Joyce's Ulysses unfolds over a single day in Dublin
by Borgna Brunner
"How sick, sick, sick I am of Dublin! It is the city of failure, of rancor and of unhappiness. I long to be out of it." (22 August 1909)
It is a much remarked-upon irony that his masterpiece Ulysses is not only set in Dublin, but never allows us to forget it. The novel recounts the hour-by-hour events of one day in Dublin—June 16, 1904—as an ordinary Dubliner, Leopold Bloom, wends his way through the urban landscape, the odyssey of a modern-day Ulysses.
Streets, shops, pubs, churches, bridges—something of Dublin pops up on nearly every page. The city is always in our peripheral vision no matter how notoriously impenetrable Joyce's prose becomes.
Bloomsday—June 16th—is an annual celebration among Joyce fans throughout the world, from Fort Lauderdale to Melbourne. It is celebrated in at least sixty countries worldwide, but nowhere so imaginatively, of course, as in Dublin. There the events of Leopold Bloom's day are reenacted by anyone who cares to participate, and his itinerary is followed all across Dublin.
At lunchtime it's traditional to stop off for a glass of burgundy and a Gorgonzola sandwich at Davy Byrne's Pub on Duke Street, just as Bloom did. In the afternoon the Ormond Hotel is the spot for an afternoon pint, where Bloom was tempted by the barmaids in the Sirens chapter.
The years since 1904 have made an exact replication of Bloom's route impossible—Bloom's home at 7 Eccles Street no longer exists and the red-light district ("Nighttown"), in which the hallucinatory Circe chapter takes place, has been leveled; only the street pattern remains.
Bloomsday celebrations also feature readings of Ulysses, James Joyce lookalike contests, various other semi-literary activities, and a good excuse for hoisting a few Guinnesses. In the eyes of many, it's easier and a lot more fun than trying to work your way through Ulysses.