Today is Bloomsday when Leopold Bloom, the main character in James Joyce’s Ulysses takes a long rambling walk around Dublin. Joyce picked this date as it commemorates his first date with his future wife, Nora Barnacle.
Precocious as a writer, Joyce was also precocious sociologically. He had his first sexual experience at the age of 14 with a prostitute on a riverbank. Some small taint of degradation kept clinging to his idea of sex—one of the many dramatic paradoxes in his life. He was a near-alcoholic; yet he pursued his writing craft with monastic austerity. He had the courage to face approaching blindness, eleven eye operations, and his daughter Lucia’s madness, but he ran from dogs and thunder. He renounced Roman Catholicism, but he could never rid his mind of the systems of Aquinas and Aristotle. He loathed and left his native land, yet his bitterness was inverted longing. Small wonder that Nora once told a friend: “You can’t imagine what it was like for me to be thrown into the life of this man.”
Joyce always liked to say that Nora Barnacle had come “sauntering” into his life out of the Dublin hotel where she worked as a waitress. The first day they went walking together was 16 June 1904, and Joyce always regarded it so romantically that he made it Bloomsday, the day everything happens in Ulysses. Nora had only a grammar school education, but when Joyce spouted his literary dreams to her and then declaimed: “Is there one who understands me?”, Nora understood enough to say yes. She eloped with him to the Continent (they were not married till 27 years later) and he swore to “try myself against the powers of the world.”
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