Annual event celebrates the works and life of Dubliner James Joyce
On Sunday, June 16, the Celtic Knights of the Sea once again presents its annual Bloomsday event. Through songs, recitals, dramatic adaptations and intriguing lectures, the program honors the writings and life of Dublin, Ireland’s most famous literary son, James Joyce, with a particular focus on Joyce’s masterpiece Ulysses.
Set on June 16, 1904, the novel follows the day-in-the-life experiences of Leopold Bloom, the everyman “Ulysses” of the title. Bloom’s wife Molly is a semi-professional singer of popular songs and opera pieces. As it happens, she is having an affair with her occasional singing partner, Blazes Boylan; a distance has crept between the Blooms due to the prior death of their infant son, Rudy.
This sublimated sorrow eventually leads Bloom to “adopt” Stephen Dedalus, a wandering poet recently returned to Dublin from Paris for the death of his mother. Bloom is in search of a son, and Dedalus is seeking a father, although neither is conscious of this. The book concludes at day’s end with Bloom and Molly in bed, Mrs. Bloom’s interior monologue serving as a reverie, conjuring up memories, fantasies and observations on sex, love and life culminating with the ultimate acceptance: “yes.”
Frank Ficarra is a retired CSU, Chico, English instructor and has been involved with the local Bloomsday since its inception. When asked what first interested him in the writings of James Joyce, Ficarra, a jovial, bespectacled, silver-haired man, thinks a moment before he replies.
“Probably religion was the first thing,” Ficarra says at last. “I was raised a Catholic. And I was going through my ‘de-conversion’ period, reading A Portrait of the Artist [as a Young Man, Joyce’s second book, predecessor to Ulysses]. And that ‘retreat scene’ was really scary.”
The scene mentioned features a priest describing the torments of hell in terrifyingly graphic detail. “I took that very seriously,” Ficarra says. “That may have slowed down my ‘de-conversion’ for a while!”
When he was 16, Ficarra’s older sister gave him a copy of Ulysses. But, like many before him, he didn’t get far past the first paragraph.
“I couldn’t make any sense out of it,” he admits. “And every year or two I’d go back, and it still didn’t make any sense.”
Much later, while on a summer camping trip at Big Sur, Ficarra determined to read the initially intimidating novel straight through, “just to see what I could get out of it.” While the rest of his family went hiking, Ficarra intrepidly set forth into the minds of Joyce’s characters.
“I was lost much of the time,” he readily concedes. “But I would always find something on every page that gave me the motivation to keep going … right to the end of the book.”
When Ficarra began teaching a Philosophy in Literature course at Chico State, he chose James Joyce as his second-semester subject. Now, Ficarra still manages to teach Joyce through the Prime-Timers “learning in retirement” group affiliated with the university.
“You should read Ulysses with a group of people,” Ficarra advises. “It’s very hard to read by yourself.” To first-time readers of Joyce he also recommends the late Anthony Burgess’ user-friendly analysis Re:joyce.
At this year’s Bloomsday event, Ficarra will once again touch on “the man in the Mac,” a figure who appears randomly throughout the novel and who, Ficarra theorizes, is actually James Duffy, from Joyce’s short story “A Painful Case,” found in the book Dubliners. Ficarra stealthily avoids giving away whatever new insights he’s gleaned since last year before Sunday. Furthermore, this year’s Bloomsday happens to occur on Father’s Day. Given the father/son theme already inherent in the tale, the event should aptly lend itself to the occasion.