Happy Bloomsday !
June 16th is Bloomsday, a commemoration and celebration of the life of Irish writer James Joyce during which the events of his novel Ulysses (which is set on 16 June 1904) are relived.
The name derives from Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of Ulysses, and Joyce chose 16 June 1904 as it was the date of his first outing with his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle – they walked to the Dublin suburb of Ringsend.
Bloomsday (a term Joyce himself did not employ) was invented in 1954, on the 50th anniversary of the events in the novel, when John Ryan (artist, critic, publican and founder of Envoy magazine) and the novelist Flann O’Brien organised what was to be a daylong pilgrimage along the Ulysses route.
They were joined by Patrick Kavanagh, Anthony Cronin, Tom Joyce (a dentist who, as Joyce’s cousin, represented the family interest) and AJ Leventhal (Registrar of Trinity College, Dublin). Ryan had engaged two horse drawn cabs, of the old-fashioned kind, which in Ulysses Bloom and his friends drive to poor Paddy Dignam’s funeral.
The party were assigned roles from the novel. They planned to travel round the city through the day, visiting in turn the scenes of the novel, ending at night in what had once been the brothel quarter of the city, the area which Joyce had called Nighttown.
However, the pilgrimage was abandoned halfway through, when the pilgrims succumbed to inebriation and rancour at the Bailey pub in the city centre, which Ryan then owned. A Bloomsday record of 1954, informally filmed by John Ryan, follows this pilgrimage.
A few particles of Bloomsday miscellania – culled from the internet, so may or may not be true…
In 1956, Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were married by special licence of the Archbishop of Canterbury at St George the Martyr Church, Holborn, on 16 June, in honour of Bloomsday.
In Mel Brooks‘ 1968 film The Producers, Gene Wilder‘s character is called Leo Bloom, an homage to Joyce’s character. In the musical 2005 version, in the evening scene at the Bethesda Fountain in Central Park, Leo asks, “When will it be Bloom’s day?”. However, in the earlier scene in which Bloom first meets Max Bialystock, the office wall calendar shows that the current day is 16 June, indicating that it is, in fact, Bloomsday.
In 1981 a biography of Leopold Bloom – by Peter Costello – was published. Not read it, but it may have had an influence on the next item…
Bloomsday has also been celebrated since 1994 in the Hungarian town of Szombathely, the fictional birthplace of Leopold Bloom’s father, Virág Rudolf, an emigrant Hungarian Jew.
The event is usually centered on the Iseum, the remnants of an Isis temple from Roman times, and the Blum-mansion, commemorated to Joyce since 1997, at 40–41 Fő street, which used to be the property of an actual Jewish family called Blum.
Hungarian author László Najmányi in his 2007 novel, The Mystery of the Blum-Mansion describes the results of his research on the connection between Joyce and the Blum family.
On Bloomsday 2011, @11ysses was the stage for an experimental day-long tweeting of Ulysses. Starting at 0800 (Dublin time) on Thursday 16 June 2011, the aim was to explore what would happen if Ulysses was recast 140 characters at a time.
And Bloomsday 2011 also saw the arrival of our new Cat from the rescue centre. A beautiful black & white girl, around a year old, she was named Molly, after Leopold Bloom’s wife.
I guess this is a good example of the consequences of an action echoing down through the years. When Joyce and Nora took that original walk in 1904 they could never have imagined that they were setting in motion a chain of events that would result, 108 years later, of a Cat in Sunderland being named after a character in a novel that wouldn’t even be published for another 18 years.
Molly, incidentally, has moved into music videos with a percussive offering called To My Hellcat [which is, of course, an anagram of Molly the Cat].