June 16th is Bloomsday, the day on which, in 1904, James Joyce's novel Ulysses was set. Named after the novel’s central character Leopold Bloom, Bloomsday is celebrated every year by Joyce nuts around the world, but this year’s date is even more significant because 2014 marks the 100 year anniversary of Joyce’s first published work, Dubliners.
Joyce has many claims to being the most influential writer of the twentieth century, and he left his mark not only on literature but on cinema, television, art and music. Whenever we encounter multiple perspectives in a film or a novel, or witness the use of parody or pastiche in advertising, we must thank Joyce. Even the way in which hip-hop and electronic music samples other genres bears testimony to the way that Joyce synthesised a range of voices and styles in his fiction. From the books we read and the films we watch to the music we listen to, we are commemorating Joyce every day, but here are a few things you can do to remember him on this particular day in June.
Eat a Kidney
One of the first things that Bloom does on the morning of the 16th is to set out to his local butchers and buy a pork kidney for breakfast. This episode introduces us to Bloom’s obsession, and the obsession of the novel as a whole, with the visceral and insalubrious. Indeed Joyce himself was not one to shy away from the more unsavoury functions of the human body, and his graphic description in Ulysses of masturbation and defecation won him the ill-favour of many of his contemporaries, not least Virginia Woolf, who described the novel as the work of ‘a queasy undergraduate scratching his pimples’.Wear Black
Throughout their wanderings on the 16th of June, Bloom and his counterpart Stephen Dedalus both wear black, having attended the funeral of one Patrick Dignam. Their sombre attire is the subject of much remark from their fellow Dubliners, who view their choice of clothes with suspicion.Go to the Sea
The sea is ever-present in Ulysses and forms the backdrop to some of its most famous scenes, among them Stephen Daedalus’ philosophical perambulation along the beach and Leopold Bloom’s infamous fantasising about Gerty MacDowell, both of which are set on Sandymount Strand.
In the morning of the 16th, Bloom learns that his wife Molly will be singing Love's Old Sweet Song by JL Molloy in her up-coming tour with her concert manager Blazes Boylan. The song is romantic and sentimental and for Bloom carries unwelcome suggestions about the nature of his wife's relationship with her manager. This rendition by Catherine Laidler-Lau is as rich and sensual as one might imagine Molly Bloom's to be.Spot Your Friends a Round of Drinks
Drink and the exchanging of drink is a fundamental aspect of the novel, as it was of life in Dublin itself. Stephen Daedalus is, though impecunious, very generous with drinks, but Bloom is much more stingy. In the scene in Barney Kiernan's pub, Bloom attracts the ill-will of his fellow drinkers when he consistently fails to buy a round, especially since they believe (mistakenly) that he has just won a bet on a horse. This scene ends with Bloom being harangued by one of these drinkers, who chases him out of the pub, yelling obscenities, and impotently throws a tin of Jacob's Crackers at him. So perhaps you'd be well advised this Bloomsday to emulate Stephen's rather than Bloom's drinking habits, and to spot your friends a round of drinks.Wear a Rose in Your Hair
Molly Bloom was born in Gibraltar and in her soliloquy at the end of the novel she reminisces about her childhood on the island and the abundant plant life that she encountered there. One particular memory that she keeps returning to is her assignation with an English officer for which she wore a red rose in her hair.Buy a Bar of Lemon Soap from Sweny’s
In preparation for his Turkish bath, Bloom buys a bar of lemon soap from Sweny’s, a pharmacy in Lincoln Place, Dublin. Sweny’s still stand in Dublin, its décor unchanged since its heyday in the Edwardian period. It no longer operates as a pharmacy, but acts as a hub for Joyce enthusiasts throughout the city, each Bloomsday selling thousands of bars of lemon soap to customers wanting to re-create this famous scene. Unfortunately, due to a rates hike by Dublin Council, this age-old shop stands in danger of closing down. Sweny’s are petitioning the council to keep its rates down, but in the meantime buying a bar of lemon soap is both a way of commemorating Bloomsday and of supporting this Dublin institution. Download the ‘He Liked Thick Word Soup’ App
He Liked Thick Word Soup is an experimental app that offers a new way of experiencing the language of Ulysses. Users are presented with a single sentence from the novel along with a jumble of other of its sentences, and it’s their job to disentangle this jumble and find words in it that match up to words in the original sentence.
Text by Max Fletcher