Rejoyce. It’s Bloomsday.

Some men send flowers to commemorate an anniversary. James Joyce wrote Ulysses. Overachiever.

On June 15, 1904, young James Joyce sent a note to Nora Barnacle, who was a waitress at Finn’s Hotel. Barnacle (what an apt name) was a girl from Galway who had moved to Dublin. The two had had a chance encounter on the street, where she had wondered aloud if he was Swedish, because of his blue eyes. When she told him her name, he said something about Ibsen (his inspiration and guiding star as an artist). Nora did not know who Ibsen was but she knew she liked this Jimmy with the blue eyes. He had asked her “out” – which, in Dublin, in those days, meant going for a walk. But on the appointed day, she blew him off. He sat in the park waiting and she never showed up. So on June 15, 1904, he sent her this note:

60 Shelbourne Road
I may be blind. I looked for a long time at a head of reddish-brown hair and decided it was not yours. I went home quite dejected. I would like to make an appointment but it might not suit you. I hope you will be kind enough to make one with me — if you have not forgotten me!

James A. Joyce 15 June 1904

And apparently they went out the next night – June 16, 1904. They took a walk. It’s not 100% certain what happened on that walk, although from various comments both of them made, it is clear that something sexual occurred. James Joyce’s main experience with women at that point was with prostitutes. He told Nora later that on that day, June 16, 1904, he became a man. To him, this did not just mean sexual maturity, but losing his isolation, joining the world. A couple of months later, he got a job in Europe through the Berlitz School. By that point, their romance was pretty hot and heavy, and they fled Ireland together, an unmarried couple, leaving a wake of debt and scandal behind them.

You, strange sweet girl! And still you write to me to ask me if I’ve had enough of you! You’ll never tire me, darling…’ – James Joyce, letter to Nora, 1909.

She never did.

Over the years, they had two kids together – Giorgio and Lucia – and were not officially married until 1930. They lived abroad their entire lives together, and were rarely parted from one another, maybe a couple months in that entire time was spent outside of one another’s presence. She was the only woman for him. They were not a romantic pair, not sentimental – just read their “dirty letters” to one another! the early 20th century version of phone sex – but whatever it was between them was profound.


Nora was an uneducated wild girl from Galway, with a tragic failed romance in her past (which James Joyce would use to spectacular effect in ‘The Dead’ – excerpt here). He was a struggling writer, frustrated and claustrophobic in Ireland, a country he found provincial, prudish, and stifling.

Years later, Joyce would pay tribute to that first walk he took through the streets of Dublin with Nora, and what it meant to him, by setting the entire book of Ulysses on that one day: June 16 1904.

Ulysses was published in 1922. As was T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland.” The fact that two works of literature that would change everything were published in the same year is evidence of the gigantic upheaval of that post-WWI world, all certainties lost, buried in the carnage of the trenches. A new language needed to be born.

First edition of “Ulysses”

The book was published by Shakespeare & Co., the bookstore in Paris owned by Sylvia Beach, she who is known as the “midwife of modernism.” Ulysses was extremely controversial, immediately.


So controversial that it was banned everywhere, and boxes of books were burned at customs offices, and there was a time where the only way you could actually get a copy of the book was to write for one via the Shakespeare & Co. shop in Paris. There are stories of people wrapping books up in sweaters and burying them at the bottom of suitcases in order to get them through customs. Ulysses was banned in the United States until the historic decision of Judge Woolsey in 1934. Ulysses was the first book Sylvia Beach took on publishing (nothing like starting at the top), and the controversy nearly ruined her. But she stood by her man.


So much of Ulysses is tied up, for me, in my father, who was my tutor and mentor when I first read the book. One of the things I got from my dad was to go easy with the book, don’t work too hard, and make sure you try to get into his mindset (which changes from chapter to chapter). I am so happy I had that time with him, reading the book, and calling him with questions, or having him walk me through certain passages.

My advice to those who want to take the book on and might feel intimidated: Just pick it up and start. Don’t look for meaning. The book is not about its meaning. It is about the WORDS. (It’s also filled with fart jokes, dick jokes, menstruation jokes, masturbation jokes, jokes about impotence and bodily functions – every bodily function, male or female, gets its day in the sun. None of it is “dirty.” It’s the human condition. We all do all of those things. Why be ashamed of it? Why not laugh at these things? Because they are funny, after all.) When you succumb to the sounds, Ulysses does not stand like an intimidating barrier written by a pretentious intellectual modernist. (See Joyce’s comment about Gertrude Stein below.) The book is a ridiculous romp through the streets of Dublin by human beings who worry, laugh, eat, fart, have fights, think about things, argue, masturbate, chat. The book has NO point. It is not meant to have a point, and that is the most modern thing about it.

As nerdy as I possibly can be. The eyepatch – given to me when I scratched my cornea once – which I have worn to a couple of Bloomsday celebrations. Along with other eyepatched nerds of my tribe. It doesn’t hurt that one of my ancestors was the pirate Gráinne Ní Mháille (Grace O’Malley). I’m following in her footsteps. Even though she didn’t wear an eyepatch.

Quotes on James Joyce and Ulysses

It took James Joyce seven years to write Ulysses. Later, he joked when faced with criticism that the book was too damn long:

“I spent seven years writing it. People could at least spend seven years reading it.”

James Joyce:

Ulysses is the epic of two races (Israel – Ireland) and at the same time the cycle of the human body as well as a little story of a day (life). The character of Ulysses always fascinated me ever since boyhood. I started writing it as a short story for Dubliners fifteen years ago but gave it up. For seven years I have been working at this book– blast it!

Nora Joyce:

Well, Jim I haven’t read any of your books but I’ll have to someday because they must be good considering how well they sell.

Nora exaggerated – she had read the books – and after his death, when every reporter was hounding her, asking her about Ulysses, she complained, with an insight that should be startling to anyone who underestimated her as some silly illiterate dumbbell:

“What’s all this talk about Ulysses? Finnegans Wake is the important book.”

Additionally, there is this comment from Nora (a most quotable woman). After her husband’s death, she was asked what current writers she liked. Nora’s reply was:

“Sure, if you’ve been married to the greatest writer in the world, you don’t remember all the little fellows.”

James Joyce: (essential to keep in mind)

“With me, the thought is always simple.”

Yeats (an early champion of Joyce) had this, as his first reaction to Ulysses:

“A mad book!”

It was not a compliment.

But Yeats let the book percolate, and a bit later, he corrected his initial impression as the magnitude of what Joyce had done began to dawn on him:

“I have made a terrible mistake. It is a work perhaps of genius. I now perceive its coherence … It is an entirely new thing — neither what the eye sees nor the ear hears, but what the rambling mind thinks and imagines from moment to moment. He has certainly surpassed in intensity any novelist of our time.”

Hart Crane shouted to the rooftops:

“I feel like shouting EUREKA! Easily the epic of the age.”

1928, drawing done by F. Scott Fitzgerald. See if you can spot Joyce. It cracks me UP.

George Bernard Shaw was disturbed by Ulysses, he took it personally, he did not like what it revealed (he could be a great prude) and he grappled with the implications:

“If a man holds up a mirror to your nature and shows you that it needs washing — not whitewashing — it is no use breaking the mirror. Go for soap and water.”

The great Stefan Zweig on meeting Joyce, and the “meteor” of Ulysses:

“He was inclined to be testy, and I believe that just that irritation produced the power for his inner turmoil and productivity. His resentment against Dublin, against England, against particular persons became converted into dynamic energy and actually found release only in literary creation. But he seemed fond of his own asperity; I never saw him laugh or show high spirits. He always made the impression of a compact, somber force and when I saw him on the street, his thin lips pressed tightly together, always walking rapidly as if heading for a definite objective, I sensed the defensive, the inner isolation of his being even more positively than in our talks. It failed to astonish me when I later learned that just this man had written the most solitary, the least affined work — meteor-like in its introduction to the world of our time.”

T.S. Eliot was devastated by the book (many writers expressed similar sentiments: admiration that was no different than a swoon of despairing envy):

“How could anyone write again after achieving the immense prodigy of the last chapter?”

