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Happy Bloomsday

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I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.   &#8212James Joyce

Happy Bloomsday, all. Anyone who has read, or attempted to read Joyce’s Ulysses has their story to tell. Here’s mine.

Back when I was a sophomore at Kent State University, I had the good fortune to study under Dr. Culleton, who is, though I didn’t know it at the time, a Joyce fanatic. She tricked me and the rest of our British Novelists class into falling in love with Joyce.

It began simply enough. The reading list included Conrad’s Nigger of the Narcissus, Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland, Wilde’s Picture of Dorian Gray and Joyce’s Ulysses. We blasted through most of the reading list and hunkered down with U, as it came to be called, for most of the semester.

Some of us were excited, others intimidated, still others stressed out that we wouldn’t “get” it. Dr. Culleton was so in love with Joyce, and she wanted so badly for others to see his brilliance that her patience guided her teaching of the book, never allowing us to become discouraged, always enthusiastic and finally overjoyed when we all “got” it. We got it so much, and loved Joyce so much that Dr. Culleton petitioned the Dean to allow her to teach a James Joyce seminar class the following semester, and we all attended.

Since that first time though, I’ve completed U five times. I even was paid by one of the other instructors at the university to teach him how to read it. Each time, the book is more interesting, more funny, less complex and more enjoyable.

Every year since at least 1954, fans of author James Joyce have celebrated Bloomsday on June 16&#8212the date (in 1904) when Ulysses takes place.

For Joyce, the special significance of 16 June 1904 was that on that date he had his first date with 20 year old Nora Barnacle, a chambermaid he’d met on 10 June on Nassau street. She’d stood him up on the 14th (or 15th?), but he wrote her a note asking for another meeting, and by August (‘heavenly summer”) they were in love.

When the book was published, however, a huge scandal ensued, many claiming that the book was “obscene” or “pornographic”. It was contraband in the United States, and had to be shipped to America in a false book jacket.

But it is not pornographic or obscene. It is beautiful. Each chapter is written in a different style, culminating with Molly’s stream-of-consciousness soliloquy at the end. Plenty of guidebooks exist on how to read Ulysses, but the best piece of advice I can give to anyone is to not get too wrapped up in the details of it the first time though. Dr. Culleton compared reading Ulysses to seeing someone walking in a snowstorm. You see them out the window, you cannot get any details about them, but the important thing is that you see them.

Read it. Enjoy it. Laugh. And for those of you too lazy to read it, here’s a handy summary told in horrid animated gifs and brief one- or two-sentence summaries for each chapter.

Happy Bloomsday. Tip a pint for Bloom.

(Note: I was unable to find online the best edition of Ulysses. If you plan to buy it, pick up ULYSSES, The Corrected Text, edited by Hans Walter Gabler.)

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About Marc

  • Marc, I have corrected the width of your illustration so it doesn’t skew the display. I also found the ASIN for the Hans Walter Gabler edition of Ulysses, and added it to the list.

  • Marc, your post reminded me of the first time I read Ulysses as well. Still remains my favorite book, and I’ve also been through it 5 times so far.

    I first read it (Gabler edition) the summer of 87 during a cross-country bus trip as something of a challenge to myself. Didn’t understand much of it at all, and I didn’t have the guidance of a great professor like you did. But eventually enough of the light shone through for me to want to learn more, to dig deeper, and to come back again and again.

    Years later a couple of friends joined me on a trek to Dublin for the authentic Bloomsday celebration. They were more enamored with the pubs than the meanderings of Bloom and Dedalus, but I still vividly recall the sight of the Martello tower on a bright and brilliant morning.

    Thanks for the post; I was hoping someone would note today was Bloomsday!

  • And here I thought I was going to read one more idiot rant from some frustrated reader, complaining that the book is obscure and unreadable that everyone who says they have actually read it is a liar. I’ve read it a few times myself, and I echo your comments, adding only that while there are some sections that get more brilliant every time I read them (“Narcissus,” “Nighttown,” and “Ithaca,” for example) there are some that still just kind of bore me blind (“Aeolus” and “Oxen of the Sun”) regardless of whether or not I have literary guides to help me. It’s a great book, but it does have muddy passages along the way.

  • i find the book to be unreadable.


    idiot ranter

  • You know I completly forget about Bloomsday every year, but somehow or other Joyce makes an appearance in my life anyway.
    Over at my blog I wrote about the two bigest influences on my artistic life being Joyce and cummings. I related reading Ulysses for the first time in Paris in 1980. I liked the idea of reading it where it had been written.
    Then yesterday I quoted(actually misquoted and nicely corrected by a blog reader from Ireland)Joyce in my article on Michael Jackson…
    I guess you could say that something was in the air.

  • I would aggree that “Oxen” is a little dry, and I never could figure out why it had to be that way. But I thought “Aeolus” was hilarious. Not one of my favorite chapters, admittedly, but enjoyable none the less.

    I guess this is where I make my confession. The first 3 times through the book, I skipped “Nighttown” in its entirety. I found, and still find, that to be the most difficult portion of the novel. And, now, having read it, one of the best as well.

    For the sake of accuracy, it’s important to note that joyce began Ulysses in Zurich, worked on it in Trieste and finished it in Paris. A great abridged history of Joyce can be found here.

    For the rest of you who haven’t tread the book, I found another handy little guide while poking around today.

    The Ship, half twelve. ( Oh, hell, I’m late.)

    Oh, and Pat, thanks for the corrections and the addition of the Gabler text. 🙂

  • Best explanation I’ve ever heard of “Nighttown” comes from Nabokov: the book is dreaming.

    A fantastic bizarre playlet not where a character dreams, but where the book itself dreams.

  • Nick Jones

    …the book is dreaming.

    Are you sure Nabakov wasn’t talking about Finnegans Wake? The premise of Wake is that it’s a dream that takes place in one night in the mind of an Everyman whose initials are HCE.

    This is a, uh, rather indelicate matter, but the significance of the date is not just the assignation with Nora Barnacle, but what occurred during it.
    As Christopher Hitchens reports in “Joyce in Bloom”, page 124, Love, Poverty, and War: “[T]he second date exceeded his expectations. The couple took a walk out to Ringsend, beyond the city’s docks, where as Joyce later told her in a molten letter, it was not he who made a move but ‘you who slid your hand inside my trousers and pulled my shirt softly aside and touched my prick with your long tickling fingers and gradually took it all…and frigged me slowly…all the time bending over me and gazing at me out of your quiet saintlike eyes.'(Edited for ickiness.)
    “[T]he literary world celebrate[s] ‘Bloomsday’ in honor of the very first time the great James Joyce received a handjob from a woman who was not a prostitute.”

  • mark
    June 16 has come and gone. I love it every year, as I am a Bloom. Leopold and Molly were my forbears, long ago in Ireland and Paris.
    see my website for more on the Blooms and Bloomsday.
    There is a new book in Taiwan now, in Chinese, all about Bloomsday and Joyce. Written by a Taiwanese expert on Joyce. In Chinese, go figure!


    I’m hoping to visit Dublin next year Bloomsday 2006 for a personal pilgriammage to my “hometown.”

    Any other real Blooms out there? write!