Wednesday, June 16, 2004


James Joyce's notebook entry for this day 80 years ago says:

James Joyce

"Today 16 June 1924 twenty years after. Will anyone remember this date?"

Aye, they will indeed. Today is the hundredth anniversary of Bloomsday, the day in which James Joyce's Ulysses follows characters Stephen Dedalus and Leopold & Molly Bloom through Dublin on 16 June 1904.

Joyce picked that day for the story because that was the day of his first date (actually it was his second first date - she'd stood him up two days before) with the improbably-named Nora Barnacle, who is alternately decribed as Joyce's muse or bane depending on the source... she is part Molly Bloom, the 'lusty' (would anyone call a man 'lusty'?) wife of Leopold Bloom in the story, but she is also the person who asked Joyce when he started working on Finnegan's Wake if

"instead of that chop suey you're writing, you might not try sensible books that people can understand."

Joyce's unflinching description of Dublin life, his defiance of Irish Catholicism, and his unique writing style often led to his books being banned - at one point it was illegal to read Joyce in any English-speaking nation. (Joyce once remarked that he wished the critics would, instead of worrying about the book's obscenity, at least acknowledge that the book was funny.)

Nowadays you probably can't get through school without reading him, and every Bloomsday thousands of people meet in Dublin (and numerous other cities, to a lesser degree of realism) for re-enactments of the story - not an easy task, since there are multiple simultaneous intersecting threads, so it's not like just watching a play - and to follow the footsteps of the characters to Dublin landmarks such as the Duke Street pub where they can order a glass of burgundy and a gorgonzola sandwich just as Leopold Bloom did in the book a hundred years ago.

Joyce was so far beyond the writings of his times that even today we're having trouble catching up with him. But here we are a hundred years later, and Ulysses is often referred to as the greatest novel ever written, not a modernist masterpiece but the modernist masterpiece. People *do* remember this date - what more could a brilliant writer ask for?