June 16 has been immortalized by lovers of James Joyce’s Ulysses everywhere as “Bloomsday” and has become an annual day of pilgrimage and celebration.
Ulysses is the epic hour-by-hour account of one day in Dublin — June 16, 1904. In the novel, the hero, Leopold Bloom — an ordinary Dubliner — is a modern-day Odysseus wandering through the urban landscape which is alternately charming, beguiling, stultifying and oppressive. Joyce himself said that in Ulysses it was his intention “to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.”
In many countries around the world, Joycean scholars, as well as the not so scholarly, come together to celebrate the life and works of Joyce in a variety of ways. Dublin itself, of course, can probably claim the most exuberant celebrations. Every year, fans of Joyce get together for a reenactment of Leopold Bloom’s day. The extra-hardy start at six a.m. for a breakfast of coddle (bacon, sausages, potatoes and onions simmered together) at the Martello Tower in Sandycove followed by a splash in the “snotgreen, scrotumtightening sea” at the Forty Foot bathing spot (yes, even in June the scrotumtightening properties of the waters of the Irish Sea have a particular resonance). A second breakfast can be enjoyed at the more civilized hour of eight a.m. at the James Joyce Centre on Dublin’s North Great George’s Street to the accompaniment of readings from Ulysses. Throughout the day, there are opportunities to follow Bloom’s movement and itinerary so that at lunchtime it is possible to stop off for a glass of burgundy and a Gorgonzola sandwich in Davy Byrne’s pub off Grafton Street, and in the afternoon a pint of Guinness in the Ormond Hotel is customary.
All day long, celebrations feature readings of Ulysses, James Joyce lookalike contests, various semi-literary activities and many other opportunities to enjoy a pint or two of Guinness. Such events are not confined to Dublin. Many Joyce societies worldwide are gearing up for extra-special celebrations in 2004, the centenary of the first Bloomsday.
In the United States, many institutions are holding their own events in honor of Joyce. The Rosenbach Museum and Library in Philaladelphia will hold an exhibition from May 1 to August 11 entitled “Ulysses in Hand: The Rosenbach Manuscript.” The Rosenbach Manuscript is a complete handwritten draft of Ulysses; pages containing some of the most memorable passages from the novel will be on display. Differing from the published version, the manuscript is considered highly significant in its own right. The exhibition will be the first major one to take place in the museum’s newest galleries at 2008 Delancey Place and will be accompanied by a variety of related programs. Greg Giovanni will host “Bloom’s Fork Cabaret” featuring songs from Ulysses, and there will be performances of The Potable Joyce, a theater piece, using music and shadow puppets emphasizing the hero story at the core of Ulysses and designed for all the family to enjoy. There will also be a “Circa 1904 Walking Tour” in which Poor Richard’s Walking Tours will recreate 1904 Philadelphia as Joyce might have done, and on Bloomsday itself there will be an annual outdoor reading of Ulysses by over 70 notable Philadelphians. The Rosenbach Museum is planning an extra-special program for 2004, details of which have yet to be finalized.
The University of Buffalo has amassed one of the largest and most distinguished collection of Joycean artifacts, with holdings that now include all of the notes and manuscripts of Finnegans Wake and many notes and documents relating to Ulysses. The university is undertaking the digital transcription of Joyce’s notebooks and manuscripts and hopes to have the task completed for the centenary celebrations. ♦