Thursday 21 September 2017

Why is Bloomsday in Dublin so special?

Robert Ballagh portrait of James Joyce (2011), UCD Collection.
Robert Ballagh portrait of James Joyce (2011), UCD Collection.

Katie Mishler

Every year, on June 16, literary fanatics from all over the world descend upon Dublin to celebrate Irish novelist James Joyce and his innovative novel Ulysses. These book lovers gather together on the day on which the book is set, Bloomsday, an event named after the story's central character, Leopold Bloom.

Ulysses is considered by many to be difficult to read because of its length (some editions are over 900 pages long) and its complex style. For such a long and seemingly complicated book, Ulysses has a simple premise. Mirroring Homer's epic poem 'The Odyssey', the narrative follows the life of Leopold Bloom over the course of a normal day as he wanders through the streets of Dublin before finally returning home to his wife Molly at 7, Eccles Street.

Fans of the book are drawn to the story's messages of love and homecoming, as well as how Joyce employed his experimental modernist style to elevate the mundane aspects of everyday experience to the level of great art. Readers worldwide are able to relate to Bloom's daily life as he prepares breakfast, collects his post and drinks in a banter-filled pub.

From New York City to Prague, Bloomsday is celebrated internationally through marathon readings, musical performances and theatrical renditions. Bloomsday in Dublin is particularly special because it features the novel's most important character: the city itself. Dublin plays a prominent role within the book as characters attend to their daily routine, ambling everywhere from Glasnevin Cemetery to busy Dame Street.

Joyce famously wished to construct a literary replica of Dublin so accurate that Ulysses could be used as a blueprint to rebuild the entire city if it were ever demolished. The Edwardian city he wrote about is recognisable in the modern Dublin of today, and many of the urban landmarks featured in his writing still exist. Bloomsday is as much about celebrating Ireland's capital city and the witty Dubliners who call it home as it is about honouring Joyce's artistry.

Experiencing Bloomsday in Dublin allows enthusiasts to encounter the novel firsthand and to make the story come alive by retracing the footsteps of Bloom and other characters. Revellers can start their day off with a morning swim at the Forty Foot in Sandycove, where the book opens. Others may choose to replicate Bloom's lunch and swing by Davy Byrne's off of Grafton Street for a gorgonzola cheese sandwich and a glass of brandy. The Dublin Bloomsday festivities are truly immersive, and many participants opt to dress in costume as a character from the book.

Every June, Bloomsday promises readers the ability to step into the pages of their favorite novel through the gateway of Dublin.

Katie Mishler is a PhD candidate in the School of English, Drama and Film at University College Dublin (UCD). Her research explores how the writing of James Joyce responded to and adapted 19th-century conceptions of Irish gothic writing, modernity and the urban environment. Her research is supported by an Irish Research Council Government of Ireland Postgraduate Scholarship.

Irish Independent

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