Commemorating the life and legend of Irish writer James Joyce on Bloomsday, every June 16, we take a moment to honor and celebrate all we’ve gained from his works. The significance of June 16 is taken from his 1922 novel, “Ulysses,” which takes place on June 16, 1904, and follows a day in the life of the story’s protagonist (Leopold Bloom). It is also the day Joyce went on his first date with his then wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle. The story of Leopold Bloom is recognized as one of the most important works of modernist literature and has been largely considered a catalyst for the entire movement. Today, people in Ireland and Joyce fan’s around the world celebrate with festivals, readings, dramatizations, pub crawls, and more to honor a man who changed literature forever.
HISTORY OF BLOOMSDAYThe first mention of a Bloomsday celebration was found in a letter written by Joyce himself to Miss Weaver in 1924, which refers to “a group of people who observed what they call Bloom’s Day on June 16.” The story was originally serialized in parts in the American journal, “The Little Review,” where the events in “Ulysses” tend to parallel that of Homer’s epic, “The Odyssey.” While in “The Odyssey” Odysseus has a 10-year journey home to his wife, Penelope, in contrast, the story of Leopold Bloom is about him trying to avoid going home to his wife. Although the story does not contain mythical gods, goddesses, or sirens, it does follow an average man dealing with everyday life in what can be described as somewhat grotesque realism. “Ulysses” has, on the one hand, been called “the most prominent landmark in modernist literature,” a work where life’s complexities are depicted with “unprecedented, and unequaled, linguistic and stylistic virtuosity” by T.S. Eliot and, on the other hand, “a heap of dung, crawling with worms, photographed by a cinema camera through a microscope” by Virginia Woolf. It has been reinterpreted in a number of different ways across the world and still is referenced as a classic piece of literature that cannot be forgotten. While the fictional June 16, 1904, follows the dysfunctional life of the character, Leopold Bloom, the day in James Joyce’s life was quite a pleasant one. It was the first outing he went on with his future muse and wife, Nora Barnacle, with whom he shared a loving and passionate relationship throughout his life.
BLOOMSDAY TIMELINE1904Sparks FlyOn June 16, James Joyce has his first outing with his future wife, Nora Barnacle, a date later to be used in his famous novel, “Ulysses.”1914Gaining MomentumJoyce’s first novel “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” is published the same year as “Dubliners,” a collection of 15 short stories.1918James on StageJames Joyce publishes his only play, “Exiles,” about a husband and wife’s troublesome relationship.1922Joyce Breaks the PageJames Joyce’s novel, “Ulysses,” which was originally introduced in the American journal “The Little Review,” is now published in Paris on Joyce’s 40th birthday.1954Bloomsday Traditions BeginOn the 50th anniversary of the events that take place in “Ulysses,” writers Brian O’Nolan, Patrick Kavanagh, and John Ryan plan to retrace the steps of Leopold Bloom through the city of Dublin but, unfortunately, they get too drunk to complete the tour.BLOOMSDAY ACTIVITIES
Get your Joyce onPick up one of James Joyce’s novels, short stories, or poems. As one of Ireland’s most beloved writers, you owe it to yourself to introduce or reintroduce yourself to the works of James Joyce.
Go to a readingBloomsday is celebrated all around the world. Check if there’s a local reading of “Ulysses” nearby or see if you can start your own! Many readings also incorporate pub crawls, so win-win!
Dress upWho doesn’t love a good excuse to wear a costume? True Joyce enthusiasts are known to go out on Bloomsday dressed in full Edwardian garb as they retrace Bloom’s route.
5 FUN FACTS ABOUT JAMES JOYCE
Censorship“Ulysses” was burned in the U.S. in 1918, in Ireland in 1922, in Canada in 1922, and England in 1923 — the book was officially banned in England in 1929, most likely because the mass-burning was not sufficient in suppressing its readership.
Joyce could singJames Joyce was an accomplished tenor and won the bronze medal in an Irish competitive festival of classical music.
Sexy LettersJoyce shared numerous sexually explicit letters with his wife that have since been auctioned off for nearly half a million dollars, and they’re quite steamy.
Burning passionJoyce almost burned the original manuscript for “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man” after an intense argument with his wife, Nora, but luckily, Joyce’s sister was able to rescue it.
Clear mind, blurry visionJames Joyce was nearly blind most of his life and had undergone a series of eye-related surgeries to improve his vision.
WHY WE LOVE BLOOMSDAY
He is one of the fathers of modern literature.Without James Joyce, modern literature would not be what it is today. We may have not had writers like Hunter S. Thompson, T.S. Eliot, or William Faulkner and, for that, we are forever grateful.
He was boldThey say the key to good writing is found in honesty and boldness — James Joyce lacked in neither. His ability to communicate reality in such a profound and amusing way is what makes him a literary legend.
He was tenaciousDespite being censored in the U.S. and England, among other places, Joyce never gave up writing and continued trying to get his work published throughout his life.