Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Happy Bloomsday!

I only care about Bloomsday as a sort of cosmic accident. When I got to grad school and pored over the list of classes I could take, I discovered that most of them were full. As a new grad student, I was last to register. And so I found myself in Tom Rice's class on James Joyce. What a life-changing experience that was.

I notice that several of the stories from Dubliners show up in anthologies, even first year literature anthologies. But would I have ever had the patience to wade through Ulysses all by myself? Absolutely not.

Bloomsday celebrates the day, June 16, on which all the action in Ulysses takes place. In some ways, that whole book is a tribute to the day on which James Joyce and Nora Barnacle (who would be his wife) had their first date. The book covers almost every kind of action that can take place in a human day: we see Leopold Bloom in the bathroom, we see Stephen Dedalus pick his nose, we see Leopold Bloom masturbate . . . and we finally get to the masterful final chapter, where Molly Bloom muses on the physicality of being a woman.

As with many books, whose scandalous reputations preceded them, I read and read and waited for the scandalous stuff. As a post-modern reader, I was most scandalized by how difficult it was. It's hard to imagine that such a book would be published today.

But what a glorious book it is. What fun Joyce has, as he writes in different styles and plays with words. What a treat for English majors like me, who delighted in chasing down all the allusions.

I went on to write my M.A. thesis on Joyce, trying to prove that he wasn't as anti-woman as his reputation painted him to be. Since then, other scholars have done a more thorough job than I did. But I'm still proud of that thesis. I learned a lot by writing it. At the time, it was the longest thing I had ever written--in the neighborhood of 50 pages. A few years later, I'd be writing 150 pages as I tackled my dissertation--on domestic violence in the Gothic. By the time I'd written my thesis, I had said all I had to say on Joyce.

So, happy Bloomsday. Perhaps I will celebrate by having something Irish. I have a great soda bread recipe. There's the wonderful chapter where Bloom has a cheese sandwich because he needs something easy on his stomach. Maybe I'll find a lovely Irish cheese to go with my bread. Maybe some Celtic music. Maybe a few Irish beers--no, my spouse can have those. Near the end of the book, as Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus stagger home, Leopold invites Stephen inside and plans to make hot chocolate. Yes, that's the perfect breakfast! In fairness, I should mention that the breakfast that Leopold eats is fried inner organs. Blhh. No, cocoa for me now, cheese and soda bread later.

And a toast, even if it's not with Irish beer, to Joyce, and his magnificent masterpiece!


Unknown said...

Is it time to re-visit this book? I am not sure.
Thanks for reminding. I HAD forgotten, though I didn't for the first 2 or 3 years after having survived it.

Kristin Berkey-Abbott said...

I think parts of it are worth rereading. I think it's fine to skip the boring bits and the really difficult parts, like stream of consciousness through a drunk narrator, near the end. No thanks! But parts of that book are still so beautiful, so masterful, so envy inspiring. Yes, revisit, if only for an afternoon.

Or, reread "The Dead," which does similar things, only more compressed.