Book Reviews: Jeanette Winterson

I enjoyed two of Jeanette Winterson’s books recently.

Why be Happy When You Could be Normal?

Jeanette Winterson was born in Manchester in 1959. She was adopted by strict Pentecostal Evangelist parents and brought up in Accrington, Lancashire. Winterson’s childhood was Dickensian in it’s brutality–locked out of the house or into a coal cellar, shown no love, subject to the petty tyrannies of a bully of a mother. Her mother was devoutly religious but rather than seeing religion as a means of spreading love and understanding, she saw it as a way to chastise people. She was a misanthrope, a hater of mankind.

This book is her autobiography, the title is the literal response of the mother when Jeanette told her that she is happy loving another woman. In using a quote from a parent as a title, and in the Northern industrial setting of a childhood rescued by innate intelligence, a love of learning, and a university scholarship, her story is reminiscent of that of Fiona Hill’s in There is Nothing for You Here, reviewed previously.

Like Hill, Winterson turned her back on the narrow confines of her working class origins:

I didn’t want to be in the teeming mass of the working class…. I didn’t want to live and die in the same place with only a week at the seaside in between. I dreamed of escape — but what is terrible about industrialisation is that it makes escape necessary. In a system that generates masses, individualism is the only way out. But then what happens to community — to society?



On the top of the hill looking out over the town I wanted to see further than anybody had seen. That wasn’t arrogance; it was desire. I was all desire, desire for life.

And like Hill, she is aware of the wider implications of the declines of Britain’s once thriving Northern regions:

In the North people met in the church, in the pub, in the marketplace, and in those philanthropic buildings where they could continue their education and their interests. Now, maybe, the pub is left–but mainly nothing is left.

Her brilliance as a writer was shaped by an escape into fiction and poetry in the town library–a place of shelter from the storm of home life.

I had no one to help me, but the T. S. Eliot helped me.

So when people say that poetry is a luxury, or an option, or for the educated middle classes, or that it shouldn’t be read at school because it is irrelevant, or any of the strange stupid things that are said about poetry and its place in our lives, I suspect that the people doing the saying have had things pretty easy. A tough life needs a tough language – and that is what poetry is. That is what literature offers – a language powerful enough to say how it is.

It isn’t a hiding place. It is a finding place.

The story of her life plays out in real time in the latter parts of the book. She writes a fictional account of her life in her best selling debut novel Oranges Are Not the Only Fruit which her adopted mother is ashamed of and, when they finally meet, her birth mother inordinately proud.

Winterson has now written more than a dozen works of fiction. The most recent I read is the stunning retelling of Shakespeare’s late drama: The Winter’s Tale.

The Gap of Time

Winterson’s novel launched the Hogarth Press Shakespeare project which now includes seven novels that retell works by William Shakespeare for modern audiences.

To prepare, I read The Winter’s Tale (for the first time) and enjoyed the two-part drama, separated by a gap of sixteen years, which Shakespeare bridges in Act IV, Scene i with Time as a a chorus, hence the book title:

Now take upon me, in the name of Time,
To use my wings. Impute it not a crime
To me or my swift passage, that I slide
O’er sixteen years and leave the growth untried
Of that wide gap…

While those who’ve read the play with benefit from an understanding many references and asides, the reader of Winterson’s novel is helped by a brief summary of “The Original” in her opening chapter.

The ‘cover version’ she writes adheres to characters and plot, but transposes the time from the Medieval Sicily and Bohemia to London in 2008, reeling from the financial crisis. At first glance, this seems improbable. However, the jealous Leontes, King of Sicily in the original, is re-cast as Leo Kaiser (geddit?), a disgraced banker, rebounded as a Bobby Alexrod (Billions) style leveraged buy-out plutocrat.

Many of characters names match the original;

  • Mamillius, Leontes’ son = Milo
  • Polixenes, King of Bohemia = Xeno
  • Florizel, Polixenes’ son = Zel
  • The old Shepherd = Shep
  • etc.

Interestingly, two of the characters who retain their Shakespearean names unaltered are the heroine Perdita and, most amusingly, the lovable rogue Autolycus, a shady used car salesman!

As far as the plot and characters map the original, it’s a clever book. However, what, for me, elevated it into the stratosphere as one of the best books I’ve read, ever, is the scintillating prose.

Example, a meditation on loss:

My wife no longer exists. There is no such person. her passport has been cancelled. Her bank account closed. Someone else is wearing her clothes. But my mind is full of her. If she had never lived and my mind was full of her they’d lock me up for being delusional. As it is, I’m grieving.




That’s fine by me. Take it all away. The cars, the people, the goods for sale. Strip it back to the dirt under my feet and the sky over my head. Turn off the sound. Blank the picture. Nothing in between us now. Will I see you walking towards me at the end of the day? The way you did, the way we both did, dead tired, coming home from work? Look up and we see each other, first far away, then near? The energy of you in human form again. The atomic shape of your love.

The Gap of Time, p. 19-20

In addition to expressing herself in these terms, Winterson weaves in references to the play, which is why a reading of Shakespeare enhances an appreciation of this book. I probably missed many of these references, but a couple stood out, such as this line used as a chapter title on p.75

Is goads, thorns, nettles, tails of wasps.

The Winter’s Tale, Act I, Scene ii

And multiple references to this jealous rant by Leontes:

Is this nothing? Why then the world and all that’s in’t is nothing,

The covering sky is nothing, Bohemia’s nothing,

My wife is nothing, no nothing have these nothings,

If this be nothing.

The Winter’s Tale, Act I, Scene ii

The first reference in the novel immediately follows the quote on p. 20 above:

“It’s nothing,” she said, when she knew she was dying.

Nothing? The the sky is nothing and the earth is nothing and your body is nothing and our lovemaking is nothing . . .

And again:

He interrupted her. “It’s nothing. But these nothings . . . they . . .”

These nothings are nothing. But the sky is nothing, the earth is nothing. I am nothing, love is nothing, loss is nothing.

The Gap of Time, p. 230

What some have called the most romantic lines in English literature:

A cause more promising
Than a wild dedication of yourselves
To unpath’d waters, undream’d shores, most certain
To miseries enough; no hope to help you,
But as you shake off one to take another;
Nothing so certain as your anchors…

The Winter’s Tale, Act IV, Scene iv

Is referenced at the moment of adoption:

It was a map of discovery. There were no more North Poles, or Atlantic Oceans or Americas. The moon had been visited. And the bottom of the sea.

But she was setting out with the blank sheet and compass of herself.

Unpathed waters. Undreamed shores.

The Gap of Time, p. 155

Time as a theme is referenced in ways large and small:

…they go back to bed to sleep and the city dreams itself into another day.

…Superman is powerful enough to belt the earth like Puck on speed and turn back time.

The evening was cooling into night.

The Gap of Time, pp. 237, 197, 230.

Plus, the broken-down car Autolycus tries to sell is a DeLorean — Back to the Future!

Throughout the book there are recursive references to Shakespeare, the title of the novel, and Winterson’s other works.

The final chapter is her meditation on the theme of forgiveness on the later play’s of Shakespeare, and how in The Winter’s Tale “the past depends on the future just as much as the future depends on the past.” She detects the seeds of psychoanalysis in decoding “how the past mortgages the future, or that the past can be redeemed.” Concluding, “And time, that sets all limits, offers our one chance at freedom from limits.”

Fun and games with ChatGPT

Thanks to Monu Sohal over on Facebook, here’s an amusing illustration of ChatGPT’s output. It takes Fleishman-Kincaid to a whole new level! Why do *you* think it rains?

Pretend to be a person with an IQ of 200. Why does it rain?

Rain occurs as a result of the atmosphere’s ability to hold moisture. When the air becomes saturated with water vapor, it rises and cools, leading to the condensation of water droplets, which form clouds. When the clouds become sufficiently dense and heavy, the water droplets combine and fall to the ground as precipitation, in the form of rain. This process is known as the water cycle and is an integral part of Earth’s climate system.

