While studying abroad in Dublin, Ireland, English major Genevieve Nierman ’13 constantly came across references to early 20th century author James Joyce and his famed work Ulysses. Although she had never read Ulysses, Nierman became intrigued by Dublin’s obsession with the novel and became determined to study what is often heralded as the “greatest novel ever written.”
She received an Emerson Foundation Summer Research Grant to study the relationship between Ulysses and Dublin and to discern what attributes of the novel are responsible for its international success. Nieman is being assisted in her research by Professor Steven Yao, who is guiding her through the reading of the 18 episode novel.
When she began her research, Nierman was most interested in Dublin’s attachment to Ulysses. The book is not widely read outside of literary and scholarly circles because of its complexity so she was surprised at the sense of attraction to the work displayed by everyday Dubliners. She soon discovered that much of Ulysses’ popularity is a result of the tourism generated by visitors to museums and festivals regarding the work. According to Nierman, “all literary culture-vultures know that Dublin is the setting of Ulysses and, subsequently, if you wish to appear ‘intellectual’ you should engage in some Joyce-related activities during a visit there.”
Nierman doesn’t believe that the tourism related to Ulysses and Joyce in Dublin is necessarily a bad thing. “When people visit Dublin and seek out Joyce related activities … they are hoping to enrich their minds and find like-minded individuals.” She believes that Joyce’s work has played a role in allowing Dublin to form its identity as an “intellectually creative city that Dubliners take pride in and tourists seek out.”
One of Ulysses’ most unique attributes, according to Nierman, is that it exists on the thin line between “reading for intellectual obligation and reading for enjoyment.” Ulysses is written in an almost disorderly fashion, with overly complex sentence structure and frequent flashbacks and hallucinations, making it a difficult read for those not well versed in literary analysis.
Ulysses’ subject matter – which is filled with humor, profanity and even sexuality – is far more accessible to the common reader than its writing style. The book was even subject to a trial in the United States over its allegedly pornographic content, however; this attention simply served to aid in Ulysses’ popularity. Nierman describes her own reading of the novel as a slow process of wading through its many pages with the assistance of Yao.
Nierman’s extensive research on Dublin, Joyce and Ulysses has left her with a number of unanswered questions on Dublin’s decision to capitalize on the unique genius of the work. She is considering further research on Ulysses as the topic of her senior thesis and plans to pursue a career in writing and literary analysis after her time at Hamilton.
Nierman is a graduate of the Dalton School (N.Y.)