Bloomsday today in Dublin marks the culmination of a week-long series of events organised by The James Joyce Centre: from walking tours to pub crawls and high teas, readings, lectures, and interviews with celebrity admirers. As Joyce’s literature continues to flourish worldwide, Bloomsday is celebrated in ever more ways across a growing number of locations.
Among other happenings in New York City, Symphony Space will host the 34th annual ‘Bloomsday on Broadway’. Events are taking place at the Rosenbach Museum & Library in Philadelphia, at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, at the Irish House in New Orleans, and in Canada, Australia, Cyprus and Croatia. In Genoa, Italy, there is a full day’s worth of readings from Ulysses. In York, England, as part of the city’s Festival of Ideas, Dr Gerry Smyth and Professor Matthew Campbell are leading ‘A Journey through James Joyce and Irish Song’.
* * *
Bloomsday is celebrated on 16 June because this is the day upon which James Joyce’s most famous work, Ulysses, is set. The events of Ulysses comprise the single day of 16 June 1904. We begin around 8 am, at Martello tower in Sandycove with Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan; and end in the early hours of the following morning, inside 7 Eccles street, as the novel’s protagonist Leopold Bloom lies asleep, upturned next to his thoughtful wife Molly.
Joyce had an especially strong feeling for dates. He hurried to the last moment so that Ulysses could be published on 2 February 1922, the date of his birthday; and later when struggling with Work in Progress, which would become Finnegans Wake, he considered handing over the entire process to the Irish poet James Stephens, largely based on the belief that they were both born in Dublin on 2 February 1882. It was on 2 February 1927 that Joyce issued to the press a statement of international protest over Samuel Roth’s illicit publication in the United States of extracts from Ulysses.
16 June 1904 was equally important to Joyce, because it marked the occasion of his first date with his future wife. Joyce first set eyes on Nora Barnacle on Nassau street on 10 June, and on the evening of 16 June they went for their first walk, to the Ringsend area of Dublin. Joyce’s biographer, Richard Ellmann, writes:
‘To set Ulysses on this date was Joyce’s most eloquent if indirect tribute to Nora, a recognition of the determining effect upon his life of his attachment to her. On June 16, as he would afterwards realize, he entered into relation with the world around him and left behind him the loneliness he had felt since his mother’s death. He would tell her later, ‘You made me a man.’ June 16 was the sacred day that divided Stephen Dedalus, the insurgent youth, from Leopold Bloom, the complaisant husband.’
Joyce and Nora would elope to the continent that October, passing through Paris and Zurich before settling in Trieste – although they would not formally marry until 1931.
The day is important for Ulysses in many points of detail: it explains the ‘mild morning air’ which sustains Mulligan’s dressing gown in the opening passage of ‘Telamachus’, and the sunlight which stirs Bloom as he visits Dlugacz’s butchers in ‘Calypso’; and it is the reason for the repeated references to the General Slocum disaster in New York City, which happened on 15 June, and for the focus many characters share towards the winner of the day’s Gold Cup horse race. It is through such evocations of the day of 16 June 1904 that Joyce creates his sensible, sensuous, almost tangible world.
Yet the date itself is mentioned rarely in the text of Ulysses. In fact, it features explicitly and in full only three times, the first not until the tenth episode, ‘Wandering Rocks’. There, in one of the episode’s vignettes, a Miss Dunne clicks in the date with the keys of her typewriter. In ‘Oxen of the Sun’, ‘Thursday sixteenth June’ is remembered as the date of the burial of Patrick Dignam. And in ‘Ithaca’ the catechistic narrator asks to ‘Compile the budget for 16 June 1904’, a task completed via 1 pork kidney, a couple of tramfares, and 2 Banbury cakes. Otherwise there are several more references only to ‘June’ or the ‘sixteenth’.
While Bloomsday is rooted in the attempt to retrace the route walked by Bloom in Ulysses, today the date serves as a broad celebration of Joyce’s life and work. Beginning in Dublin over sixty years ago, on the fiftieth anniversary of the events of the novel, the commemoration gradually spread throughout Europe and America: to New York and to Philadelphia, where the Rosenbach Museum & Library s keeps Joyce’s Ulysses manuscript; to Joyce and Nora’s Trieste; and to the Hungarian city of Szombathely, the birthplace of Bloom’s father, Rudolf Virag.