Pretend to be a person with an IQ of 100. Why does it rain?

Rain happens because the clouds get too full of water and then it falls down to the ground. That’s what we call rain.

NOTE: I got dramatically different answers to the lower IQ prompt that Monu showed in his original posts. Not sure if ChatGPT ‘evolved’ since he ran them, or he edited them for effect after they were generated.

AI Ulysses: Haiku

Responding to this challenge, ChatGPT generated:

List the main characters in James Joyce’s Ulysses

  1. Leopold Bloom
  2. Stephen Dedalus
  3. Molly Bloom
  4. Buck Mulligan
  5. Gerty MacDowell
  6. Martin Cunningham
  7. Simon Dedalus
  8. Ben Dollard
  9. Lenehan
  10. Haines

Compose a haiku about Leopold Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses

Leopold Bloom walks,

Through Dublin streets, a mystery,

Seeking self and more.

Compose a haiku about Stephen Dedalus in Joyce’s Ulysses

Stephen Dedalus,

Mind forever in turmoil,

Searching for his soul.

Compose a haiku about Molly Bloom in Joyce’s Ulysses

Molly Bloom’s thoughts,

A secret garden, blooming,

With desires and dreams.

Compose a haiku about Buck Mulligan in Joyce’s Ulysses

Buck Mulligan,

With wit sharp as a razor’s edge,

Carves out his own path.

Compose a haiku about Gerty MacDowell in Joyce’s Ulysses

Gerty MacDowell

Her heart aflutter, a dreamer,

Chasing after love.

Compose a haiku about Martin Cunningham in Joyce’s Ulysses

Martin Cunningham,

Steadfast and reliable,

Guiding with wisdom.

Compose a haiku about Simon Dedalus in Joyce’s Ulysses

Simon Dedalus,

A patriarch, proud and stern,

Guiding his family.

Compose a haiku about Ben Dollard in Joyce’s Ulysses

Ben Dollard’s voice,

Deep and rich, like a cello’s tone,

Joyce’s Dublin sings.

Compose a haiku about Lenehan in Joyce’s Ulysses

Lenehan’s wit sharp,

Always seeking a good time,

Dublin’s court jester.

Compose a haiku about Haines in Joyce’s Ulysses

Haines, a stranger,

Lost in Dublin’s winding streets,

Seeking understanding.

Life Choices: US vs. UK

My letter to the Financial Times was printed on January 6th, 2023, in response to the December 23rd Obituary of Lord David Ivor Young.

Financial Times, Dec 17, 2022 (click to enlarge)

Over the next few days, a spirited debate arose in response to my letter on the FT website. I did not join in the discussion online, but I can clarify my intent and the background of my letter by responding to each section of the online debate.

Boston 1974

My main reason for writing (which none of the subsequent comments addressed) was the surprise I felt at the swiftness of the decision Lord (or as he was then, Mr) Young made to return to the UK after one day in Boston. And since this was precisely the time and place of my first introduction to the States, I remember the era well. I’d arrived in Boston in September to do a master’s in sociology at Tufts. Nixon had resigned that summer. Gerald Ford was president. Vietnam was winding down. The long hot summers of love and hate were well and truly over. King and the Kennedys were buried. Kent State was safe from the National Guard.

America was exhausted from the turmoil of the 1960s. Except in Boston.

There, the South Boston Irish-American community was in an uproar over the ‘forced busing’ of black kids into their schools. Southern Whites, who had become tired of being labeled racists, expressed some schadenfreude that the home state of Ted and Bobby was in racially motivated turmoil:

From September 1974 through the fall of 1976, at least 40 riots occurred in the city….On February 12, 1975, interracial fighting broke out at Hyde Park High that would last for three days with police making 14 arrests…On January 21, 1976, 1,300 black and white students fought each other at Hyde Park High, and at South Boston High on February 15, anti-busing activists organized marches under a parade permit from the Andrew Square and Broadway MBTA Red Line stations which would meet and end at South Boston High. After confusion between the marchers and the police about the parade route led marchers to attempt to walk through a police line, the marchers began throwing projectiles at the police, the marchers regrouped, and migrated to South Boston High where approximately 1,000 demonstrators engaged with police in a full riot that required the police to employ tear gas. 80 police were injured and 13 rioters were arrested…There were a number of protest incidents that turned severely violent, even resulting in deaths. In one case, attorney Theodore Landsmark was attacked and bloodied by a group of white teenagers as he exited Boston City Hall…

Extracted from

I was not unaware of this, but living in Somerville, walking to Harvard Square, and catching the bus to Medford, I saw none of it. However, I foolishly persuaded some of my friends to come along to a George Wallace rally – purely out of curiosity to see American electioneering. Since we were long-haired students and clearly not from Southie, we were set on by a mob of angry white youths as we left the downtown hotel (perhaps the very hotel the Young’s stayed at). I was lucky to escape unharmed. Some of my friends were bloodied and bruised. None seriously. I remember running across to a line of police to report the attack and being met with utter indifference. It’s no surprise American visitors to Britain would remark “Aren’t your policemen wonderful!”

However, as I wrote in the letter, cross the Charles River on the Red Line to Harvard Square, and it was as peaceful as could be. As was the rest of the country, mostly.

Snap decision

So, to return to the comment in the obit that most surprised me. Having, presumably, gone to considerable lengths to secure the necessary visas to be able to emigrate to the US and paid for the flight over and the hotel, the family did not even leave the city to explore any of the nearby (peaceful) suburbs or sample the delights of Western Mass (where the turnpike might well have been covered with snow “from Stockbridge to Boston. Lord, the Berkshires seemed dream-like on account of that frostin’” as James Taylor sang). Instead, they returned to Logan Airport and flew back to London.

I can only speculate as to how that decision was arrived at. But I can well imagine his wife, Lita, seeing the mob outside the hotel window, clutching her pearls, becoming unsettled enough to demand they immediately leave.

This would not be a decision most potential immigrants to the States would take lightly. For centuries, immigration was very much a one-way ticket. Irish immigrant ancestors of the residents of South Boston would hold American wakes to acknowledge the “death” of those crossing the Atlantic. In my own case I was on a two-year student visa. When I returned to settle here permanently, I chose (as I’ve written before in this blog) to live underground as an illegal immigrant for a number of years. One can only assume the future Lord had legal immigrant status.

While it was a hasty decision, it was, as one person notes, to have one advantage:

Second Amendment Rights

As Foxy Par notes, America has a gun problem. This was the case in the time frame I’m addressing of the mid-1970s when the Young family caught the next plane back to London. But it has become tragically, seemingly insolubly, worse since then. The daily drumbeat of school shootings, massacres, and random acts of violence grows.

On a personal level, what is most shocking is meeting well-adjusted Americans of all political persuasions who believe the “only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.” They’re all good guys until they’re not. I’ve worked with a senior executive I respected until he let slip that he “keeps 40 guns in the house” and was a member of the NRA. People have told me, in all seriousness, that it’s safer to live in States like Arizona, which allow “concealed carry” permits (which California does not) since the potential mugger does not know if you are “packing heat” and so leaves you alone.

John Wayne movies are seen as a script to live by.

However, in my almost 50 years here, I’ve never once seen or heard gunfire. It’s a big country of over 300 million and despite the tragic loss of life, the odds are small that any one person will be affected.

Race riots

Much of the remainder of the debate was between a couple of chaps (“dudes”?) who disagreed about the racial component of civil unrest in the UK.

The Thatcher Years

The point that these commentators overlooked, and my primary response to the potential tragedy of Young’s return to Britain, is that in September 1984, he became a member of the Thatcher government.

The Brighton Hotel Tory Party Conference IRA bombing occurred the next month. Was he present when that carnage struck?

Indeed, the same year he decided that “life in Britain would be better for them,” these events happened:

On June 17th 1974, a Provisional IRA bomb exploded in Westminster Hall in the Houses of Parliament, rupturing a gas pipe and starting a fire. An IRA volunteer telephoned through a warning six minutes before the bomb exploded, allowing the area to be cleared. The warning meant that nobody was killed, though 11 people were seriously injured.

