10 James Joyce Facts in Honor of Bloomsday

Happy Bloomsday!! If you're not a James Joyce aficionado (or if you don't celebrate obscure holidays), June 16 is the day all of the events in Joyce's Ulysses take place. The name comes from Leopold Bloom, the main character in the novel. To honor Bloomsday and James Joyce, here are a few fun facts about one of Ireland's (and the world's) most beloved authors.

1. Why June 16? Of all the days in the year, you have to wonder why Joyce chose that exact date for Ulysses to take place. Well, the answer is actually pretty simple: it's that day in 1904 when he had his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.

2. He and Nora had quite the passionate love affair, as evidenced by the many erotic letters they wrote one another and saved for posterity. One of the letters sold for nearly half a million dollars at Sotheby's in 2004. Here's a sample of Joyce's writing for you - and this is one of the tamer bits: "The two parts of your body which do dirty things are the loveliest to me."

3. Together, Joyce and Barnacle had two children (and at least one miscarriage). Although we don't know much about Giorgio Joyce, we know quite a bit about Lucia Joyce, who was a pretty fascinating person. She studied ballet with Isadora Duncan, dated Joyce's contemporary Samuel Beckett, was declared schizophrenic, and was a patient of Carl Jung's. Most Joyce scholars believe Lucia was the muse for Finnegans Wake. It was Jung's belief that both Lucia and James suffered from schizophrenia and said the two of them were both headed to the bottom of a river, but James was diving headlong into it and Lucia was falling against her will.

4. Joyce had a couple of pretty serious phobias.

His cynophobia (fear of dogs) stemmed from an attack by a neighborhood dog when he was just five years old. And his keraunophobia, fear of thunder and lightning, formed when his religious aunt told him that thunder was an angry God sounding his wrath at humans.

5. Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath were married on June 16th in honor of Bloomsday.

6. It may be hard to believe, but the word "quark" first appeared in James Joyce's Finnegans Wake. Scientist Murray Gell-Mann had been thinking about calling the unit "kwork," but when he found the invented word in the Joyce classic, he knew he had discovered the spelling he wanted to use. Here's what he had to say about it:

"In 1963, when I assigned the name 'quark' to the fundamental constituents of the nucleon, I had the sound first, without the spelling, which could have been "˜kwork.' Then, in one of my occasional perusals of Finnegans Wake, by James Joyce, I came across the word 'quark' in the phrase 'Three quarks for Muster Mark.' Since "˜quark' (meaning, for one thing, the cry of the gull) was clearly intended to rhyme with "˜Mark,' as well as "˜bark' and other such words, I had to find an excuse to pronounce it as "˜kwork.' But the book represents the dream of a publican named Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Words in the text are typically drawn from several sources at once, like the 'portmanteau' words in Through the Looking-Glass. From time to time, phrases occur in the book that are partially determined by calls for drinks at the bar. I argued, therefore, that perhaps one of the multiple sources of the cry "˜Three quarks for Muster Mark' might be 'Three quarts for Mister Mark,' in which case the pronunciation "˜kwork' would not be totally unjustified. In any case, the number three fitted perfectly the way quarks occur in nature."

7. Joyce may have had the gift of writing, but he certainly didn't have the gift of gab. When he met Marcel Proust in 1922 at a dinner party, the rest of the party-goers listened anxiously to what the two literary geniuses would chat about. The eavesdroppers were likely disappointed, as Proust and Joyce spent the entire conversation talking about their ailments—Joyce had constant headaches and eye trouble; Proust's stomach was giving him troubles. Then they both admitted neither of them had read the other's works. As the story goes, they shared a cab on the way home and Proust scampered out of the cab without paying his half of the fare.

8. More evidence that Joyce didn't get along with his fellow writers too well: William Butler Yeats desperately wanted Joyce to like him and offered to read his poetry. Joyce rolled his eyes and replied, "I do so since you ask me, but I attach no more importance to your opinion than to anybody one meets in the streets." Ouch.

9. Joyce had earlier considered titling another book Ulysses in Dublin. He ended up calling it Dubliners instead.

10. His final words are said to have been, "Does nobody understand?" He died on January 13, 1941.

Are any of you celebrating Bloomsday? What's on your agenda?

June 15, 2012 - 9:10pm
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