In Dublin, June 16 means Bloomsday, a high-spirited celebration of James Joyce’s most famous (some say his most difficult) work, “Ulysses.” Bloomsday enthusiasts decked out in period costumes will “walk the novel,” visiting locations where episodes of “Ulysses” take place over the course of one entire day, June 16, 1904: the butcher shop where its central character, Leopold Bloom, buys sheep’s kidney for breakfast; the chemist’s, where he purchases his favorite lemon-scented soap; the pub where he eats lunch, and so on.
Even in New York City and Los Angeles, Seattle and Cincinnati, pints are raised (Guinness, naturally) in honor of Joyce and the characters in “Ulysses:” Bloom; his wife, Molly; and friend Stephen Dedalus. The same goes for annual Bloomsday celebrations in London, Tokyo, and Paris. Princeton is next: there are more connections between Princeton and “Ulysses” than you think.
After her successful hatching of Pi Day, marking Einstein’s birthday on March 14, Princeton Tour Company founder Mimi Omiecinski hopes Princeton will catch at least a small dose of Bloomsday fever this year and eventually make it a tradition with a Dublin twist. A pub crawl, in other words, the details of which appear at the end of this story, when you will understand the context of the stops on the self-guided tour.
Princeton, after all, was for a time the home to (and is now the final resting place of) Sylvia Beach, without whom there would be no Bloomsday.
It was Beach, the daughter of a Princeton Presbyterian pastor, who founded the bookstore Shakespeare and Co. in Paris and saw to it in 1922 that Joyce’s controversial novel was printed in France, when no one in England or the United States would touch it. D.H. Lawrence thought Molly’s 40-page soliloquy “the dirtiest most obscene thing ever written.” It gave Virginia Woolf the literary equivalent of the vapors.
But Beach was among the first generation of liberated 20th century women. She adored Joyce and his work. And she didn’t flinch from the chance to edit and publish a masterpiece that even her friends back home would consider erotic and shocking. Beach, according to biographer Noel Riley Fitch, “acted like a free and independent woman — bobbing her hair, smoking continually, walking about Paris unaccompanied, and bartering with signmakers, window-washers, and booksellers.”
Beach’s own story, told with humor and wit in her 1956 memoir, “Shakespeare and Company,” is worthy of a novel. Born in Baltimore in 1887, she grew up in New Jersey, in Bridgeton for 14 years, before the family moved to Princeton in 1905. Her father was the Reverend Sylvester Woodbridge Beach and led the First Presbyterian Church (on Nassau Street) for 17 years. The family lived in the Colonial style parsonage at 26 Library Place. The Rev. Beach became known as the President’s pastor when his friend Woodrow Wilson was elected to the White House in 1912. Sylvia (she changed her name from Nancy) was friends with Annis Stockton, from whom she learned Princeton history on jaunts to battle sites and through the portraits of Stockton’s many illustrious ancestors.
Since her family frequently visited Paris, often staying for months at a time — “We had a veritable passion for France,” Beach wrote — it was no surprise that she was drawn there to study contemporary French literature. After meeting Adrienne Monnier in 1917 — who had been running her unique La Maison des Amis des Livres with its free lending library (the first in France) at 7 rue de l’Odeon on the Left Bank since 1915 — Beach dreamed of opening her own bookstore.
The two women became lovers and would live together for 15 years until 1936. With Monnier’s help, Beach opened Shakespeare and Company (the name came to her in a dream) on November 19, 1919, at 8 rue Dupuytren. The bookshop specialized in English and American literature and when two years later a shop became available for rent right across the street from Monnier’s bookstore, Shakespeare and Company moved to 12 rue de l’Odeon, where it remained open for business until the Nazi occupation of Paris.
Shakespeare and Company quickly became the center of a literary set within the vibrant ex-patriate community in Paris during the 1020s and ’30s. Writers and poets, playwrights and artists subscribed to its lending library, came to hear readings or simply to hang out. Gertrude Stein, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Andre Gide, Ezra Pound, Paul Valery, Samuel Beckett, Elizabeth Bishop, Janet Flanner, Virgil Thomson, Thorton Wilder, Djuna Barnes, and Ernest Hemingway, among them. The shop became base camp and post office for Americans and Brits who might also be in need of a meal, a loan, even a bed for the night.
When Hemingway didn’t have enough money to join the rental library, Beach gave him a card anyway, saying he could borrow as many books as he liked and pay when he could. In “A Moveable Feast,” he describes the scene: “In those days there was no money to buy books. I borrowed books from the rental library of Shakespeare and Company, which was the library and bookstore of Sylvia Beach at 12 rue de l’Odeon. On a cold windswept street, this was a warm, cheerful place with a big stove in winter, tables and shelves of books, new books in the window, and photographs on the wall of famous writers both dead and living. The photographs all looked like snapshots and even the dead writers looked as though they had really been alive. Sylvia had a lively, sharply sculptured face, brown eyes that were as alive as a small animal’s and as gay as a young girl’s, and wavy brown hair that was brushed back from her fine forehead and cut thick below her ears and at the line of the collar of the brown velvet jacket she wore. She had pretty legs and she was kind, cheerful and interested, and loved to make jokes and gossip. No one that I ever knew was nicer to me.”