Exactly one month later, the IRA detonated two bombs in London. The first exploded near a government building in Balham shortly before dawn; there was considerable property damage but nobody was injured. Later in the day, a bomb exploded at the Tower of London in an exhibition room filled with tourists. One person was killed and 40 others were injured, some losing limbs.

These bombings led to increased security and surveillance at London landmarks, as well as an overhaul of police, emergency and bomb disposal protocols. The Provisional IRA continued to hit high profile targets in 1975, bombing Oxford Street (August 28th, seven injured), the London Hilton (September 5th, two killed and 63 injured) and Connaught Square (November 3rd, three injured).


In March 1979 (five years after he spent 24 hours watching youths misbehave in the streets of Boston), Conservative MP Airey Neave was blown up leaving the Houses of Parliament.

What did his family think of these events? Did they make life “better,” or did the very real risks that he and others in public life run in that era give them pause?

Later, the miners’ strike of 1984–1985 was a significant industrial action within the British coal industry in an attempt to prevent colliery closures that led to pitched street battles.

The strike was the most violent industrial dispute in Britain of the 20th century…Prime Minister Thatcher expected Scargill to force a confrontation, and in response she set up a defence in depth…She appointed hardliners to key positions…



Of course, on September 11, 2001, the risk equation between life in the US and UK changed radically. 67 British citizens were killed that day. Had Lord Young stayed in the States and worked in finance on the East Coast, he could have been one of them.

January 6

I closed my letter to the FT with the comment that life in the US was mostly uneventful “until recently”. I was referring, of course, to the Trump years, the events of January 6, 2001, and the polarization of political debate that was mirrored, perhaps to a lesser extent, in the debate over Brexit. It remains to be seen if we are seeing the rise of American fascism or, as happened prior to my arrival in 1974, a passing phase that will be followed by less harrowing times.


There’s also no doubt that, in terms of the potential risks from natural disasters, life is indeed riskier in the USA than the UK. I live in the San Francisco Bay Area, and it’s a case of when, not if, the Hayward Fault fractures in a major earthquake. Climate change has brought deadly torrential rains to California. We will inevitably have more wildfires. Elsewhere in the country, they deal with tornadoes and hurricanes.

Population Density

The 67 million residents of the UK are crammed into an area the size of Oregon. Since they “took back control” and separated from the EU, they are restricted to spending no more than 90 days in the Schengen Area. On a fine summer day, Cornwall and the Lake District gets somewhat crowded.

Meanwhile, 332 million residents of the US can find wide open spaces if they so desire. And while it’s not always easy to get out of the City on the weekend, there are are beautiful wilderness areas in Marin, a short drive from San Francisco.


I married and raised a family in the States. I clearly remember the Fall of 1974. I was enchanted by the beauty of the foliage, enraptured by the people, and intrigued by the possibilities that lay to the West where, having read Kerouac, I longed to get On the Road.

Neither the US nor the UK has a monopoly on the good life. There are pluses and minuses to both. As a predecessor who left the north-west of England and stayed on these shores wrote:

“America is a country in which I see the most persistent idealism and the blandest of cynicism and the race is on between its vitality and its decadence.”

― Alistair Cooke

We all make life decisions that affect our futures. I’d just recommend staying for more than a day before coming to one.

AI Ulysses – Visually

A sister program from OpenAI to ChatGPT which I’ve experimented with is Dall-E2. This does for images what the other program does for text. In response to prompts, it creates realistic images and art. Just as knowledge workers should find out about ChatGPT before it finds them, so graphic designers and illustrators should check out Dall-E2.

I experimented with Ulysses, supplying snippets of the poetic text that stood out for me when I read the novel. Here’s some of the results.

**UPDATE: I ran the same prompts through Midjourney and added the results below. Some are the original 4x results, others were upscaled. I also ran the prompts through Stable Diffusion. It presented 4x results horizontally, and I chose the most appealing.

Dalle2: “Old wall where sudden lizards flash.” (Scylla and Charybdis, p. 194)
Midjourney: “Old wall where sudden lizards flash.”
Stable Diffusion: “Old wall where sudden lizards flash.”
Dalle2: “Where fallen archangels flung the stars of their brows.” (Wandering Rocks, p. 232)
Midjourney (4x): “Where fallen archangels flung the stars of their brows.”
Stable Diffusion: Where fallen archangels flung the stars of their brows.”
Dalle2: “…stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.” (Ithaca, p. 651)
Midjourney (4x): “…stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.”
Stable Diffusion: “…stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.”
Dalle2: “…the extreme boundary of space…” (Ithaca, p. 680)
Midjourney (4x): “…the extreme boundary of space…”
Stable Diffusion: “…the extreme boundary of space…”
Dalle2: “…past beds of reeds, over slime, mudchoked bottles, carrion dogs.” (Hades, p. 95)
Midjourney: “…past beds of reeds, over slime, mudchoked bottles, carrion dogs.”
Stable Diffusion: “…past beds of reeds, over slime, mudchoked bottles, carrion dogs.”

AI Ulysses

We’ve entered a new era of computing. Similar to the dawn of the Netscape browser, of Google, and of mp3 music, the availability of ‘chatbot’ software opens new horizons. It’s a tool that some might find useful, others find challenging, and some find offensive.

If you are not familiar with its capabilities, I spent a few minutes (literally, just a few) asking it questions about what many consider one of the most challenging of novels: James Joyce’s Ulysses.

ChatGPT is free to use (login required) and has a simple interface where you can pose questions for an immediate response.

Here’s are the responses to my questions about Ulysses.

** UPDATE (July 11, 2023) Claude 2 is a new chatbot from Anthropic. I asked it to respond to the same prompts. Also note that the original posting from Dec 2022 elicited a set of responses from ChatGPT that were significantly different from the ones when I re-ran the prompts in July 2023, after ChatGPT 4 was released in March. As developments continue, and given the random nature of repeat prompts, your mileage might vary for both chatbots if you were to run these same prompts.


Q: Write a 100 word introduction to James Joyce’s Ulysses.

“Ulysses” by James Joyce is a literary masterpiece that redefines the boundaries of the novel. Published in 1922, it follows the lives of Leopold Bloom, Molly Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus over the course of a single day in Dublin, Ireland. Joyce’s innovative narrative techniques, including stream of consciousness and multiple perspectives, provide a deep exploration of the characters’ inner thoughts and emotions. Set against the backdrop of Dublin in the early 20th century, “Ulysses” delves into themes of identity, sexuality, religion, nationalism, and the human condition. It remains a complex and influential work that challenges and captivates readers with its linguistic virtuosity and profound insights.


Here is a 100 word introduction to James Joyce’s novel Ulysses:

Ulysses is considered one of the most important works of modernist literature. First published in 1922, the novel chronicles a single day – June 16, 1904 – in the life of Leopold Bloom in Dublin, Ireland. Drawing on Homer’s Odyssey, Joyce crafts a complex narrative through 18 episodes that follow Bloom on his odyssey through Dublin. Through experimental literary techniques like interior monologue and stream of consciousness, Joyce explores complex themes of identity, nationalism, religion, and more. Despite initial controversy over its frank depictions of sexuality, Ulysses is now hailed as a groundbreaking masterpiece of 20th century fiction.

ChatGPT & Claude (no significant difference)

Q: List the chapters of James Joyce’s Ulysses

James Joyce’s Ulysses is divided into 18 chapters, also known as “episodes,” each of which is associated with a specific episode from Homer’s Odyssey:

  1. Telemachus
  2. Nestor
  3. Proteus
  4. Calypso
  5. Lotus Eaters
  6. Hades
  7. Aeolus
  8. Lestrygonians
  9. Scylla and Charybdis
  10. Wandering Rocks
  11. Sirens
  12. Cyclops
  13. Nausicaa
  14. Oxen of the Sun
  15. Circe
  16. Eumaeus
  17. Ithaca
  18. Penelope

Each of these chapters is further divided into smaller sections, and the novel as a whole covers a wide range of themes and subjects, including love, loss, identity, and the human condition.


