Dear, Dirty Dublin: 16 June 1904 (Bloomsday) Was the Date of Leopold Bloom's Adventures in Ulysses. Its Centenary Will Be Celebrated All over the World-And Not Least in James Joyce's Home City. Brenda Maddox Will Be There

By Maddox, Brenda | New Statesman (1996), June 7, 2004 | Go to article overview

Dear, Dirty Dublin: 16 June 1904 (Bloomsday) Was the Date of Leopold Bloom's Adventures in Ulysses. Its Centenary Will Be Celebrated All over the World-And Not Least in James Joyce's Home City. Brenda Maddox Will Be There


Maddox, Brenda, New Statesman (1996)


As the 100th anniversary of Bloomsday approaches, you might be tempted to cry, "Call the whole thing off!" Dublin's celebration of the day recorded in James Joyce's Ulysses lasts five months this year, and seems rather absurd. Joyce believed that nobody with any self-respect stays in Ireland. He left at the earliest opportunity and called his country the "afterthought of Europe", "the old sow that eats her farrow" and "a priest-ridden land".

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Joyce, born in Dublin in 1882, emigrated in 1904, eventually settling in Trieste, and after a bitter visit to Ireland in 1912 never returned there, not even to see his dying father. World-famous after Ulysses was published in Paris in 1922, he refused Yeats's invitation to join the Free State's new Irish Academy of Letters in 1932. He resolutely remained a British subject until his death in Zurich in January 1941 at the age of 58. In Ireland, his name was long anathema. His Dublin sisters hoped nobody would associate them with "that" Joyce.

Theocratic Ireland is dead and gone. Dublin is now a place of gleaming glass towers, malls, sushi bars, gay pride and rock stars. Ulysses is on the school curriculum and Joyce is acknowledged as probably the greatest of the many great writers Ireland has produced. He was also the most European, as shown by the last three words in Ulysses-"Trieste, Zurich, Paris" (the cities where it was written). Besides, when did Dublin ever turn its back on a party?

The audacity of Ulysses, apart from its stream-of-conscious-ness technique, is its hour-by-hour account of a single day. It chronicles the odyssey on 16 June 1904 of an ordinary man, a seller of newspaper advertising, a Dublin Jew called Leopold Bloom. And as the late critic Hugh Kenner noted, "a day in June is a very long day at 53[degrees] north latitude". Bloom is Joyce's Ulysses, or Odysseus, wandering the limits of his known world until he meets his Telemachus--his spiritual son, Stephen Dedalus, a James Joyce lookalike down to the canvas shoes.

For some years, Bloomsday has been celebrated throughout the world with marathon readings of Ulysses on the radio or at meetings of Joyce societies. It has become a festive day in Dublin, an Edwardian orgy of fancy dress, horse-drawn carriages and many stops at pubs. This year being the centenary, the national celebration kicked off on 2 February, Joyce's birthday. Festivities in the big week will begin with a free breakfast for ten thousand on O'Connell Street on Sunday. (The menu will be offal. Bloom, unless you've forgotten, starts his day with a breakfast of grilled kidney.) This will be followed by a civic reception at Dublin City Hall, the premiere of a film called Bloom, the biggest art exhibition on Joycean themes ever held, lots of street theatre and Joyce supplements in the newspapers. The week's finale will be a huge river pageant on the Liffey.

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Few of the tourists will have a clue why Joyce commemorated that particular day. But Joyceans (people who know better than to put an apostrophe into Finnegans Wake) know that 16 June 1904 was the day Joyce first "walked out" with Nora Barnacle; when, as he wrote to her, "you made me a man". Nora seems to have granted him the first sexual favour for which he had not paid. His astonishment, followed by lifelong love, at this sign of woman's frank sexuality resulted in the most famous female character in 20th-century fiction: Leopold's wife, Molly Bloom. …

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Dear, Dirty Dublin: 16 June 1904 (Bloomsday) Was the Date of Leopold Bloom's Adventures in Ulysses. Its Centenary Will Be Celebrated All over the World-And Not Least in James Joyce's Home City. Brenda Maddox Will Be There
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