Posted by: Brad Nixon | June 16, 2020

Happy Bloomsday

On the doorstep he felt in his hip pocket for the latchkey. Not there. In the trousers I left off. Must get it. Potato I have. Creaky wardrobe. No use disturbing her. She turned over sleepily that time. He pulled the halldoor to after him very quietly, more, till the footleaf dropped gently over the threshold, a limp lid. Looked shut. All right till I come back anyhow.*

Thus, at line 72 in Part II, chapter 4 — referred to as “Calypso” — Leopold Bloom steps out of his door at 7 Eccles St., Dublin, Ireland on June 16, 1904. He’s 36 years old, leaving the flat he shares with his still-sleeping wife, Molly.

The book is Ulysses, by James Joyce. All the events in the book — aside from flashbacks delivered in a number of interior monologues — occur on that date. Thus, in certain corners of the of the reading world, today — “Bloomsday” — is a celebration of one of the most noted — and notorious — books of the 20th century.

Revered by many as a groundbreaking work of art, scorned by plenty as impenetrable, one must make of Ulysses what one will. It’s difficult to entirely ignore it and call one’s self any sort of student of at least 20th century literature in English.

Joyce — a native Dubliner —chose that date first because it was the day on which he had his first significant encounter with a young woman from Galway, Nora Barnacle, when Joyce was 22. Nora had just turned 20. They were — despite radically different personalities and in the face of an often tempestuous relationship — together for the rest of Joyce’s life.

1904 was a watershed year for Joyce, marking not only the beginning of his relationship with Nora, but his first attempt to leave Ireland and escape what he considered a provincial and limiting environment — despite the fact that almost everything he wrote was set there, mining every possible detail of the people, culture, events and the cityscape of Dublin itself.

So detailed are the dual travels of Bloom and his younger foil, Stephen Dedalus, across the city during the one day that unfolds through the course of Ulysses, that tours of “Bloom’s Dublin” have long been a standard tourist attraction (although the original flat on Eccles St., where a friend of Joyce’s lived, no longer stands). (One must assume there’s some regret in Dublin today, with travel limited by health restrictions!)

I’m not here to provide any guided tour of either Dublin or — heaven forbid — Ulysses itself. I had intended to start re-reading the book today, for the first time in several decades. I’m a bit behind schedule, still studying some background material so I can mount at least a reasonable assault on it.

It is, after all, just a book one can read in (highly stylized) English, although no ordinary one. It’s packed full of characters, most of them contrived by Joyce by combining aspects of actual people he knew, or knew of — sometimes resulting in not at all complimentary treatment of people Joyce didn’t like.

The structure of the book has multiple layers, including physical travel through Dublin, the passage of time from morning until late night, successively related in 18 episodes that correlate to events in Homer’s Odyssey. In each episode, there’s another narrative voice, another perspective, corresponding to various aspects of the characters of Bloom, Dedalus, Molly and other players. Some episodes are more or less traditional third person narrative, some rely heavily on Joyce’s innovative use of interior monologue, as well as drama-like sections of dialogue, and … too detailed a list for me to recount.

It took Joyce about seven years to write Ulysses, which was finally published in a limited edition in France in 1922. The tale of how it managed to be published at all is a torturous one, including multiple challenges regarding obscenity laws, demands for censorship of many passages, and Joyce’s perpetual state of dire poverty — exacerbated by his failing eyesight, the turmoil of life with Nora and their two children, and Joyce’s utter inability to hold on to a shilling or franc for any length of time.

Still, we get to say, “It’s today,” and open up Ulysses. Stephen Dedalus is living in the Martello Tower, Bloom wakes up to breakfast at 7 Eccles St., then sets forth, Joyce’s modern Odysseus. Eventually, in the final episode, at the end of the day — “Penelope” — Molly is lying in bed next to Leopold. In eight unpunctuated, stream-of-consciousness sentences that span about 35 pages, Joyce has Molly deliver one of literature’s most spectacular tours de force.

It’s easier to begin reading James Joyce with the memorable stories collected in Dubliners, or his novella A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, where Stephen Dedalus is the protagonist. Both highly recommended.

June 16th. A good day to read a few pages of Mr. Joyce? As he wrote elsewhere, “Let us swop hats and excheck a few strong verbs weak oach either.”**

Or, as Molly memorably concludes Ulysses, “…yes.”

Celebrate Bloomsday with me in a comment.

© Brad Nixon 2020. *James Joyce, Ulysses, Vintage Books, New York, 1986, p. 45; **James Joyce, Finnegans Wake, originally published 1939. I don’t have bibliographical information, and am relying on memory for this quotation. My copy’s stashed away. This passage appears in the first paragraph of the book. Corrections invited. 



  1. It’s good of you to celebrate this literary day. Some years I’ve pointed out that 3/14 is π Day, and this year I did a post for National Prairie Day (the first Saturday in June).

    Liked by 1 person

    • I was unaware of National Prairie Day. Thank you for brining it to my attention.


