Today is the anniversary of one of the most important dates in the history of fiction. James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, one of the 20th century’s most important and most controversial novels, takes place on one day: June 16, 1904. The novel tracks the day in the life of three characters, Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly Bloom, and Stephen Dedalus, as they walk the streets of Dublin, Ireland.
Although the book is set in Dublin, the characters and events parallel Homer’s Greek epic the Odyssey. But Ulysses is not written in verse nor a traditional prose style; instead, Joyce’s novel employs stream of consciousness narration, where instead of moving in a linear fashion, the story flows from the impressions, random thoughts, sensations, and associations of the characters. In an attempt to imitate the natural flow of the characters’ thoughts and dialogue, Joyce omitted conventional punctuation. This, along with the novel’s many allusions to history and literature, make the novel notoriously hard to read.
Here is a brief excerpt of the opening of the novel:
STATELY, PLUMP BUCK MULLIGAN CAME FROM THE STAIRHEAD, bearing a bowl of lather on which a mirror and a razor lay crossed. A yellow dressing gown, ungirdled, was sustained gently-behind him by the mild morning air. He held the bowl aloft and intoned:–
Introibo ad altare Dei.
Halted, he peered down the dark winding stairs and called up coarsely:
— Come up, Kinch. Come up, you fearful jesuit.
Solemnly he came forward and mounted the round gunrest. He faced about and blessed gravely thrice the tower, the surrounding country and the awaking mountains. Then, catching sight of Stephen Dedalus, he bent towards him and made rapid crosses in the air, gurgling in his throat and shaking his head. Stephen Dedalus, displeased and sleepy, leaned his arms on the top of the staircase and looked coldly at the shaking gurgling face that blessed him, equine in its length, and at the light untonsured hair, grained and hued like pale oak.
Even before Ulysses was published it stirred up controversy because of its sexual passages. The novel was banned in the United States until 1933, when a New York judge ruled that the book was not obscene.
Born in Dublin in 1882, Joyce attended Catholic schools in Ireland and earned a degree in Latin. This probably explains his selection of the name of Ulysses for his protagonist, since Ulysses is the Roman name for the main character in Homer’s epic poem, while Odysseus is the Greek name (1).
June 16 is a date where fans of Joyce hold public readings of Ulysses, and in Dublin, fans retrace the steps of the book’s characters.
One resource traces 365 days of “events that did not really happen.” It’s called The Book of Fictional Days by Bob Gordon. Gordon’s book ties each day of the year to events from fiction and film.
Today’s Challenge: What and When It Didn’t Happen
What are the most memorable events from fiction? If you could memorialize one specific event from fiction on one specific day, what would it be? Select one unforgettable fictional moment in a book you love. You may not know the exact day, but describe the specific event, what happened, and why you think it is so memorable. For example, in Harper Lee’s novel To Kill a Mockingbird the climactic events of the novel’s final chapter — Chapter 31 — occur on Halloween night. Bob Ewell attacks Scout and Jem. Boo saves the children and stabs Ewell. After seeing Boo in the flesh for the first time, Scout escorts him home.
The following dates and events below are from The Book of Fictional Days (2).
January 12: HAL 9000 becomes operational in 2001: A Space Odyssey.
February 1: Willy Wonka gives a tour of his chocolate factory.
February 14: Sam Baldwin and Annie Reed meet at the Empire State Building in Sleepless in Seattle.
February 26: James Leer shoots Poe (Professor Grady Tripp’s lover’s husband’s dog).
May 1: Bilbo Baggins and Gandalf return to Rivendell and the house of Elrond in The Hobbit.
May 15: Horton the elephant hears a small noise in Horton Hears a Who.
June 3: Billy Joe McAllister jumps off the Tallahatchie Bridge.
June 19: Mark Twain’s Connecticut Yankee arrives in Camelot (1528).
(Common Core Writing 2 – Expository)
Quotation of the Day: Mistakes are the portals of discovery. –James Joyce
1 – Raftery, Miriam. 100 Books That Shaped World History. San Mateo, CA: Bluewood Books, 2002.
2 – Gordon, Bob. The Book of Fictional Days: A Collection of Events That Did Not Really Happen. Korea: Tide-mark Press Ltd., 2003.