John Banville has written a lot about Joyce, and how Irish writers get fed up with trying to contend with his shadow:

Ulysses is not mainstream, nor was it ever meant to be. When people claim Joyce had his eye on posterity, that is true, but it was intellectual posterity he was after, not mass approval.

Gabriel García Márquez:

I read Ulysses in the only Spanish edition available. Since then, after having read Ulysses in English as well as a very good French translation, I can see that the original Spanish translation was very bad. But I did learn something that was to be very useful to me in my future writing – the technique of the interior monologue. I later found this in Virginia Woolf, and I like the way she uses it better than Joyce.

T.S. Eliot again:

“I hold Ulysses to be the most important expression which the present age has found; it is a book to which we are all indebted, and from which none of us can escape.”

Edmund Wilson wrote of it:

The more we read Ulysses, the more we are convinced of its psychological truth, and the more we are amazed at Joyce’s genius in mastering and in presenting, not through analysis or generalization, but by the complete recreation of life in the process of being lived, the relations of human beings to their environment and to each other; the nature of their perception of what goes on about them and of what goes on within themselves; and the interdependence of their intellectual, their physical, their professional and their emotional lives. To have traced all these interdependences, to have given each of these elements its value, yet never to have lost sight of the moral through preoccuptation with the physical, nor to have forgotten the general in the particular; to have exhibited ordinary humanity without either satirizing it or sentimentalizing it – this would already have been sufficiently remarkable; but to have subdued all this material to the uses of a supremely finished and disciplined work of art is a feat which has hardly been equalled in the literature of our time.

John Gardner:

I have learned a few things from slightly contemporary writers. About symbols, for instance. If you stop with James Joyce, you may write a slightly goofy kind of symbolic novel. Joyce’s fondness for the “mannered” is the least of it. At the time Joyce was writing, people were less attuned than they are now to symbolic writing, so he sometimes let himself get away with bald, obvious symbols

Carlos Fuentes wrote:

That James Joyce is indeed a black Irishman, wreaking a vengeance, even wilder than the I.R.A.’s, on the English language from within, invading the territory of its sanitary ego-presumptions with a flood of impure, dark languages flowing from the damned up sources of collective speech, savagely drowning the ego of the traditional speaker and depositing the property of words in everybody, in the total human community of those who speak and have spoken and shall speak.

Edmund Wilson also wrote:

Yet for all its appalling longeurs, Ulysses is a work of high genius. Its importance seems to me to lie, not so much in its opening new doors to knowledge — unless in setting an example to Anglo-Saxon writers of putting down everything without compunction — or in inventing new literary forms — Joyce’s formula is really, as I have indicated, nearly seventy-five years old — as in its once more setting the standard of the novel so high that it need not be ashamed to take its place beside poetry and drama. Ulysses has the effect at once of making everything else look brassy.”

Carl Jung read the book and wrote Joyce a rather extraordinary letter:

Dear Sir,
Your Ulysses has presented the world such an upsetting psychological problem, that repeatedly I have been called in as a supposed authority on psychological matters.

Ulysses proved to be an exceedingly hard nut and it has forced my mind not only to most unusual efforts, but also to rather extravagant peregrinations (speaking from the standpoint of a scientist). Your book as a whole has given me no end of trouble and I was brooding over it for about three years until I succeeded to put myself into it. But I must tell you that I’m profoundly grateful to yourself as well as to your gigantic opus, because I learned a great deal from it. I shall probably never be quite sure whether I did enjoy it, because it meant too much grinding of nerves and of grey matter. I also don’t know whether you will enjoy what I have written about Ulysses because I couldn’t help telling the world how much I was bored, how I grumbled, how I cursed and how I admired. The 40 pages of non stop run at the end is a string of veritable psychological peaches. I suppose the devil’s grandmother knows so much about the real psychology of a woman, I didn’t.

Well I just try to recommend my little essay to you, as an amusing attempt of a perfect stranger that went astray in the labyrinth of your Ulysses and happened to get out of it again by sheer good luck. At all events you may gather from my article what Ulysses has done to a supposedly balanced psychologist.

With the expression of my deepest appreciation, I remain, dear Sir,

Yours faithfully,
C.G. Jung

Joyce was very proud of this letter and would read it out loud to guests in his house. Best of all though: Nora would snort when he finished reading: “Jimmy knows nothin’ about women!”

Friend Oliver St. John Gogarty wrote of Joyce’s earlier years:

Looking back, there was something uncanny in his certainty, which he had more than any other writer I have ever known, that he would one day be famous. It was more than mere wishful thinking. It gocerned all his attitudes to his compatriots and accounts for what many referred to as his arrogance. He was never really arrogant, but seemed to have a curious sense of his own powers and wouldn’t tolerate anyone who didn’t really appreciate his work.

Katherine Mansfield wrote a letter about having Joyce over to meet her and her usband:

“Joyce was rather … difficile. I had no idea until then of his view of Ulysses — no idea how closely it was modelled on the Greek story, how absolutely necessary it was to know the one through and through to be able to discuss the other. I’ve read the Odyssey and am more or less familiar with it but Murry [Mansfield’s husband] and Joyce simply sailed out of my depth. I felt almost stupefied. It’s absolutely impossible that other people should understand Ulysses as Joyce understands it. It’s almost revolting to hear him discuss its difficulties. It contains code words that must be picked up in each paragraph and so on. The Question and Answer part can be read astronomically or from the geologic standpoint or — oh, I don’t know!”

The most humorous part of this is that Joyce said, after meeting Katherine and her husband:

“Mrs. Murry understood the book better than her husband.”

James Joyce:

“I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality.”

Henry Miller wrote:

Endowed with a Rableaisian ability for word invention, embittered by the domination of a church for which his intellect had no use, harassed by the lack of understanding on the part of family and friends, obsessed by theparental image against which he vainly rebels, Joyce has been seeking escape in the erection of a fortress composed of meaningless verbiage. His language is a ferocious masturbation carried on in fourteen tongues.

Sylvia Beach:

“As for Joyce, he treated people invariably as his equals, whether they were writers, children, waiters, princesses, or charladies. What anybody had to say interested him; he told me that he had never met a bore.”

Sylvia Beach and James Joyce

George Moore, bigwig Irish writer, wrote:

Ulysses is hopeless; it is absurd to imagine that any good end can be served by trying to record every single thought and sensation of any human being. That’s not art, it’s like trying to copy the London Directory.”

Hemingway wrote to Sherwood Anderson:

“Joyce has a most goddamn wonderful book. It’ll probably reach you in time. Meantime the report is that he and all his family are starving but you can find the whole celtic crew of them every night in Michaud’s where Binney and I can only afford to go about once a week…The damned Irish, they have to moan about something or other…”

Wyndham Lewis wrote:

But on the purely personal side, Joyce possesses a good deal of the intolerant arrogance of the dominie, veiled with an elaborate decency beneath the formal calm of the Jesuit, left over as a handy property from his early years of catholic romance — of that Irish variety that is so English that it seems stranger to a continental almost than its English protestant counterpart.

Gertrude Stein wrote:

“Joyce is good. He is a good writer. People like him because he is incomprehensible and anybody can understand him. But who came first, Gertrude Stein or James Joyce? Do not forget that my first great book, Three Lives, was published in 1908. That was long before Ulysses. But Joyce has done something. His influence, however, is local. Like Synge, another Irish writer, he has had his day.”

Joyce heard what Stein said, and thought about it. Briefly. His comment:

“I hate intellectual women.”


George Bernard Shaw again, still upset, still worry-warting!:

“I have read several fragments of Ulysses … It is a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilization; but it is a truthful one; and I should like to put a cordon round Dublin; round up every male person in it between the ages of 15 and 30; force them to read it; and ask them whether on reflection they could see anything amusing in all that foul mouthed foul minded derision and obscenity…It is, however, some consolation to find that at last somebody has felt deeply enough about it to face the horror of writing it all down and using his literary genius to force people to face it. In Ireland they try to make a cat cleanly by rubbing its nose in its own filth. Mr. Joyce has tried the same treatment on the human subject.”

