I will once again be teaching James Joyce’s Ulysses at the Oakton College Emeritus program in Skokie beginning Wednesday afternoon beginning September 26. The campus is located at 7701 North Lincoln Avenue. The class is from 1:30 to 3:30 and runs nine consecutive Wednesdays through November 21. Ulysses is arguably the greatest novel ever written in the English language. Admittedly, the reader is intellectually challenged by the book. But it is well worth the effort. On the surface, it is primarily a story of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus and their travels and travails through Dublin and its environs during the day and evening of June 16, 1904. The book concludes with Molly Bloom’s unforgettable soliloquy. The reader soon recognizes the genius of Joyce through the novel’s fantastic dialogue and cascading narrative. The marvelous cast of characters leaps forward out of Joyce’s unbridled imagination and into the reader’s mind and soul. I hope that some of you will consider taking this course, and feel free to share this information with others who may have interest. Registration can be done online at http://www.oakton.edu/conted or by phone at 847-982-9888.
This year we celebrated Bloomsday in Dublin, and it was wondrous and oh so much fun. We began our day early in the morning at an 8:00 breakfast and performances of snippets of episodes from Ulysses at the James Joyce Centre. The actors were in rare form, and the forty of us in the room were simply enthralled with delight by the meanderings and shenanigans of Molly, Poldy and Stephen. Even the serious-faced Lord Mayor of Dublin, sitting at an adjacent table, occasionally broke out with a smile and a laugh.
Immediately after leaving the Joyce Centre, we caught a train to the town of Sandycove, a suburb of Dublin which is the home to the Martello Tower that is featured in Chapter 1 of Ulysses. Now the tower serves as a Ulysses-themed museum year-round, with readings from the book scheduled on its deck for most of Bloomsday.
We tortuously climbed the narrow and winding stairs of the tower, finally reaching the deck. The volunteer in charge and I began a conversation. He told me that the scheduled readers had taken a lunch break. I mentioned to him that I taught Ulysses back in Chicago and that I was thrilled to be in Dublin today experiencing Bloomsday. Since there were about a dozen visitors milling around the deck, he suggested that I do an impromptu reading during this interlude. How could I say no?
The volunteer lent me his copy of the book and directed me towards the raised platform in the middle of the deck. There I stood, atop the tower overlooking the bay, as I began reading Chapter I with the words “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed.” I continued reading through the third page of the book. These were truly magical moments for me, as I read the words of Joyce from the very space where the great writer once stood himself over a century ago.
Returning to Dublin City Centre, we capped off our Bloomsday evening by attending Dermot Bolger’s splendid cabaret performance of Ulysses staged at the historic Abbey Theatre. The staging was spartan-consisting of a bar, a few chairs and a bed. Puppetry was cleverly interwoven into a good number of scenes, enhancing the surreality of much of the text.
The play ended, and so did our memorable Bloomsday 2018. Dear memories to be cherished forever.
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.
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.
We will be celebrating Bloomsday on the evening of Friday, June 16, from 6:30 to 8:00 at the Euro Echo Cafe in Skokie, located at 7919 Lincoln Avenue. A number of us will be reading some of our favorite passages from Ulysses, and we encourage others to read with us. There will be a display of Ulysses-related art by Leonid Osseny. Euro Echo Cafe is a comfortable and cozy place with a nice selection of sandwiches, salads and desserts. It is located across the street from the Skokie Theater. Please confirm your attendance and let me know if you would like to read by contacting me at email@example.com.
The Scottish born evangelist John Alexander Dowie is mentioned in four chapters of Ulysses. Dowie believed he was the third incarnation of the prophet Elijah, following Elijah himself and John the Baptist. He was fond of wearing Elijah-like clothing quite often, especially when he was touring the world from “Frisco beach to Vladivostok” to raise funds for his holy city of Zion, situated thirty miles or so north of Chicago. The “throwaway” of a paper flyer announcing Dowie’s upcoming evangelical meeting in Dublin plays a major role in the book’s narrative.
The Glencoe Public Library is launching its new Big Books series this spring with James Joyce’s Ulysses. I have the distinct honor of being the instructor for the course. There will be nine evening sessions, on Thursdays from 7:00 to 8:30, starting on April 6th. The course is free, and open to all, though Glencoe residents have priority if the class fills up. If you are interested in registering, please call the library at 847-835-5056.