Saturday, June 16, 2012

Bloomsday: June 16

James Joyce's character Leopold Bloom spent June 16, 1904, in Dublin, Ireland. It took Joyce 700 pages to chronicle what he did, ate, drank, imagined, and thought on that one day. On June 16 in various venues (especially Dublin) lovers of literature, of Ulysses specifically, and also of strong drink celebrate the anniversary of that day -- Bloomsday.

Just How Jewish was Bloom? -- a story from the Irish Times by Cormac Ó Gráda -- explores the history of the Jewish community that Leopold Bloom somewhat belonged to. The author describes the immigrant community of Litvak Jews who were the most numerous members of that community, and explores Joyce's possible sources for his descriptions of that community and some of its other inhabitants. The conclusion:
"Despite the huge literature on the Jewish content of Ulysses, and Joyce's reputation for being fastidious - indeed obsessive - about context and geography while writing it, it is hard not to conclude that his portrait of Leopold Bloom owed more to information garnered during his time in Trieste (1904-1919) than to first-hand contacts with Irish Jews before leaving Dublin at the age of 22. The very different character of Trieste Jewry - more urbane, more cosmopolitan, more middle-class, more integrated than their Dublin brethren - would have suited both Joyce and Bloom well."
Though he may be the most famous Irish Jew ever, only Bloom's father, not his mother was Jewish, and Bloom himself did not practice the Jewish religion. In literary terms, though, this isn't as important as his self-identification and the view of Joyce about him. According to the article:
"Joyce's ear for the varieties of Dublin English and his eye for Dublin foibles and characters make Ulysses a rich source for the historian of Ireland and its capital city. The same cannot be said for his account of Irish Jewry. Joyce's depiction of the petty racist jibes inflicted on Bloom by the 'Citizen' and others is vivid and credible. But had Bloom stepped from the written page into the real-life Little Jerusalem of Joyce's day, his mixed parentage and his marrying out would have ensured him a rather cold welcome also from the Litvak community ... ."
Finally: "None of this, of course, detracts from the genius of James Joyce or Ulysses."

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