annually on June 16th
Bloomsday is a celebration of Ulysses and its author James Joyce. It is celebrated by academics and diehard fans, as well as by many who have never read nor finished the dense, convoluted, and oftentimes bewildering novel, but who wish to celebrate the book and its author anyway because they recognize the book's importance.
James Joyce is known for his complex writing, stream-of-consciousness prose, and use of content that some view as explicit. Ulysses is known as one of the best novels of all time. The whole book takes place on June 16, 1904, when its protagonist, Leopold Bloom, explores the pubs, churches, streets, bridges, and shops of Dublin, Ireland. It is a modern-day version of Homer's epic, the Odyssey, where Bloom, his wife Molly, and Stephen Dedalus represent Ulysses, Penelope, and Telemachus. One of Joyce's biographers, Richard Ellmann, claimed that Joyce picked June 4 as the date of the book's events because it was the anniversary of the day that he either met or first went walking with his lover, and eventual wife, Nora. Although, other academics disagree on the significance of the date.
Ulysses was published in Paris, in 1922, but was banned in the United States and the United Kingdom at the time. It was also banned by Stalin in Russia. Various legal battles brought the book to a wider attention, and in December 1933, the court decision of United States v. One Book Called Ulysses ruled that the book was art, not filth, and that it could be published in the United States. The United Kingdom allowed its publication in 1936. Upon its initial publication, it received both praise and criticism, and became known as being a difficult book to read. It uses many styles and techniques throughout, and readers must think beyond the immediate plot and examine why the styles change.
The word "Bloomsday" first appeared in 1924, in a letter written by Joyce. In 1929, booksellers Sylvia Beach and Adrienne Monnier put together a luncheon at a restaurant outside of Versailles, to honor the 25th anniversary of the publication of the book, and to celebrate the publication of a new French translation. It was attended by Joyce and about thirty others, and took place on June 27, is seen as the first Bloomsday celebration.
Bloomsday wasn't celebrated in Dublin until 1954 when Irish writers Flann O'Brien and John Ryan held a gathering at Martello Tower—the setting in the first episode of the book, which today is called James Joyce Tower and houses a museum dedicated to Joyce. Afterward, they took a carriage ride through Dublin, not unlike the one that is taken in episode six of the book. The city itself began embracing Joyce in 1982, during the centennial year of his birth. Now the day is celebrated second only to St. Patrick's Day in the city. Many retrace Bloom's footsteps of the day as much as they can, and Davy Byrne's Pub is a popular stop. Many of the locations of the book can no longer be stopped at, though, as much has changed since 1904. For example, Bloom's home at 7 Eccles Street no longer stands.
Today, celebrations take place around the world. Academic conferences, readings and role-playings of the book, and James Joyce look-alike contests are all common. The day is celebrated in at least sixty countries. Events and celebrations take place in many European and North American cities, but in other areas as well. Notable cities with celebrations include Dublin, New York, Philadelphia, Toronto, Tokyo, Beijing, and Buenos Aires. The James Joyce Society of New York City was founded in 1947, at the now-gone Gotham Book Mart, and yearly meetings were held on the day. Annual readings also take place at Symphony Space at their Bloomsday on Broadway event.
James Joyce was born in Dublin, on February 2, 1882, and went on to become one of the most admired authors of the twentieth century. He grew up reading and was fond of Dante, Aquinas, and Aristotle. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree from University College Dublin, he moved to Paris. But he soon returned to Dublin, in 1903, when his mother became sick—she died soon afterward. He met Nora Barnacle, who became his longtime lover and then wife. The two soon left Dublin, and made various moves over the years, while also having two children. Joyce worked as a teacher to support his family, while also writing.
Before the publishing of Ulysses, Joyce was rather unknown. He published a collection of fifteen short stories called Dubliners in 1914, and A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man two years later. After reading the latter, Ezra Pound helped push Joyce's career. He helped Joyce gain patronage, including from Harriet Shaw Weaver. This gave him the opportunity to take time off from teaching so that he could write.
Following Ulysses, Joyce published Finnegan's Wake in 1939, which many saw as being even a harder read than its predecessor. Joyce appeared on the cover of Time magazine the same year. Joyce and his family had been living in Paris but moved to southern France before the Nazis invaded the city. The family then went to Zurich, Switzerland, where they had once lived before.
Joyce had been struggling with health issues for a while. In particular, he had problems with his eyes and vision, enough so that he had had surgeries and was nearly blind at some points in time. While in Zurich, he had an intestinal operation from which he did not recover. He died on January 13, 1941, at the age of 59. His legacy lives on in his books, and in the celebration of Bloomsday.
How to Observe
Here are a few ways you could celebrate Bloomsday:
- Read Ulysses on your own or with friends.
- Attend an academic conference or a reading of the book.
- Roleplay the book.
- Dress up like James Joyce, and perhaps even enter a look-alike contest.
- Drink Guinness or other Irish beer.
- Attend Bloomsday on Broadway in New York City.
- Retrace the footsteps of Leopold Bloom in Dublin. For example, have yourself a glass of burgundy wine and a Gorgonzola sandwich at Davy Byrne's Pub.
- Visit the James Joyce Tower & Museum.
- Visit the James Joyce Centre.