The Joyce Experience

Nevertheless, yesterday was a special day for the world of literature and I didn’t want to miss the opportunity to tell you all about it. But before that, let me tell you about my experience with the book and the author that started it all.

About the book

Probably one of the most complicated books that I’ve ever read, Ulysses came to my bookshelf about four years ago. I had just read in another book that it was one of the greatest novels of the 20th Century. I bought it as soon as possible, but when I opened it I realized I didn’t understand a thing. I would read and re-read the first page and get nothing. So I buried it in the dark corner of my bookshelf and forgot about it for years.

A few years forward, I was sitting in a course dedicated almost completely to Joyce and to modernism. So, after reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a couple of short stories and an interview, I returned to my bookshelf to rescue that one book that had been such a difficult read.

Joyce presents his story as a parallel to the events recounted in the Odyssey.  The hero of the epic poem is of course, Odysseus, in Latin, Ulysses.

Originally divided in 18 episodes, Ulysses tells about a single ordinary day in the life of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, and that day is the 16th of June 19044.

Every episode is written in a completely different style, although the interior monologue and the stream of consciousness prevail throughout the entire book. In other words, the reader is able to follow a character’s thoughts, which are expressed freely, chaotically and without any logical sequence (pretty much like actual human thoughts). The most clear example can be found in the last episode, Molly Bloom’s Monologue, which basically consists of approximately 40 pages of a series of unorganized thoughts without structure or punctuation.

Although it was published back in 1920, this work is still completely different to the books we’re used to, both classic and contemporary. Yes, I did need a lot of time to read it and I did have to go back and re-read a few paragraphs in order to understand what was going on, but this was definitely a one of the most satisfactory reading experiences I’ve ever had.

My edition: Paperback, published in 2010 by Wordsworth Classics.

About the date

The 16th of June 1904 was an ordinary day for Leopold Bloom, but Joyce didn’t choose this date randomly:

Nora Barnacle entered “sauntering” into James Joyce’s life outside the Dublin hotel, where she worked as a waitress. Their first date was a promenade around the city on a 16th of June 1904. Nora wasn’t as educated as he was, but they say that Joyce, after hours and hours of talking about his dreams and hopes asked: “Is there anyone who understands me?”, to which she replied with a single “yes”.

Nora once said: “You have no idea what it was for me to be thrown into this man’s life.”

About the day

So, what is Bloomsday?

Every 16th of June, thousands of readers around the world get together to celebrate Bloomsday. They dress up like characters from the novel, they make tours through Dublin, they go to festivals, they eat what Leopold Bloom ate, and they even make reading marathons in some libraries. Some bars offer special drinks and some museums organize art expos, quizzes, readings, and poetry competitions.

This video can explain it better than I can:

So, where did I celebrate Bloomsday?

At home, sitting in front of my desk, next to a cup of tea and an outrageous amount of homework. One day soon -hopefully- I’ll spend Bloomsday in the city of Joyce, but for now I’ll just have to read my favorite quotes and watch the celebrations via internet.