Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him on the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:
—Introibo ad altare Dei.

– First lines of Ulysses by James Joyce, 1922.

It’s that most literary of boozy holidays, Bloomsday! On June 16th James Joyce’s Ulysses is celebrated across the world with readings, events, tours (if you’re in Dublin), and drinking. Because Irish, right? Time for a very not-uncommon confession: I have yet to read UlyssesA Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man, Finnegan’s Wake, or most of The Dubliners. By chance, however, I did pick up a copy of Ulysses last week. So then I put that aside and started reading the much slimmer, much less intimidating Portrait of an Artist.

My knowledge therefore is second-hand and woefully sketchy – like Melville’s Moby-Dick, it has so much baggage of being endlessly studied, critiqued, and generally fretted over by the literary, collegial elite that your everyday reader just avoids them. Same with Shakespeare, and any number of other great writers. I think the common thread with these three is the uncommon use of language (antiquarian, dialectical, and poetic) that creates the initial barrier for enjoying the book, because my understanding is that even with Shakespeare the subject matter and characters are often regular old folk who go through life without special gifts or destinies… but like I say, this is mostly second-hand knowledge.

Some interesting articles I came across:

UbuWeb has made available the full recording of Ulysses as read by Donal Donnelly & Miriam Healy-Louie. And while you’re at it, here’s Finnegan’s Wake as read by Patrick Healy.

You can find more recordings of Joyce’s work at archive.org.

Because it was originally published in book form in 1922, Ulysses is in the public domain.

A documentary I can’t wait to get home to watch:

Anthony Burgess admiring the photo by Eve Arnold of Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses. (source).joyce_AB-Monroe-Reads-Ulysses
Marilyn reading Ulysses, photo by Eve Arnold.

Header image via: “Sylvia Beach and James Joyce at Beach’s bookshop, Shakespeare and Company, in 1922″.

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