Ezra Pound said:

“Joyce — pleasing; after the first shell of cantankerous Irishman, I got the impression that the real man is the author of Chamber Music, the sensitive. The rest is the genius; the registration of realities on the temperament, the delicate temperament of the early poems. A concentration and absorption passing Yeats’ — Yeats has never taken on anything requiring the condensation of Ulysses.”

Frank McCourt wrote:

Look! Ulysses is more than a book. It’s an event — and that upsets purists, but who’s stopping them from retiring to quiet places for an orgy of textual analysis?… Joyce’s work has liberated many an artist while his life stands as a lesson for all of us. He suffered greatly: the growing failure of his eyes, the growing madness of his daughter. All his days he skirmished for pennies and fought pitched battles for his art. He was a family man, fiercely tribal, and we must not forget he was driven by love.

Did he love Ireland? As the squirrel loves the nut.

Did he love Catholicism? Imagine his work without it.

William Carlos Williams wrote (echoing what many of Joyce’s contemporaries felt):

“Joyce is too near for me to want to do less than he did in Ulysses, in looseness of spirit, and honesty of heart — at least.”

E.M. Forster wrote:

“Perhaps the most interesting literary experiment of our day.”

Dr. Joseph Collins reviewed “Ulysses” in The New York Times and wrote:

Ulysses will immortalize its author with the same certainty that Gargantua and Pantagruel immortalized Rabelais and The Brothers Karamazov Dostoevsky … It comes nearer to being the perfect revelation of a personality than any book in existence.

Hart Crane totally lost his head about the book (see his “Eureka” comment above):

“The sharp beauty and sensitivity of the thing! The matchless details! His book is steeped in the Elizabethans, his early love, and Latin Church, and some Greek … It is my opinion that some fanatic will kill Joyce sometime soon for the wonderful things said in Ulysses.”

Edna O’Brien wrote:

To call this man angry is too temperate a word, he was volcanic.

Ford Madox Ford wrote:

“For myself then, the pleasure — the very great pleasure — that I get from going through the sentences of Mr. Joyce is that given me simply by the cadence of his prose, and I fancy that the greatest and highest enjoyment that can be got from any writing is simply that given by the cadence of the prose.”

William Faulkner wrote (one of my favorites of the many many response quotes listed here):

You should approach Joyce’s Ulysses as the illiterate Baptist preacher approaches the Old Testament: with faith.

Truman Capote said:

“Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself. Even Joyce, our most extreme disregarder, was a superb craftsman; he could write Ulysses because he could write Dubliners.”

“Our most extreme disregarder”

1958 interview with Ernest Hemingway:
Interviewer: When you are writing, do you ever find yourself influenced by what you’re reading at the time?
Hemingway: Not since Joyce was writing Ulysses. His was not a direct influence. But in those days when words we knew were barred to us, and we had to fight for a single word, the influence of his work was what changed everything, and made it possible for us to break away from the restrictions.

Robert Stone said:

“Everybody on a ship reads, whether it’s comic books or Westerns or the Bible or whatever. They always read a lot. I was reading Moby-Dick, which sounds terribly precious, but I thought if you can’t read Moby-Dick in the roaring forties you’ll never read Moby-Dick. So I brought it along. I also read Ulysses on the same trip. I seem to have imprinted the ocean in a very strong way because I end up with all these marine images that just seem so readily at hand for me.”

Toni Morrison:

Sex is difficult to write about because it’s just not sexy enough. The only way to write about it is not to write much. Let the reader bring his own sexuality into the text. A writer I usually admire has written about sex in the most off-putting way. There is just too much information. If you start saying “the curve of…” you soon sound like a gynecologist. Only Joyce could get away with that. He said all those forbidden words. He said cunt, and that was shocking. The forbidden word can be provocative. But after a while it becomes monotonous rather than arousing. Less is always better.

T.S. Eliot said:

“You have to say the thing the difficult way. The only alternative is not saying it at all, at that stage … These things, however, become easier to people with time. You get used to having The Waste Land, or Ulysses, about.”

Saul Bellowsaid:

“The modern masterpiece of confusion is Joyce’s Ulysses. There the mind is unable to resist experience. Experience in all its diversity, its pleasure and horror, passes through Bloom’s head like an ocean through a sponge. The sponge can’t resist; it has to accept whatever the waters bring. It also notes every microorganism that passes through it. This is what I mean. How much of this must the spirit suffer, in what detail is it obliged to receive this ocean with its human plankton? Sometimes it looks as if the power of the mind has been nullified by the volume of experiences. But of course this is assuming the degree of passivity that Joyce assumes in Ulysses.”

Vladimir Nabokov wrote:

Ulysses, of course, is a divine work of art and will live on despite the academic nonentities who turn it into a collection of symbols or Greek myths. I once gave a student a C-minus, or perhaps a D-plus, just for applying to its chapters the titles borrowed from Homer while not even noticing the comings and goings of the man in the brown mackintosh. He didn’t even know who the man in the brown mackintosh was. Oh, yes, let people compare me to Joyce by all means, but my English is pat ball to Joyce’s champion game.

Guy Davenport, “Joyce Writing a Sentence”

James Joyce:

I’d like a language which is above all languages, a language to which all will do service. I cannot express myself in English without enclosing myself in a tradition.

And lastly, Nora, Joyce’s lifetime companion and wife, said:

I don’t know whether or not my husband is a genius, but I’m sure of one thing, there is no one like him.

According to Eva Joyce, James Joyce’s sister:

His last words were, ‘Does nobody understand?’ — and I’m afraid that’s what none of us did — understand him.

Maybe we can try now.

Excerpts from Ulysses

p. 5

— God, he said quietly. Isn’t the sea what Algy calls it: a grey sweet mother? The snotgreen sea. The scrotumtightening sea.

p. 6

Drawing back and pointing, Stephen said with bitterness:
— It is a symbol of Irish art. The cracked lookingglass of a servant.

p. 14

— Is it French you are talking, sir? the old woman said to Haines.
Haines spoke to her again a longer speech, confidently.
— Irish, Buck Mulligan said. Is there Gaelic on you?
— I thought it was Irish, she said, by the sound of it. Are you from west, sir?
— I am an Englishman, Haines answered.
— He’s English, Buck Mulligan said, and he thinks we ought to speak Irish in Ireland.
— Sure we ought to, the old woman said, and I’m ashamed I don’t speak the language myself. I’m told it’s a grand language by them that knows.

p. 20

— After all, Haines began …
Stephen turned and saw that the cold gaze which had measured him was not all unkind.
— After all, I should think you are able to free yourself. You are your own master, it seems to me.
— I am the servant of two masters, Stephen said, an English and an Italian.
— Italian? Haines said.
A crazy queen, old and jealous. Kneel down before me.
— And a third, Stephen said, there is who wants me for odd jobs.
— Italian? Haines said again. What do you mean?
— The imperial British state, Stephen answered, his colour rising, and the holy Roman catholic and apostolic church.
Haines detached from his underlip some fibres of tobacco before he spoke.
— I can quite understand that, he said calmly. An Irishman must think like that, I daresay. We feel in English that we have treated you rather unfairly. It seems history is to blame.
The proud potent titles clanged over Stephen’s memory the triumph of their brazen bells: et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam: the slow growth and change of rite and dogma like his own rare thoughts, a chemistry of stars.

p. 28

My childhood bends beside me. Too far for me to lay a hand there once or lightly. Mine is far and his secret as our eyes. Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants willing to be dethroned.

p. 34

— History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

p. 37

Ineluctable modality of the visible: at least that if no more, thought through my eyes. Signatures of all things I am here to read, seaspawn and seawrack, the nearing tide, that rusty boot. Snotgreen, bluesilver, rust: coloured signs. Limits of the diaphane. But he adds: in bodies. Then he was aware of them bodies before of them coloured. How? By knocking his sconce against them, sure. Go easy. Bald he was and a millionaire, maestro di color che sanno. Limit of the diaphane in. Why in? Diaphane, adiaphane. If you can put your five fingers through it, it is a gate, not a door. Shut your eyes and see.