It was inevitable that Joyce would find his way to Shakespeare and Company.
Beach and Joyce first met at a dinner party during the summer of 1920. Beach was in awe of the author of “A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.” Joyce became a Shakespeare and Company regular. Beach became his supporter and confidante. By this time, Joyce had been working on “Ulysses” for five years, and there had been several attempts to publish it. In England, no printer would risk it. In the United States, after excerpts had been printed in four issues of the magazine, Little Review, the Society for the Suppression of Vice had taken the publishers to court on obscenity charges. The magazine closed, and its publishers were ruined.
Finding Joyce despondent, Beach rushed to the rescue. “Would you let Shakespeare and Company have the honor of bringing out your Ulysses?” she asked. Joyce didn’t need to be asked twice. She found a printer in Dijon and, after a lengthy revision process, the first copy was produced just in time for Joyce’s 40th birthday on February 2, 1922.
She also coined the name “Bloomsday” and began the tradition that has now spread worldwide. Why June 16? The date Joyce chose for the action of the novel pays tribute to the day in 1904 when he first walked out with the auburn-haired beauty who became his life partner, Nora Barnacle. They had met just a few days before on Nassau Street (the one in Dublin that is). Up from Galway and working as a chamber maid at Finn’s Hotel (the building is still there), Nora would later quip that it was the day “she made a man out of Jim.”
Four months later they eloped to Paris. But true to Joyce’s disdain for convention, they did not marry until 1931, and then only to secure the inheritance of their two children. Joyce was a notorious spendthrift, and the family was always strapped for cash. When Joyce was plagued with eye problems — he endured no fewer than 13 operations to try to save his sight — Nora became his eyes and his secretary. She schlepped around Europe with him, while he worked on manuscripts and struggled to make ends meet with part-time teaching jobs. After Paris, they lived for several years in Trieste, Italy, where he got a job at the Berlitz School of Languages, then back to Paris, then Switzerland. Nora was the inspiration for Molly Bloom.
A documentary called “Joyce to the World,” made in 2004 by Fritzfilms to mark the centennial anniversary of the fictional action in “Ulysses” (available on DVD from both the Princeton and Lawrence public libraries), includes a quote from Joyce about “Ulysses,” in which he says he set out to “give a picture of Dublin so complete that if one day it disappears from this earth it could be recreated from my book.” The book explores what it means to be heroic in the context of ordinary lower middle-class lives. In it, Joyce displayed his comic genius and pioneered the internal monologue and stream of consiousness styles.
Joyce had a wonderful tenor voice (Nora often lamented the fact he hadn’t become a singer instead of a writer), and the book is full of musical and inventive writing: puns, onomatopoeia, and abbreviations and shorthand such as “Blmstup” (Bloom stood up). Bodily functions are treated frankly. There is snot and semen, farting, defecation, washing, shaving, pissing, masturbation, and sex, lots of it.
Arguably the most influential writer of the 20th century, Joyce was the oldest of 14 children (10 survived into adulthood). He was born in Dublin in 1882. Until he was nine, he was educated as a proper young gentleman at a Jesuit-run school where he excelled, until the family could no longer afford to send him there. His father’s drunkenness brought the family from well-to-do gentility to near starvation. Joyce left Ireland when he was 22 and never returned. He died in Zurich in 1941 and was buried there.
Joyce’s writings make use of an enormous range of classical, religious, political, historical, and literary references. Even in his lifetime, his work was considered obscure, though “Ulysses” starts easily enough: “Stately, plump Buck Mulligan came from the stairhead, bearing a bowl of lather. . .” Described as the greatest novel of the 20th century no one has read, it’s been called the best book in the English language, a torture to read, a dirty book, and the most human story ever put on the page.
In her memoir, Beach writes, “My loves were Adrienne Monnier, and James Joyce, and Shakespeare and Company.” In “Sylvia Beach and the Lost Generation: A History of Literary Paris in the Twenties and Thirties,” Noel Riley Fitch fleshes out the details of her affair with Monnier and her relationship with Joyce, her “literary god.” For more than a dozen years until they had a falling out, Beach devoted herself to the often selfish wants of this “essentially private man who wishes his total indifference to public notice to be universally recognized,” as playwright Tom Stoppard described Joyce.
