Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Bloomsday in Philadelphia.

Devoted fans of James Joyce's Ulysses know that June 16th is Bloomsday, the anniversary of the date in 1904 when the novel's fictional action unfolds in Dublin. Joyce enthusiasts in Dublin and elsewhere mark Bloomsday in various ways, notably by reenacting or reading part or all of the action of the novel. For the last seventeen years, the Rosenbach Museum and Library here in Philadelphia has celebrated Bloomsday with an outdoor reading of portions of the novel as well as with special displays including Joyce's own handwritten manuscript copy of Ulysses, which is part of the Rosenbach collection. I haven't had much experience with Joyce's Ulysses - I've read the novel only once, though I'd like to read it again - but I really enjoy literary events like Bloomsday. Having long savored New Bedford's annual Moby-Dick Reading Marathon, I heartily support the idea of gathering each year for a public reading of Ulysses.

Today I attended the last couple hours of the afternoon-long Philadelphia celebration of Bloomsday with my housemate Father Joe Feeney, a Joyce enthusiast and Bloomsday veteran who regularly teaches Ulysses in his English courses at SJU. The above photos offer some sense of what Bloomsday in Philadelphia is like. I was impressed by the size and diversity of the crowd (second photo), which included some families with children and more young adults than I would have expected at a celebration of a notoriously long and difficult novel. One of the most memorable readings was given by blind brothers David and Daniel Simpson (third photo), who delivered a finely polished rendering of the last part of Joyce's "Ithaca" episode. Even so, the real highlight of the afternoon was local actress Drucie McDaniel's reading of Molly Bloom's Soliloquy from the "Penelope" episode that concludes the novel (fourth photo). I'm told that McDaniel has taken this part in all of the Rosenbach's previous Bloomsday celebrations, and she brought Molly to zesty, irrepressible life. All in all, I had a wonderful time and hope to celebrate Bloomsday again at the Rosenbach. Should you ever find yourself in Philadelphia on this date, you may want to follow suit. AMDG.


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