Loosen your talktapes

Ulysses (Naxos)

Read by Jim Norton & Marcella Riordan. Directed by Roger Marsh.

Unabridged (27 hours):

1. Naxos Audiobooks, 2004, ISBN 9626343095; 22 CDs & CD-ROM; $149.98. [Browse/Purchase at 32% off]

Abridged (5 hours):

2. Naxos Audiobooks, 1995, ISBN 962634511X; Four cassettes; $22.98. [Browse/Purchase]

3. Naxos Audiobooks, 1994, ISBN 9626340118; Four CDs; $26.98. [Browse/Purchase]

Unabridged set

Review by Bob Williams:
If a man in the Middle Ages read silently, others might have suspected him of being a magician. The accepted way to read was to read aloud. A monk read to his fellows at meals and a reader delivered the text to scribes. Up to fairly recent times, a reader could amuse workers busy with dull, repetitive labor. To Jane Austen, a good reader was second only to a good actor, and had much the same responsibilities to the audience. Family readings were once a common entertainment, and most of us have fond memories of being read to at home and at school both before and after we learned to read.
But today, for most adults the pleasures of listening to another read has faded. It survives as the solace of the commuter or the worker who confronts mindless toil. To sit, therefore, in one’s home surrounded with its urgent demands and to listen to a recording of a book seems at best unnatural. But, although initially it seems an uncomfortable and a strange task, there are for the persistent persuasive compensations.
When we read, the inner voice in our head is usually our own. When we listen to another read, we are provided with a fresh voice; that inner voice to which habit has hardened us gives way to a voice that makes us face evaded challenges. It is harder for the mind to wander when the voice is new and skillfully used. If the book is a familiar one, listening is better than reading at renewing the text.
This new box set is essentially an extension of Naxos’ earlier abrdiged Ulysses, and it retains the former’s excellent sound quality as well as its helpful musical cues. A glance at the abridged version shows that in comparison with the complete recording, the latter is less generous with abrupt dynamic ranges. It is, in other words, suitably designed for the long haul. It is a smoother listening experience.
Readers of Ulysses will recall the overall structure. The first nine chapters are relatively short and not – with the exception of the chapters known as “Proteus” and “Scylla and Charybdis” – especially difficult to understand. The use of the recording rather than the book was not of much advantage – one way was as easy as the other, with listening perhaps being slightly more burdensome. But with the introduction of the first of the revolutionary chapters – “The Wandering Rocks” – the recorded version showed a great advance over the book. The skill of the reader, Jim Norton, has much to do with this. Questions of understanding being cleared away, one is able to concentrate on the text with attention on essentials that a reader can seldom accomplish easily. The chapter known as “Sirens” especially benefited from this, since Norton’s reading was versatile, sensitive, and alive in a sustained effort that excites admiration.
These same passages that Norton reads so brilliantly are exactly those to which Joyce – hag-ridden by compulsions to consistency and exhaustive (and often exhausting) completeness – contributed longueurs, and little can be done to soften these. They are not so many or so prolonged as some critics – many of them not completely familiar with Ulysses – claim, but they are there. The very “long ?Circe? chapter contains many of them but, as with similar situations of this type in Joyce, it also contains much that is funny and ingenious.
In this reading as well as other Naxos recordings, I have already commented sufficiently on the heroic and awesome versatility of Norton; but Marcella Riordan deserves equal praise. She reads the part of Molly wherever the intrusion of a second voice would not unduly disturb the listener. This limits her appearance to “Calypso,” the early scene in “Circe” (but not in the scene towards the end where she would have only one speech), and “Penelope.” The last was the only chapter where I found following along with the book to be an advantage. In keeping with the nature of Molly’s nighttime soliloquy, Riordan speaks softly and, while dramatically correct, it make no concession to the many possible environments the listener may be experiencing.
The last disc doubles as a CD-ROM, and contains a wealth of material on Ulysses, Joyce, and the recording itself. I found the comments of Norton and Riordan to be enlightening and well expressed. The disc includes over a dozen MP3s of Ulysses-related music, as well as the famous recording of Joyce reading from the “Aeolus” chapter. (Certainly a precious relic, but scratchy and distant, unlike his reading from Finnegans Wake.) Other items of interest include the Ulysses schema, an extensive reading list, notes on cinematic adaptations, and a useful essay by Joycean critic Derek Attridge. Although links to further essays are provided, many of them are available only to libraries through a criminal restriction known as the Muse Project. As Mrs. Breen said in another context “Great shame to them whoever they are!” (Completeness commands me to state that the disc includes a “Chronology of the Life of James Joyce” written by me. Modesty forbids me to say more.)
This is a great performance, one that Joyce himself would surely have seen as an interesting alternative. And like any great performance it is also a great experience, one that extends both over many days and indelibly over much of one’s consciousness.

