Today is June 16, Bloomsday, an important holiday in my calendar. (Definitely click the link if you donʼt know why.) However, much like Daisy Buchanan and the longest day of the year, I often find the Big Day has slipped past without me even dragging out a copy of Ulysses and reading some. Sad but also true. (With that link, however, I can always find my way digitally to the text!)
On the other hand, most years I have done something appropriate — which usually means reading some of the Big Blue Book. I have also wandered about my own little city (really little in our case, of course), especially one summer about the turn of the millennium when I had endured double hernia surgery as June began — utterly frustrating my deep desire to attend a former favorite studentʼs wedding, as the recovery was long and, truthfully, painful — so walking any distance whatsoever was miraculous and lovely for me. I believe that year on Bloomsday I actually got several miles under my feet, wandering far from our home block for the first time since the operation, while also sitting (as I did all day that month usually, recovering) to read in Joyceʼs book. This year, like Bloom and Stephen, Iʼll be out of the house by necessity, although my required absence is completely unrelated to either of their darker destinies. And I intend to have one version of Ulysses along for the journey and to celebrate a bit as well.
Janet has gotten into the mood many times (weʼll celebrate with lunch together this year), and oldest friend Kevin frequently gets in touch on the sacred day, even after we each got married and even after he and Dawn moved back (well, it wasnʼt back for her, the Rhode Islander) to Iowa. (What we havenʼt all done is meet in some appropriate place — even Dublin its dear dirty self — to celebrate in a proper fashion, regardless how much of that old Protestantʼs brown brew goes down the gullet. Iowa City would be nice and for me appropriately Bloomesque.)
One year The Lovely One and I shared Beef Wellington, handmade (crust and all) by yours truly, from an Irish cookbook she brought back from her very first travel-agent fam trip. (Fans — or even readers — of Ulysses should recognize the appropriateness of the dish.) I thought the servile role for the summertime house husband (now strangely fulltime…) was also quite appropriate. I am considering making the dish again this year (but using a store-bought crust or puff pastry for simplicityʼs sake). Bloom may go the day vegetarian, but Iʼm only American, you know.
Now, for those uninterested in clicking on the superfluous links I tediously take time to provide, Bloomsday celebrates the day on which the fictitious events in Ulysses supposedly occurred — June 16, 1904 (which in our objective reality was the day that author James Joyce first went out with his future wife, Nora Barnacle, so setting the novel on that date was in her honor, although she never read one of his books, being a nonliterary girl from Galway, in the West of Ireland). Prying scholars have wondered just how romantic that liaison was…
Of course, the day is one of sexual frustration for most of the characters in the novel (especially cuckolded husband Leopold Bloom, whose loving wife Molly enjoys the potent favors of Blazes Boylan that fateful evening/late afternoon). So perhaps the date should be recalled with foreboding by complacent husbands who have been neglecting their vivacious wives… Of course, Molly does get the last words in the book for herself, which reveal the depth of her (kind of vague) feelings for Bloom and the casualness of her interest in Boylan. Both Stephen and Bloom just have to take matters into their own hands instead. Joyce does a nicely delicate job of creating those three very different people and populating their thoughts with unique textures, patterns and mannerisms.
When I first tried to read the book, however, I was most interested in that third major character, nosepicking would-be bard and temporarily homeless-by-choice Stephen Dedalus, having poured Joyceʼs Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man through myself my senior year in high school (thanks, Roger Williams and Advanced Placement English, also stimulating me to actually read The Waste Land). Portrait was a mindbending and worldchanging book for me (and boy, am I disappointed in the Joyce coverage in Wikipedia; Iʼd snottily remark that high-school nerds must not be very literary, except The Waste Land link, above, is pretty good.) I think Ulyssesʼ third episode might have been as big a push toward philosophy for me as anything, just wanting to understand a little of everything that Stephen half thinks his way around (I know that Joyce and Dante kept me riveted to Aquinas and Aristotle).
I can thank Joyce for getting me to start really reading with depth and thought instead of (as I mostly have done again recently) just for surface glitter and fun/adventure. Even if I have never been able to actualy read much of Finnegans Wake (now thereʼs a good Wikipedia article). I also owe him my poetry, as reading Joyce got me thinking poetically instead of just melancholically or prettily (both of which my verse suffers sufficiently). And Stephenʼs great disquisition on Shakespeare, adultery and Hamlet had its own role in installing that Bard at the top of my personal literary pantheon as a teenager.
Anyway, I wonʼt attempt to paraphrase the links (although I may be signing onto Wikipedia again and making some improvements to those miserable semi-stub articles relating to Joyce that have been allowed to wallow halfbaked on that source) — you can click for yourselves and gather the storyline and themes of the Blue Book of Eccles. Instead, letʼs just take down the volume (or click on any of those online/ebook links I provided for the novel above) and give any good episode a read (Iʼm tempted to do Circe, Ithaca and Penelope this year, although all long).
Have a great Bloomsday. Time to be reading and then off for lunch with my love before reading some more.