Tuesday 16 June 2015

Today is Bloomsday, and James Joyce (books by this author) fans all over the world are celebrating. It commemorates the day on which the events of his novel Ulysses take place. Joyce chose June 16th, 1904, for the setting because it was the day of his first date with Nora Barnacle, his future wife. They’d met each other randomly on Nassau Street in Dublin on June 10th, chatted a bit, and agreed to meet up later. But she stood him up on their first would-be date of June 14th. On the 15th, the 22-year-old James Joyce sent a note to her that read:

“I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me – if you have not forgotten me!”

They successfully met up the following day, June 16th. They went for an evening stroll around the south bank of the Liffey River in Dublin. And Joyce later chose this day for the setting of Ulysses.

His publisher Sylvia Beach organized a celebratory Parisian luncheon on June 16th, 1929 – years before the book was legal in the English-speaking world.

The first modern celebration of Bloomsday was in 1954, the 50th anniversary of the fictional events in Joyce’s book, and about three decades after Joyce published his novel in 1922. Irish writers Flann O’Brien and Patrick Kavanagh got together with critic John Ryan and a dentist cousin of James Joyce, named Tom Joyce, to make a daylong pilgrimage around Dublin. They were to have stops at the Martello Tower (the opening scene of the novel), Davy Byrne’s Pub (where Bloom eats a gorgonzola cheese sandwich) and 7 Eccles Street (where Bloom and his wife, Molly, lived). They role-played, acted out the dialogue, and rode in horse-drawn carriages like those described in the scene of Paddy Dignam’s funeral. They were supposed to end up in the red-light section of Dublin, where the 15th chapter of Ulysses “Nighttown” is set, but the literary pilgrims got a bit drunk and distracted at a pub about halfway through the route and lost their ambition to finish it.

© 2015 American Public Media

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