Jun. 16, 2008

Chapter: Penelope

by James Joyce

"Molly's soliloquy ends, "O and the sea the sea crimson sometimes like fire and the glorious sunsets and the figtrees in the Alameda gardens yes and all the queer little streets and pink and blue and yellow houses and the rosegardens and the jessamine and geraniums and cactuses and Gibralter as a girl where I was a Flower of the mountain yes when I put the rose in my hair like the Andalusian girls used or shall I wear a red yes and how he kissed me under the Morrish wall and I thought well as well him as another and then I asked him with my eyes to ask again yes and then he asked me would I yes to say yes my mountain flower and first I put my arms around him yes and drew him down to me so he could feel my breasts all perfume yes and his heart was going like mad and yes I said yes I will Yes."

Excerpt: "Chapter: Penelope" by James Joyce, from Ulysses. Public domain. (buy now)

On this day in 1858, Senate candidate Abraham Lincoln gave a speech in Springfield, Illinois, urging that the issue of slavery be resolved once and for all. He said, "A house divided against itself cannot stand."

It's the birthday of Joyce Carol Oates,(books by this author) born in Lockport, New York (1938). She's known for novels and short stories in which people's lives are torn apart by violence. She's the author of books such as Because It Is Bitter, and Because It Is My Heart (1990) and We Were the Mulvaneys (1996).

She grew up in a rural part of New York, which she later used as the basis for the fictional Eden County, where many of her stories and novels are set. She began making up stories as a child, even before she knew how to write, and drew pictures to record them. The book that had the most profound influence on her life and her writing was Alice in Wonderland by Lewis Carroll. She read it when she was about 10 years old, and loved how Alice was calm and rational when facing nightmarish situations. She said that Alice's calmness made a strong impression, and ever since she has tried to write about nightmares and bizarre things in a coherent, calm way.

She published her first story, "In the Old World," in Mademoiselle magazine (1959) just before her senior year of college, and she published her first book of short stories, By the North Gate, a few years later, in 1963. She has gone on to become one of the most prolific writers of her generation, writing more than 70 books in 40 years, including novels, short stories, plays, poetry, and essays. She writes almost everything in long hand before typing, and she usually cuts out a few hundred pages from every novel before it is published.

It's Bloomsday, on which Joyceans all over the world celebrate the day in 1904 that the events of Ulysses take place on. It's named for the novel's protagonist, Leopold Bloom. Joyce chose June 16, 1904, as the setting for the novel, to commemorate the day he went on his first date with Nora Barnacle, his future wife.

The first Bloomsday celebration was in Paris 1929. For the centenary in 2004, Dublin hosted a five-month-long festival that included academic conferences, literary walking tours, exhibits, pub crawls, and also the feeding of 10,000 people — whom they did not charge — a full Irish breakfast of sausage, rashers, and Guinness, outdoors.

Dublin continues to have the largest Bloomsday celebration of any city in the world, and this year it will have lasted one week and included various walking tours of Joyce-related sites of the city, musical performances, pub crawls, and museum exhibitions. A few days ago, on June 12th, there was also the 15th Messenger Biker Rally, at which 50 people "in Joycean garb ... [rode] through the streets of Dublin on old messenger bikes retracing the steps of Leopold Bloom." There's the traditional Irish breakfast, as well as afternoon tea at Marks & Spencer, accompanied by songs of Joyce's era.

One of the hallmarks of Bloomsday celebrations everywhere is dramatized readings of Ulysses. Dublin has a long tradition of hosting celebrities, politicians, and international diplomats to do staged readings. Some other cities hold marathon Ulysses readings lasting up to 36 hours.

In New York this year there is "Bloomsday on Broadway," where they will perform the complete text of the chapter "Ithaca" and Molly Bloom's famous monologue from the concluding chapter, "Penelope."

For the past five years in the San Francisco area, the theater troupe Wilde Irish Productions has staged dramatic readings of Ulysses on Bloomsday, with an intermission that includes libations and concessions mentioned in the novel.

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