Arts & Life

Honoring 'Ulysses'

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For devoted readers of James Joyce, June 16 marks the annual celebration of his acclaimed novel Ulysses. Live readings of the famously complex tome can go on for 24 hours or more. Jacki Lyden looks into the history of these marathon performances.


In 1904, on June the 16th, writer James Joyce took one of the long walks of history. He invited a maid from Finn's Hotel, Nora Barnacle, out for a walk. And later, he'd say it was that walk that made a man of him.


LYDEN: Whatever happened on that day in Dublin, we know that years later, in 1922, James Joyce's great masterwork, "Ulysses," appeared. The book's action takes place in the single day and night centering around one Leopold Bloom who meanders across Dublin. The structure of the novel follows Homer's epic "The Odyssey." Today, June 16th is celebrated the world over as Bloomsday, and readings of the work, both marathon sessions and short snippets, take place worldwide.

The very first time Joyce read "Ulysses" for posterity was to his own publisher, Sylvia Beach, who'd arranged for him to come to a recording studio in a Paris suburb. Joyce chose to read a scene set in a newspaper office where one character is mocking a politician's long-winded tendencies.


JAMES JOYCE: Ladies and gentlemen, great was my admiration in listening...

LYDEN: Just let your ears get a bit accustomed.


JOYCE: It seemed to me that I had been transported into a country far away from this country.

LYDEN: Sylvia Beach would later write that Joyce chose that section to record because he knew that "Ulysses'" sensual themes would offend. And indeed, the book was banned for a decade in America but never in Ireland, though it wasn't widely available. It wasn't published in Britain until 1936, and copyright disputes still plague much of Joyce's estate. But since 2012, Bloomsday celebrations occur unhindered.

And in New York, actress Fionnula Flanagan is once again reading as Molly Bloom for two and a half hours at Symphony Space. Here's a bit of her soliloquy.


FIONNULA FLANAGAN: (as Molly Bloom) Got as dull as the devil after they went I was almost planning to run away mad out of it somewhere were never easy where we are father or aunt or marriage (singing) waiting always waiting to guide him to me waiting nor speed his flying feet...


LYDEN: Wherever you celebrate it, happy Bloomsday.


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