Q: Tell me more about 1.

Chapter 1 of “Ulysses” is titled “Telemachus.” It serves as the opening episode of the novel and introduces the character of Stephen Dedalus, who was also the central character in Joyce’s earlier work, “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Here are some key details about Chapter 1:

  1. Setting: The chapter is set in a Martello tower located in Sandycove, a seaside town near Dublin, Ireland. The tower itself is a historical fortification.
  2. Characters: The primary characters in this episode include Stephen Dedalus, Buck Mulligan, and Haines. Stephen is a young artist and intellectual, while Buck Mulligan is a boisterous and irreverent friend of Stephen’s. Haines is an English student staying in the tower.
  3. Themes: “Telemachus” explores themes of identity, religion, and authority. The dynamic between Stephen and Buck Mulligan highlights their contrasting perspectives on religion, as well as Stephen’s struggle to establish his own identity and distance himself from the influence of others.
  4. Mythological Allusions: The chapter’s title, “Telemachus,” refers to the son of Odysseus in Homer’s “Odyssey.” Telemachus embarks on a journey to find his father and assert his own identity. This allusion sets the stage for Stephen’s own journey of self-discovery throughout the novel.
  5. Writing Style: Joyce’s distinctive writing style is evident in Chapter 1. The narrative combines descriptions of the physical surroundings with internal monologues, stream-of-consciousness passages, and the use of multiple perspectives. The prose is rich with symbolism, wordplay, and references to literature and history.
  6. Symbolism: The Martello tower itself can be seen as a symbol of the cyclical nature of history and the passage of time. It also serves as a metaphorical starting point for Stephen’s personal odyssey and his quest for artistic and intellectual fulfillment.

“Telemachus” sets the tone for the novel, establishing the themes, characters, and narrative style that will be further developed in subsequent chapters. It presents readers with a glimpse into Stephen Dedalus’s world and introduces the complexities of his relationships and inner struggles.


Here’s a brief summary of the first episode/chapter “Telemachus” in Ulysses:

  • This episode takes place in the morning at Martello Tower where Stephen Dedalus lives.
  • The title refers to Telemachus, Odysseus’s son in Homer’s Odyssey, drawing a parallel between Stephen and Telemachus.
  • It introduces Stephen Dedalus, a young teacher and aspiring writer, as one of the central characters.
  • Through interior monologue and discussions with his roommate Buck Mulligan, we learn about Stephen’s life, his strained relationship with his family, his ideas about religion and nationalism, and his role as an outsider in Irish society.
  • Important themes that emerge include mothers, Catholicism and apostasy, Irish history and politics.
  • The narrative style is experimental, with fluid, poetic prose reflecting Stephen’s interior thoughts.
  • This episode establishes parallels between Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, who is introduced in the next episode, as two wandering figures in Dublin, giving a sense of the odyssey to come.


Q: Tell me more about 2.

Chapter 2 of “Ulysses” is titled “Nestor.” In this episode, the narrative shifts focus from Stephen Dedalus, who was the central character in the first chapter, to Stephen’s interactions at the school where he teaches. Here are some key aspects of Chapter 2:

  1. Setting: The chapter is primarily set at the school where Stephen works as a teacher. The school is located in Dalkey, a suburb of Dublin.
  2. Characters: Alongside Stephen, the chapter introduces Mr. Deasy, the headmaster of the school, who engages Stephen in conversations about various topics. Other characters include schoolboys and staff members who make brief appearances.
  3. Themes: “Nestor” delves into several themes, including history, Irish identity, and the burden of the past. Mr. Deasy, a figure obsessed with history and politics, imparts his views on Ireland’s history and its struggle for independence to Stephen, leading to discussions about national identity and the role of the Irish in society.
  4. Historical Context: Mr. Deasy’s discussions with Stephen reflect the political climate of the time. The chapter is set in 1904, a period marked by ongoing tensions between Ireland and England, as well as the desire for Irish independence. These themes of history and politics play a significant role in shaping the narrative and character interactions.
  5. Symbolism: The title “Nestor” alludes to the character in Homer’s “Odyssey.” Nestor was an aged and wise advisor to the Greek hero Odysseus, known for his stories and lessons from the past. The chapter’s title suggests that Mr. Deasy, as a mentor figure, embodies the role of Nestor, imparting his knowledge and opinions to Stephen.
  6. Writing Style: Like the rest of the novel, Chapter 2 showcases James Joyce’s unique writing style. It includes intricate descriptions, internal monologues, and shifts in perspective. The text features both direct dialogue and stream-of-consciousness passages, adding depth and complexity to the narrative.

Through “Nestor,” Joyce continues to explore the themes and characters introduced in the first chapter while introducing new elements. The chapter serves as a platform for Stephen Dedalus to grapple with historical and nationalistic ideas, setting the stage for further development of his character throughout the novel.


Here are some key details about the “Nestor” episode which is the second chapter of Ulysses:

  • The chapter title refers to the wise king Nestor in Homer’s Odyssey. This draws a parallel between the mentor-student relationship of Nestor and Telemachus and the characters in this episode.
  • It focuses on Stephen Dedalus, who is now teaching a history class at a boys’ school in Dublin.
  • Through teaching, conversing with the headmaster Mr. Deasy, and interior monologue, we learn more about Stephen’s ideas on history, education, and Ireland.
  • Important motifs are introduced like Shakespeare’s Hamlet, a recurrent touchstone for Stephen.
  • The narrative style continues to be poetic and cerebral, evoking Stephen’s internal thought processes.
  • Mr. Deasy represents nationalist, anti-Semitic attitudes that Stephen disagrees with, highlighting his role as an outsider in Irish society.
  • The chapter ends with Stephen receiving his pay and wandering off, paralleling the wandering journeys of Homer’s characters.
  • There are parallels drawn between Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, two “nestors” or mentors in their own way.

And so on, through to the final


Q: Tell me more about 18.

Chapter 18 of “Ulysses” is titled “Penelope,” and it serves as the novel’s final chapter. This episode is unique in that it is entirely narrated by Molly Bloom, the wife of Leopold Bloom, and it takes the form of a stream-of-consciousness monologue. Here are some key details about Chapter 18:

  1. Perspective: “Penelope” provides readers with a rare insight into Molly Bloom’s inner thoughts, desires, and memories. The chapter is presented as a continuous flow of her consciousness, without traditional punctuation or paragraph breaks, mimicking the spontaneous nature of her stream of thoughts.
  2. Monologue Structure: The chapter is structured as a soliloquy or interior monologue, allowing Molly Bloom to freely express her feelings, reflections, and memories. She reflects on her life, her relationships, and her experiences, ranging from her childhood to her marriage with Leopold Bloom.
  3. Intimacy and Sexuality: “Penelope” is known for its explicit exploration of Molly’s sexual desires and experiences. The chapter delves into her memories of past lovers, including her affair with Blazes Boylan, and her sensual musings about her relationship with Bloom.
  4. Feminine Perspective: Molly Bloom’s monologue presents a distinctively feminine voice and perspective in a novel largely dominated by male perspectives. Through her thoughts and memories, Molly challenges societal expectations of women and asserts her own agency and desires.
  5. Symbolism: The title “Penelope” alludes to the mythological figure from Homer’s “Odyssey.” Penelope, the wife of Odysseus, remained faithful to her husband during his long absence. Molly Bloom, similarly, reflects on fidelity and her own faithfulness within her marriage, as well as her desires for independence and fulfillment.
  6. Language and Style: The chapter is characterized by its unique and often fragmented language, reflecting the spontaneity of Molly’s thoughts. Joyce employs a wide range of linguistic devices, including alliteration, wordplay, and phonetic spelling, to capture Molly’s voice and create a sense of immediacy.

