By Javier Aja
Dublin, Feb 2 (EFE).- James Joyce’s Ulysses has a reputation for being complex and at times incomprehensible, but there is nothing like a meander through Dublin’s atmospheric streets to take the edge off a book that turns 100 on Wednesday.
Joyce himself (1882-1941) acknowledged that he had written a work with enough “enigmas and puzzles” to keep experts busy for centuries:
“That’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality,” the Irish author said after publishing Ulysses in 1922 on his birthday, February 2.
100 years later, the odyssey that chronicles a day in the lives of three Edwardian characters — Leopold Bloom, his wife Molly Bloom and Stephen Dedalus —, continues to fascinate and polarise academics and readers alike.
The 18 chapters are awash with intricate and experimental language and peppered with Latin words that are often obscene or intelligible.
According to Simon O’Connor, director of the Irish Literature Museum (known as MoLi, a nod to Molly Bloom), readers are immersed into a joycean universe where two of the author’s favorite themes star: “Dublin and absolutely everything else.”
MoLi is the perfect starting point to meet Joyce and search for the landmarks Joyce’s characters visited during their day-long journey.
In fact every 16 June, Dublin becomes a homage to Ulysses as the Irish city celebrates all things Joyce, on the same day the events of the iconic book took place, for the Bloomsday celebrations.
“I always think we live in Joyce’s Dublin,” O’Connor tells Efe, “he recorded so much of the history of the city itself that you don’t have to go very far to find significance connected to Joyce.”
“By the time I was 25, I had swam regularly in the 40 foot where the first chapter is set. I have lived in Eccles Street where the main character Leopold Bloom lives. I had lived in Brighton Square in Terenure where Joyce’s family lived. And then I even got married on Bloomsday without even realizing that it was Bloomsday. So you can’t escape Joyce here in Dublin,” the expert adds.
Despite the complex nature of the book, “he was writing about the day to day about everybody’s life, and presenting us all as very human, real and sympathetic people,” O’Connor continued.
For the director of MoLi, it’s the novel’s raw realism and social critique that keeps contemporary readers and writers returning to Ulysses.
Joyce despised Irish society and considered it excessively puritanical, conservative and nationalistic.
In fact, the novel was not sold in bookstores until the 1960s, due to an institutional backlash at a time when the Catholic Church, who branded the book obscene and anti- Irish, had a firm grip on the nation.
The Ulysses Rare Books bookshop has some gems in its catalogue, including first editions of the masterpiece that sell for around €24,000 ($27,074) or up to €150,000 if signed by Joyce.
Almost opposite the shop and perpendicular to Grafton Street, Davy Byrne’s art nouveau pub still stands, the place Leopold Bloom goes to for an offal breakfast and a lunch of gorgonzola cheese paired with a glass of red wine.
A good way of ending the Dublin route is at the James Joyce Centre, a Georgian townhouse near Leopold Bloom’s abode on 7 Eccles Street where the novel starts on the morning of 16 June 1904.
The centre offers recreations of the home Joyce shared with his wife Nora Barnacle and displays the original Eccles street front door. EFE