Sitting in front of a wall of floor-to-ceiling bookshelves, Edna O’Brien crouched over her paperback copy of James Joyce’s Ulysses and read the famous soliloquy by the character of Molly Bloom, wife of the main character, Leopold Bloom. The passage, in which Molly’s thoughts are expressed in contrast to those of the main characters, concludes the epic book. Molly reminisces on the first time she met Leopold, and how she fell in love with him. Before reading it, O’Brien claimed that the passage encompassed feelings that we all can relate to, about love and life and overwhelming passion.
University at Buffalo Hosts Atypical Bloomsday
This is what topped off a very atypical Bloomsday event hosted by the University at Buffalo, home to the world’s largest and most comprehensive collection of Joyce materials. Traditionally, Bloomsday, which celebrates the day during which Ulysses takes place, is a holiday for gathering, a day during which literary fans might be found at a theatrical performance or street party, or even an Irish pub crawl. This year, with most public gatherings being too dangerous to take part in, the University at Buffalo, like many other Joyce institutions across the world, had to move their celebrations online.
In about five-minute-long segments, readers from Dublin to New York sat in front of their computer cameras and read from their copies of Ulysses (many of which were well-loved, with tattered covers and mounds of sticky notes peeking up from the pages). The physical proximity was gone, but the passion was still there. One reader pinched his nose to produce the nasally voice of a character; another performed a very convincing meow when a cat entered the scene. Voices rose and shrank, and hand gestures blurred across the screen as the readers lost themselves in the passages. One reader had even dressed up, wearing a suit and boater hat.
Perched at their desks or dining room tables and peering down into computer cameras, we heard 29 distinguished academics, writers, and other Joyce fans en toto reading their selected passages from Ulysses. The hour and a half experience, stilted by some expected technical difficulties such as readers forgetting to unmute themselves, reminded us of the unifying power of literature, even in the midst of a global pandemic. Although there were no public gatherings this Bloomsday, in this reviewer’s opinion, the University at Buffalo managed to connect readers across continents and unite them through a shared love for this epic Irish novel.
Father Pat Keleher
Senator Timothy M. Kennedy
Evviva Weinraub Lajoie
Ambassador Daniel Mulhall
Senator David Norris