p. 38

Jesus wept: and no wonder, by Christ.

p. 50

Five fathoms out there. Full fathom five thy father lies. At one he said. Found drowned. High water at Dublin bar. Driving before it a loose drift of rubble, fanshoals of fishes, silly shells. A corpse rising saltwhite from the undertow, bobbing landward, a pace a pace a porpoise. There he is. Hook it quick. Sunk though he be beneath the watery floor. We have him. Easy now.

p. 55

Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crust crumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.

p. 61

A barren land, a bare waste. Vulcanic lake, the dead sea: no fish, weedless, sunk deep in the earth. No wind would lift those waves, grey metal, poisonous foggy waters. Brimstone they called it raining down: the cities of the plain: Sodom, Gomorrah, Edom. All dead names. A dead sea in a dead land, grey and old. Old now. It bore the oldest, the first race. A bent hag crossed from Cassidy’s clutching a noggin bottle by the neck. The oldest people. Wandered far away over all the earth, captivity to captivity, multiplying, dying, being born everywhere. It lay there now. Now it could bear no more. Dead: an old woman’s: the grey sunken cunt of the world.

p. 99

The stonecutter’s yard on the right. Last lap. Crowded on the spit of land silent shapes appeared, white, sorrowful, holding out calm hands, knelt in grief, pointing. Fragments of shapes, hewn. In white silence: appealing. The best obtainable. Thos. A. Dennany, monumental builder and sculptor.

p. 102

— And how is Dick, the solid man?
— Nothing between himself and heaven, Ned Lambert answered.
— By the holy Paul! Mr Dedalus said in subdued wonder. Dick Tivy bald?
— Martin is going to get a whip up for the youngsters, Ned Lambert said, pointing ahead. A few bob a skull. Just to keep them going till the insurance is cleared up.
— Yes, yes, Mr Dedalus said dubiously. Is that the eldest boy in front?
— Yes, Ned Lambert said, with his wife’s brother. John Henry Menton is behind. He put down his name for a quid.
— I’ll engage he did, Mr Dedalus said. I often told poor Paddy he ought to mind that job. John Henry is not the worst in the world.
— How did he lose it? Ned Lambert asked. Liquor, what?
— Many a good man’s fault, Mr Dedalus said with a sigh.

p. 109

Now who is that lankylooking galoot over there in the mackintosh? Now who is he I’d like to know? Now, I’d give a trifle to know who he is. Always someone turns up you never dreamt of. A fellow could live on his lonesome all his life. Yes, he could. Still he’d have to get someone to sod him after he died though he could dig his own grave. We all do. Only man buries. No ants too. First thing strikes anybody. Bury the dead. Say Robinson Crusoe was true to life. Well then Friday buried him. Every Friday buries a Thursday if you come to look at it.

p. 112

— Let us go round by the chief’s grave, Hynes said. We have time.
— Let us, Mr Power said.
They turned to the right, following their slow thoughts. With awe Mr Power’s blank voice spoke:
— Some say he is not in that grave at all. That the coffin was filled with stones. That one day he will come again.
Hynes shook his head.
— Parnell will never come again, he said. He’s there, all that was mortal of him. Peace to his ashes.

p. 133

— We were always loyal to lost causes, the professor said. Success for us is the death of the intellect and of the imagination. We were never loyal to the successful. We serve them. I teach the blatant Latin language. I speak the tongue of a race the acme of whose mentality is the maxim: time is money. Material domination. Dominus! Lord! Where is the spirituality? Lord Jesus! Lord Salisbury. A sofa in a westend club. But the Greek!

p. 156

— Watch him, Mr Bloom said. He always walks outside the lampposts. Watch!
— Who is he if it’s a fair question, Mrs Breen said. Is he dotty?
— His name is Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell, Mr Bloom said, smiling. Watch!
— He has enough of them, she said. Denis will be like that one of these days.
She broke off suddenly.
— There he is, she said. I must go after him. Goodbye. Remember me to Molly, won’t you?
— I will, Mr Bloom said.

p. 163

You must have a certain fascination: Parnell Arthur Griffith is a squareheaded fellow but he has no go in him for the mob. Want to gas about our lovely land. Gammon and spinach. Dublin Bakery Company’s tearoom. Debating societies. That republicanism is the best form of government. That the language question should take precedence of the economic question. Have your daughters inveigling them to your house. Stuff them up with meat and drink. Michaelmas goose. Here’s a good lump of thyme seasoning under the apron for you. Have another quart of goosegrease before it gets too cold. Halffed enthusiasts. Penny roll and a walk with the band. No grace for the carver. The thought that the other chap pays best sauce in the world. Make themselves thoroughly at home. Shove us over those apricots, meaning peaches. The not far distant day. Home Rule sun rising up in the northwest.

p. 167

Wait. The full moon was the night we were Sunday fortnight exactly there is a new moon. Walking down by the Tolka. Not bad for a Fairview moon. She was humming: The young May moon she’s beaming, love. He other side of her. Elbow, arm. He. Glowworm’s la-amp is gleaming, love. Touch. Fingers. Asking. Answer. Yes.

p. 175

Glowing wine on his palate lingered swallowed. Crushing in the winepress grapes of Burgundy. Sun’s het it is. Seems to a secret touch telling me memory. Touched his sense moistened remembered. Hidden under wild ferns on Howth. Below us bay sleeping sky. No sound. The sky. The bay purple by the Lion’s head. Green by Drumleck. Yellowgreen towards Sutton. Fields of undersea, the lines faint brown in grass, buried cities. Pillowed on my coat she had her hair, earwigs in the heather scrub my hand under her nape, you’ll toss me all. O wonder! Coolsoft with ointments her hand touched me, caressed: her eyes upon me did not turn away. Ravished over her I lay, full lips full open, kissed her mouth. Yum. Softly she gave me in my mouth the seedcake warm and chewed. Mawkish pulp her mouth had mumbled sweet and sour with spittle. Joy: I ate it: joy. Young life, her lips that gave me pouting. Soft, warm, sticky gumjelly lips. Flowers her eyes were, take me, willing eyes. Pebbles fell. She lay still. A goat. No-one. High on Ben Howth rhododendrons a nannygoat walking surefooted, dropping currants. Screened under ferns she laughed warmfolded. Wildly I lay on her, kissed her; eyes, her lips, her stretched neck, beating, woman’s breasts full in her blouse of nun’s veiling, fat nipples upright. Hot I tongued her. She kissed me. I was kissed. All yielding she tossed her hair. Kissed, she kissed me.
Me. And me now.
Stuck, the flies buzzed.

p. 190

John Eglinton looked in the tangled glowworm of his lamp.
— The world believes that Shakespeare made a mistake, he said, and got out of it as quickly and as best he could.
— Bosh! Stephen said rudely. A man of genius makes no mistakes. Her errors are volitional and are the portals of discovery.

p. 206

What do we care for his wife and father? I should say that only family poets have family lives. Falstaff was not a family man. I feel that the fat knight is his supreme creation.

p. 212

— And what a character is Iago! undaunted John Eglinton exclaimed. When all is said Dumas fils (or is it Dumas pere) is right. After God Shakespeare has created most.

p. 229

Miss Dunne clicked on the keyboard:
— 16 June 1904.

p. 256

The spiked and winding cold seahorn. Have you the? Each and for other plash and silent roar.
Pearls: when she. Lizst’s rhapsodies. Hissss.
You don’t?
Did not: no, no: believe: Lidlyd. With a cock with a carra.
Despounding. Do, Ben, do.
Wait while you wait. Hee hee. Wait while you hee.
But wait!
Low in dark middle earth. Embedded ore.
Naminedamine. All gone. All fallen.
Tiny, her tremulous fernfoils of maidenhair.
Amen! He gnashed in fury.
Fro. To, fro. A baton cool protruding.
Bronzelydia by Minagold.
By bronze, by gold, in oceangreen of shadow. Bloom. Old Bloom.

