorious monologue of Molly Bloom, and to discuss the meaning of the text. Even in tackling this almost unpuctuated section, seemingly written in a comparatively accessible and often racy vernacular style we keep finding all manner of hidden complexities, teasing ambiguities, and references that send us scurrying to early drafts, dictionaries, maps, guides of many kinds, and surprising personal testimonies, to satisfy our curiosity. All this detective work and attention to linguistic nuance slows our pace. (We began back in October 1998 and are still far from that resounding `Yes' which seals the chapter and the book.)

But we don't want to hurry over the wonderfully rich texture of the writing, but principally we don't want to forgo savouring the abundance of often extremely bawdy humour, too! Our meetings are characterised by lots of laughter, often self-mocking, as we come under the spell of a virtuoso comedian.

Ours is a very heterogeneous group drawn from varied backgrounds and disciplines: a mix of those professionally engaged in studying and/or teaching Joyce with keen amateurs from within and without the University, some of whom travel considerable distances to join in the fun. Our oldest member, Joan Brompton, is a lively-minded 80-year old perpetual student.

The Group is run by the editors of the James Joyce Broadsheet ( Richard Brown, Pieter Bekker, and Alistair Stead), THE British journal for Joyceans (with an international readership) published by the School of English, and has overlapping membership with the James Joyce Research Group where scholarly papers are presented. The Reading Group modelled itself on the University of London James Joyce Reading Group (now known as the Charles Peake Seminar) but has engaged with a different episode.

Every other year we have a one-day conference in which papers emerging from the close reading of one of the episodes are brought together either in London or in Leeds and these confluences of readers from both Groups have led to publication. It is hoped that when we reach Molly's last word annotations derived from our collective readings will be published, too.

But although that is the purely academic fruit of the enterprise, the more immediate gain is in the pleasure of reading together something of great literary value that rewards careful scrutiny and provokes so much mirth. All are welcome to contribute. There's still time to get in before the great full stop.

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