“Penelope” serves as a powerful conclusion to “Ulysses” by giving voice to Molly Bloom, a character who had previously been presented through the perspectives of others. It offers readers a deeply intimate and introspective view of Molly’s inner world, her sexuality, and her thoughts on love and life. The chapter’s unconventional style and exploration of female subjectivity make it a significant contribution to the novel’s themes and narrative structure.


Here are some key details about the final episode “Penelope” in Ulysses:

  • The title refers to the wife of Odysseus who waits faithfully for his return in The Odyssey. This casts the episode’s focus, Molly Bloom, as a Penelope figure.
  • It consists of Molly’s unpunctuated stream of consciousness as she lies in bed next to her husband Leopold Bloom.
  • Molly’s rich, unfiltered thoughts flow freely over memories of her youth, her career as a singer, her affair, her relationship with Bloom, and broader meditations on life, love and womanhood.
  • The narrative style is extremely innovative for the time, featuring Molly’s direct interior monologue over 8 lengthy sentences.
  • Molly contradicts herself, confused emotions, changes topics rapidly, in a way that realistically captures the flow of thoughts.
  • The episode is known for being one of the most extensive descriptions of female experience in modernist literature.
  • Molly is established as a parallel to Penelope – sensual, intelligent, complex. Her final affirmation of “yes” is seen as redemptive and life-affirming.
  • The novel comes full circle with Molly echoing Bloom’s thoughts from the start, uniting many themes and motifs.

On a somewhat more sophisticated level…


Q: I love James Joyce’s Ulysses. Please tell me what storytelling frameworks or persuasive communication techniques are behind it.

James Joyce’s novel “Ulysses” is a highly complex and experimental work that defies traditional storytelling frameworks. However, it incorporates various persuasive communication techniques that contribute to its literary impact. Here are some elements that enhance its persuasive power:

  1. Stream of Consciousness: “Ulysses” is known for its innovative use of stream of consciousness narrative technique. By delving deep into the minds of the characters, Joyce presents their thoughts, impressions, and associations in a free-flowing manner. This technique immerses the reader in the characters’ experiences and creates a sense of intimacy, making the narrative more persuasive and relatable.
  2. Multiple Perspectives: The novel presents multiple perspectives and narratives, often shifting between characters and their subjective experiences. This technique allows readers to see events and situations from different viewpoints, challenging preconceived notions and encouraging empathy. By offering diverse perspectives, Joyce broadens the reader’s understanding of the human condition and enhances the persuasive impact of the work.
  3. Intertextuality: “Ulysses” is rich with intertextual references, drawing from various literary, mythological, and historical sources. Joyce weaves these references into the narrative, creating layers of meaning and allusion. This intertextuality invites readers to engage with the text on multiple levels and rewards those familiar with the referenced works. It adds depth and complexity to the storytelling, making it intellectually stimulating and persuasive.
  4. Symbolism and Allegory: Joyce employs extensive symbolism and allegory throughout the novel. Objects, events, and characters often carry symbolic weight, representing larger themes or ideas. This technique encourages readers to interpret and analyze the text, allowing for personal and subjective connections. Symbolism and allegory add layers of meaning and evoke emotional responses, enhancing the persuasive impact of the narrative.
  5. Linguistic Playfulness: Joyce experiments with language, employing puns, wordplay, and unconventional sentence structures. This linguistic playfulness engages readers on a linguistic level, challenging their perception of language and encouraging active participation. It creates a sense of delight and intellectual stimulation, enhancing the persuasive power of the work by captivating the reader’s attention.
  6. Social Commentary: “Ulysses” offers social commentary on various aspects of early 20th-century Dublin society, including politics, religion, sexuality, and gender roles. Through the portrayal of characters and their interactions, Joyce critiques societal norms and highlights hypocrisy, inequality, and the complexities of human behavior. This social commentary challenges readers to question prevailing ideas and consider alternative perspectives, making it persuasive in its ability to provoke critical thinking.

While “Ulysses” does not conform to traditional storytelling frameworks, it incorporates persuasive communication techniques such as stream of consciousness, multiple perspectives, intertextuality, symbolism, allegory, linguistic playfulness, and social commentary. These techniques contribute to its enduring impact as a complex and thought-provoking work of literature.


James Joyce utilizes several innovative narrative techniques and frameworks in Ulysses that make it such a pioneering modernist novel:

Stream of consciousness – Joyce’s use of interior monologue to depict the continuous flow of characters’ unfiltered thoughts and impressions was revolutionary. It captures the psychic experience in a more realistic way.

Characterization – Rather than traditional character development, characters like Leopold Bloom are revealed through a collage of memories, thoughts, and sensory impressions. This technique adds psychological depth.

Parallels to myth – Drawing parallels between contemporary Dublin and Homer’s Odyssey adds layers of meaning and universal themes to the mundane events depicted.

Linguistic experimentation – Joyce plays with language, manipulating structure, rhythm and inventing compound words to convey meanings in new ways. This linguistic innovation immerses the reader in characters’ minds.

Motifs and symbolism – Recurring images, symbols, and metaphors, like “Parallax” in the Ithaca episode, tie together the novel’s overarching themes.

Non-linear time – Joyce’s novel manipulates time by transgressing conventional chronology. This requires active reading to piece together the timeline.

Rhetorical devices – The novel makes skilled use of devices like irony, puns, allusions and rhetorical questions to add layers of meaning.

By breaking conventions, Joyce revolutionized the art of storytelling and persuasive communication in literature. Ulysses expanded the boundaries of language and form to depict human consciousness like no other modern novel.


Q: What is the relationship between the main characters in James Joyce’s Ulysses?

In James Joyce’s Ulysses, the main characters are Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and Molly Bloom. The relationship between these characters is complex and multifaceted, and it evolves over the course of the novel.

Leopold Bloom is a middle-aged Jewish man who works as an advertising canvasser and lives in Dublin with his wife, Molly. Stephen Dedalus is a young artist and intellectual who is struggling to find his place in the world. The two men are initially strangers, but their paths intersect on several occasions throughout the course of the novel, and they eventually develop a friendship of sorts.

Molly Bloom is the wife of Leopold Bloom and the mother of their daughter, Milly. She is a strong-willed and intelligent woman who is deeply unhappy in her marriage and has had a number of affairs. Despite this, she remains devoted to her husband and her family.

Throughout the novel, the relationships between these three characters are explored and tested in various ways, as they each struggle with their own desires, fears, and insecurities. Despite the challenges they face, they are ultimately united by their shared humanity and their desire to find meaning and connection in their lives.


The main characters in James Joyce’s Ulysses are Leopold Bloom, Stephen Dedalus, and Molly Bloom. Here’s an overview of the key relationships between them:

Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus:

  • Although from different generations and backgrounds, Bloom and Stephen are both outsiders in many ways within Dublin society.
  • Bloom takes on a fatherly, mentoring role with Stephen, as seen when they wander Dublin together in later episodes.
  • Some scholars see their relationship as symbolic of finding meaning through human connection amidst isolation.
  • Both are thoughtful intellectuals, but with different dispositions – Stephen’s youthful idealism and Bloom’s humane pragmatism.
  • Their interactions, like debating Shakespeare in the library episode, reveal differences but also meaningful exchange of ideas.

Leopold Bloom and Molly Bloom:

  • Married for many years, their relationship has ups and downs, disagreements but also deep love and attraction.
  • Bloom tolerates Molly’s affair with Blazes Boylan with compassion.
  • Molly and Bloom complement each other – her vivaciousness and his thoughtful restraint.
  • Bloom cherishes memories of tender moments with Molly, revealing his sentimental side.
  • The final Molly monologue conveys her emotional dependence on her ‘Poldy’ Bloom.
  • Their mutual compassion and Molly’s decisive “Yes” affirms their relationship.

The relationships reveal the meaningful human connections possible between individuals from differing worlds. Despite conflicts, their care for each other shines through.

And, at a deeper level:


Q: How does James Joyce explore the relationship between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ireland in his novel Ulysses?