p. 269

— What’s this her name was? A buxom lassy. Marion …
— Tweedy.
— Yes. Is she alive?
— And kicking.
— She was a daughter of …
— Daughter of the regiment.
— Yes, begad. I remember the old drummajor.
Mr Dedalus struck, whizzed, lit, puffed savoury puff after.
— Irish? I don’t know, faith. Is she, Simon?
Puff after stiff, a puff, strong, savoury, crackling.
— Buccinator muscle is … What? … Bit rusty … O, she is … My Irish Molly, O.
He puffed a pungent plumy blast.
— From the rock of Gibraltar … all the way.

p. 273

Braintipped, cheek touched with flame, they listened feeling that flow endearing flow over skin limbs human heart soul spine.

p. 287

By rose, by satiny bosom, by the fondling hand, by slops, by empties, by popped corks, greeting in going, past eyes and maidenhair, bronze and faint gold in deepseashadow, went Bloom, soft Bloom, I feel so lonely Bloom.
Tap. Tap. Tap.

p. 296 (people fight over reading the following section during Bloomsday celebrations – it’s a real crowd-pleaser)

From his girdle hung a row of seastones which dangled at every movement of his portentous frame and on these were graven with rude yet striking art the tribal images of many Irish heroes and heroines of antiquity, Cuchulin, Conn of hundred battles, Niall of nine hostages, Brian of Kincora, the Ardri Malachi, Art McMurragh, Shane O’neill, Father John Murphy, Owen Roe, Patrick Sarsfield, Red Hugh O’Donnell, Red Jim MacDermott, Soggarth Eoghan O’Growney, Michael Dwyer, Francy Higgins, Henry Joe M’Cracken, Goliath, Hoarce Wheatley, Thomas Conneff, Peg Woffington, the Village Blacksmith, Captain Moonlight, Captain, Boycott, Dante Alighieri, Christopher Columbus, S. Fursa, S. Brendan, Marshall MacMahon, Charlemagne, Theobald Wolfe Tone, the Mother of the Maccabees, the Last of the Mohicans, the Rose of Castille, the Man for Galway, the Man that Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, The Man in the Gap, The Woman Who Didn’t, Benjamin Franklin, Napoleon Bonaparte, John L. Sullivan, Cleopatra, Savourneen Deelish, Julius Caesar, Paracelsus, sir Thomas Lipton, William Tell, Michelangelo, Hayes, Muhammad, the Bride of Lammermoor, Peter the Hermit, Peter the Packer, Dark Rosaleen, Patrick W. Shakespeare, Brian Confucius, Murtagh Gutenberg, Patricio Velasquez, Captain Nemo, Tristan and Isolde, the first Prince of Wales, Thomas Cook and Son, the Bold Soldier Boy, Arrah na Pogue, Dick Turpin, Ludwig Beethoven, the Colleen Bawn, Waddler Healy, Angus the Culdee, Dolly Mount, Sidney Parade, Ben Howth, Valentine Greatrakes, Adam and Eve, Arthur Wellesley, Boss Croker, Herodotus, Jack the Giantkiller, Gautama Buddha, Lady Godiva, The Lily of Killarney, Balor of the Evil Eye, the Queen of Sheba, Acky Nagle, Joe Nagle, Alessandro Volta, Jeremiah O’Donovan Rossa, Don Philip O’Sullivan Beare.

p. 306

— The memory of the dead, says the citizen taking up his pintglass and glaring at Bloom.
— Ay, ay, says Joe.
— You don’t grasp my point, says Bloom. What I mean is …
Sinn Fein! says the citizen. Sinn fein amhain! The friends we love are by our side and the foes we hate before us.

p. 317

Amongst the clergy present were the very rev. William Delany, S.J.L.L.D.; the rt rev. Gerald Molloy, D.D.; the rev. P.J. Kavanagh, C.S.Sp.; the rev. T. Waters, C.C.; the rev. John M. Ivers, P.P.; the rev. P.J. Cleary, O.S.F.; the rev. L.J. Hickey, O.P.; the very rev. Fr. Nicholas, O.S.F.C.; the very rev. B. Gorman, O.D.C.; the rev. T. Maher, S.J.; the very rev. James Murphy, S.J.; the rev. John Lavery, V.F.; the very rev. William Doherty, D.D.; the rev. Peter Fagan, O.M.; the rev. T. Brangan, O.S.A.; the rev. J. Flavin, C.C.; the rev. M.A. Jackett, C.C.; the rev. W. Hurley, C.C.; the rt rev. Mgr M’Manus, V.G.; the rev. B.R. Slattery, O.M.I.; the very rev. M.D. Scally, P.P.; the rev. F.T.Purcell, O.P.; the very rev. Timothy canon Gorman, P.P.; the rev. J. Flanagan, C.C. The laity included P. Fay, T. Quirke, etc. etc.


p. 331

— Persecution, says he, all the history of the world is full of it. Perpetuating national hatred among nations.
— But do you know what a nation means? says John Wyse.
— Yes, says Bloom.
— What is it? says John Wyse.
— A nation? says Bloom. A nation is the same people living in the same place.
— By God, then, says Ned, laughing, if that’s so I’m a nation for i’m living in the same place for the past five years.
So of course everyone had a laugh at Bloom and says he, trying to muck out of it:
— Or also living in different places.
— That covers my case, says Joe.
— What is your nation if I may ask, says the citizen.
— Ireland, says Bloom. I was born here. Ireland.
The citizen said nothing only cleared the spit out of his gullet and, gob, he spat a Red bank oyster out of him right in the corner.

p. 367

Should a girl tell? No, a thousand times no. That was their secret, only theirs, alone in the hiding twilight and there was none to know or tell save the little bat that flew so softly through the evening to and fro and little bats don’t tell.

p. 374

Wait. Hm. Hm. Yes. That’s her perfume. Why she waved her hand. I leave you this to think of me when I’m far away on the pillow. What is it? Heliotrope? No, Hyacinth? Hm. Roses, I think. She’d like scent of that kind. Sweet and cheap: soon sour. Why Molly likes opoponax. Suits her with a little jessamine mixed. Her high notes and her low notes. At the dance night she met him, dance of the hours. Heat brought it out. She was wearing her black and it had the perfume of the time before. Good conductor, is it? Or bad? LIght too. Suppose there’s some connection. For instance if you go into a cellar where it’s dark. Mysterious thing too. Why did I smell it only now? Took its time in coming like herself, slow but sure. Suppose it’s ever so many millions of tiny grains blown across. Yes, it is. Because those spice islands, Cinghalese this morning, smell them leagues off. Tell you what it is. It’s like a fine veil or a web they have all over the skin, fine like what do you call it gossamer and they’re always spinning it out of them, fine as anything, rainbow colours without knowing it. Clings to everything she takes off. Vamp of her stockings. Warm shoe. Stays. Drawers: little kick, taking them off. Byby till next time. Also the cat likes to sniff in her shift on the bed. Know her smell in a thousand.

p. 414

The voices blend and fuse in clouded silence: silence that is the infinite of space: and swiftly, silently the soul is wafted over regions of cycles of cycles of generations that have lived. A region where grey twilight ever descends, never falls on wide sagegreen pasturefields, shedding her dusk, scattering a perennial dew of stars.

p. 419

An ingenious suggestion is that thrown out by Mr V. Lynch (Bacc. Arith.) that both natality and mortality, as well as all other phenomena of evolution, tidal movements, lunar phases, blood temperatures, diseases in general, everything, in fine, in nature’s vast workshop from the extinction of some remote sun to the blossoming of one of the countless flowers which beautify our public parks, is subject to a law of numeration as yet unascertained.

