6 years ago, I had the honor of celebrating Bloomsday in Dublin, Ireland. I had just completed a year-long senior thesis on James Joyce’s Ulysses, and this trip was my very generation graduation gift from my mom.
For those of you who don’t know, Bloomsday is an annual celebration of novelist James Joyce’s life and work, and of his masterpiece, Ulysses. The name Bloomsday is derived from the central character of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom. On this day, Joyceans, most clad in Edwardian costume, often reenact the scenes from Joyce’s novel Ulysses, which takes place on a single day of June 16, 1904. Over the novel’s eighteen episodes, readers watch Bloom undertake a personal Odyssey around Dublin — one that is so masterfully and precisely crafted by Joyce that we can, almost by Joyce’s text alone — recreate this journey ourselves. One can almost argue that the central character in Ulysses is not Leopold Bloom, but Dublin herself — Joyce immortalizes the city in a way that has never been done before or since.
On Bloomsday, there are marathon readings, reenactments, dramatisations, and pub crawls by Joyce fans all over the world. Still, some fans prefer to construct their own Joycean itinerary: pouring over maps and studying his text for references to physical locations in Dublin.
I took over 500 pictures on this trip, but here are a few of my favorites. We were lucky enough to have perfect weather that day – throughout the entire day! If you’ve been to Ireland, you know how rare this is. I did not have any Victorian attire, but I did wear black. If you’ve read the novel, you know why!
On top of Martello Tower:
The Forty-foot bathing place:
Bloomsday celebrations near Martello Tower:
The door of #7 Eccles Street, on display at the James Joyce Centre:
Actual Eccles Street:
The site of Bloom’s home, which is now a hospital:
“At the housesteps of the 4th of the equidifferent uneven numbers, number 7 Eccles St., he inserted his hand mechanically into the back pocket of his trousers to obtain his latchkey…”
Spending time at the moral pub, Davy Byrnes:
Stopping by Sweny’s Chemist for some lemon soap:
Paying our respects to Paddy Dignam at Glasnevin Cemetary:
Resisting the Sirens at the Ormond Hotel:
Running away from The Citizen at the former site of Barney Kiernan’s pub:
Taking the train to Howth to visit the rhododendrons:
yes I will Yes.
* * *
Ulysses is a challenging book, without a doubt. However, I still think that it’s something that everyone should read. And no, not just because it will make you look impressive at cocktail parties, though I suppose that could be considered an added bonus. Hidden behind all the spectacle and intimidation of the 265,000 word book lies a story that is actually very humble, and profoundly human. Finding the moments of clarity in this text are all the more rewarding given the arduous journey it takes to get to them.
If you don’t want to dive right into the text, I would actually recommend listening to the excellent audiobook version. I just listening to this at the beginning of the year, and couldn’t believe what a different experience it was than reading the novel.
Some invaluable reading companions include:
The Odyssey by Homer, Fagles translation. Since Ulysses is based on Homer’s Odyssey, it is helpful to either read the Odyssey before you begin reading Ulysses, or to read them simultaneously. The Gilbert guide draws helpful parallels between the two texts.
Ulysses Annotated by Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman, which explicates all the details and references in the book, like names, slang terms, historical figures, etc.
James Joyce’s Ulysses: A Study by Stuart Gilbert. This easy to read guide offers insight into the overall structure of the text, as well as parallels between Ulysses and the Odyssey, and was overseen by Joyce himself.
So take the plunge!