Additional Information
The Naxos Homepage has a nice feature on the Unabridged Ulysses. You may read rather favorable reviews of the abridged edition from the Irish Voice and The New Statesman. There is also a Roger Marsh page on Bronze by Gold.

Ulysses – An Unabridged and Authorized Reading by Donal Donnelly (Recorded Books)

Read by Donal Donnelly & Miriam Healy-Louie.
Recorded Books of Maryland, 1995, ISBN 1-4025-7203-4; 40 CDs, $79.99. [

Read by Donal Donnelly, the actor who played Freddy Malins in John Huston’s The Dead, this uncut version of Ulysses is put out by Recorded Books under the authorization of the James Joyce estate. According to Alex McAlmon, who highly recommends them, they “apparently they did a fair amount of research before recording the book (compiling pronunciation guides, etc.).” The work spans 30 cassettes. Kyle Engen kindly sent the following review:

My hopes were high for this production, and I was not disappointed. This is the real thing, complete and compelling. Donal Donelly (who has also read Dubliners and Portrait) gives a thorough and beautiful reading. The pace is slow and while this seemed unnecessary during some of the more opaque passages, it was a blessing when things get strange (i.e. Stephen’s beach walk during the “Proteus” episode, or the trip to Nighttown in “Circe.”) The reading of the final chapter by Miriam Healy-Louie was captivating. Her charming voice and flawless interpretation kept me riveted. At times I remained in my car listening for several minutes because I didn’t want to leave her.

The text used for this recording is the Gabler corrected version but I detected none of the comma controversy. I am not that close to the earlier edition, though there were a couple of passages in the “Nestor” chapter where I felt lines were misread.

In addition the production of this audio book was excellent. I listen to a lot of audio books on my commute and none have been made as well as Ulysses. I didn’t hear a single page turn, and the tape breaks fell almost without exception at the conclusion of a paragraph or chapter. Even Molly’s soliloquy was broken along shifts in her thought.

Get this tape, from Recorded Books, from the library, wherever, and add it to your Joyce collection. It is a remarkable achievement.
Kyle Engen

Recorded Books are located in Prince Frederick, Maryland. Materials may be ordered and rented through their Web site.
Alex McAlmon has this to say about renting the tapes: “You rent the books by calling Recorded Books at their toll-free number. The rental process is very convenient. You get the books-cassettes via mail, and they come in a postage prepaid return box. So it’s hassle free; don’t have to stand in line at the post office to return them. Just put the cassettes in the return box, and stuff it in any mail box. The rental period usually is for 1 month, and Ulysses is a $35 2-month rental. $35 may seem a lot, but compared to renting mindless 2 hour video tapes, it was a bargain and a pleasure. 30 cassettes and 43 hours! Obviously one can share the rental expense with a friend. If interested, call the 800 number; Ulysses is item # 94450.”
Thanks to Alex and Kyle for their help!

Ulysses (BBC Radio)

BBC Enterprises of Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1993, ISBN 1-553-47163-5; Four cassettes, $22.00. Out of print. [Browse/Search for a Copy]

A 360 minute long presentation on four cassettes, the BBC Ulysses is quite an extraordinary achievement, and does a very good job in capturing the spirit of the enormous text through a six hour abridgement. The BBC adopts quite an interesting, but essentially logical, style of presentation – the chapters revolving around Stephen Dedalus are read by Stephen Rea (the excellent Irish actor seen in such films as The Crying Game, Hedda Gabler, Interview with the Vampire, and of course Sean Walsh’s Ulysses), and the chapters focusing on Leopold Bloom are read by Norman Rodway. As the story unfolds, the style begins to reflect the actual narrative of the original text – music and song are added, as well as some simple sound cues. Finally the “Circe” episode explodes into a fully realized audio production, complete with extra actors, offstage voices, sound effects, and music. The work ends, of course, with Molly’s soliloquy; and the impact of hearing a woman’s clear, solitary voice rolling through her long, dreamy reverie cannot be understated – it quite effectively converges the focus of the whole work directly upon Molly.
The production values throughout the entire work are first rate, and the BBC went to great pains to find readers well suited to their roles. Rea does a brilliant job with Stephen, bringing his thoughtful and pensive nature to the foreground, but never losing touch of the basic self-deprecating humor that makes Stephen’s brooding temperament so intriguing. And Rodway’s Bloom is wonderfully invigorating, bringing out the character’s sense of curiosity, awkwardness and compassion with a natural ease. Molly is played by Maggie Whiting, whose voice has a dreamy, yet earthy quality that colors all Molly’s emotions, from irritation to devotion, with just the right tone.
Very well done, and deserving to be placed back in print – and on compact disc. (As long as they retain that wonderful cover illustration of Molly – lucky Poldy!)

