This Saturday, June the 16th, is Bloomsday. A date on which the events of James Joyce’s novel, Ulysses, are celebrated. On June 16, 1904, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom wander separately and together through the streets of Dublin, and through them the reader explores the richness of life.
This year’s Bloomsday will be particularly noted, because this is the first year that Ulysses is in the public domain and Bloomsday commemorations and Ulysses readings and performances can no longer be blocked by Joyce’s prickly estate.
One production I’m looking forward to is BBC Radio4’s James Joyce’s Ulysses, a five-hour radio dramatization that will be broadcast, and then made available for download, on the 16th. Andrew Scott, the actor who has so memorably portrayed Moriarty in the BBC’s Sherlock, will co-star in James Joyce’s Ulysses as Stephen Dedalus. And Stephen Rea, who himself played Leopold Bloom, after whom Bloomsday is named, in the film, Bloom, will be the drama’s narrator.
Also, Melvyn Bragg’s weekly BBC program, In Our Time, will be discussing Ulysses in this week’s episode. I expect it will be a nicely informative introduction to the text and some of the issues surrounding it:
First published ninety years ago in Paris, Joyce’s masterpiece is a sprawling and startlingly original work charting a single day in the life of the Dubliner Leopold Bloom. Some early readers were outraged by its sexual content and daringly scatalogical humour, and the novel was banned in most English-speaking countries for a decade after it first appeared. But it was soon recognised as a genuinely innovative work: overturning the ban on its publication, an American judge described Ulysses as “a sincere and serious attempt to devise a new literary method for the observation and description of mankind.” Today Ulysses is widely regarded as the greatest example of literary modernism, and a work that changed literature forever. It remains one of the most discussed novels ever written.
This afternoon, to get myself into an appropriately Joycean mood, I started to relisten to Frank Delaney’s wonderful podcast, Re: Joyce, with the goal of finishing the series by the end of this week. For between five and ten minutes a week, Delaney breaks down Ulysses line by line, sometimes word by word, explaining the allusions, references, meaning, and wordplay in Joyce’s text. Delaney is now two years into the project and we’ve only recently reached the third chapter. Re: Joyce is a delight to listen to. I’m constantly amused by it — Delaney clearly loves talking about Joyce and Ulysses and that delight comes through — and invariably I learn something I never knew before. To get some idea of what Re: Joyce is like, NPR’s Weekend Edition interviewed Delaney to mark Bloomsday last year, and the segment plays some clips from the first year of the podcast.
Or, this — Delaney’s “James Joyce Rap”…
And then there’s this, Stephen Fry talking about Ulysses and why it’s such a perfect novel:
Of course, one of these years I actually have to do Bloomsday. Go to a pub, indulge in a few pints of stout, and read Ulysses. This year, I have family visiting on Bloomsday and so it’s unlikely that I’ll visit any pubs, consume any stout, or read aloud from Ulysses. This would be the place to go, though. 🙂
Counting down the days to Bloomsday…