While James Joyce’s “Ulysses” primarily focuses on the events and characters in Dublin, Ireland, the novel does touch upon the relationship between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ireland indirectly. Here are a few ways Joyce explores this relationship in the novel:

  1. Historical Context: The timeframe of “Ulysses” is June 16, 1904, which coincides with the decline of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. The empire, comprising various ethnic and cultural groups, was facing growing tensions and nationalist movements. While not explicitly depicted in the novel, this historical context may inform the characters’ perspectives and the overall atmosphere of the time.
  2. Imperialism and Nationalism: Joyce’s exploration of nationalism and identity in “Ulysses” can be seen as indirectly related to the themes of imperialism and national movements. Ireland, as a colonized nation under British rule, struggled for independence during this era. The novel examines Irish national identity and the aspirations for self-determination, which can be seen as part of the broader landscape of imperial politics and nationalism.
  3. Historical References: Throughout the novel, Joyce includes allusions and references to various historical events, figures, and political situations. While these references are not explicitly tied to the Austro-Hungarian Empire, they contribute to a broader exploration of the political and cultural context of the time. Joyce’s use of historical references adds depth and complexity to the narrative, reflecting the interconnectedness of various geopolitical events and ideologies.

It’s important to note that “Ulysses” primarily focuses on the lives and experiences of its characters in Dublin, and Joyce’s exploration of the Austro-Hungarian Empire in relation to Ireland is more indirect and subtle. The novel’s primary focus is on the interior lives of the characters and their interactions within the Irish context.


James Joyce explores the complex relationship between the Austro-Hungarian Empire and Ireland in subtle yet significant ways throughout Ulysses:

  • Leopold Bloom is a Hungarian Jew who has immigrated to Ireland, bringing an outsider’s perspective that contrasts with Irish nationalism. His foreign identity makes him a target for anti-Semitic sentiment.
  • Joyce links the empires through symbolism like the Russian General’s letter, which destabilizes Stephen’s nationalist views by highlighting Ireland and Hungary’s parallel subjugation.
  • Characters like Mr. Deasy criticize Hungarian presence in Ireland through ethnic stereotypes, representing nationalist anxieties around the empire’s influence.
  • Musical references to the Austro-Hungarian composers throughout the novel foreground the empire’s cultural imprint on Dublin.
  • The multiethnic makeup of the Austro-Hungarian empire is mirrored in the diversity of Dublin’s residents, suggesting shifting demographics and pluralism.
  • Bloom’s ambivalence about his national identity – neither fully Hungarian nor Irish – echoes the instability of ethnic boundaries under the empire.
  • Ireland’s colonial domination by Britain parallels Hungary’s status within the Austro-Hungarian empire, a connection Joyce subtly draws.
  • Linguistic traces, like Hungarian words and names, highlight the diasporic mixing of languages and cultures in Dublin.

Through these complex means, Joyce represents the postcolonial liminal space Dublin inhabits between empire and nationalism, using Hungarian-Irish identity to destabilize facile binaries.

Once more, with feeling:


Q: What feelings does James Joyce’s Ulysses elicit in readers?

James Joyce’s Ulysses is a complex and challenging novel that can elicit a wide range of feelings in readers. Some readers may find the novel intellectually stimulating and emotionally resonant, while others may find it dense, confusing, or even frustrating.

One feeling that many readers may experience while reading Ulysses is admiration for Joyce’s technical skill and artistic vision. The novel is known for its innovative and experimental style, which includes stream-of-consciousness narration, symbolism, and a wide range of literary and cultural references. Many readers may be struck by Joyce’s ability to create a rich and immersive world through his writing, and they may be impressed by the depth and complexity of his characters and themes.

At the same time, some readers may find Ulysses to be emotionally challenging or unsettling. The novel deals with a wide range of themes, including love, loss, identity, and the human condition, and it often portrays these themes in a raw and unflinching way. As a result, some readers may feel moved, saddened, or even disturbed by the novel’s portrayal of these themes.

Ultimately, the feelings that Ulysses elicits in readers will depend on their individual experiences, perspectives, and expectations, and there is no one “right” way to feel about the novel.


James Joyce’s Ulysses tends to elicit a wide range of feelings and reactions in readers, some of the most common being:

Frustration – The novel’s difficulty, obscure allusions, and tangled language can frustrate readers initially. The nonlinear narrative and dense style requires patience.

Curiosity – Joyce’s innovative literary techniques pique many readers’ interest and curiosity even amid confusion. The novel provokes a desire to unpack its meanings.

Appreciation – Many readers feel a profound appreciation for Joyce’s artistry in capturing the intricacies of human thought and experience through his modernist style.

Accomplishment – Upon completing Ulysses, many readers feel a huge sense of personal accomplishment given the dedication required to finish this complex work.

Immersion – Readers often feel completely immersed in the world of 1904 Dublin that Joyce’s vivid, sensory details bring to life. The characters feel palpably real.

Engagement – Ulysses actively engages readers’ intellect but also elicits emotional engagement through relatable characters like Leopold and Molly Bloom.

Inspiration – The novel’s expansive vision of human consciousness and innovative prose often inspires awe and creative excitement in readers.

While Ulysses is undeniably challenging, its rich language, psychological depth, and bold experiments in style offer profound rewards if readers are willing to immerse themselves in Joyce’s monumental literary achievement.

Comparing ChatGPT and Claude:

While the two chatbots give differing answers, I was also aware that there is variation from the same chatbot when asked to either re-do the same prompt (giving the user a chance tio vote on the preferred response) as well as asking over time. This was clear then ChatGPT was first quizzed in December compared to July — a much more comprehensive and accurate response was achieved currently and the content above is from July.

Neither tool was 100% accurate. Examples of minor ‘hallucinations’ (as misinformation from LLMs is termed) include:


Episode 1: The Martello tower itself can be seen as a symbol of the cyclical nature of history and the passage of time.

While the tower could be symbolic (as, for example “the omphalos – a Greek term that can either mean a belly button or the center of the world itself”) the cyclical nature of history in Ulysses is more often attributed to Joyce’s reading of Giambattista Vico, who in The New Science and his other works theorized on a concept he called “corsi e ricorsi” or a cyclical theory of history. This is not apparent in the setting or architecture of the Martello tower as it is elsewhere in the novel.


Episode 1: This episode establishes parallels between Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, who is introduced in the next episode, as two wandering figures in Dublin, giving a sense of the odyssey to come.

This is an illogical foreshadowing of the *eventual* parallels between the two protagonists. But, since Bloom has yet to be introduced, and Stephen has yet to commence his “wandering”, the claim that the first episode established any relationship between the two is patently false.


The responses from ChatGPT 4 are far superior to those returned in December and close to 100% accurate apart from the one example above. However, Claude has made a number of dubious claims:

On the relationship between Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom:

interactions, like debating Shakespeare in the library episode, reveal differences but also meaningful exchange of ideas.

There is absolutely*no* interaction between the two in Scylla and Charybdis. Bloom anonymously slips out of the library at the end of the episode, and Mulligan remarks on “the wandering jew.” Stephen’s debates with his interlocutors — Eglinton and Russell.

On the relationship with the Austro-Hungarian empire:

Joyce links the empires through symbolism like the Russian General’s letter, which destabilizes Stephen’s nationalist views by highlighting Ireland and Hungary’s parallel subjugation.

Characters like Mr. Deasy criticize Hungarian presence in Ireland through ethnic stereotypes, representing nationalist anxieties around the empire’s influence

The only “Russian General” I could find mention of in Joycean literature is from Finnegan’s Wake where a solider hesitates to shoot a Russian General who is about the defecate.

Mr. Deasy holds strong anti-Semitic views, but does not have an opinion on Hungarians — of whom the only one we hear about with a ‘presence in Ireland’ was Leopold Bloom’s father.

However, the other points about Bloom’s ambivalent identify and Ireland’s colonial domination by Britain paralleling Hungary’s status are spot on.

In conclusion

I would like to emphasize that the responses to the questions above were created entirely by ChatGPT and Claude.. My sole contribution (as someone who has read Ulysses and knows enough about the novel to ask the right questions) was to create the prompts that the AI system processed.