Ulysses (RTÉ)

RTÉ, 1982; CD: Thirty-two CDs €100.00, Three MP3 CDs: €50.00. [Browse/Purchase]

From the RTÉ Web site:

This Ulysses project started off as far as I was concerned on the the 2nd February 1981 – the 99th Anniversary of Joyce’s birth, when I was called into the office of Mr PJ O Connor, then Head of Drama and Variety. He proposed a complete reading of Ulysses to be broadcast the following year for Joyce’s centenary. I didn’t allow the fact that I hadn’t actually read the book get in the way of my enthusiastic undertaking of such an ambitious project and it seems strange now looking back at that meeting that neither of us had any idea of how long the programme was actually going to be.

My journey with Ulysses therefore started with an apprehensive reading of the text with the help of the Joycean scholar, Roland McHugh in the role of consultant. In the reading of the book, various ideas came to me and I moved from the original concept of a straight reading to a dramatised acted reading using the RTÉ players. It was to be almost a year later when we re-remerged from studio with a 29 and a half hour radio production. It was to become the longest radio programme ever made and was first broadcast on RTÉ Radio 1 right across the day from early morning on Bloomsday 1982, the Centenary year of Joyce’s birth.

Our weeks in studio together were intense and exhausting. The cast gave more than their best and we inhabited a world where the characters who wandered across the pages of Ulysses were discussed, analysed and then brought to life in our studio. It’s a tribute to the RTÉ Players and their talents that many characters in this production of Ulysses bore no resemblance to those actors who played them, either in spirit, personality or indeed in years.

For me, I tried to remain as faithful to James Joyce as I possibly could. But then there were the logistical challenges – like recreating songs that existed only in Joyce’s head and what to do with a held note sung by Simon Dedalus at the Ormond hotel lasting over two and a half pages in the text but five minutes on radio.

As I got to know the work better, I got to like it more and more. I knew that parts of the writing demonstrated sheer genius. I knew the cast was quite exceptional. They never questioned if I was right or wrong. Somethimes I didn’t know myself, but my instinct told me what I was doing was right.
–William Styles, Director

Narrators – Conor Farrington, Peter Dix, Brendan Cauldwell, Aiden Grennell, Tomas Studley, Deirdre O Meara
Leopold Bloom – Ronnie Walsh
Molly Bloom – Pegg Monahan
Stephen Dedalus – Patrick Dawson

The entire production is now available on CD or MP3.

Ulysses (Caedmon)

Read by Milo O’Shea and Barbara Jefford.
Caedmon, 1992, ISBN 1559946334; Cassettes. Out of print. [
Browse/Search for a Copy]

This is a version of Ulysses put out by Caedmon, but is now out of print. It stars Milo O’Shea and Barbara Jefford, who played Leopold and Molly Bloom in Joseph Strick’s 1967 film of Ulysses.

Ulysses Soundtrack (Caedmon)

Soundtrack for the Joseph Strick’s film Ulysses
(1967) Caedmon records, TRS 328; 2 LPs. Out of print.

Joseph Silver writes: “It’s on two records and is about 98 minutes long. It also has extensive liner notes. It’s all the dialogue, background noises and so on from the film. They took the sound part of the film and committed the whole thing to vinyl. There’s no music to speak of except where music is heard in the movie.”

Leopold and Molly’s Soliloquys (Caedmon)

Read by E.G. Marshall and Siobhan McKenna. Directed by Howard Slacker.

1. Caedmon, 1960(?), TC1063; LP. Out of Print

2. Caedmon, 2002, ISBN 0-06-050179-0; Four CDs, $29.95. [Browse/Purchase]

Originally an LP issued by Caedmon, with Siobhan McKenna reading from “Penelope” and E.G. Marshall from “Nausica. Long out of print, the entire LP is now CD #3 in Caedmon’s The James Joyce Audio Collection.

Ulysses read by Paigerella


Paigerella has been recording installments of Ulysses since 2006, and as of mid 2009, she's over 760 pages in. Available free at Paigerella's Podcast and from iTunes.

Go To:

Joyce Audio Main PageBack to the main audio page, where you will find the standard Brazen Head menu.

Joyce Reading – Recordings of Joyce reading in his own voice. This section also includes poetry and collections.

DublinersJoyce’s great collection of stories.

A Portrait of the Artist as a Young ManJoyce’s first novel.

Finnegans Wake – It’s even better when spoken aloud...!

Miscellaneous – Biographies, lectures, and essays about Joyce and his work.

The sissymusses and the zossymusses in their robenhauses quailed to hear his tardeynois at all – Send email to the Great Quail. Comments, suggestions, corrections, criticisms, submissions – all are welcome!

–Allen B. Ruch & Erik Ketzan
28 June 2009