It would be another 11 years (coincidentally in the same week that Prohibition was repealed, the first week of December, 1933) before the book’s obscene designation was lifted and it could be published in the United States. Describing the study of “Ulysses” as “a heavy task,” U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey said, “It is brilliant and dull, intelligible and obscure by turns. In many places it seems to be disgusting. It is unusually frank but not pornographic.”
Long before “Seinfeld” made it a catch phrase, “Ulysses” is a novel “about nothing and everything.” Bloom gets up, has his morning tea, feeds the cat, relieves himself, attends a funeral, eats a pub lunch, flirts, mastubates, and ventures into the red light district. Like the epic tale from which it takes its title, it’s a heroic journey of sorts. Bloom wends his way across Dublin, home to his faithfully unfaithful wife, Molly. But unlike the original Ulysses, Bloom doesn’t battle adversaries: he kisses his errant wife on the bum and goes to sleep.
Although symbolically liberated by Hemingway at the end of World War II, Shakespeare and Company never reopened for business. Beach died in 1962. She was discovered in her apartment on October 6, having apparently suffered a heart attack a day or two earlier. Her body was cremated and a simple funeral service was held at the Pere Lachaise cemetery. Over the objections of her friends, who believed that after 46 years she belonged to Paris, her ashes were sent to her sister Holly in the United States and later buried in Princeton Cemetery.
The Bloomsday tradition began with the parties Beach gave for the down-at-the-heel author in the 1920s. The practice of carrying blue and white flowers — the colors of the Greek flag and the colors Joyce chose for the cover of the first edition — began in 1924. Dublin’s first Bloomsday took place in 1954 when writers Patrick Kavanagh and Flann O’Brien visited the Martello Tower at Sandycove, where the book begins; Davy Byrne’s pub; and the Bloom home at 7 Eccles Street. They read excerpts from the book along the way and since then, the core of any Bloomsday celebration is reading or listening to the novel (or parts of it) read aloud.
When you raise a glass on Bloomsday remember Sylvia Beach and the literary center that was a magnet for artists from all over the world during what Archibald MacLeish called the “greatest period of literary and artistic innovation since the Renaissance.” Even today, there’s a Paris bookstore bearing the name Shakespeare and Company on the South Bank facing Notre Dame.
To celebrate Bloomsday in Princeton, on June 16 you can visit www.princetontourcompany.com for a free Google Maps downloadable self-guided Princeton Bloomsday Walking Tour/Pub Crawl from 7 to 9 p.m. The tour will include Beach’s gravesite in the Princeton Cemetery, the family home on Library place, and other hangouts — such as her father’s office — as well as those of her friends such as F. Scott Fitzgerald, T.S. Eliot, Ezra Pound, Max Perkins, and Gertrude Stein. For those who want to celebrate Bloomsday in a more “Dublin way,” says Omiecinski, the website will also include the drink specials on tap for that night.
Last year Omiecinski did a Bloomsday walking tour, which sold out, but this year, she has been hired by a literary group from New York City to host a private Bloomsday tour. This tour will also include the outside of the homes and offices of modern writers like Saul Bellow, Philip Roth, Allen Tate and Caroline Gordon, Richard Ford, John O’Hara, and others, “since the book ‘Ulysses’ would have certainly been an influence on any modern writer,” writes Omiecinski in an E-mail, adding that her tours never include modern writers’ homes who currently teach or live in Princeton, out of respect for their privacy.
Also included are the homes/offices of Max Perkins of Scribner & Sons, Edmund Wilson (managing editor of Vanity Fair from 1920-21 and later associate editor of the New Republic), and Saxe Commins, the editor-in-chief at Random House (which published the first American edition of “Ulysses”) from 1933 until his death in 1958.
“William Faulkner was a frequent guest at that house,”says Omiecinski. Other writers edited by Commins included W. H. Auden, Eugene O’Neill, Sinclair Lewis, Gertrude Stein, and James A. Michener. One day in August, 1954, Einstein stopped by Commins’ home at 85 Elm Road and personally delivered an inscribed copy of his book “Ideas and Opinions” to Faulkner.
According to Omiecinski, Commins named his house “Peep a Day” because no fewer than one person “tried to peep in per day.” More than a half century later, the next generation of literary peepers continues with Princeton’s Bloomsday celebration.
Princeton Bloomsday Literary Tour and Pub Crawl, Princeton Tour Company, Thursday, June 16, 7 to 9 p.m. Self-guided tour; free download of map from website. 609-902-3637 or www.princetontourcompany.com.
Also, “The Cracked Lookingglass,” Firestone Library, Milberg Gallery and Main Gallery. A collection of manuscripts, books, and illustrations from the Leonard L. Milberg Collection of Irish Prose Writers, on view at Firestone Library through Sunday, July 10. 609-258-9220 or fis.princeton.edu/milberg/irish-prose.