June 16 –All about Bloomsday

Ulysses, considered by many to be one of the greatest books ever written, describes a single day in the life Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly and Stephen Dedalus, a young would-be-writer — a character based on Joyce himself. The novel follows the progress of Leopold Bloom on this day, June 16, 1904, as he wanders through the city of Dublin. Joyce said that “I want to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed out of my book.”

The Bloomsday tradition began in 1954 when a group of Dublin writers set out to visit all the landmarks mentioned in the book, reconstruct its events and down a few pints.

Every year since at least 1954, fans of author James Joyce have celebrated Bloomsday on June 16. Festivities include public readings from the novel, scene reenactments (particularly the famous last chapter consisting of eight long sentences spoken by Molly Bloom), listening to traditional Irish music, and/or visiting Irish pubs.

In many cities, attempts are made to read the entire book out loud. In Dublin, tourists dress up and retrace the routes of Joyce’s characters. Philadelphia, home to Joyce’s handwritten manuscript, has a festival, as does Buffalo, home to Joyce’s Finnegans Wake notebooks. New York considers itself the capital of American Bloomsdays, since the city is mentioned in Ulysses. Moreover, it was a New York lawyer that defended the book from obscenity charges.

For Joyce, June 16, 1904 had a special significance as his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle, a chambermaid he had met less than a week earlier. Joyce’s father remarked, on learning Nora’s surname, “She’ll stick with him.” And she did through thick and thin, apparently, since the 1904 date began a long relationship that did not lead to marriage until 1931, but then continued until Joyce’s death.

Nora Barnacle

It was not all edenic in the Joyce household. In 1905, Nora Barnacle gave birth to a son, Giorgio, and later to a daughter, Lucia, in 1907. But a miscarriage in 1908 coincided with the beginning of a strain in Nora’s relationship with Joyce. Although she remained by his side, she complained to her sister both about his personal qualities and his literary activity.

In these letters to her sister, she depicts her husband as weak and neurotic. She says he drinks too much and wastes too much money. She accuses Joyce of ruining her life and that of their children. As for his writing, she laments the fact that his work is obscure and lacking in sense.

The difficulty of reading Ulysses is as legendary as the book itself — many of the passages are written in Joyce’s signature stream-of-consciousness style, and there are countless allusions to the Bible, Shakespeare, mythology, music, literature, obscure languages, and miscellaneous scholarship. In some versions of the book, notes explaining the meaning of certain passages go on for more than 250 pages.

Nevertheless, although the reading of the novel may not be a carefree experience, “Bloomsday” generally is. If you do a Google search of Bloomsday and the name of your city, you will undoubtedly find a list of cultural (and not so cultural) activities scheduled for the day. (Dublin’s activities go all week long.)

If you want to celebrate Bloomsday in the privacy of your own home, which might in fact be recommended if you are reading or listening to Molly Bloom’s big soliloquy (a.k.a. orgasm), you could read the chapter here, and/or at the same website watch a very racy video of Angeline Ball doing it in performance (and yes that’s a double entendre). She won the Irish Film and Television Award for Best Actress for this role.

Portrait of the Artist As A Young Man

Happy Bloomsday!

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28 Responses

  1. I had no idea about Bloomsday! What an interesting and fun concept! And I love that you’ve given your readers some opportunities to participate! LOL!

  2. Jill, have you ever read Ulysses? I once tried Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and failed abysmally! It’s made me scared to try Joyce’s masterbeast… I mean, masterpiece!

    • Steph,

      I read it a couple of times, but that was in college when my brain was much more agile. (Now it’s more like just a rock that sits in a case on top of my neck.) I don’t think I could read it again! :–) But I am interested in listening to it. If you watch and listen to the video just with the Molly Bloom section on the website I refer to in the post, you’ll see it sounds so understandable, whereas reading the same thing, with the lack of punctuation and inflection, can be very difficult.

  3. I have got to read this book. I have it listed for so many challenges and it has been sitting on my shelf for years, and yet I can’t bring myself to do it. Aahhhh!

    • Trisha,

      One reason I haven’t read my copy again is that I made the mistake of buying an annotated guide, which is very extensive, and makes me feel like I have to read and understand all the annotations along with the book, and therefore it seems too daunting! If I would just approach it like a “normal” book (glossing over esoteric references, for example), I think I would be okay!

  4. This is a new one for me! Never heard of it, but I think it is totally cool. Imagine doing this for Shadow of the Wind, for example! Interesting that the Joyce and his lady dated for 27 years! It is my theory that many men would do this if allowed.

