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James Joyce

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Celebrating “Ulysses”

“Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod’s roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”

~ James Joyce, “Ulysses”

His name is Hamlet, but his passion is “Ulysses.”

Bloomsday

Lucky luncheon goers get up close and personal with Joyce's handwritten manuscript of "Ulysses," which is owned by the Rosenbach Museum. Director Derek Dreher holds the manuscript in the library, which remains dark to protect the books.

For the past seven years, Jim Hamlet, CPA, has served on the committee—two years as its chairman—that brings the marathon June 16 Bloomsday reading of James Joyce’s “Ulysses” to the Rosenbach Museum in Philadelphia.

“Ulysses,” considered one of the best English-language novels of the 20th century, chronicles one ordinary day—June 16—in the life of Joyce’s main protagonist, Leopold Bloom, a modern-day Odysseus who wanders the streets of Dublin, encountering character after character. Its 18 chapters each bear the title of one episode in the life and adventures of Homer’s epic hero, Ulysses, on which Joyce based his work.

While the National Library of Ireland is one of the major repositories in the world for all things Joyce, there’s a coveted, autographed, handwritten copy of the manuscript that calls the Rosenbach Museum home, making it particularly suited to hosting the yearly readings.

Hamlet, his late father, and his son, Michael, have been volunteer readers in past years. This year, he knew he was going to miss it because of an out-of-town work commitment.

So instead, the day before Bloomsday, he was tucking into steak and kidney pie—a tribute to the breakfast enjoyed by Bloom—and other Joycean-inspired dishes prepared by the chef at The Bards for a luncheon at the Rosenbach, sponsored by the John Henry Newman Foundation and Joyce’s alma mater, University College Dublin. Each year, the Rosenbach focuses on a theme related to the novel; this year’s was food, a logical choice for a book that’s a feast of words, many of them about food. Guest speaker for the luncheon was Professor Declan Kiberd, chair of Anglo Irish Literature and Drama at University College Dublin, who explores Joyce’s food themes in his book, “The Art of the Everyday in Joyce’s Masterpiece.”

Hamlet, who does audit work for the Rosenbach and several other museum clients, is keenly aware most people consider a CPA rubbing elbows with Joyce scholars as surprising as finding capers instead of raisins in your oatmeal.

“Most people ask me why I’m so dedicated to Ulysses because I’m a CPA and mostly English majors read the book, but I love Irish literature,” says Hamlet. He had read Joyce, but, he confessed, until he became involved with Bloomsday had never tackled the door-stop-sized “Ulysses” which is famously considered difficult to read, in part because of its stream-of-conscious form and the hundreds of puzzles and allusions that Joyce deliberately inserted “keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant,” guaranteeing his “immortality.”

But when Hamlet volunteered at the Rosenbach, he jokes, he felt he “had to” read the book, as daunting as it seemed. To make it a little less of the chore he thought it was going to be, he took a class with then University of Pennsylvania Joyce scholar, Vicki Mahaffey, PhD, author of “Reauthorizing Joyce” and “States of Desire: Wilde, Yeats, and Joyce and the Irish Experiment.”

“It took us eight months to read it, chapter after chapter, and Vicki helped us get the references and when we got to parts where we had no idea what was happening, she’d help us get over them. The best advice she gave us was ‘If you don’t understand it, keep going, keep going.’”

He was glad he did. Today he describes the novel that probably thwarts more than it impassions in the same way some people describe the latest Michael Connelly thriller. “It’s really a great yarn,” Hamlet says. “It has so many moving parts. Each chapter reflects the story of Odysseus, but what sets it apart is how he tied that story back to ordinary Irish life.”

And seven years of planning the Rosenbach’s Bloomsday festivities has altered how Hamlet looks at the book’s complexity. “In the past we’ve shown movies, had plays, and one year we had a dance troupe do an interpretive dance of the novel. If you think the book’s confusing,” he said with a laugh, “try looking at a modern dance interpretation.”

Arts

In Jersey, They’re Getting Ready to Re-Joyce

If James Joyce had envisioned a western-themed sequel to his classic novel “Ulysses,” it might have been called: “Leopold Bloom Rides Again. And Again, and Again, and Again.”

“Ulysses” is recalled by Joyce fans around the world (with Dublin as the observance’s epicenter) every June 16. It’s a tradition dating back many, many years.) The event is named after protagonist Leopold Bloom.

June 16 is the day in 1904 in which all of the events of “Ulysses” take place. Anyone and everyone who loves the Irish writer gets in on the act: Pubs do it. Museums do it. Probably educated (very educated) fleas do it.

In Philadelphia, the day has long been celebrated with a street fair sponsored by the famous Rosenbach Museum and Library on Delancey Place. (It’s set for Wednesday, June 16, between noon and 7.) There’s also a program called “Bloomsday 101” at Fergie’s Pub, 1214 Sansom Street, on Monday, June 14, from 6 to 8 p.m.

The Irish folks across the river are no strangers to Bloomsday. The immortal publican Billy Briggs hosted a Bloomsday reading for years at his landmark Tir na nÓg in Hamilton Township, near Trenton.

This year, the Dublin Square Pub in Bordentown is picking up on the tradition on Sunday, June 13, starting at 7 p.m. (following the weekly Irish music session) and lasting until 8:30 (or whenever).

Bill O’Neal, the musician who anchors the Sunday session (during the week, he teaches English at Trenton High School), says the idea was hatched by flutist and ER surgeon Dr. Nancy Ferguson, who also has a musical history at Tir na nÓg.

“Nancy’s done this before,” O’Neal said. “They did it at Billy Briggs’ place, but it’s been maybe eight years.” O’Neal says Ferguson suggested the idea to Dublin Square principal owner Michael McGeough back around St. Patrick’s Day. “Michael was raised in Dublin, so he thought it was a great idea,” O’Neal says.

Taking part in the reading will be Ferguson and her group An Fleadh Liteartha, which celebrates the Irish arts. Also scheduled to read will be Jack McCarthy III, a Princeton lawyer and author of “Joyce’s Dublin,” and Joyce scholar Lee Harrod. (Story-teller Tom Slattery might also make an appearance.)

It was Harrod, O’Neal says, who helped inspire his own love of Joyce. “Dr. Harrod was a teacher at the College of New Jersey,” he says. “I took a course on Joyce with him many years ago. After that, he invited me back to the class every year to sing songs from that period.”

O’Neal will perform songs at the Dublin Square event, too.

No one is completely sure how pub denizens will take to the reading, but, O’Neal says, “I think they’ll enjoy it. Most of them will probably wonder at first, what is going on here? But I know when they did it at Tir na nÓg, it went very well.”

Ready to get your Joyce on? Head to the pub on June 13. It’s at 167 Route 130. (609) 298-7100.