Happy Bloomsday

by Maria on June 13, 2010

A week or so ago, I received an email from an old friend – the redoubtable Bridget Hourican – asking for some family background about a great-great uncle who was made a character of in Ulysses. It should have clicked with me that 12 16 June was coming up.

Alluding to the other Timberteer who also rejoices in this ancestry, Bridget wrote:

“… when a friend of mine was asked in Germany what he thought of Ulysses – as all Irish abroad are asked at some point – he admitted that he hadn’t read it yet, but saved his reputation and astounded his questioner by adding that his great-uncle was in it. This great-uncle was Hugh MacNeill (the more disreputable brother of the revolutionary Eoin MacNeill) who appears, with his name cannibalised, as professor McHugh, murmuring “biscuitfully”.

Prof. McHugh is apparently a quite funny character who wanders around Dublin lecturing in Greek and Latin. Bridget’s written a gorgeous Bloomsday essay about the real people immortalised in Ulysses. It makes me want to give the book another go.



nashe 06.13.10 at 1:39 am

June 16? Very cool to have a relative in Ulysses.


y81 06.13.10 at 2:10 am

Very cool.

One of my many times great-uncles was Daniel Axtell, the regicide. For those who have forgotten, Axtell was the lieutenant colonel under Pride who actually commanded the guard at the door and conducted the purge. While you all talk, we are the ones who actually preserved human liberty on this planet.


kid bitzer 06.13.10 at 2:16 am

luckily, whenever 12 june is coming up, there’s a fair chance that 16 june is coming up, too.

also, conversely: whenever 16 june is coming up, there’s a fair chance that 12 june is coming up, too, or recently did.


Vance Maverick 06.13.10 at 2:23 am

I’ve been surprised to encounter intense hostility to Joyce among the Irish abroad. One friend in particular, who decisively preferred Flann O’Brien, even the weak self-plagiaristic late stuff. I can understanding disliking someone or something because it’s too famous, but the depth of the animus baffled me. Happy 16th June, one and all, very soon.


Neil 06.13.10 at 3:28 am

Never understood the resistance to the book. Apart from the Telemachus chapter (which is quite short), it is quite straightforward.


peter ramus 06.13.10 at 3:29 am

On Bloomsday, June 16 falls on a Thursday. All the rest are imitations, is what I’m saying.


H. Rumbold, Master Barber 06.13.10 at 10:48 am

Interesting post and thanks for the link re: the DIB. Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated mentioned there is indeed a richly annotated index to just about everyone and everything in the book. For those wanting to “give it another go” however, I’d recommend Stuart Gilbert’s James Joyce’s Ulysses for its synopsis of the action by chapter and explanation of the underlying scheme of the book and its technique and its correspondence to Homer’s Odyssey. Clears up a lot of the obscurity.

A round of pork kidneys (or gorgonzola sandwiches and glasses of burgundy) to all on the 16th!


Kirk Ahrens 06.13.10 at 12:23 pm

You should definitely give it another try. It’s like Hendrix or Picasso. Things just aren’t the same afterwards.


bob mcmanus 06.13.10 at 1:22 pm

I increasingly find the emphasis on the naturalistic elements and naturalistic readings of Ulysses sad and dispiriting. The mythopoetic and universal resacralizing ambitions of the Age of Joyce have been lost to the cheap thrills of identification and identity, a deconstruction of symbols into mere facts. It is this regression into tribalism, the brutish decadence of individuation that makes our politics and economics impossible.

HULK SMASH META-NARRATIVE and leaves us unschooled babelfish to the sharks.


Vance Maverick 06.13.10 at 2:46 pm

bob, Ulysses is big enough to be a realist novel in one reading, a reinscription of myth in another — and you don’t even touch on the little matter of language and style. (One would hope in any case that all these readings are in action together.)

Wonder if Maria will notice the date slip before June 16th actually rolls around.


Mike Schilling 06.13.10 at 3:56 pm

Ulysses is to Finnegans Wake as Relativity is to Quantum Mechanics. Those who consider the first too strange and difficult need to study the second to discover what those words really mean.


bob mcmanus 06.13.10 at 4:14 pm

9:I like to compare Ulysses to Les Demoiselles d’Avignon, which is contemporaneous in about any way you could think of. Yet, I presume, very few people bother to seek out Picasso’s models or any existing photographs of the models. Because we understand at a glance that even though it is a representational painting, that is not its purpose.

Joyce is just as obviously anti-realistic, and all the novices who struggle starting or finishing the book understand that instantly. But the “fans” of the book tell the resistant to just be patient, open, get a little help and they can “translate” Ulysses into a naturalistic book of characters, places, and events in time.

And thus we get Edmund Wilson (and oh so many others) saying all that schema and stylistic experimentation stuff just messes up a pretty little story.

PS: People really don’t think like that, and Joyce never thought they did. It’s a trick. a joke.


bob mcmanus 06.13.10 at 4:15 pm

10: Much better


Maria 06.13.10 at 4:36 pm

oops, Bloomsday is June 16th indeed, not June 12th. Thanks!


Vance Maverick 06.14.10 at 3:47 am

bob, if all you’re saying is that you’re not personally interested in the ways in which U engages the real Dublin Joyce knew, that’s fine. But if you’re denying the reality or general interest of that engagement, that’s absurd. Joyce clearly established those connections in a way Picasso did not.


ajay 06.14.10 at 4:21 pm

I’ve been surprised to encounter intense hostility to Joyce among the Irish abroad.

At a guess (Irish readers please correct me) perhaps this is because Irish schoolkids have to read Joyce at school, because it’s Great Literature, and you generally end up hating whatever Great Literature you have to read at school? (certainly true in my experience w.r.t. Huxley, Hughes and Milton)


Henry 06.14.10 at 4:28 pm

Not really true in my time. One year out of four, Leaving Cert students had to read “Portrait of an Artist,” which alternated with Austen (my year) and I think Dickens and someone else. Perhaps the curriculum has changed since.


ajay 06.14.10 at 4:52 pm

Hmm, thanks Henry. Maybe it’s just because Ulysses isn’t actually much fun to read? It’s not particularly funny, at least not by the standards of some other Irish authors, the language is (apparently deliberately) difficult and obscure, nothing very much happens… why should you expect people not to be hostile to it?


chris 06.14.10 at 4:58 pm

@16: I think most people end up hating *some* of the Great Literature they have to read, and remembering most passionately the pieces that they hated.

For example, I don’t hate Shakespeare, but I do hate _The Catcher in the Rye_.

But under this view, it’s possible that there’s something about Joyce that leads to him being more likely to be in the hated category.

For the record, I never had to read any novel-length Joyce, but did have to read a short story of his, which I found rather boring but not especially hate-worthy.


ajay 06.14.10 at 5:02 pm

16: yes, some not all. I didn’t end up hating Jane Eyre or Steinbeck or Shakespeare, fortunately.

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