  5. I have never read Ulysses, and am a little intimidated by it! When I was reading South of Broad by Pat Conroy, I was introduced to Bloomsday and I have to say, it sounds like a neat idea. Thanks for sharing this!!

  6. I like the idea of an author describing his hometown so well that it could be reconstructed. I’d like to find those passages. That would be the only part of Ulysses I would be able to complete. I’ve tried several times to read it but it’s just not for me.

  7. Jill, I think you’ve just done something I would have thought was impossible. I read Ulysses back when I was in school, and disliked it so much. But I popped over and read the excerpt and now I’m thinking, maybe it’s time to give the book another try. I saw such beauty in the language of the soliloquy, and I definitely never saw that beauty in the book before!

  8. I’ve tried many times to read Ulysses and always quit after a few pages. I own a copy, though, and keep it because I’m determined to read the whole thing – someday. I used to know a man named Ulysses who was warm and funny and generous and just all round great guy. Too bad the book isn’t like him. :D

  9. Such an interesting post! To celebrate Bloomsday, I’ll read a story from Dubliners. The only way I might make it through Ulysses would be to listen to an audio and follow along with the text.

  10. I knew you’d have a post about Bloomsday for us today! As always, thank you for educating me :)

  11. I tried to read this in high school…which may have been a few decades too soon. perhaps I should give it another try. I most likely have my orginal copy..

  12. While Nora may have been wrong about the “obscure” part, she might not have been far off in the “lacking in sense” part….at least as far as Ulysses goes, LOL.

  13. I’d never heard of this, but it is very cool for a novel to garner such passion in so many cities! This is a book I have no plans to read, but Bloomsday looks like great fun :)

  14. I just saw this one someone else’s blog! Crazy. I’m personally not a fan of James Joyce but my husband read all four of his major works last year.

  15. Well, if Bloomsday is big in Philly, I never heard of it! I never read “Ulysses” and I don’t think I ever will. I just gave up on Mrs. Dalloway so I don’t think I’m cut out for “Ulysses.”

  16. My copy of Ulysses remains unread. And if Nora thought his writing was lacking in sense, I wonder if it’s worth reading.

  17. I don’t think I will ever read this book. Have you read it?

  18. Does Molly Bloom’s soliloquy really not have any punctuation at all?? I’ve only read Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist. Twice. And hated it both times. I’ll never forget that my professor called me a philistine for disliking it so much. :)

    I just listened to a book entitled South of Broad and Bloomsday was a integral part of the novel.

    Curious with the others if you’ve read it?

    • Staci and Trish,

      Yes I read it, but I was in college, and took a course in Irish Literature, so it couldn’t be avoided. Reading everything was easier when I was younger, though. I’m sure I missed most of the esoteric references but I wouldn’t have even known the difference back then! :–)

      And Trish, the soliloquy is a whole chapter but only has eight sentences, so most of it is without punctuation. I was really impressed by watching the video how the actress added her own punctuation – the chapter made more sense to me than it ever did before. (And also, when I was very innocent in college, I would have missed half of those sort of x-rated allusions anyway!)

      • When I left my comment I didn’t have time to watch the vidoes but this time I snuck in a few little snippets. Actually kind of makes me want to read the book! :P

        Interesting about hearing the chapter spoken rather than reading it. Sometimes when a dialect is particularly tough in a book I will read it out loud to help me hear what is being said. I’ve never thought to do this with stream-of-consciousness before.

  19. I have never worked up the courage to read “Ulysses.” Maybe I’ll have to look for a class at the university that is reading it.

  20. Great Bloomsday post! I celebrated this year by, um, hanging out on the beach, which is what I would have been doing anyway, but in previous years I’ve actually made an effort to celebrate. I’d love to be in Dublin some year, although maybe I’d prefer to be there some OTHER time than Bloomsday, to avoid all the tourists & drunks.

    I’ve both read & listened to the whole of Ulysses, and I like certain parts better in each medium, but I must say that listening to good performances of it really helped me over the hump of liking the book as a whole. Now I can slow down and phrase things in my head when I read it in text form. LOVE Molly Bloom’s monologue. Love love love.

  21. [...] dia 16 foi comemorado o Bloomsday, em homenagem ao livro Ulysses, de James Joyce. Para comemorar a data, o Daily Beast montou uma [...]

  22. That soliloquy was beautiful. Now I’m doubly interested in reading this book…

  23. [...] of Insanity, which presented a video of Molly Bloom’s soliloquy in Ulysses, which led me to this post which led me to this post — which led me to the realization that James Joyce writes [...]

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