With a retelling of the Greek tale that still shocks, confounds, and intrigues, James Joyce’s masterpiece “Ulysses” celebrates its 100th anniversary.
After printers in Britain refused to handle the “obscene” work, James Joyce’s “Ulysses” was first published in February 1922 in Paris. For years, it was prohibited in both the United Kingdom and the United States.
Joyceans all around the world commemorated the anniversary four months ago. Fans, on the other hand, will assume period garb this week to commemorate the novel with greater zeal than normal.
“Ulysses” takes place entirely on one day – June 16, 1904 – and follows Leopold Bloom across British-ruled Dublin, obliquely shadowing Homer’s protagonist Odysseus on his epic homecoming home from the Trojan War.
This Thursday, performers dressed in turn-of-the-century garb – straw boater hats and bonnets – will reenact events from the book across Dublin for “Bloomsday.”
Sweny’s Pharmacy, where Bloom buys lemon soap for his wife Molly, will be transformed into a set for reenactments of the book’s “Lotus Eaters” incident, while a funeral procession for another character, Paddy Dignam, will take place in Glasnevin Cemetery.
This week, events commemorating the anniversary were place all across Dublin.
On Tuesday, a packed audience watched a presentation of an imagined second meeting between Joyce and his French contemporary Marcel Proust in a first-floor room of a Napoleonic-era fort in Sandycove, where Joyce had stayed.
The venue for the novel’s opening scene is now a museum and a place of pilgrimage for “Ulysses” fans, and the two titans of twentieth-century literature debate Joyce’s legacy.
“It’s just been amazing to get down here and immerse ourselves in a little of craic (fun),” said Tom Fitzgerald, a museum volunteer who played Joyce in the performance (AFP).
“Some people are quite serious about it. I usually joke that at Sandycove, we eat, drink, and sing our way through ‘Ulysses,’ and that if Joyce were still alive, he’d be here. He wouldn’t be attending a conference.”
A Zulu performance of Molly Bloom’s closing soliloquy in Johannesburg and a Vietnamese rendition of Joyce’s “Dubliners” collection of short stories in Hanoi are among the festivities planned by Irish embassies throughout the world to commemorate the day.
Across the country, grassroots events organised by fans are taking place in cities such as Toronto, Melbourne, and Shanghai.
“Ulysses,” a totemic classic of early twentieth-century modernist literature, is richly allusive and difficult to define.
It deconstructs genres as Joyce answers to Irish nationalism, religious orthodoxy, and sexual politics, among other topics, in a revolutionary style.
Bloom is a Jew who lives in a Catholic Ireland as an outsider. The novel is smutty at times, scatological at others, and difficult to read.
However, as Joyce responds to Homer with his modernist perspective on myth, it is frequently bitingly humorous and never less than thought-provoking.
“Ulysses,” which was published the same year as the Irish state was created, poses questions that Darina Gallagher, the director of the James Joyce Centre in Dublin, believes Ireland is currently grappling with.
“We’ve been unable to discuss gender and politics, as well as identity and nationalism. And as a society, we’re still coming to terms with Catholic Church issues that we can’t believe Joyce is writing about “she stated
“Ulysses” was written in self-imposed exile from Dublin during World War I, when Joyce travelled around Europe on his own voyage from Trieste to Zurich and Paris.
The Bloomsday celebrations are ironic in that Ireland, which was then enslaved by Catholic orthodoxy, refused to repatriate Joyce’s body when he died in 1941, at the age of 58. He was laid to rest in Zurich.
In his 1974 play “Travesties,” British dramatist Tom Stoppard imagines Joyce meeting Lenin and Dada creator Tristan Tzara in Zurich in 1917.
A character asks the author, “What did you do in the Great War, Mr. Joyce?”
“I wrote ‘Ulysses.’ What did you do?” Joyce responds.