I gave politics a rest yesterday as it was the day when international tributes are paid to my favourite writer and I have been re reading chunks of his work. June 16Th. Is a special day in Ireland and particularly in Dublin where it is referred to as “Bloomsday” in honour of one of literature’s greatest ever literary comic creations, the Jewish Irish everyman Leopold Bloom, hero of the great novel “Ulysses” based on Homer’s Ulysses which would have been familiar to a young student taught Greek classics by the Jesuits. Here it was that one of the greatest writers who ever lived was born, some say thee greatest, the Jesuit educated James Joyce 02/02/1832 – 13/01/1941.
He revolutionised the novel and perplexed great English scholars with his writing and he continues to do so today. Evidently I am not an ‘English scholar’ I am simply an ordinary guy who developed a great love of reading when I was a child and sixty years on I am still keen on reading although my eye sight is not as good as it once was. In relation to Joyce I can say that in 60 years of reading I have never come across anything quite like him, his output was not massive but it was astonishing. He was famously proscribed in Ireland by ‘mother church’ and, fancying myself as a young rebellious type I resolved to find a copy of his most famous work the aforementioned “Ulysess” as soon as I could; and even then it took a few years to lay hands on a copy, I often wonder how many copies of this great masterpiece there were lying hidden under beds and in attics during Joyce’s period in the wilderness. The book scandalised Ireland and other societies as well because alongside the hero Leopold Bloom was his wife Molly who was his equal and soul mate, she was based on Joyce’s wife Nora Barnacle, a Galway girl and the inspiration for Molly in the book, it is not hyperbole to say that even today Nora/Molly’s antics and her delightful candour would have been regarded by some as scandalous, gloriously, wonderfully scandalous. She is a literary heroine to rank with any of them and the answer to every youthful schoolboy’s imaginings.
His other great works like ‘A portrait of the artist as a young man’ and ‘Dubliners’ a collection of short stories are dazzling and it’s quite impossible to find a comma or full stop out of place in any of them. Joyce however left a single blight on my life and it is called “Finnegan’s Wake”, a book I have been reading on and off for approximately 40 years, such is its complexity that I resolved many years ago to read it in irate chunks. He writes this in what has become known as a “stream of consciousness” style, it is by turns hugely rewarding and hugely frustrating, I confess that I resorted to deception by reading other great writers books about ‘Finnegans Wake’ to no avail, I have given up hope of ever finishing it.
Unfortunately, like it seems so many great artistes, Joyce led large parts of his life in penury, he suffered terrible trouble with his failing eye sight and was also beleaguered with family problems but, despite constant advice to write less controversial books and take the easy road to fame and fortune which was his for the asking he never compromised. He was not only a great writer but also an inspiring man. I am off to read some more of his work and leave politics for tomorrow.