“Stately, plump Buck Mulligan. . .”
With those words, James Joyce (February 2, 1882-January 13, 1941) opened Ulysses, chosen in 1999 as the greatest novel of the 20th century by the Modern Library. The novel follows Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus on their wanderings through Dublin on a single day –June 16 1904.
That makes today “Bloomsday” and complete readings of the book take place all over the world. The date was significant to Joyce because it was the day on which James Joyce first had an outing with his future wife, Nora Barnacle, model for the character Molly Bloom.
First serialized in a literary magazine between 1918 and 1920, the novel was published in its entirety in February 1922 in Paris. Considered obscene, the book was kept out of the United States, leading to a court battle in which Ulysses was cleared for U.S. publication in a landmark obscenity ruling in 1933.
When I was about 14, I was given a copy of The Dubliners, Joyce’s collection of short stories about the city –and people– he loved and hated. I must admit I struggled with it at first. But that collection, and Joyce’s autobiographical A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, are two books I count among the most influential in my life.
Think you know your Joyce? Try this quiz adapted from Don’t Know Much About Literature, my first collaboration with my daughter, Jenny Davis.
Don’t Know Much About James Joyce
“When you wet the bed first it is warm then it gets cold.” It may be hard to believe that the man who wrote that sentence (from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, 1916) also wrote Ulysses (1922) and Finnegans Wake (1939), two of the most infamously “difficult” works in the English language. James Joyce (d. 1941) was born in Dublin in 1882, where his middle-class, Catholic community would inspire fiction like Dubliners (1912), the short story collection that he called “a chapter of the moral history of my country.” From the concise realism of Dubliners, Joyce’s fiction moved towards experimental uses of language and stream-of-consciousness narration. Joyce’s dense wordplay reaches a peak in Finnegans Wake, a work intended to be read aloud. If you’re up for “a rhubarbarous maundarin yellagreen funkleblue windigut diodying” James Joyce quiz, read on!
1. What Christian term did James Joyce borrow to describe a “sudden spiritual moment” when “the soul of the commonest object” leaps out?
2. What is the name of Joyce’s main character in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and the posthumously published fragment, Stephen Hero?
3. What genre of writing made up Joyce’s first published work, Chamber Music (1907)?
4. What famed psychiatrist wrote Joyce, “Your Ulysses has presented the world such an upsetting psychological problem, that repeatedly I have been called in as a supposed authority on psychological matters”?
5. In the Irish ballad that inspired the title of Joyce’s Finnegans Wake, what brings Finnegan, the dead Irishman of the title, back to life?
In 2004, NPR did this story about the 100th anniversary of “Bloomsday.”
Here is a link to the James Joyce Centre in Dublin
2. Stephen Dedalus, inspired by the labyrinth builder of Greek myth.
3. Poetry. In fact, Joyce’s collection of poems drew the attention of Imagists Ezra Pound and T.S. Eliot.
4. Carl Jung. Joyce’s daughter, Lucia, was treated by Jung.
5. The smell of whiskey.