Although I have read James Joyce’s Ulysses and recognize it as a canonical modernist work, I have no great affection for its very domesticated Dublin reflex of Homer’s Odyssey. Reading it was more duty than pleasure. This year’s celebration of Bloomsday, the June 16th of 1904 on which Joyce met his future wife, Nora, and the day on which he set the peregrinations of Stephen Daedalus and Leopold Bloom, the obvious and not as immediately obvious autobiographical characters in Ulysses, prompted me to get the DVD “James Joyce’s Dublin: The Ulysses Tour.”
In it the charmingly enthusiastic and a bit gawky curator of the James Joyce Museum, Robert Nicholson begins the day at the round tower of Sandycove, a dozen miles south of the center of Dublin, which is also where the novel begins with Stephen Daedalus fleeing, as Joyce had. Nicholson introduces the novel and his project of showing the places where events in the novel occurred (though the novel is more known for its attempts to capture interior consciousness than for its plots and succession of events).
For each chapter, following a very difficult to understand reading from the book by Terence Kileen (subtitles are not, alas, available, and Joyce can be difficult to understand even without trying to decode a strong Irish accent in low audio fidelity), Nicholson stands at a spot where Daedalus or Bloom was in that chapter. He tells about the location (many of the buildings are long gone, though the houses on the other side of the street from 7 Eccles Street, where the Blooms were placed and where Joyce had been are reasonable substitutes), the chapter’s style and happenings, and its inspiration in Homer.
The DVD provides a good refresher on the book. I don’t think anyone who has not read the book would understand the greatness of the experiment that is the novel and might well wonder why anyone would make a Ulysses pilgrimage across Dublin.
The sites mostly have plaques so that visitors to Dublin can visit the sites Nicholson did in the imagined footsteps (and tram rides) of Stephen Daedalus and Leopold Bloom. Glasnevin Cemetery is definitely still there, with the boulder inscribed “Parnell.” (Brendan Behan is also buried in Glasnevin Cemetery, btw.)
The documentary does not make me want to rush to Dublin, though if I were there, I would visit Nicholson’s museum and the National Gallery at the very least. The documentary may have stimulated me to reread the “Night town” chapter, but the Joyce that I’m rereading is not Ulysses but the far shorter and easier-to-read Exiles, which came between Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses – both chronologically in order of publication and in portraits of Joyce’s obsessions, notably being cuckolded by Nora figures.
In addition to a review of the film adaptation by Joseph Strick (who died earlier this month) of Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and of a review of Edna O’Brien’s brief Joyce biography, I have expanded my own Bloomsday to an Irish culture month this year with multiple postings here on AC.