“Bloomsday,” the James Joyce scholar Robert Nicholson once quipped, “has as much to do with Joyce as Christmas has to do with Jesus.”
“On this very day, June 16, 111 years ago the commemoration and celebration of the life of Irish writer James Joyce during which the events of his novel “Ulysseus” (1922) are relived—the date on which the novel is set— attract extreme ends of the panorama of literary zest in Dublin and elsewhere. Pedantic Academics and erudite professionals mingle with obsessives and cranks, plus those imprecise ones who simply tag along for the fun of it. The event can be regal and meticulous or raucous and chaotic—or, somehow, all of the above”, as observed by Jonathan Goldman for “the PARIS REVIEW”.
The mélange of knowledge and fanboyism that marks Bloomsday, can be tallied with The Jaipur Literature Festival of India in matters of popular stature. The former, however, has a serious past. Bloomsday is unique among literary gatherings as a serious cultural event that which garnered mainstream attention worldwide.
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce chose the date as it was the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle; they walked to the Dublin suburb of Ringsend. The name is derived from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses.
The first mention of such a celebration is to be found in a letter by Joyce to Miss Weaver dated 27 June 1924: “There is a group of people who observe what they call Bloom’s day – 16 June.”
“What a town Dublin is!” exclaimed James Joyce to the painter Frank Budgen: “I wonder if there is another like it. Everybody has time to hail a friend and start a conversation about a third party.”
The day starts with a range of cultural activities centering Ulysses. This includes Ulysseus readings, dramatizations, pub-crawls, and other events, much of it hosted by the James Joyce Centre in North Great George’s Street. Other events include the annual Bloomsday breakfast, and a selection of readings in Meeting House Square chaired by Panti Bliss, as well as the famous lunch at Davy Byrne’s pub of a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and glass of burgundy. (Irish Examiner)
“Joyce was a poet of sound; he wasn’t a visual person,” Isaiah Sheffer, artistic director of Symphony Space said, “It’s meant to be read aloud. The big discovery is that it’s funny.”
Supporters and enthusiasts often dress in Edwardian costume to celebrate the festivity. The idea is to retrace Bloom’s route around Dublin via landmarks such as Davy Byrne’s pub. Hard-core devotees have even been known to hold marathon readings of the entire novel, some lasting up to 36 hours. A five-month-long festival, (ReJoyce Dublin 2004), took place in Dublin between 1 April and 31 August 2004.
On a Sunday in 2004 before the 100th “anniversary” of the fictional events described in the book, 10,000 people in Dublin were treated to a free, open-air, full Irish breakfast on O’Connell Street consisting ofsausages, rashers, toast, beans, and black and white puddings.
“Every year hundreds of Dubliners dress as characters from the book … as if to assert their willingness to become one with the text. It is quite impossible to imagine any other masterpiece of modernism having quite such an effect on the life of a city.” (Declan Kiberd)
In 1982, on Bloomsday, the centenary year of Joyce’s birth, Irish state broadcaster RTÉ transmitted (RTÉ Radio) a continuous 30-hour dramatic performance of the entire text of Ulysses on radio.
Mr. Hoque, a passionate Joyce fan, described the Bloomsday mood as ecstatic. “It’s always joyful, it’s always pleasant, it’s always a celebration,” he said. “It’s not a somber mood. Some people may have had a few drinks, a few pints of Guinness. But other people, they just love the literature. You can see their mouths moving as people are speaking.”
He shocked people by his brutal honesty. “If Ulysses isn’t fit to read,” replied its author, “then life isn’t fit to live”. When a fan asked to kiss the hand that wrote Ulysses, Joyce laughed and said “no – that hand has done a lot of other things as well”.
Image Source: The Viewspaper