16 June 2012

Joyce Country: Cycling and Ulysses on Bloomsday

Today is Bloomsday: the date on which all the action of James Joyce’s Ulysses takes place.

Bike events in Dublin retrace some of the steps taken by the book’s central characters, Dedalus and Bloom, as they wander through the city on 16 June 1904, eventually meeting for some drinks and entertainment.

With their adventures in mind, I’ve biked through Dublin a few times intending to tour the whole city. However, I’ve never managed to finish more than a tiny fraction of it, getting waylaid by other things (right). Rather like Ulysses, in fact.

There are several bicycle references the book, as shown by a search of the online text. They pop up twice in Molly’s infamous stream-of-consciousness finale, for example.

Here’s one extract, which gives a taste for aspiring readers of what they’re in for:
(He smites with his bicycle pump the crayfish in his left hand. On its cooperative dial glow the twelve signs of the zodiac. He wails with the vehemence of the ocean.) Aum! Baum! Pyjaum! I am the light of the homestead! I am the dreamery creamery butter.

Here’s another, from the question-and-answer chapter 17, ‘Ithaca’:
What facilities of transit were desirable?
When citybound frequent connection by train or tram from their respective intermediate station or terminal. When countrybound velocipedes, a chainless freewheel roadster cycle with side basketcar attached, or draught conveyance, a donkey with wicker trap or smart phaeton with good working solidungular cob (roan gelding, 14 h).

It seems Joyce himself was a keen cyclist. In summer 1912 he and his lover Nora cycled through the picturesque Galway mountains (right) from Galway to Oughterard and later from Galway to Clifden. (Coincidentally, the area round here is called 'Joyce Country'.)

The latter is a round-trip of a hundred miles, in a day, which some cycling Joyce scholars question, given the parlous state of the country’s roads then and his thin physique. Rubbish! People often did such trips then, and being thin is hardly a bar to being an Audax cyclist. I've cycled almost their exact route, and it's mostly flat.

Besides, Joyce was a determined sort, and from the evidence of the astonishingly hard-core letters he wrote to the energetic Nora – Googlable for those with robust verbal constitutions – was clearly used to long, hard sessions of extreme physical activity.

Happy Bloomsday.

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on not mentioning Flann O'Brien!