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Image / Living / Culture

7 ways to celebrate the centenary of James Joyces’ ‘Ulysses’ (even if you’ve never read it)


By Sarah Finnan
01st Feb 2022
7 ways to celebrate the centenary of James Joyces’ ‘Ulysses’ (even if you’ve never read it)

2022 marks the centenary of James Joyce’s masterpiece 'Ulysses'. Beloved by millions of literature lovers all across the world, it has a reputation for being notoriously challenging to get through… and yet its influence has never come into question.

Constructed as a modern parallel to Homer’s Odyssey, all the action takes place in and around Dublin across one single summer day in June 1904. Centred on three main characters – Stephen Dedalus, Leopold Bloom and his wife Molly – the narrative has a tendency to wander throughout… as the website Ulysses Guide puts it, “famously, not much happens in this book, yet all of life is contained in its pages”. 

Held up as a beacon of our countrymen’s humble accomplishments, this year’s celebrations promise to be all the more special and there are several ways to celebrate the Joycean milestone…even if you haven’t managed to actually make it through the book yourself yet. 

RTÉ Celebrates 100 Years of Ulysses 

RTÉ will celebrate the 100th anniversary of the publication of James Joyce’s Ulysses through an extensive programme of content across TV, radio and online. 

Speaking ahead of the programme’s launch later this week, Ann-Marie Power, group head of arts and culture at RTÉ said, “I’m delighted to see such diversity of coverage across RTÉ to salute this important centenary. It reflects its endurance that a century later Ulysses continues to conjure fascinating new interpretations of itself, and new ways for us to see ourselves. 

“As a young man, Joyce felt out of place in his country. The Ireland he determined to leave, wasn’t changing at the pace of his imagination. By the time Ulysses was published Joyce was 40. Ireland was grappling with its new status in the world, a precarious, compromised state of independence. Who would James Joyce’s equivalent be today? What would they be saying? Where would they be leaving and heading? RTÉ programming stimulates such questions. As we look back to Joyce and the world that he created and lived they are as provocative and relevant as ever.”

Here’s a taste of what’s in store this week: 

TV

100 Years of Ulysses 

(RTÉ One, Thursday, February 3, 10.15pm)

A new documentary devised by historian Frank Callanan and directed by Ruán Magan, 100 Years of Ulysses sets out to unlock the secret of how the novel continues to remain as relevant today as it ever was. 

A mix of interviews, illuminative archive film and photographs, newly commissioned artworks and a beautiful original score by Natasa Paulberg, it promises to bring viewers on “an enlightening journey into the heart of one of the most inspiring and influential novels” of all time. 

Nationwide 

(RTÉ One, Wednesday, February 2, 7pm) 

Still the subject of continuous debate, obsession and intrigue across the world, Joyce’s Ulysses has always been a topic of contention and was even banned in the US and Britain up until the 1930s. 

In this Nationwide special on the classic, presenter Anne Cassin gets a look at the first-ever printed copy of Ulysses with Katherine McSharry at MOLI (Museum of Literature Ireland); meets Booker Prize-winning author, Anne Enright who shares her thoughts on the famous book; visits the Joyce Tower in Sandycove to chat with one of the early curators, Vivien Igoe; and returns to Studio 9 in RTÉ with actor Patrick Dawson to hear about the marathon 30-hour radio dramatisation of the novel which was broadcast in 1982. 

Radio 

Book on One

(RTÉ Radio 1, Monday, January 31 – Friday, February 4, 11.20 pm)

Highlighting the worldwide significance and influence of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses on other writers, Book on One features the award-winning novel The House on Eccles Road read by Canadian author Judith Kitchen. 

Set on June 16, 1999, the novel takes place in Dublin, Ohio on Molly and Leo Bluhm’s wedding anniversary – whose life together echoes that of Molly and Leopold Bloom at 7 Eccles Street, Dublin, Ireland almost a century earlier. 

Arena 

(RTÉ Radio 1, Wednesday, February 2, 7 pm)

Arena broadcasts a special edition dedicated to Ulysses with contributors including Colm Toibín, Nuala O’Connor, Mary Costello, John Patrick McHugh and Catherine Flynn. 

Opera Night 

(RTÉ Lyric FM, Saturday, February 5, 9 pm) 

Friends of the James Joyce Tower & Trilling Trilling Productions present a concert organised to celebrate both James Joyce’s 140th birthday along with the centenary of the publication of Ulysses. Featuring Geoffrey Molyneux Palmer’s settings of Joyce’s Chamber Music with Dean Power (tenor), Mairéad Hurley (piano) and Susie Kennedy (narrator).

Palmer previously wrote to Joyce back in 1907 (the year of Chamber Music’s publication), asking permission to set some poems from the collection to music. Joyce enthusiastically received the ten songs he was sent and wrote: “I hope you will set all of Chamber Music in time” and “I shall be glad to hear from you and to know that your delicate music is meeting at last with the appreciation it deserves”. Joyce tried to arrange publication of the songs on several occasions, but Palmer was hesitant, and so it never happened. 

The songs seemed to have been lost until a researcher Myra Teichel Russel found them at Southern Illinois University, Carbondale in 1981. Further investigation led Russel to discover that a Joyce collector – Dr Harley Croessmann – had bought the Chamber Music’s manuscripts from his Palmer’s sisters after his death for $56. He eventually gave them to Carbondale and Russel published the songs in 1993.

Online 

RTÉ’s Ulysses at 100 – James Joyce Celebrated offers a brilliant opportunity to delve into all things Joycean. Several different contributors have lended their talents to the platform whose vast offering includes the likes of Caitriona Balfe and Stephen Rea reading excerpts of Joyce’s writing, new writing inspired by Ulysses from Mary Costello, Ian Maleney, Joseph O’Connor, Nuala O’Connor; documentaries about Joyce’s family including Lucia Joyce as well as the places that feature in Ulysses. This year-round constantly growing curated site also includes RTÉ’s ever-popular marathon 30-hour radio dramatisation of Ulysses, first broadcast in 1982, the centenary of Joyce’s birth. 

Shakespeare and Company

Organised in celebration of the centenary and to encourage readers to engage (or re-engage) with the life-changing book, Shakespeare and Company in Paris has teamed up with Penguin Classics and Hay Festival to create an ensemble recording of the unabridged text which will be released as a free podcast from February 2 to June 16.  

The celebration will then culminate with a series of live discussions and performances on-site at Hay Festival 2022 (May 26 – June 5) and a celebration of Bloomsday at Shakespeare and Company on Thursday, June 16 2022. Read by more than a hundred writers, artists, comedians and musicians from all over the world, Canadian author Margaret Atwood is amongst those to voice part of the text – along with Will Self, Jeanette Winterson, Paul Murray and Caoilinn Hughes, comedian and actor Eddie Izzard, and poet Ishion Hutchinson, with many more exciting names to be announced soon.

The readings will also be accompanied by a 10-episode “Bloomcast”, or informal “primer” for listeners.

Photography by Hatice Yardim on Unsplash