Sunday, June 20, 2010

June 16 Bloomsday

June 16 is Bloomsday, the day when the action takes place in James Joyce's novel Ulysses in 1904. Leopold Bloom the main character doesn't have much work to do so he spends most of his day wandering around Dublin doing errands. He leaves his house on Eccles Street, walks south across the river Liffey, picks up a letter, buys a bar of soap and goes to the funeral of a man he did not know very well. In the afternoon he has a cheese sandwich, feeds the gulls on the river, helps a blind man cross the street and visits a couple of pubs. He thinks about his job, his wife, his daughter and his stillborn son. He muses about life, death and reincarnation. He knows his wife Molly is going to cheat on him that afternoon at his house. In the evening he wanders around the red light district of Dublin and meets up with a young writer Stephen Dedalus who is drunk. Leopold Bloom takes Stephen to his home and offers to let him spend the night. They stand outside looking at the stars for a while and then Bloom goes inside and climbs into bed with his wife. It is one of the best novels ever written in the English language.

One reason Ulysses was banned from coming into the US was Molly Bloom's soliloquy (or interior monologue) at the end of the book. It consists of eight enormous "sentences," with only two marks of punctuation. Molly accepts Leopold into her bed, frets about his health, then reminisces about their first meeting and about when she knew she was in love with him. The final words of Molly's reverie, and the very last words of the book, are:

"...I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Moorish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes. "

Joyce noted in a 1921 letter to Frank Budgen that "[t]he last word (human, all too human) is left to Penelope." (Molly Bloom is modeled on Ulysses Penelope) The episode both begins and ends with "yes," a word that Joyce described as "the female word" and that he said indicated "acquiescence and the end of all resistance."

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