On Bloomsday, Dublin Comes to Many U.S. Cities or ‘Milly Bloom Also Has a Few Words to Say’

By Deborah A. Cecere

James Joyce stat­ue, Earl Street North, Dublin https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:James_Joyce_statue,_Dublin_1998.jpg

What does the nov­el Ulysses (1922) by James Joyce (1882–1941) have to do with Amer­i­can Stud­ies? The answer is sim­ple: Blooms­day is an annu­al lit­er­ary fes­ti­val cel­e­brat­ed in many U.S. cities, around the globe, and par­tic­u­lar­ly in Dublin, the set­ting of the nov­el. The event is named for one of the novel’s pro­tag­o­nists, Leopold Bloom. The nov­el takes place on June 16, 1904, the day that James Joyce met his lat­er wife, Nora Bar­na­cle. Cel­e­bra­tion activ­i­ties include dress­ing up in peri­od cos­tumes, read­ings, the­ater per­for­mances, film screen­ings, and art exhibits asso­ci­at­ed with the nov­el and Joyce’s writ­ings and life. The live­li­ness of the fes­ti­vals tes­ti­fies to the fun of read­ing Ulysses, espe­cial­ly if it’s read aloud. The nov­el is often mis­tak­en­ly described as inscrutable for the aver­age read­er, but it is per­haps more accu­rate­ly described as sur­pris­ing­ly readable.

In hon­or of Blooms­day, I’ve imag­ined a tongue-in-cheek let­ter of con­do­lence from Mil­ly Bloom, now fifty-two, but at the time of the nov­el the fif­teen-year-old daugh­ter of Leopold Bloom and his wife, Mol­ly, to Mrs. Joyce (born Nora Bar­na­cle). The let­ter is dat­ed 1941, nine­teen years fol­low­ing the novel’s pub­li­ca­tion and thir­ty-sev­en years fol­low­ing that famous day in Dublin in 1904.

15 Jan­u­ary 1941, Agen­dath Netaim, Palestine

Dear Mrs. Joyce,

I was so very sor­ry to read in the papers this week about the pass­ing of your hus­band. As you know, my fam­i­ly enjoyed a very spe­cial rela­tion­ship with him. Father and Moth­er also send their heart­felt con­do­lences. Father wish­es me to tell you that he will be writ­ing sep­a­rate­ly; his heart was real­ly bro­ken at the news since he was the clos­est of us three to your husband.

I am still embar­rassed by the sil­ly let­ter I wrote in 1904 at fif­teen to “Papli” that made its way into Mr. Joyce’s nov­el. I had always wished that Mr. Joyce had let me tell more of my side of things in his famous book about my par­ents. But alas, both he and Father thought it was a good idea to send me away to Mullingar that June. I must tell you that things were a bit dif­fi­cult for us Blooms in Dublin in 1922 after the pub­li­ca­tion of the book. But I still do think that Mr. Joyce did a very good job in telling my parent’s sto­ry. And besides, that book is much eas­i­er to under­stand than the one he wrote after­wards about that Finnegan and the wake. I am sor­ry to have to say it, and I hope you will not be offend­ed by my hon­esty. I get that from my mother.

You will sure­ly be won­der­ing what we are doing in Pales­tine. As I said, Dublin got tight for us fol­low­ing the book’s fame, and Father got the idea of going to Agen­dath Netaim, after all. So, we made our way by ship to Pales­tine, the home of my father’s fathers. Now that the war is on, Father’s only regret is not being able to see Stephen. You will not be sur­prised to hear that he still has his head in the clouds, but he has at least become seri­ous about his writ­ing. Moth­er is so hap­py to be back in a coun­try that looks and feels like the Gibral­tar of her girl­hood. I am mar­ried to a love­ly man and moth­er to two healthy chil­dren, Aaron and Ruth, who have made me proud with grand­chil­dren. So, to be sure, things turned out all right; I only wish I had writ­ten soon­er so as to share all the good news with Mr. Joyce.

Yours sin­cere­ly, Mil­ly Bloom

P.S. No need this time for me to excuse the bad writing.

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Deb­o­rah A. Cecere is a native New York­er and has lived in Ger­many and worked in the pub­lish­ing indus­try for over 30 years. She is a free­lance pro­fes­sion­al copy­ed­i­tor, spe­cial­iz­ing in the human­i­ties, trade fic­tion, and food writing.