Today is a big day for Joycean fans the world over. Infamous author James Joyce was born on this day in 1882 in Dublin, Ireland. To compound that, he published Ulysses 40 years later on the same date. Everybody loves a joint birthday party and you just know a James Joyce/Leopold Bloom rager would be the party of the year. They’d probably serve kidneys and “young juicy crinkled and plump red tomatoes“. Delicious.
James was born to parents Mary Jane Murray and John Stanislaus Joyce, and was the eldest of ten children to survive infancy. He attended Clongowes boarding school and Belvedere College before moving on to Ireland’s finest University College Dublin (ok maybe it’s my alma mater, but I swear I’m not biased..)
image via ucd
Birthday or no birthday, Joyce and his work have always been controversial. A Portrait of The Artist as a Young Man and Dubliners tend to fly under the controversy radar for the most part and Finnegan’s Wake confuses more than it angers. Ulysses, though, was the biggest thorn in 1900s Ireland’s side. You need only imagine Catholic Ireland in 1922 to understand why. Sex and sin are taboo now, but they were far more so then. Ulysses was considered vulgar and excessive, exploring ideas of bodies, sexuality, life and death in ways that were completely alien to a repressed society and audience. The novel was so polarizing that it was banned, raising its own questions of censorship even today.
While it may be controversial, Ulysses is still heralded as one of the greatest novels of the century. It is a sprawling, 730 page traipse around Dublin over the course of 24 hours. Each ‘episode’ or chapter is written in a different literary style, ending in a punctuation-less episode from the point of view of Leopold Bloom’s wife, Molly. The novel has it all; headline style for a newsroom scene, 1800s girl’s magazine for hopeless romantic Gerty in Nausicaa, it really has something for everyone.
Maybe it’s the Irish in me that drives my love for Joyce and his work, but it is integral to every story he tells, too. Ulysses portrays Dublin and its cast of sordid characters. For a man who left Ireland in the early 1900s and never came back, he sure loved to write about it.
Today is not traditionally the biggest celebration of Joyce and Ulysses with June’s Bloomsday generally taking precedence. Bloomsday takes place on June 16th, the day on which the novel is set. There are celebrations worldwide, with Dublin at its epicenter. If Valentine’s day is your thing, you’ll be glad to know June 16th is also the date of the first outing for Joyce and his wife, Nora Barnacle. He immortalized their first date in his novel and now, it is widely celebrated. Romantic, right?
image via the irish times
Joyce’s legacy extends beyond the Emerald Isle and should be especially cherished today on the anniversary of both the birth of the legend and the publication of his life’s greatest work. Ulysses is by no means an easy read, but it is an incredibly gratifying one.
featured image via amazon
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