‘Bloomsday’ started June 16, 1954 and continues to this day as an annual global celebration of the Irish author, James Joyce. How did June 16 become so special and why is it still celebrated after 60 years?
June 16, 1904 was the date of James Joyce’s first outing with Nora Barnacle, a chambermaid who was to become his wife. They walked to Ringsend, a Dublin urban village. All the events of Joyce’s landmark novel Ulysses (written in 1922) take place on June 16, 1904 in Dublin. Bloomsday includes a variety of activities that recall passages from novel that many find unreadable. Why does the book and its annual celebration endure?
In 1999, Time Magazine named Joyce one of the 100 Most Important People of the 20th Century, stating “Joyce … revolutionized 20th century fiction”. Along with Ulysses, the work for which Joyce is most remembered and celebrated, other well-known works of his include A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Dubliners and Finnegan’s Wake.
When first published, Ulysses was banned, criticized and suppressed on moral grounds – because it included sexual innuendo, masturbation, and various other bits of description about physical and sensual pleasures that were not publicly acknowledged or accepted at the time.
The modernist experimental style introduced in Ulysses is celebrated by some as a work of genius and reviled by others as impossible to read. It is a simple story told in a complex way that is highly inventive. It changed the way we write and read literature.
Authors who were influenced by James Joyce are as diverse in their own style and storytelling as John Updike and Salman Rushdie.
It is hard to imagine how a book like Ulysses would fare in today’s literary marketplace. Would publishers support a book of such revolutionary style that readers would be challenged to read it? Would readers find it worth their effort to understand a novel written in a style – actually in a variety of styles — they were not familiar with, a novel devoid of punctuation with a narrative that requires the reader figure out what is important to the plot and what simply flows out of random thoughts?
Ulysses is a grand experiment in literature. Readers seem to love it or hate it; many simply give up on it. It is certainly worth visiting. Just as Bloomsday is an event worth visiting.