As a teacher of James Joyce’s Ulysses, I have always been intrigued by the European wanderings of Rudolph Virag Bloom who in the penultimate Ithaca chapter of the book is said to have “narrated to his son Leopold Bloom (aged 6) a retrospective arrangement of migrations and settlements in and between Dublin, London, Florence, Milan, Vienna, Budapest, Szombathely with statements of satisfaction (his grandfather having seen Maria Theresia, empress of Austria, queen of Hungary), with commercial advice (having taken care of pence, the pounds having taken care of themselves). Leopold Bloom (aged 6) had accompanied these narrations by constant consultation of a geographical map of Europe (political) and by suggestions for the establishment of affiliated business premises in the various centres mentioned.”
Why did Rudolph, a Jewish man from a small town in the Austro-Hungarian Empire, go to all these major European cities? What were his business dealings in each one? What were the specifics of his personal life? Why did he commit suicide? As a writer, I am being drawn to create a backstory to fill in the blanks and answer these questions. In short, this would be a prequel to Ulysses! Wish me luck. I’m going to give it a shot. If there are those reading this post, who may have suggestions for me in creating this backstory, it would be greatly appreciated.
This time of year, I start thinking about the how the Man Booker Prize longlist will look when it is announced this coming summer on July 24. It’s a pity that the Prize committee changed its eligibility rules a few years back. I favored the original sui generis eligibility criteria, where only British authors and authors from the former Commonwealth, Ireland and Zimbabwe could qualify for the competition.
Now it is open to all authors of books written in English, no matter where they come from, as long as the book they wrote was published in the UK. Distinctiveness of the competition is a thing of the past. As most expected, the American publishing industry with its financial and marketing clout has dominated the submission process. The last two winners have been American.
I think that it is time for the committee to seriously reconsider going back to the original eligibility rules and restore the unique nature of the Man Booker competition. I would like to know whether you agree or disagree with me.
Our very talented and versatile literary Artist-in Residence at the Cliff Dwellers, Kathleen Rooney, will be presenting a unique program on the book that she recently co-edited entitled Rene Magritte: Selected Writings on Friday evening May 11. This book represents the first time that the great Belgian surrealist artist’s writings have been translated in English. Kathleen will discuss her special journey of discovering the great Magritte’s written words, many of them as probing and whimsical as is his distinctive art. The dinner at the Cliff Dwellers (200 South Michigan, across from the Art Institute) which precedes the presentation is at 6:15. The plated dinner will have a Belgian flair in honor of Magritte. The program starts at 7:00. Cost of the dinner and program is $35; seating for the program only is $10. Books will be available for purchase. Please make your reservations at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Recently I met Nancy Straus at a Cliff Dwellers event and the conversation between us turned to Ulysses by James Joyce. I was astounded when Nancy mentioned to me that she owned a rare copy of the book that was signed both by Joyce and the French artist Henri Matisse and contained illustrations from etchings done by Matisse, including the front cover with its gold-embossed Nausicaa design.
In 1935, the Limited Editions Club (LEC) published a limited illustration edition of Ulysses after Matisse had been paid $5,000 by George Macy, the founder of the Limited Editions Club, to do the Ulysses-themed artwork. It turned out that Matisse had not read Joyce’s Ulysses in the French translation. Nor did he intend to after he had been commissioned to do the illustrations.
Instead, Matisse proposed to create the artwork based on Homer’s Odyssey, which after all inspired Joyce to craft his modernistic take on the ancient Greek legend. And as it turned out, Joyce had no problem going along with Matisse on his proposal. In fact, Joyce enjoyed this illustrated edition so much that he bought several copies and presented one of them as a Christmas gift to his son and daughter-in-law in 1935.
There were only 250 copies of the LEC Ulysses signed by both Joyce and Matisse. The numbering is not in consecutive order. Nancy’s copy is #353. She was kind enough to send me photos of the cover and signature page of her copy.
Meet Bette Sullivan, another passenger in my book “1001 Train Rides in Chicago” soon to be published by Eckhartz Press.
Growing up on the North Side, Bette Sullivan naturally became a diehard Cubs fan. While she and her husband Fred worked and raised their family in the Ravenswood Manor neighborhood, they only went to a few games a year, despite living a few miles from Wrigley Field. Fred passed away three years ago, and now her three kids and their families are scattered across the country.
In early 2016, a neighbor told her that the Cubs like to hire senior citizens as ushers. Bette thought that this might be a perfect opportunity to keep her busy in a social setting. She went down to the ballpark, filled out some forms, and to her amazement was hired about a month later as a “Guest Services Ambassador.” Even more amazing that year, she was able to be at the park for almost every home game that the Cubs played on the way to their first World Series championship in over a hundred years.
She gets the Brown Line at Rockwell; a one block walk from her home. Bette takes the train to Belmont, and usually walks down Sheffield for three blocks to get to the ballpark. There are so many people milling around Wrigleyville after the game that she always feels safe walking back to Belmont, even at night.
Bette, a social person by disposition, derives great pleasure in ushering. She enjoys kibitzing with the fans and the vendors and has even made a few friends among her usher colleagues. She gets a kick out of wearing her “uniform” of a Cubs shirt and hat. People on the train often chat with her. Sometimes she feels like a celebrity.
She hopes that she continues working there. She really doesn’t care about what she gets paid. It’s pretty much pin money anyway. Fred left her well provided, and if she ever wanted to sell her house, she would probably get a million dollars for it.
The job really keeps her connected to people and the world around her. She misses the action during the off-season, although she enjoys traveling to visit her family out of state. But she constantly dreams about the excitement at being at the ballpark, as she patiently awaits the next Opening Day.
Recently, as I was doing research on my upcoming classes on Ben Hecht, I came across an interesting piece in the Chicago Tribune dated November 20, 1963, headlined “Hecht Attacks Algren Preface.” This was about Nelson Algren’s preface to Hecht’s 1921 novel “Erik Dorn” which had just been republished by the University of Chicago as part of its new series of novels during the “Chicago Literary Renaissance.”
Hecht had never read Algren’s preface before the book’s republication. In that preface Algren states the novel was a “deterioration of a naturalistic novel into a Grade B scenario.” One wonders why the University Chicago Press allowed this castigation of the book to go into the preface in the first place.
A peeved Hecht declined an invitation to a cocktail party hosted by the University of Chicago Press celebrating the new series by sending a telegram from New York stating that he had “no hankering to pose in your local festivities as a literary patsy.” Hecht went on to tell a reporter concerning Algren that “I have never read his works. I don’t have the faintest idea what he writes like. In this case he stinks.” Moreover, he viewed Algren as having a “Beverly Hillbilly kind of intellectuality.”
Then Algren, who was never shy in verbal counterpunches, goes on to insult Hecht personally in an interview to a newspaper reporter opining that “He hasn’t done anything since ‘Erik Dorn’……. He’s made one or two movies and some awful bad ones.” Algren continues his invective on Hecht’s writing, “It wasn’t gas he ran out of, and surely it wasn’t brass. It was belief.” Jabbing the dagger a little deeper, Algren suggested that Hecht had showed a failure of nerves by “ducking out” of the cocktail party.
Hearty congratulations to my friend Peter Nolan on the publication of his new book News Stories. Many of you know of Peter through his work as a reporter for NBC news in Chicago where he won three Emmys. Now retired from TV, he recalls in this new memoir many of the fascinating stories he reported on over the years. My career in Chicago government overlapped his reporting career, and I remember his uncanny knack to discover the many stories of political tomfoolery in those times. If you love the comedy and drama of Chicago politics then you will love Peter Nolan’s News Stories, published by Gatekeeper Press.