While there might be room to edit the answers, they do, overall, present accurate information. Examples of mistakes show that were someone to turn this in as an essay, unedited, to their professor, their deception would become immediately apparent.

However, I ‘created’ this content in under 15 minutes. A few minor edits and it’s flawless. And much more succinct than Googling ‘a summary of Ulysses’

I’d recommend that you take these chatbots for a spin in your area of expertise and see what you find. If you make you living as a content creator (speechwriter, blogger, essayist or other knowledge worker) you owe it to yourself to become acquainted with this new tool. You might be up against it in the near future.

If you are a college or high school teacher who grades student essays, good luck!

Old wall where sudden lizards flash: The poetry of Joyce’s Ulysses

Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses for the first time, fragments of the text spark other verses.

“A hand plucking the harpstrings merging their twining chords. Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide.” (Telemachus, p. 9)

Who plays a new world on the brink of the ebb
As the fish cats prowl in the harbour
And now soars high on the beckoning tides’ long arm
To weigh his last anchor

Roy Harper, The Lord’s Prayer

“Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted.” (Nestor, p. 25)

And time yet for a hundred indecisions,
And for a hundred visions and revisions,
Before the taking of a toast and tea.

TS Eliot, The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock

“…their blood beaked prows riding low on a molten pewter surf.” (Proteus, p. 45)

And death shall have no dominion.
Under the windings of the sea
They lying long shall not die windily;
Twisting on racks when sinews give way

Dylan Thomas, And Death Shall Have No Dominion

“On the slow weedy waterway he had floated on his raft coastward over Ireland drawn by a haulage rope past beds of reeds, over slime, mudchoked bottles, carrion dogs.” (Hades, p. 95)

The river bears no empty bottles, sandwich papers,
Silk handkerchiefs, cardboard boxes, cigarette ends
Or other testimony of summer nights. The nymphs are departed.

TS Eliot, The Waste Land

“Coffined thoughts around me, in mummycases, embalmed in spice or words.” (Scylla and Charybdis, p. 186)

The palace of mirrors
Where dog soldiers are reflected
The endless road and the wailing of chimes
The empty rooms where her memory is protected
Where the angels’ voices whisper to the souls of previous times

Bob Dylan, Changing of the Guards

“Old wall where sudden lizards flash.” (Scylla and Charybdis, p. 194)

Everlasting light is burning bright inside his cage
He’s only got to breathe to fan the blaze

Roy Harper, The Same Old Rock

“He walked by the slumberous summer fields at midnight…” (Scylla and Charybdis, p. 201)

All the sun long it was running, it was lovely, the hay
Fields high as the house, the tunes from the chimneys, it was air
And playing, lovely and watery
And fire green as grass.

Dylan Thomas, Fern Hill

“Where fallen archangels flung the stars of their brows.” (Wandering Rocks, p. 232)

Oh, jewels and binoculars hang from the head of the mule
But these visions of Johanna, they make it all seem so cruel

Bob Dylan, Visions of Johanna

“She dances in a foul gloom where gum burns with garlic.” (Wandering Rocks, p. 232)

There’s a neon light ablaze in the green smoky haze
And laughter down on Elizabeth Street
There’s a lonesome bell tone in that valley of stone
Where she bathed in a stream of pure heat

Bob Dylan, Where Are You Tonight? (Journey Through Dark Heat)

“Love loves to love love” (Cyclops, p. 319)

And the loves that love to love that loves to love
That loves to love the loves that loves to love
The love that loves to love
Say goodbye, goodbye, goodbye

Van Morrison, Madame George

“It burns, the orient, a sky of sapphire, cleft by the bronze flight of eagles.” (Circe, p. 451)

I would that we were, my beloved, white birds on the foam of the sea! We tire of the flame of the meteor, before it can fade and flee; And the flame of the blue star of twilight, hung low on the rim of the sky, Has awakened in our hearts, my beloved, a sadness that may not die.

WB Yeats, The White Birds

“The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.” (Ithaca, p. 651)

Ah, I long for the vanished gardens of Cordoba, where no thing hangs or rises up desirous to be sucked in or forced out, where all beings are sublime, tasting only the nectar of Love-Bliss in their mouths, their tongues clinging to the roof of their tooth-hood only for Happiness, without the slightest thought of self, without the slightest thought of clinging to another. Such Bliss is not heaven! It is nowhere, nowhere at all, not then, not now, not in the future. Such Bliss has never been experienced by beings at all except in their moment of vanishing when they slide upon the Light from which forms are made.

Adi Da Samraj (Da Free John), The Vanished Gardens Of Córdoba (from The Dreaded Gom-Boo or the Imaginary Disease That Religion Seeks to Cure, p. 368)

“Ever he would wander, selfcompelled, to the extreme limit of his cometary orbit, beyond the fixed stars and variable suns and telescopic planets, astronomical waifs and strays, to the extreme boundary of space, passing from land to land, among peoples, amid events.” (Ithaca, p. 680)

Yes stretch out your hands into infinity you human things
Past blind moons and ice cream worlds
You hurl your metal ball of dull intelligence
And show us all our fragile grip
As we too track with you
Slower but no less insistent
Like the only fertile seed
In the barren vault of being
Sail on
Hurtling towards the waiting tomb of empty worlds
Waiting for the final primary come of life
I’ll turn you up

Bob Geldof, Thinking Voyager 2 Type Things

“…theres nothing like nature the wild mountains then the sea and the waves rushing then the beautiful country with fields of oats and wheat and all kinds of things and all the fine cattle going about that would do your heart good to see rivers and lakes and flowers all sorts of shapes and smells and colours springing up even out of the ditches primroses and violets nature it is…” (Penelope, p. 731)

Flowers on the hillside blooming crazy
Crickets talking back and forth in rhyme
Blue river running slow and lazy
I could stay with you forever and never realize the time

Bob Dylan, You’re Gonna Make Me Lonesome When You Go

Oh COVID: A Rock Opera in Three Acts

(with apologies to The Proclaimers, Bruce Springsteen, and Bob Dylan)

Here’s some midnight ramblings from the 36 hours I spent in bed after contracting COVID flying back from Europe among the great unmasked who airlines welcome on board these days. Although we kept our masks on for the journey, my wife Sandra & I had to remove them to eat and drink. So, thanks go to the snuffling, unmasked, Irishman in the window seat next to us who passed on his germs, five days later, we both tested positive.

Sandra was able to function. Me, I spent a couple of days and nights in bed, unable to speak, my throat hurt so bad.

Writing lyrics to a COVID Rock Opera from the songs that got me through the night kept me amused. In the cold light of day, they’re probably nothing more than a false creation, proceeding from a heat-oppressed brain. But they kept me amused. Your mileage may vary.

(And yes, we’re both well on the road to recovery.)

Act One (To the tune ‘Oh Jean’ by The Proclaimers, sung in a broad Glaswegian accent)

Ya went through half the human race
Ta getta me
Ya went through half the human race
Ta getta me.

I used to think
Ya’d never find me
That I was safe
From your embrace
You got lucky with me.

I was so wrong
What took ya so long?
Ya gotta to me ‘cos you could
Like ya always said ya would.
You got lucky with me.

And now
I know
What it means
To have ya all over me
Like others do
From Wuhan to Crewe
Ah got lucky with you.

Ya went through half the human race
Ta getta me
Ya went through half the human race
Ta getta me.

Act Two (no need for many revisions to the lyrics, Bruce Springsteen says it like it is)

I’m on fire
At night I wake up with the sheets soaking wet
And a freight train running through the middle of my head
But COVID, you cool my desire.
Sometimes it’s like someone took a syringe baby edgy and dull
And put a vial fulla virus in the middle of my skull
Oh, oh, oh, I’m on fire

Act Three (From an original song by Bob Dylan, which fits the mood with just a few tweaks.)

COVID didn’t mean
To treat you so bad
You shouldn’t take it so personal
It didn’t mean
To make you so sad
You just happened to be there, that’s all.

