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Lunch with Ulysses

Late in the fall semester, when sophomore Kevin Meinhardt suggested that the Honors College start a Ulysses reading group, Professor Robert Cremins jumped at the opportunity. Kevin wanted a modern epic to complement the Human Situation—Antiquity reading of The Odyssey, and James Joyce’s Ulysses seemed to fit the bill. As Professor Cremins recalled, “I had been wanting to revisit James Joyce’s monumental novel—the action of which takes place over a single summer’s day in 1904 in my hometown, Dublin—for a long time, and here was a chance to do that in the genial company of both seasoned and neophyte Joyceans.” 

In the well-appointed setting of the Dean’s conference room, nearly every Tuesday throughout the spring semester the Joyceans met for “lunch” with Ulysses, doing a close reading of one of the book’s eighteen distinct “episodes” each week. One week the group literally did eat lunch, consuming some gorgonzola cheese and crackers in honor of the light meal eaten by Leopold Bloom, Joyce’s everyman hero. Throughout the weeks, the group tried to make its reading as experiential as possible: listening to some of the music, for example, that gives this melody-haunted novel its “soundtrack.” Also on theme with the readings, Professor Cremins provided his own notes on the narrative’s Irish context, written in what he calls a “slightly eccentric stream-of-consciousness style.”

Other key members of the reading group have been Dr. David Mikics, rising senior Chris Powell (who is set to do independent study on Joyce in the fall), Dean Bill Monroe, and his son David, a teaching assistant in the Religious Studies department. Kevin said, “I won’t claim that LwU has grown to be a particularly large group, but it has been incredibly fun and successful.

Everyone involved is sincerely interested in Irish culture, as well as literature in general. The conversation is relaxed and intriguing, and I have learned more about a single text in this independent reading group than I could have dreamed of... Professor Cremins is truly an expert, and this group would not have survived without his efforts.”

Professor Mikics concurred: “Talking about Joyce’s Ulysses with Robert Cremins and the students has been a wonderful treat for me this term. I fell in love with Ulysses when I read it for the first time as a teenager (though I probably didn’t understand much, I still loved it), and I taught it once as a graduate student, but I’ve never met an expert on the book like Professor Cremins. He’s a true Ulysses maven, and he knows Dublin, Joyce’s book, and the relevant Irish history inside out. Cremins has a wonderful feel for Ulysses; he approaches it with the skillful eye of a novelist, the knowledge of a scholar, and the great affection of a common reader.”

The Joyceans are set to tackle the last six (mega) episodes in the fall. You are welcome to join them!