I know people like that.

p. 427

Crikey, I’m about sprung. Tarnally dog gone my shins if this beent the bestest puttiest longbreak yet. Item, curate, couple of cookies for this child. Cot’s blood and prandypalls, none! Not a pite of cheeses? Thrust syphilis down to hell and with him those other licensed spirits. Time. Who wander through the world. Health all. A la voter!

p. 447

Don’t attract attention. I hate stupid crowds. I am not on pleasure bent. I am in a grave predicament.

p. 509

I was just beautifying him, don’t you know. A thing of beauty, don’t you know. Yeats says, or I mean, Keats says.

p. 541

I wouldn’t hurt your feelings for the world but there’s a man of brawn in possession there. The tables are turned, my gay young fellow! He is something like a fullgrown outdoor man. Well for you, you muff, if you had that weapon with knobs and lumps and warts all over it. He shot his bolt, I can tell you! Foot to foot, knee to knee, belly to belly, bubs to breast! He’s no eunuch. A shock of red hair he has sticking out of him behind like a furze bush! Wait for nine months, my lad! Holy ginger, it’s kicking and coughing up and down in her guts already! That makes you wild, don’t it? Touches the spot?

p. 633

You, as a good catholic, he observed, talking of body and soul, believe in the soul. Or do you mean the intelligence, the brainpower as such, as distinct from any outside object, the table, let us say, that cup? I believe in that myself because it has been explained by competent men as the convolutions of the grey matter. Otherwise we would never have such inventions as X rays, for instance. Do you?
Thus cornered, Stephen had to make a superhuman effort of memory to try and concentrate and remember before he could say:
— They tell me on the best authority it is a simple substance and therefore incorruptible. It would be immortal, I understand, but for the possibility of its annihilation by its First Cause, Who, from all I can hear, is quite capable of adding that to the number of His other practical jokes, corruptio per se and corruptio per accidens both being excluded by court etiquette.

p. 636

And when all was said and done, the lies a fellow told about himself couldn’t possibly hold a proverbial candle to the wholesale whoppers other fellows coined about him.

p. 640

You could grow any mortal thing in Irish soil, he stated, and there was Colonel Everard down there in Cavan growing tobacco. Where would you find anywhere the like of Irish bacon> But a day of reckoning, he stated crescendo with no uncertain voice – thoroughly monopolising all the conversation – was in store for mighty England, despite her power of pelf on account of her crimes. There would be a fall and the greatest fall in history. The Germans and the Japs were going to have their little lookin, he affirmed. The Boers were the beginning of the end. Brummagem England was toppling already and her downfall would be Ireland, her Achilles heel, which he explained to them about the vulnerable point of Achilles, the Greek hero – a point his auditors at once seized as he completely gripped their attention by showing the tendon referred to on his boot. His advice to every Irishman was: stay in the land of your birth and work for Ireland and live for Ireland. Ireland, Parnell said, could not spare a single one of her sons.

p. 644

— I mean, of course, the other hastened to affirm, work in the widest possible sense. Also literary labour, not merely for the kudos of the thing. Writing for the newspapers, which is the readiest channel nowadays. That’s work too. Important work. After all, from the little I know of you, after all the money expended on your education, you are entitled to recoup yourself and command your price. You have every bit as much right to live by your pen in pursuit of your philosophy as the peasant has. What? You both belong to Ireland, the brain and the brawn. Each is equally important.
— You suspect, Stephen retorted with a sort of a half laugh, that I may be important because I belong to the faubourg Saint Patrice called Ireland for short.
— I would go a step farther, Mr Bloom insinuated.
— But I suspect, Stephen interrupted, that Ireland must be important because it belongs to me.
— What belongs? queried Mr Bloom, bending, fancying he was perhaps under some misapprehension. Excuse me. Unfortunately I didn’t catch the latter portion. What was it you? …
Stephen, patently crosstempered, repeated and shoved aside his mug of coffee, or whatever you like to call it, none too politely, adding:
— We can’t change the country. Let us change the subject.

p. 656

Though they didn’t see eye to eye in everything, a certain analogy there somehow was, as if both their minds were travelling, so to speak, in the one train of thought.

p. 658

People could put up with being bitten by a wolf but what properly riled them was a bite from a sheep. The most vulnerable point too of tender Achilles, your God was a jew, because mostly they appeared to imagine he came from Carrick-on-Shannon or somewhere about in the county Sligo.

p. 676

His mood?
He had not risked, he did not expect, he had not been disappointed, he was satisfied.

What satisfied him?
To have sustained no positive loss. To have brought a positive gain to others. Light to the gentiles.

p. 698

The heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit.

p. 731

If he had smiled why would he have smiled?
To reflect that each one who enters imagines himself to be the first to enter whereas he is always the last term of a preceding series even if the first term of a succeeding one, each imagining himself to be first, last, only and alone, whereas he is neither first nor last nor only nor alone in a series originating in and repeated to infinity.

And, of course, the famous ending. Joyce said he had wanted to end the book with “the most positive word in the English language”. Not only that, but one of the most – if not THE most – purely positive experiences given to us as humans. Just read it aloud. You’ll see. That it is a woman speaking makes it even more radical.

the sun shines for you he said the day we were lying among the rhododendrons on Howth head in the grey tweed suit and his straw hat the day I got him to propose to me yes first I gave him the bit of seedcake out of my mouth and it was leapyear like now yes 16 years ago my God after that long kiss I near lost my breath yes he said I was a flower of the mountain yes so we are flowers all a womans body yes that was one true thing he said in his life and the sun shines for you today yes that was why I liked him because I saw he understood or felt what a woman is and I knew I could always get round him and I gave him all the pleasure I could leading him on till he asked me to say yes and I wouldnt answer first only looked out over the sea and the sky I was thinking of so many things he didnt know of Mulvey and Mr Stanhope and Hester and father and old captain Groves and the sailors playing all birds fly and I say stoop and washing up dishes they called it on the pier and the sentry in front of the governors house with the thing round his white helmet poor devil half roasted and the Spanish girls laughing in their shawls and their tall combs and the auctions in the morning the Greeks and the jews and the Arabs and the devil knows who else from all the ends of Europe and Duke street and the fowl market all clucking outside Larby Sharons and the poor donkeys slipping half asleep and the vague fellows in the cloaks asleep in the shade on the steps and the big wheels of the carts of the bulls and the old castle thousands of years old yes and those handsome Moors all in white and turbans like kings asking you to sit down in their little bit of a shop and Ronda with the old windows of the posadas glancing eyes a lattice hid for her lover to kiss the iron and the wineshops half open at night and the castanets and the night we missed the boat at Algeciras the watchman going about serene with his lamp and O that awful deepdown torrent O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibraltar as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes.

The following quote from James Joyce (taken with a grain of salt, of course) is something to keep in mind should you pick up Ulysses for the first time; it’s a clue in HOW to read it:

The pity is that the public will demand and find a moral in my book, or worse they may take it in some serious way, and on the honour of a gentleman, there is not one single serious word in it.

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54 Responses to Rejoyce. It’s Bloomsday.

  1. God bless you, Sheila. I need to reread this. My 1st time was for an undergrad college course, “On James Joyce,” in which we read everything (along w/big chunks of the Ellman bio) except for FINNEGANS. I remember, late one night, throwing my Modern Library hardback at the wall, sighing, picking it back up, and then laughing at something on the next page. It’s that kind of book. I read it again 5 yrs later, w/o all the critical texts around me that I had as an undergrad, and damnitall if the book didn’t make a helluva lot more sense. The biggest change is that, as a 21-year-old undergrad, I identified with Stephen; 5 yrs old, I understood that Bloom is our hero & Stephen is (at best) an irritant.

    Will you do one of these for FINNEGANS WAKE, which I still have not read? I feel like I need some sort of skeleton key to make that book make sense to me…

    • sheila says:

      // sighing, picking it back up, and then laughing at something on the next page. It’s that kind of book. //

      Ha!! I know! It’s maddening. It’s entertaining. It’s stupid. It’s brilliant.

      // and damnitall if the book didn’t make a helluva lot more sense. //

      I had the same experience. First time through: critical texts were very helpful (although my dad was more helpful. His whole thing was: “Relax. A lot of it is very dumb with a lot of dumb jokes. Don’t take it too seriously.” Good advice, it turns out) – and then second time through, I just read the damn thing – and it’s actually extremely straightforward.

      Love your observation about the switch from Stephen to Bloom. I think you’re very right. It’s all about Bloom. And Molly. The main relationship.

