OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERADon’t I recall, from the late nineteen sixties, a brand of multi-coloured cigarettes called Calypso? You could buy singles of them at the local barber, as long as you were under age…..

When I first read Ulysses it was Stephen I identified with. I was going to be a poet too – and there was a chance I could be as good or as bad a one as Joyce had been. But at a later reading I was nearer the age of Bloom, and had been both married and divorced. Stephen haunts the book, just as Rudi, the prematurely deceased child of Molly and Bloom, does, but Bloom inhabits it fully. He is foretold in the opening chapters, and he is uppermost in Molly’s thoughts, and upside down in her bed, at the end.

A hundred and ten years on from the first one, Bloomsday remains…Bloomsday! Not Stephen’s Day, nor indeed Molly’s.

I’ve seen essays on Ulysses that I didn’t even understand the title of. University Departments have been dedicated to study of this book. Professors have made their careers, and livings, out of it. Far more, I suspect, will have been earned by them than Joyce ever saw from it!

Yet a writer like Anthony Burgess (Here Comes Everybody, Faber, 1965), can exhort us to believe that is really just an ‘ordinary’ novel, to be read for enjoyment. If that is indeed true, then it’s what appears to happen to the characters, and what they appear to think about it, that must hold our attention.

Breakfast at number 7 Eccles Street in Dublin is the beginning of our acquaintanceship with Leoplold Bloom. He eats ‘the inner organs of beasts and fowls’, ‘with relish’ and some of us choose to do something similar on the mornings of 16th June that we encounter!

Bloom’s day starts the way it will continue: we ride his consciousness through the routines of an ordinary life. H.E.Bates, writing in a Preface to one of his collections of short stories tells how he decided to stop ‘sucking the significance’ out of trivial events…Joyce sucks for all Leopold Bloom is worth. The opening chapter of this second part of the novel (it’s main part) sees Bloom make breakfast for his wife and for himself (including a trip to the butcher for some of those inner organs), and then a trip to the Calypso’s Grotto of the privy where he – reader I can put no finer point upon it – opens his bowels.

It was this level of domestic detail (among other, later things) that outraged the post Edwardian literary scene onto which Joyce elbowed his way. George Moore (let’s not forget him), had done something similar with the 1894 publication of Esther Waters, which, in this 1936 introductory note gave us the ‘straightforward presentment of men and women in their ordinary life.’ Moore’s previous four books had been banned from circulating libraries for ‘offending against Victorian proprieties’. Back to Ulysses, all through which, Bloom’s inner voice adds a commentary to Joyce’s own. Bloom is an advertising canvasser, and he frames the ads that might suit, or have fitted, many of the items he finds, sees, seeks and encounters as his day unfolds.

The comparison with the contents of Stephen’s mind is worth reflecting upon. To my mind, Stephen’s musings upon the cosmos and the nature of being, seem yet inward looking, while Bloom’s thoughts about the minutiae of what impinges upon his own life, seems to embrace the universe. Mostly, repeatedly, and with a wistful longing, Bloom reflects upon Molly. One of the things, for want of a better word, that this novel might bring you, is a sense of the gulf that Joyce was portraying between the immensity of Bloom’s longing for his wife, and her understanding of it. When we finally meet Molly and live for forty pages within her drifting thoughts, at the end of the day, we may do so in the context of Bloom’s thoughts about her. Because of her position – not in the bed! – at the end of the book, and because of the originality of Joyce’s presentation of her, there is a temptation to think that Ulysses is all about Molly, but my readings have led me, over and over again, to think that it remains, true to its original, all about the Irish Ulysses, Leopold Bloom. He journeys out from home; he journeys back: surely the most difficult journeys for anyone to undertake?OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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