San Francisco has long enjoyed a vital connection to Ireland. Think of immigrants like Jasper O’Farrell and the thousands of men and women who came during the Gold Rush, lived in places like Irish Hill and helped give San Francisco its identity.
It’s no surprise, then, that The City is doing everything possible to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of ‘Ulysses’, James Joyce’s epic novel, which was censored before becoming a worldwide bestseller and was to be read in university English courses. The novel was essential when I took a course in comparative literature in the bachelor’s degree in the 1960s with Lionel Trilling.
Like most readers of Ulysses, including the famous Irish novelist Edna O’Brien, I haven’t read every word of the novel. Much of it is largely inaccessible. Yet, like O’Brien and millions of other readers around the world, I found it impossible to resist, in part because of its complexity. Joyce himself felt that his novel would live on long after his death – he died in 1941 aged 58 – precisely because it was complex and even mysterious.
Over the past 100 years, scholars have unpacked almost every problematic passage. Their efforts helped bring the novel to life. Yet what gave “Ulysses” literary immortality were the characters, including Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s alter ego, Molly Bloom and above all her husband, Leopold – a Jewish Irishman, modern-day Ulysses and salesman advertisements for a Dublin newspaper. Joyce calls him “irrepressible”. He is the glue that holds the sprawling narrative together.
Every June 16, the day on which the story of “Ulysses” takes place, fans of the novel and devotees of the author celebrate one of the greatest novels in the English language. For decades, the occasion has been anointed “Bloomsday”. This year in San Francisco, it’s called “Bloomsbay”, to say that the novel is part of our landscape.
Over the next few days, Leopold Bloom and his creator – who lived much of his life in self-imposed exile – will be honored with exhibitions, films, lectures, talks, a podcast and an open mic. . There is something for all ages and all beliefs: Catholics, Protestants, Jews and more. Bloom wants them all to live in peace and harmony.
The Consulate General of Ireland, San Francisco Public Library, Institute of Mechanics, Irish Culture Bay Area, United Irish Cultural Center and UC Berkeley Irish Studies Program hosted a multi-event city-wide celebration in honor of the centennial.
The Irish might call the mega party “the craic”, a difficult term to define, although the Oxford English Dictionary says it means “fun, amusement, mischief”. The London Times said that “the word really defies precise definition”, which seems to correspond to “Ulysses” itself, which cannot be nailed down, although the Joycians called it a modern epic, a grand experience with language, a dispute with Ireland and the Catholic Church, and a love song for the Irish.
San Francisco’s Main Library leads the charge with an exhibition of the author’s life – his time in Ireland, his education, his travels and his eventual residence in Paris – and a discussion of the writing of his “Dubliners” books. , “Portrait of an Artist as a Young Man”, “Finnegans Wake” and, of course, “Ulysses”. The exhibition will also include special material on the novel’s editor Sylvia Beach, founder of the famous Shakespeare Bookstore & Co. in Paris.
Most Bloomsbay events are free, though an event at the Mechanics’ Institute on Thursday nights, which features music, requires modest admission. Guests and participants are asked to wear costumes at the Institute of Mechanics and read “Ulysses” aloud. There is also a performance titled “Goldenhair – Song Cycle Based on ‘Ulysses'” – at Feinstein in Nikko on June 14, presented by the Consulate General of Ireland and the Cultural Unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs, featuring the composer Brian Byre and musicians from Ireland. and the Bay Area.
For those who go to the main library in San Francisco, they can borrow the book or consult one or more of the many volumes on the author and his masterpiece. The library’s website lists Joyce’s novels, as well as a collection of his letters and several biographies, as well as works by his wife, Nora, Molly Bloom’s inspiration, and Joyce’s own brother, Stanislaus. Also of interest is JM Coetzee’s novel “Elizabeth Costello,” which is told from the perspective of the irrepressible Molly, who delivers a powerful monologue that concludes “Ulysses.”
In some ways, she steals the show. Joyce must have known that her novel needed a female voice and the assertive point of view of a fiery Irishwoman. His words conclude “Odysseus”: “I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me if I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and I pulled him to me so he could smell my perfumed tits yes and his heart was racing and yes I said yes I will yes Molly’s ‘yes’ is surely the ‘yes’ the most famous in literature. It also signals Joyce’s “yes” to life itself, which is as good a reason as any to take part in Bloomsbay.
IF YOU ARE GOING TO
Joyce International Exhibition, San Francisco Main Library, 100 Larkin St. 6th Floor, SF through Oct. 13: Tuesday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-8 p.m.; Saturday, 10am-6pm; Sunday 12 p.m.-6 p.m. Free. (415) 557-4400, sfpl.org
Goldenhair – A song cycle based on “Ulysses at Feinstein is at the Nikko, 222 Mason St. SF, Monday, June 14, 7:30 p.m. $55 pp. (866) 663-1063, feinsteinssf.com. Presented by the Consulate General of Ireland and the Cultural Unit of the Department of Foreign Affairs, featuring composer Brian Byrne and musicians from Ireland and the Bay Area in an ambitious song cycle based on the seminal novel of Joyce.
Community Celebration (I): Bloomsday at the Mechanics’ InstituteThursday, noon. Online on Zoom.
Community Celebration (II): Bloomsday celebration at the Mechanics’ InstituteThursday, 5-7:30 p.m. Mechanics’ Institute, 57 Post St., SF, $15.00-$20.00 per person includes Bloomsday special plate. Registration required.
World premiere: U22 Podcast The Ulysses Centenarylaunches June 16 at u22pod.com, co-hosted by Catherine Flynn, associate professor of English at UC Berkeley and editor of “The Cambridge Centenary Ulysses: The 1922 Text with Essays and Notes”, and Emily Moell and Louie Poore. The podcast celebrates the release of Flynn’s new book and includes conversations with contributors and with “Ulysses” readers around the world.
Community Celebration (III): James Joyce celebration and open mic at the United Irish Cultural Centeruh, Thursday, 2-4 p.m. United Irish Cultural Center, 2700 45th Ave. Free SF. Gather with the community at the United Irish Cultural Center to celebrate the centenary of James Joyce’s epic, ‘Ulysses’. Come in period costume (optional) with your favorite passage to read on stage. www.irishcentersf.org.