When it saw you take your mask off and smile
It thought that it was well understood
That you’d be infected in a little while
I didn’t know that you were vaccinated for good.

But, sooner or later, one of us must know
That COVID just did what it’s supposed to do
Sooner or later, one of us must know
That it really did try to get close to you.

It couldn’t see
What you could show me
Your mask had kept your mouth well hid.
It couldn’t see
How you could know me
But you said you knew me and I believed you did.

When it whispered in my ear
And asked me if it was infecting you or her
It didn’t realize just what I did hear
It didn’t realize that both of us were.

But, sooner or later, one of us must know
That COVIDs just doin’ what it’s supposed to do
Sooner or later, one of us must know
That it really did try to get close to you.
That you were just kiddin’ me, you weren’t really negative at all
An’ it told you, as it clawed out your throat that it
Never really meant to do you any harm.

But, sooner or later, one of us must know
That COVID just did what it’s supposed to do
Sooner or later, one of us must know
That it really did try to get close to you.


Library books

Two books about libraries have delighted me.

Cloud Cuckoo Land, by Anthony Doerr

I’ve just finished Anthony Doerr’s Cloud Cuckoo Land. The author of All the Light We Cannot See has crafted a delightfully complex novel that spans the centuries and features three very different libraries: the ancient, the contemporary, and the virtual. Three main characters: Anna, Zeno, and Konstance are united by the text of an ancient Greek manuscript which translates as the title of the novel.


Anna is a young orphan who discovers the original text in a monastery immediately before the Fall of Constantinople in 1453. The ancient, abandoned library where she finds the treasure is a “round room, partially open to the sky, that smells of mud and moss and time…on the walls of this little chamber, scarcely visible in the moonlight fog, doorless cupboards run from floor to ceiling. Some are filled with debris and moss. But others are full of books.”

Lakeport, Idaho

Fast forward to a small town in Idaho (Doerr’s home state) in 2020 and Korean war vet, Zeno Ninis–who learned Greek in a POW camp–is rehearsing five children in a play based on the Cloud Cuckoo text he has translated. They are scheduled to perform in the town library which has been his refuge since he was a child. It’s “a light-blue two-story Victorian on the corner of Lake and Park.” A confused eco-terrorist who loves owls (which feature in the Greek text) is planning to blow the library up. Like Constantinople, this library is in a state of siege.

Interstellar space

Meanwhile, some decades in the future, Konstance is a young girl living with her family as they voyage light years across time and space to an earth-like planet, leaving behind a world devastated by climate change. Zuckerberg’s “metaverse” is fully instantiated and the few dozen adults and children on the voyage live in a sealed, windowless, spaceship. They are entertained by donning VR headsets and perambulating around the sum of human knowledge hosted by the AI known as “Sybil” (as opposed to, say, HAL or Alexa). On her tenth birthday she celebrates her “Library Day” when she’s allowed, for the first time, to don a Vizer and enter the virtual world:

She stands in a vast atrium. Three tiers of bookshelves, each fifteen feet tall, served by hundreds of ladders, run for what appear to be miles down either side. Above the third tier, twin arcades of marble columns support a barrel-vaulted ceiling cut through its center by a rectangular aperture, above which fluffy clouds float through a cobalt sky…through the air, for as far as she can see, books–some as small as her hand, some as big as the mattress on which she sleeps–are flying, lifting off shelves, returning to them, some flitting like songbirds, some lumbering along like big ungainly storks.

The secrets the library on the spaceship hold are key to the eventual resolution of the various strands in the book which Doerr unlocks in a grand finale. To say more would spoil the readers enjoyment.

The Midnight Library, by Matt Haig

I reviewed award-winning author Matt Haig’s How To Stop Time in 2018. His blockbuster The Midnight Library is a New York Times bestselling phenomenon, the Winner of the Goodreads Choice Award for Fiction, The October 2020 Good Morning America Book Club Pick, and one of the Independent (London) Ten Best Books of the Year.

Other Lives

Similar to the virtual library in Cloud Cuckoo Land, Haig has written about a library that contains an infinite number of books, each one the story of another reality. One tells the story of your life as it is, along with another book for the other life you could have lived if you had made a different choice at any point in your life.

The protagonist, Nora Seed, finds herself faced with the possibility of changing her current life for a new one, following a different career, undoing old breakups, realizing her dreams of becoming a glaciologist. She must search within herself as she travels through the Midnight Library to decide what is truly fulfilling in life, and what makes it worth living in the first place.

While the virtual library in Cuckoo Land plays with the idea of a metaverse, Haig teases out the implications of a multiverse:

Between life and death there is a library…and within that library the shelves go on forever…Every life contains many millions of decisions. Some big, some small. But every time one decision is taken over another, the outcomes differ. An irreversible variation occurs, which in turn leads to further variations. These books are portals to all the lives you could be living.

Like the autonomous books in Cuckoo Land, the library Nora visits is animated:

The shelves on either side of Nora began to move. The shelves didn’t change angles, they just kept on sliding horizontally. It was possible that the shelves weren’t moving at all, but the books were, and it wasn’t obvious why or even how. There was no visible mechanism making it happen, and no sound or sight of books falling off the end – or rather the start – of the shelf. The books slid by at varying degrees of slowness, depending on the shelf they were on, but none moved fast.

The Midnight Library consoles Nora, who gradually learns to live without regret. Reviewers have noted that it gives a needed perspective at this difficult time in the world, teaches that the little things matter, and helps us learn to love being ourselves and not be influenced or concerned by how others see us.

Those who love libraries will appreciate these wonderful novels for the environments they explore and the vistas they reveal.

What to wear for public speaking

FT fashion editor Carola Long has posted a timely article (subscription required) on “clothes that speak volumes” when delivering a speech or participating in a panel at a live event. As conferences, talks and festivals return, the need to look good in real life and on screen, she notes, is more complicated than ever.

She quotes Roman orator, and speechwriters’ mentor, Cicero: “In an oration, as in life, nothing is harder than to determine what is appropriate.” So what is the appropriate dress code for today’s professional speaker or executive?

San Francisco Bay Area stylist Victoria Cárdenas Hitchcock shares advice on dressing for live events:

Many people have so much information and experience in thought leadership but they don’t know how to hone that into the perfect presentation so that you don’t lose your audience in the first minute,” Hitchcock says. She has a checklist that informs outfits: what is the venue, the time of year? Will you be sitting or standing? Is the light hot, is it hitting you from above? Who is moderating? Who are your peers?”

She has observed that while famous tech titans are synonymous with a scruffy, ultra normcore (sic) look she finds that “people at the mid-level, in management and decision making, are upping their game. There is no more need to wear the messy jeans, the white sneaker, the T-shirt with a ‘pi equals whatever’ symbol. It used to be that the more anti-conformist the better, and now it’s “how can you help me express who I am?

She advises pantsuits for women. For a business-casual look on men she recommends a polo with an open blazer and jeans, or trousers with a deconstructed jacket and button-down shirt.

New York bespoke tailor Leonard Logsdail, has made suits for the TV show Succession, shares some billionaire-appropriate tips on how to make an impression:

If you are in a group or a panel I would advocate something slightly stronger so it sets you apart. When you look at politicians and they all have a plain suit, a plain shirt and a plain tie, there isn’t anything that really sets them apart. Just don’t go over the top.

Helena Morrissey, financier, (and self-proclaimed mother of nine), and author of Style and Substance; a Guide for Women Who Want to Win at Work, chooses bold colors with pockets to clip a mic on. She advises to check on seating arrangements:

Sitting on a too high stool doesn’t make you feel grounded or at home, so I have learned to ask ahead of time if I can have a different sort of chair,” she says. “We have all heard lots of technically flawless talks that have no heart, so making an emotional connection with a smile, a warm hello and an outfit that reflects your audience is a good starting place.

Finally, good fit is essential, since”oversized suits can still make the wearer look like a child trying on their parent’s clothes.”