      The only thing I can say about Finnegans Wake – and I’m sure I’ve said it before – is it really needs to be read out loud. If you have roommates (as I did when I took on the book) they will think you are in-SANE.

      Reading it silently makes the text totally disappear into vagueness. At least that was my experience. It’s not language = meaning. It’s language = sound.

      I actually have been meaning to read it again and I will definitely write about it. It could be a fun kind of informal book club!!

  2. Laura says:

    Dear Sheila,
    I found your website a year ago because I was seaching the web for some analysis of the Ulysses. I found you articles so well written, clever and useful – I never left.
    Reading this wonderful article about Joyce reminded me that it’s been a year of enjoying your work and never commenting, so thank you for the help and these very eclectic, very ispirational articles.
    Greetings from Italy

    • sheila says:

      Laura – How very nice – thank you!! I love it when people come out and comment for the first time.

      Ulysses is a deep deep pool, isn’t it? I never get sick of reading other people’s thoughts about it, or reactions, or what they “get.”

      The Bloomsday celebration I go to every year is so much fun because it’s a PARTY. It’s not a precious or sacred “respectful” atmosphere. Which I think is appropriate to the “romp” that is the book. Yesterday, a guy got up to recite – FROM MEMORY – one of the huge long xenophobic speeches from “The Citizen.” And he got INTO it. He was bellowing about Sinn Fein and Ireland and nationalism and I joked to my friend that people walking by on the next street probably thought it must have been some insane political rally going on. Up the IRA or something.

      But that’s why I love this celebration. People love the book – in simple uncomplicated ways – I know that some scholars attend this celebration, but for the most part, it’s just regular-reader fans of the book. So the vibe is casual, celebratory, lots of Guinness, lots of laughter.

      I am very glad you found the stuff I have written on the book useful!! It means so much!

      Were you studying the book for a class – or just your own curiosity?

      Thanks again for your comment.

      • Laura says:

        Wow, celebrating Bloomsday seems amazing!
        Sadly my town it’s too small to organize an event like that… I promised myself that one year, when I will not have exams in June, I will fly to Dublin and celebrate it properly!

        To answer you question – I am a student, I’m taking my degree in law because that’s what I need for the career that I want, but literature is definitely my biggest passion.
        So I approached the Ulysses out of my own curiosity, and since I read it in English, I needed as much help with analysis, comments and interpretations as I could get, because I really wanted to absorb the most from it and not just stop at the surface.

        It took me 5 months but… wow, it has been an amazing journey. I will probably do it again.

        Thank you again for the enthusiasm that you pour in your work.

        • sheila says:

          Laura – wow, thanks for this! It took me a couple of months to get through it the first time too – very difficult to absorb – It went much quicker the next time I read it, because I wasn’t so tense with it.

          Even though you read it in English – it does make me wonder about reading the book in translation and what it must be like. I’ve read some fascinating articles from translators and how they have tried to capture the book in their own language – and the difficulties that that has presented. I found a piece by a Chinese translator – now I can’t remember where – but he wrote about how to translate the whole “yes” section at the end and it was just so fascinating to read. Here it is if you’re interested:

          I’ve never been to Bloomsday in Dublin. Apparently the whole city turns into one gigantic celebration. It must be something!!

  3. Jessie says:

    I hope you had a lovely Bloomsday! I haven’t read Ulysses (yyyyeeeeeeeeeeetttttttt, thanks for the tips!). But Kate Bush’s Flower of the Mountain has recently had a sudden graduation into favourite status so I listen to it all the time — that’s a reworking of the title track of The Sensual World, but this time she had permission to use Joyce’s words as lyrics and it’s great to get all wrapped up in them in her thick magnificent voice.

    And speaking of the last line, did you see that recent tweet by Curtis Armstrong? I love that guy!

    • sheila says:

      Jessie – Oh my God, I hadn’t seen Curtis Armstrong’s Tweet!! I am so moved – and I love how the comments range from “What the hell” to people who know what it refers to. Ha! So very like Metatron, yes?

      // this time she had permission to use Joyce’s words as lyrics //

      The Joyce estate – run by Joyce’s annoying grandson – is draconian in its DENIAL of letting that book be quoted. I read something about it a couple of years ago – I am pretty sure Ulysses may be reaching public domain status? Or there was some shift in the estate which loosened the chains of the grandson’s dominance (I’ll see if I can backtrack and figure out what the hell I’m talking about …) Anyway, I remember reading an essay about the copyright situation and the Joyce estate situation and thinking, “At last. I get it: keep control over the book’s words and don’t let the words be used to sell toilet paper – but come ON, loosen the ties that bind a little bit” – and it seems now that Kate Bush being allowed to quote from it may be a perfect example.

      I love that song too!

  4. Helena says:

    Seems a shame we can’t get James Joyce to write Season 12 :-(

    • sheila says:

      If James Joyce wrote Season 12, every single moment would be about sex. With bouts of total incomprehensibility. I’m game.

    • mutecypher says:

      Stately, plaid Dean Winchester came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of cereal on which a copy of Busty Asian Beauties and a large caliber handgun lay crossed.

      • sheila says:

        “stately, plaid” hahaha

        Dean, drinking whiskey late at night at the bunker, saying to Sam, “History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

        It works.

      • Helena says:

        mutecypher, maybe you should write Season 12

        • mutecypher says:

          I’ll throw in some of our Beowulf.

          And some Philip K. Dick alternate history with Tarot cards. But there will be Happy Endings because Dean’s a sucker for ’em.

      • sheila says:

        Castiel sadly staring at his limp penis while he takes a bath, just like Bloom does. #sorrynotsorry

        • Helena says:

          gosh, we went straight there with this, didn’t we ;-)

          • sheila says:

            Joyce goes straight there too so the possibilities are endless.

            I was going to give Sam the limp penis but then BALKED AT SUCH A BLASPHEMY.

          • Helena says:

            //I was going to give Sam the limp penis but then BALKED AT SUCH A BLASPHEMY.//

            Hmm, I’d had have Dean down for that anyway, not Sam.

          • sheila says:

            Castiel ‘s entire journey for the last 3 seasons could be called the Limp Penis Arc.

          • sheila says:

            … which is what I prefer anyway. #nomorePizzaManEVA

          • Helena says:

            ‘Journey to Limp Penis Arc.’

            Are you sure that’s not in Ulysses already?

          • sheila says:

            I think that’s Leopold Bloom’s entire June-16-1904 Arc. With a brief moment of resurgence when he sees Gertie on the beach.

          • mutecypher says:

            Straight and limp: your basic dichotomy.

          • Helena says:

            //I think that’s Leopold Bloom’s entire June-16-1904 Arc. With a brief moment of resurgence when he sees Gertie on the beach.//

            I really need to read Ulysses.

          • sheila says:

            Helena – eventually, yes, you must! :)

            And speaking of penises and “happy endings” – the whole book ends with Molly’s orgasm, as I’m sure you know.

            Which is what was so funny about that tough guy (in the Bloomsday post I put up today) holding a Guinness wearing a T-shirt that had the final words of the book on it: “yes I said yes I will yes.” That’s an orgasm. And there he is, strolling around wearing it.

            That’s what’s so hilarious about how “literary” the book is – and it IS – but it’s also so human and funny and sexy – and it’s about these two people – Leopold and his wife Molly – who have lost connection with each other after their son died – and Molly is having an affair because she can’t stand it anymore – all she wants is to “go back” to when she and her husband were in love – meanwhile Leopold lies in the bathtub staring at his limp penis, and worrying about …. everything. He’s lost his wife forever and he doesn’t know how to get her back.

            I don’t know, there’s something touching about this big giant novel that has such a serious reputation ending with a woman masturbating. I don’t mean to be prurient – Joyce thought sex was life-affirming, natural, and his relationship with his wife saved his life, and made him shed Ireland forever – and its repression and prudery and all the rest, that kept men and women separated from one another. And it’s RADICAL that “yes I said yes” when you think about what it was revealing, and the secrets it told – the secrets everyone KNEW but hadn’t been put in a book before, or at least not quite like this. No wonder entire shiploads of books were seized at customs.