  2. “Her antiquity in preceding and surviving succeeding tellurian generations: her nocturnal predominance: her satellitic dependence: her luminary reflection: her constancy under all her phases, rising and setting by her appointed times, waxing and waning: the forced invariability of her aspect: her indeterminate response to inaffirmative interrogation: her potency over effluent and refluent waters: her power to enamour, to mortify, to invest with beauty, to render insane, to incite to and aid delinquency: the tranquil inscrutability of her visage: the terribility of her isolated dominant resplendent propinquity: her omens of tempest and of calm: the stimulation of her light, her motion and her presence: the admonition of her craters, her arid seas, her silence: her splendour, when visible: her attraction, when invisible.”

    Liked by 1 person

    • Comment to follow. Conagitating.


    • Joyce always claimed he’d never read a page of Proust, his slightly older contemporary. That’s likely true, Joyce being immersed in Ulysses, with failing vision that forced him to reserve much of his effort to writing and proofing his own book. Joyce did make at least one somewhat humorous remark about the length of Proust’s sentences. And yet, here — although entirely a different voice and form of diction — as masterful a long sentence as many Proust crafted. One doesn’t even need context, object or narrator to appreciate it! Thank you.


  3. I thought you’d enjoy this article about how, by necessity, Bloomsday has become Zoomsday.

    Liked by 1 person

    • My article was — in fact — supposed to reference some of the ways in which aficionados were celebrating the day without the usual in-person meetings, readings, etc. I missed this one. Thank you.
      I have utterly no doubt that Joyce would’ve relished the notion of “Zoomsday,” and may have put it in the book, had he known it.


    • I didn’t finish my initial clause in a sentence … meant to say that I ran on too long and didn’t have room to include those other celebrations.


  4. Having lived in Dublin (and walked over many commemorate brass plaques set in the pavements denoting scenes from the book in that time), and having read Ulysses a while ago, I really enjoyed this post. I hated the book, and yet I remain enthralled by it years later. It was unutterably dull, making me force myself to get through by sheer willpower, and yet there are days when I’m desperate to read it again. I struggled to get to grips with it, and yet, if I was to write a book, the only way I’d do it would be to make it a multi-layered edifice like this one. I love the way he uses words, and crafts them together into sentences. It’s a book to be read slowly, with no intention of ever getting to the end.

    On a completely different note, it pops up in Jasper Fforde’s excellent Thursday Next series about the Bookworld, where a thief has made off with all the punctuation in the last chapter, hoping to flog it to aspiring bookmakers in the Well of Lost Plots. This won’t make sense to anybody who’s not familiar with Fforde. (I suspect you’d enjoy them, by the way – if there is a genre they fit into, it’s probably literary surrealism with a strong dose of British humour & wordplay thrown in…)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you, Nick. An excellent and true account of the (Olympian) challenge of Ulysses. More to say in a bit.
      You and other have mentioned Fforde before. Now officially on my list.
      As I creep forward to my rereading (first time was about ’72, I believe), I’m still debating to what degree I’ll rely on a pony of some sort. Anthony Burgess’ “Re Joyce” (probably “Here Comes Everybody” for you in the UK) is certainly a prospect. Or, simply rely on whatever little I’ve learned in, um, a number of years, and plow ahead.
      Yes, there’ll be some plowing (probably ploughing in the UK!). I’ll be disappointed if I don’t find the game worth the candle.
      You’ll hear about it here, eventually, however things break.
      Cheers and forebodings.


  5. My only encounter with Ulysses is rather oblique. I haven’t read it.

    However, I did read a book on how it came to be published, to wit: a biography of Sylvia Beach. Ms. Beach was an American living in Paris in the 1920s who decided to open her own English language bookshop and lending library Shakespeare & Co., on the Left Bank. She struck up a friendship with Joyce (and many other luminaries of literature of the 20s and 30s living in Paris). It was she, an American, who got Ulysses published. A daunting task in those days, to be sure.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ms. Beach does deserve the credit for stepping forward at a time when no publisher in the UK would agree to take on the risk of seeing “Ulysses” into print.
      She undertook the logistical difficulties of dealing with an extremely demanding writer, who endlessly revised proofs; finding a printer amenable to setting Joyce’s probably-“obscene” (according to the laws of the time) language; not to mention the significant costs, against which she had no assurance of realizing any return. She also promised Joyce a remarkable 60% royalty on all sales, beginning with the first copy. Unheard of, perhaps ever, in the history of publishing, particularly in 1922. Typically, publishers stipulated that no royalties be paid on the first few hundred sales, and at a drastically lower rate.
      Joyce got a lot of encouragement and support — emotional and financial — from numerous people, including Ezra Pound, the editor Harriet Weaver and others.
      Beach herself was encouraged in the enterprise by the woman who’d inspired her to open Shakespeare & Co., the remarkable Adrienne Monnier — writer, editor and proprietor of La Maison des Amis des Livres, the Paris bookstore on which Beach modeled Shakespeare & Co.
      But, the primary risk was hers in taking the step to see the book into print.
      In the end, Ms. Beach lost a considerable amount of money in the affair once Joyce moved future printings to another publisher, depriving Beach of potential future sales. It required action by Andre Gide and nearly two hundred other prominent writers and artists to rescue Shakespeare & Co.
      I’ll put Fitch’s book on the list. Thanks for suggesting it.


      • The book is Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation (Fitch, 1983). I read it about 20 years ago.


  6. […] In my previous post, I marked the annual observance of Bloomsday — June 16th — the day on which all the events in James Joyces’ novel, Ulysses, occur. […]


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