We interrupt our centenary remembrances with a trip back in time to celebrations of “Bloomsday,” the day on which James Joyce set his novel, Ulysses.
Below is a blog I wrote celebrating Bloomsday, way back in the beginning of this millennium. And it is still relevant today, I think.
Excerpts from the original blog series are contained in Gypsy Teacher, available as a blook on Amazon.
The Journal of a Teacher in Search of a Classroom
By Kathleen Dixon Donnelly, June 16, 2003, Hollywood, Florida,
99 years ago this week, James Joyce had his first date with the woman who was to become his wife, Nora Barnacle. He chose to immortalize the occasion in his epic, Ulysses, which covers every detail of one day in the life of Leopold Bloom, a Jew living in Dublin, in only 783 pages.
James Joyce and Nora Barnacle
What this really means is that next year, Dublin will go fughin’ nuts.
I lived in Ireland for just short of a year, but I have never been there for Bloomsday celebrations. Maybe next year. [NB from the future, gentle reader: I made it!]
Many think that June 16th is the date that Jimmy and Nora met, but indeed that was a week earlier. She coyly kept putting him off but finally agreed to go out with him. I’ve seen pictures of Nora and let’s just say, she had a wonderful personality.
On my second trip to Ireland, the minute I turned on to the street in Galway town with the house that Nora grew up in, my stomach recognized the site as looking just like where my mom grew up in Pittsburgh. If I showed you photos of the two, you might not see the similarity, but the “feel” was palpable. Small row houses, all looking the same, but with each door painted a different color.
Soon after they met, Joyce convinced Nora to come with him to Switzerland where he had accepted a teaching position. They had two children and went to visit Paris in 1920 for just a few weeks—but stayed for years. Paris has that effect on people. Even the Irish.
James and Nora never actually got around to getting married until their children were both grown. They just presented themselves as a married couple and were always accepted that way. Nobody Googled, looking for a marriage certificate.
Nora and James Joyce after their wedding
In Paris Joyce continued work on Ulysses and the writers living there knew that he was working on something big. He didn’t socialize in the writers’ salons in Paris at the time. He mostly drank alone, sometimes with others, breaking into song late at night in the cafes. The cab drivers would bring him home, where Nora would be waiting at the top of the stairs, arms akimbo, like a good Irish wife. “Jimmy,” she’d say, looking down on him lying in a drunken heap,
Your fans think you’re a genius but they should see you now.”
When Dorothy Parker visited the city in the twenties, she saw Joyce on the street but he didn’t speak to her. She reasoned,
Perhaps he thought he would drop a pearl.”
Excerpts from Ulysses began appearing in the Little Review in the States around 1918, causing quite a stir because of the language. The first obscenity case brought against the magazine was argued by Irish-American lawyer John Quinn, who didn’t win, but got the Little Review publishers off with a $100 fine.
Quinn is one of the true heroes of early 20th century literature and art. He helped William Butler Yeats and Lady Augusta Gregory found the Abbey Theatre in Dublin (and had an affair with Augusta later), bought up lots of Cubist and Post-Impressionist paintings in Paris, lent many of them to the 1913 Armory Show in New York, and argued a case for the organizers of that show that changed the customs law in the U.S.: From that point on, works of art less than 100 years old would be free of tariffs as their classical cousins were.
Virginia and Leonard Woolf, operating their Hogarth Press in London, had rejected Ulysses. Reading it made Virginia feel, in the words of one biographer, that
someone had stolen her pen and scribbled on the privy wall.”
Sylvia Beach, the American who founded the bookstore Shakespeare & Co., the social center for the expatriate community in Paris, met Joyce at a party and soon offered to publish his novel. After being rejected by so many who weren’t adventurous enough to take it on, he was intrigued that this woman wanted his book.
Joyce took longer to finish the work than they expected. So for the local artistic community, many of whom had subscribed in response to Beach’s mailing announcing the work, she held a reading on December 7th, 1921, in her shop. Gertrude Stein and her partner, Alice B. Toklas, didn’t come; they lived a few blocks away but were preparing for their annual Christmas party.
When Beach did publish Ulysses the following February, on Joyce’s 40th birthday, Alice promptly walked over to Shakespeare & Co and cancelled Gertrude’s subscription. They would brook no competitors for her title as greatest living writer in English.
First cover of Ulysses
After publication, Ulysses was promptly banned in Boston, but a friend of Ernest Hemingway managed to smuggle a copy into the United States via Canada.
Joyce died in 1941 at the age of 59 of a duodenal ulcer. Nora lived another ten years.
Beach, who funded the publication of Ulysses on her own with the help of the paid subscriptions, never saw any profit or royalties from it. Her writer friends helped her keep the bookstore open, but when the Nazis occupied Paris during World War II she was interned for a few years. She wrote a lovely memoir called Shakespeare & Co. which was published in the mid-fifties.
During our marriage ceremony on Hollywood Beach last year, on St. Patrick’s Day, our friend performing the ceremony announced that Tony and I each wanted to say something that we’d written. We looked at each other, and Tony said,
You’re the writer. Go ahead.”
So I glanced at my scribbled notes and told him that I wouldn’t promise to solve his problems, but that I would help him to solve them. And that I wouldn’t promise to love everyone he loved, but that I would always respect those he loved.
I finished with Molly Bloom’s “Yes!” from the ending of Ulysses, but because I didn’t do the requisite fact-checking, I misquoted it. So here, for those of you who were at the wedding, and those who weren’t, is the correct ending for Molly and for me:
…and yes I said yes I will Yes.”
Tony Dixon and Kathleen Dixon Donnelly, March 17, 2002
“Such Friends”: 100 Years Ago… is the basis for the book, “Such Friends”: The Literary 1920s, to be published by K. Donnelly Communications. For more information, email me at email@example.com.
This fall I will be talking about writers’ salons in Ireland, England, France and America before and after the Great War in the University of Pittsburgh’s Osher Lifelong Learning program.
Manager as Muse, about Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ relationships with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe, is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.
If you want to walk with me through Bloomsbury, you can download my audio walking tour, “Such Friends”: Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group.