Today is June 16th, otherwise known as Bloomsday, the annual celebration of James Joyce’s Ulysses.
If you are in Dublin (and elsewhere), expect to see people dressed in Edwardian garb and recreating Leopold Bloom’s perambulations around the city.
There is an excellent primer on the novel by Eileen Battersby of the Irish Times here.
The novel, first published in 1922, takes place over the course of one day: June 16th, 1904, a date Joyce chose because it was when he first went out walking with the woan who would become his wife and muse: Nora Barnacle.
They would soon after leave Dublin for the Continent and live in self-impose exile, and Joyce became in essence the Patron Saint of Irish Emigration.
Although Joyce spent most of his adult life away from Dublin – a city he once dismissed as a “centre of paralysis” – he never stopped thinking or writing about it: in his short story collection Dubliners (recently reissued in an anniversary edition by de Selby Press); his autobiographical novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man; his play Exiles; Ulysses; and his last work, the much lesser-read Finnegans Wake (a novel which is extremely popular in China).
16 Useless Facts About Ulysses
1. The novel was originally serialised in parts between 1918 and 1922 in The Little Review. It was published by Sylvia Beach in Paris in 1922.
2. It was banned as pornographic in the U.K. and the U.S. until the 1930s.
3. There are approximately 265,000 words in Ulysses.
4. The novel is modelled after The Odyssey, with Leopold Bloom standing in for Odyssesus, and the novel’s events parallel those of Homer’s epic poem.
5. Although Joyce’s friend Hemingway declared it “a damn fine book,” many pages of his copy remain uncut.
6. The first mention of Bloomsday celebrations was in 1924. Joyce mentioned in a letter that “there is a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day – 16 June.”
7. The first official Bloomsday occurred in 1954 and was organised by artist John Ryan and writer Brian O’Nolan. The assembled crew of Joyceans planned to spend the day recreating the novel’s events but only got as far as Ryan’s pub, the Bailey.
8. Marathon readings of Ulysses often take place, sometimes lasting up to 36 hours, twice the length of time covered in the book.
9. In 1982 to mark the book’s 60th anniversary and Joyce’s 100th birthday, RTE broadcast a 30-hour dramatic performance of the novel.
10. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath chose June 16th as their wedding day to honour the celebration.
11. The book’s date and events are the basis for “Breathe” by U2
12. The novel opens at the Martello Tower in Sandycove, where Joyce had once stayed with his friend Oliver St. John Gogarty, who in the novel becomes Malachi “Buck” Mulligan.
Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
Introibo ad altare Dei.
13. The novel’s final chapter is a stream-of-consciousness soliloquy by Leopold Bloom’s wife Molly as she lies in bed next to her sleeping husband, thinking about their marriage and her past lovers and masturbating. It is made up of eight unpunctuated sentences culminating in the most famous orgasm in literature.
…I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.
14. Kate Bush’s “Flower of the Mountain” uses the soliloquy as lyrics for the song.
15. As does Eartha Kitt, who used the solilioquy as the basis of her one-woman show Yes.
16. The first edition of Ulysses had a print run of 1,000 copies and cost 150 francs. In 2009 a copy was bought at auction for £275,000.