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Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Bloomsday is over but James Joyce left plenty of trail to trace

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This year, more than most, offers plenty of excuses to celebrate the life and work of James Joyce. This January marked the 76th anniversary of his death. Bloomsday - June 16 - is the date on which his novel 'Ulysses' is set. And December is the 100th anniversary of the publication of his first novel, "A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man."


I followed Joyce's trail earlier this year, a challenge because he was always on the move. But I pared my itinerary down to Dublin, where the Joyce family house-hopped to avoid creditors; London, where he married; and Paris, where he joined fellow literary lions.

Dublin: Joyce was born in 1882, the eldest of 10 children, in Dublin and lived in as many as 20 homes during his family's downward mobility, which coincided with his childhood. A great place to contemplate his life in Dublin is with an overview. The James Joyce Tower and Museum on Sandycove overlooks the coast. As I stood outside the museum, beneath the flag fluttering in the strong wind, I surveyed a hill beyond the water, and felt the sea air washed over me.

The author in 1904 briefly stayed in the museum's tower, which is featured in the opening of 'Ulysses,' but fled it after an altercation. The museum, which opened on Bloomsday 1962, now houses a trove of Joyce memorabilia, including photos, handwritten letters and first editions of 'Ulysses' and other books. A few weeks after his departure from the tower, Joyce left Ireland. As I left the museum, I imagined a slim Joyce walking nimbly down the small and narrow steps down to the rocks and onto the street, running not only from the tower but from his country.

Though Joyce essentially exiled himself from Ireland, Dublin celebrates the life of the native son who wrote about the city as both a setting and character. The James Joyce Centre on North Georges Street has three floors of information, memorabilia and documentaries of the author's life. Both the Joyce Centre and the museum at Sandycove display busts of Joyce's death mask, made two days after his death in Zurich in 1941. They also host the Joyce Circular Tour around the north inner city, which visits significant places in the author's life and work. The Dubliners Tour is a walk to locations from the "The Dubliners" short story collection and Joyce's life.

A guide named Marty Gilroy took us on the circular tour, which is not quite circular: It begins at the center and ends at James Joyce's statue on North Earl Street. There, he quoted from a letter Joyce sent to his brother Stanislaus in 1905 while he was living in Trieste: "When you remember that Dublin has been a capital for a thousand years, that it is the 'second' city of the British Empire, that it is nearly three times as big as Venice, it seems strange that no artist has given it to the world."

London: After living with a woman named Nora Barnacle for 27 years and having two children with her, Joyce traveled to London in 1931 to marry her to settle his family's inheritance. By then, he was famous, and though the couple tried to keep their nuptials secret, journalists followed them to their residence at 28B Campden Grove in Kensington. Joyce so disliked the place that he called it 'Campden Grave,' Nevertheless, a blue plaque hangs at the building 28 Campden Grove, distinguishing it as an English Heritage site.

From Campden Grove, you could take walks that pause at other literary heritage sites. Five minutes away is the former home of the poet Ezra Pound, Joyce's friend, at 10 Kensington Church Walk; another 10 minutes in the opposite direction is the former home of T. S. Eliot, Joyce's contemporary, at 3 Kensington Court Gardens; and about three minutes away is the home of the novelist Ford Madox Ford, at 80 Campden Hill Road.

Paris: Joyce lived in the city for more than 20 years, becoming an essential part of a literary community that included Pound, Eliot, Ford, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein and F. Scott Fitzgerald. It is also the place where he finished writing 'Ulysses' and 'Finnegans Wake' thanks to financial support from the editor Harriet Shaw Weaver and the publisher Sylvia Beach. Beach owned an English language bookstore and lending library called Shakespeare and Company, which opened in 1919 at 12, rue de l'Odéon. The bookstore was closed during the German occupation of France during the Second World War and never reopened.

At the old location is a plaque that says in French: "In 1922, in this house, Sylvia Beach published Ulysses by James Joyce." A new Shakespeare and Company bookstore is near the Seine down a small curved street and overlooks the Notre-Dame Cathedral. It was opened in 1951 and renamed in honor of Beach by George Whitman and is now run by his daughter, Sylvia Beach Whitman. It, too, has become a literary hub, with regular readings and events in addition to a cache of books for sale.

The Hôtel Lutétia, the last place Joyce stayed in the city, is currently under construction covered in taupe and scaffolding but is still worth a visit to see the vast architecture peering above the covering. Joyce completed 'Ulysses' at the French writer Valery Larbaud's apartment on 71, rue Cardinal Lemoine. Larbaud was also one of the translators of 'Ulysses' to French. A plaque at the building acknowledges its two famous residents. But perhaps the best way to commune with Joyce is to open up his books. No airfare is required for that.

The writer is a journalist.  The write-up has appeared on  www.nytimes.com

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