Saturday, June 16, 2012

"Bloomsday" celebrates James Joyce's 'Ulysses' and the city and people from which it sprang

Nora Joyce
Leopold Bloom is a mensch. The hero of James Joyce's Ulysses is a Jewish man in Catholic Dublin, a humane, thoughtful, and empathetic person whose stream-of-conscious thoughts we are privy to during one special day in 1904. One of the most complex and well-rounded characters in fiction, he's also, sadly, a cuckold. Married to a voluptuous singer named Molly, he hasn't been able to make love since the death of his son, Rudy. He's aware of her liaison with one Blazes Boylan, and he struggles all day to thrust images of them together out of his mind. Molly is modeled in part on Joyce's wife, Nora Barnacle, and June 16 is the day he first met her. The famed final chapter of the book, "Penelope," is a tour de force internal monologue showing that Joyce, like Bloom, could imagine himself in the mind and heart of a woman. Here are the final passages, from the Naxos audiobook.

Each year in Dublin since the 1950's, fans of Joyce get together to celebrate the work in public readings at places across the city that are featured in the book. Besides being a portrait of Bloom and Stephen Daedalus (previously seen in Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man), Ulysses is a pitch-perfect recreation of the city Joyce left behind, as detailed and accurate as he could possibly make it from his various perches in Trieste, Zurich, and Paris. So let's raise a glass of Guinness or Bass to the Joyces (who finally married in 1931) and even if we can't go to a marathon reading, perhaps knock off a chapter or two of his masterwork as well. 
 Left: Poor eyesight plagued Joyce, but he always looked dapper; Below: wedding day snapshot


  1. Looks like I'll be adding Bloomsday in Dublin to my bucket list.

  2. Me too ... I'll bet it's fun. The action takes place all over the city.

  3. "Could imagine the mind and heart of a woman?" I read that chapter and I heard that bit o' blarney back in college. You're a woman, JP, do you think anything like that?
    The distance from Venus to Mars is roughly 74.5 million miles.
    That's about as close as he gets to the mind of this woman!

  4. So you think the monologue's all bogus? I think there's a stratum of authenticity obtained from his study of Nora and dialogues with her. Also, Bloom is perceptive about women, and he was born from the mind of Joyce after all. I concede willingly that Joyce was hideously selfish and arrogant in his treatment of women (such as his patron Sylvia Beach). He seemed to subscribe wholeheartedly to the theory that one has to be a jerk to be a genius.
    I tossed all of my college texts (including a well-annotated copy of Finnegans Wake) to concentrate on women's lit after college, but after reading Edna O'Brien's excellent bio of Joyce I went back to have another look at Ulysses for old time's sake.
    Thanks for taking the time to comment ... do you recall anything in particular about the chapter that irked you, or is it an overall sense of inauthenticity you recall?

    1. "Bogus" is a bit hard, since a work of fiction is whatever the writer wants it to be. As an expression of a character, the chapter is fine. What bothers me is that it is represented as the mind of a woman, as if Molly were a paradigm of all womanhood. I wonder if there are examples of women writers who were touted as expressing the mind of a man?