Literary travels: Following Tocqueville Through Joyce's Dublin; James Joyce's Odyssey: A Guide to the Dublin of ''Ulysses,'' by Frank Delaney, photos by Jorge Lewisnki. New York: Holt, Rinehart & Winston. 192 pp. $19.95.
By now, we all know that Joyce's epic novel depicts a modern Ulysses' wanderings through one day of Dublin life in 1916. The book is probably most widely known for its sensational reception in 1922; it was banned as obscene in the United States until 1933. What was shocking in 1922, however, is accepted today, and the chief obstacle to readers interested in following the steps of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus through this one enormous day is fear. For every reader who's afraid of Virginia Woolf, five are reduced to trembling in the presence of Joyce. The danger is great that those entering Ulysses' world will become lost in a maze of Dublin back streets and sprawling prose.
Mr. Delaney, a journalist who savors and celebrates the book, admits that few people, even among devoted Joyce fans, have managed to negotiate it cover to cover. (I heaved a sigh of relief at learning that I wasn't the only admirer who had tried and come up short.) The difficulties, both stylistic and referential, are dauntingly obvious from the outset, and, as if they weren't enough, there is the length to consider. Three-hundred-thousand-odd words (I use the term ''odd'' advisedly) is a lot of ear to lend to an author so riotously idiosyncratic that half the time you don't have any idea what he's talking about. I have a friend, fluent and highly literate in six languages, who swears she won't attempt ''Ulysses'' again without the aid of a seminar or a companion reader. Delaney's book is for her and others like her.
Part Dublin guidebook, part Joyce biography, part ''Ulysses'' crib, this compendium of ''Ulysses'' lore and background information is marked by Delaney's ardent pleasure in the great work. He leads us, pointing and gesticulating exuberantly, through the paces of the novel; there are fine black-and-white photographs, both archival and new, of Dublin to illustrate his points. There are also intriguing little street maps with trails marked, which bring to mind, not inappropriately, treasure maps. Delaney's love affair with ''Ulysses'' is so intense and contagious you can't help wanting to rush right out and find yourself a copy -- immediately. Something so terrific is too good to miss. Isn't it?
Maybe so; maybe not. Under the spell of Delaney's enthusiasm, I was seized by the impulse, but so far I haven't acted on it. As the hours and days go by, the odds diminish that I ever will. Never mind, though. How many armchair travelers are actually impelled to the airline ticket counter by the force of guidebooks they've read? How many even want to be? Whether you go on to read ''Ulysses'' cover to cover as a result of dallying with Mr. Delaney through Dublintown, you'll at any rate have enjoyed some very informed and pleasant companionship and will have had much of the forbidding world that is ''Ulysses'' made accessible to you.