Bloomsday blossoms in Montreal
The events described in Ulysses, James Joyce’s seminal work of modern literature, occur over one day: June 16, 1904. Every year, all over the world, fans of the Irish author get together on that date to celebrate Joyce’s literary accomplishments. The occasion has come to be known as Bloomsday, in honour of the main protagonist in Ulysses, Leopold Bloom.
This year, Sir George Williams University (SGWU) alumnus Dave Schurman and his wife Judith spearheaded an effort to create a major celebration to mark Bloomsday in Montreal.
Judith says her husband fell in love with Ulysses as a Science undergrad at SGWU, and has been reading it ever since. Judith admits she herself was initially intimidated by the weighty tome, though her husband’s enthusiasm for it eventually rubbed off on her. “Once you make it through once or twice, then you start to consider it to be your friend,” she says.
The idea of holding an event to celebrate Bloomsday occurred during a study group on Ulysses led by Dave Schurman at the McGill Community for Lifelong Learning (MCLL) in the fall. “People just said why don’t we do something? We could make a project out of this, and it could turn into something really interesting,” Judith explains.
In the past, ad hoc events had been held around the city, but nothing like what’s on tap for this year. The program begins at 12:30 p.m. on Thursday, June 14, when readings and songs from Ulysses are performed at the Atwater Library, a major supporter of the Bloomsday celebrations. Beverly McGuire, a part-time instructor in Concordia’s Department of Music will be among the performers.
On Friday, June 15, at 4 p.m., Michael Kenneally, principal of Concordia’s School of Canadian Irish Studies, will deliver a lecture on Ulysses at the McCord Museum to mark the official launch of Bloomsday.
“I’m delighted that this is happening in Montreal,” Kenneally says. “It’s a lovely way to give people a sense of the book, convey some of its humour, and just keep it in their consciousness. And, obviously in the end to encourage them to read the book.”
In the past, Kenneally taught a course devoted entirely to Ulysses. In spite of the complexity and length of the text, Kenneally would encourage his students to read and reread it, to try and draw out as much of its rich meaning and humour as possible over one term.
As the professor explains, the book’s groundbreaking style changed literature forever. “It’s the fountainhead text of modernist literary expression. All writers that have come after Ulysses have to at least acknowledge his accomplishment, and then move on in whichever direction they wish to go.”
Kenneally says the lecture he has planned for Friday evening is aimed at a general readership. “Essentially it’s going to map out the nature of Joyce’s achievement in terms of 20th century literature, and talk about some of the means by which he does that,” he says.
Numerous other events will be held throughout the Bloomsday celebrations, including a trivia quiz, movie screenings, a tour of Montreal’s Griffintown, and dramatic re-enactments of famous scenes from Ulysses.
The Main Event, beginning Saturday at 10 a.m. outside on the McGill campus, feature more readings and musical performances, as well as Irish dancing and storytelling. The festivities culminate with an Irish pub crawl Saturday night beginning at 6 p.m.
An Artistic Approach
As part of the Bloomsday celebrations, a selection of photographs from Concordia alumna Kate Hutchinson’s photographic collection entitled Ulysses, a personal journey, will be on exhibit at the Atwater Library from June 12 to 27. The exhibit features photographs of the artist and her father taken at different sites in Dublin related to the book.
For Hutchinson, who completed her MFA at Concordia in 2011, Ulysses was part of growing up. Her two parents were born in Dublin, where the book is set, and it was through its lens that her father would teach her and her siblings about the city.
“He has always been obsessed with James Joyce and with Ulysses,” she says. “When we were young, going to Dublin, he would make us stop and he would do readings from Ulysses at different points, travelling around Dublin. We thought it was super boring at that point; it’s just not very accessible.”
Joyce wrote Ulysses many years after leaving Dublin. He recalled from memory all the details about the city included in the book. “It is his focus on place, specifically his attachment to a place that he had rejected, and yet wrote about continuously, that interests me greatly,” Hutchinson writes in her artist’s statement.
Hutchinson’s father also left Dublin in search of a better life, and has grown to love his adopted city of Montreal. But her father’s connection with the city of his birth lives on through Joyce’s book, and it’s this connection that Hutchinson explores in her series of photographs.
“I sought to understand how my father saw the city of his birth and how my perception of Dublin was mediated by his experiences,” she writes. The artist completed her Ulysses, a personal journey series for her master’s thesis project last year.
• Bloomsday Montreal
• Bloomsday Schedule
• Kate Hutchinson
• Concordia's School of Canadian Irish Studies