            Cut to over 100 years later, and here comes Tough Guy in lower Manhattan, wearing a T-shirt with Molly’s orgasm on it.

            I don’t know why this is so funny to me. Or, not funny … just kind of touching and wonderful.

          • Helena says:

            //Helena – eventually, yes, you must! :)//

            I made a start, honest, and really enjoyed it, but put it down … and that was a couple of years ago. Every Bloomsday post here is a reminder to pick it up again.

            so yes I will yes

          • Paula says:

            And it just got better. The Limp Penis Arc and Happy Endings for Dean. That’s pure gold.

          • sheila says:

            All credit to James Joyce and poor limp-penis-ed Leopold Bloom.

          • sheila says:

            and Molly Bloom, of course, the inspiration for it all. Which is why “Metatron’s” Tweet was so great and so touching to me.

  5. Lyrie says:

    I just LOVE when people make connections between their passions/obsessions. Supernatural + Ulysses? Well, why the fuck not! Oh, how I love this place.

      • sheila says:

        Also I am still laughing at Mutecypher’s original comment:

        The famous first four words of Ulysses are:

        “Stately plump Buck Mulligan”

        … which Mutecypher turned into “stately plaid Dean Winchester” … sooooo stupid (compliment) and funny.

  6. mutecypher says:

    I went to a Bloomsday/Fathers Day reading yesterday at the Seattle Central Library, put on by a group called the Wild Geese Players. There were about 12 readers, they read Proteus and Hades, woven together temporally – so they switched back and forth between the chapters. One person read Bloom’s thoughts, a different person read his spoken words, someone else narrated, another person was Martin Cunningham (is that another of Joyce’s sexual puns?), and so on. All the readers were in black, for the funeral.

    Apparently they started this in 1998 and read a chapter each year. Then after finishing in 2013 they have been doing pairs of chapters where the action is going on at the same time of day. I followed along with my iPad version and marveled at the work it took to go through sentences, even alternate words, to determine what was said, what was thought, what was narration. But since it was in a library, I couldn’t get up and grab a beer.

    Very enjoyable.

    I must confess to a certain Large Dot envy, the people who did the version I have on my iPad didn’t pay any attention to Joyce’s typography. So the S in “Stately” doesn’t fill a page, and there’s no period at all at the end of Ithaca. I can’t even draw one in. I’d be so ashamed if I came to a New York reading.

    • sheila says:

      Wow, that sounds like a wonderful celebration! Beautifully organized, too. I love the idea of putting together the chapters that happen at the same time!

      Oh, the Large Dot. That Gabler edition!! No dot? Inconceivable!!

      Apparently the no-dot version was a typographical choice made by the editor: the editor thought the big dot was a mistake, and so removed it. Sigh. All further editions have the big dot.

      The final question in Ithaca is the biggest of them all: “Where?”

      My friend Therese, who has the no-dot version and drew one in (as I think you saw on my Instagram – the two of us were roaring at our nerdiness) wrote in her notes: “The dot is not the same as a blank answer.”

      And if you don’t get that …

      Well, there’s no hope for you!!

      And it can’t be the size of a period. It has to be BIG. Oh dear … it sounds so insane to talk about this so seriously!

      I need to look up the Wild Geese Players – it sounds like they’re really working with the book in interesting ways. Very intriguing!

      • mutecypher says:

        Now I feel this big.


      • I directed this year’s Wild Geese Players of Seattle reading and I read Stephen’s part. I’ve been adapting the scripts for about ten years, since the group’s founder moved back to Ireland. Every chapter is different, so it’s often an interesting challenge to tease the text apart into a selection of characters and voices to be read. I think we had four different voices for Gerty in the Nausikaa chapter. I do a fairly good first draft, working through the chapter several times. We rehearse it a few times and we discover dozens of changes, big and small. I produce a second draft and we usually find a few more things. Rehearsals usually start in March.

        The scripts can be found at You can see the evolution of the last two scripts in the Commits.

  7. Here’s to –
    Nora the barnacle goose –
    Skin-the-Goat –
    the giggle fit of bronze by gold –
    the blind stripling piano tuner tap tap tapping along –
    the dog’s rag of wolf’s tongue redpanting from his jaws-
    Stephen deep in thought strolling on Sandymount Strand –
    socks with skyblue clocks, jaunty –
    Plumtree’s Potted Meats, which can make of each home an abode of bliss –
    Rose of Castille and rows of cast steel –
    met him pike hoses –
    Come forth, Lazarus! And he came fifth and lost the job –
    On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins –
    Private Carr and his escalating oath –
    lame Gerty limping, a dreamer –
    those lovely seaside girls –
    the heaventree of stars hung with humid nightblue fruit –
    Could a swim duck? Says I –

  8. Lesley says:

    One of the greatest experiences in my life was reading Ulysses in an undergrad Joyce class at Hunter about 17 years ago. Aside from erroneously admonishing us to avoid split infinitives, using the Star Trek sentence (“to boldly go where no man has gone before”) as his example, the instructor, Nico Israel, was just great. He loved Joyce and so did we. Everybody in that room wanted to undergo this book, and they were as smart as they were eager, so at every class meeting we shared our observations and epiphanies. That was the semester the doctor found the lump in my breast, and I remember sidling into the hall during class to take calls about scheduling biopsies, getting test results, etc etc. I was trying not to succumb to terror and could not know this was the beginning of five years of medical disasters, infections, hospitalizations, procedures and surgeries that left me blank and hollowed, wondering if I’d ever be able to glue myself together, rejoin the waking world. But through all that followed (and I did manage to finish my studies, to graduate with honors(!) amidst all the chaos and carving) the glory of Ulysses and that extraordinary class, the exhilaration of our shared secret was one of the things that sustained me. Because of this experience I think of Ulysses as best read in a group, where the participants can exult and explore and laugh together. Anyway, sorry for the personal ramble. I love this post, Sheila, and am most grateful to you for the excerpts and tips. You are lucky to have had your dad to counsel you in reading Ulysses. Thank you for sharing him with us.

  9. Lesley says:

    Addendum: Two years ago I was in Dublin and found it was Bloomsday week. I only had a couple of days and didn’t make it to any of the big celebrations, but did make a pilgrimage to the little pharmacy where Leopold buys Molly’s bar of lemon-scented soap, and also had a gorgonzola and mustard sandwich at the pub where Leopold had his. Soap and sandwich—a perfect celebration. I felt Joyce would approve.

  10. Scotter says:

    According to these articles, there’s a whole subset of people who’ve devoted their lives to Joyce, and it broke them:

    I feel my dabbling in Joyce in dribs and drabs might be a healthy choice.

  11. mutecypher says:

    A friend sent me an article about the 50th Anniversary of Dylan recording “Like A Rolling Stone.” Turns out it was on June 16.

    An auspicious day.

    • sheila says:

      oh wow, that’s cool!

      It’s also the day Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes got married in 1956. and we all know how that turned out … hmmmm.

  12. SeanG says:

    Happy Bloomsday Sheila! and thanks for all yr amazing writing over the years. Joyce was the coolest. along with Alex Chilton.

    • sheila says:

      Joyce and Alex Chilton! lol

      If I wrote about the same thing all the time I’d go out of my mind.

      Happy Bloomsday to you too Sean and thanks for stopping by all these years.

  13. Melissa Sutherland says:

    Has another year really gone by? I look forward to this piece every year. Thank you, Sheila.

  14. Anne Whitehouse says:

    Hi Sheila,
    I love this piece. I am sad there is no Bloomsday on Broadway anymore. I miss the old days of Isaiah Sheffer. Happy Bloomsday to you!

    • sheila says:

      My friend Jonathan Goldman headed up a Bloomsday event there in … 2018 maybe? I can’t remember. It was nice. I still like the one I go to the best – but it’s fun to see it unfold in different settings.

      The old Isaiah Sheffer days are legendary! I did go to one one year – the full day – I was there from 10 in the morning to 1 am the following morning – with Fionnula Flanagan on the stage as Molly – it was WILD.

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