Bibliophiles ReJoyce

Austin's Harry Ransom Center hosts centennial celebration of author James Joyce

Harry Ransom Center hosts centennial celebration of James Joyce

James Joyce
Bloomsday is a day dedicated to the legacy of Irish author, James Joyce, and the day depicted in his landmark novel, Ulysses. Wikimedia

Book nerds, rejoice! Or, as it were, re-Joyce: Thursday, June 16, marks “Bloomsday,” a day dedicated to the legacy of Irish author, James Joyce, and the day depicted in his landmark novel, Ulysses. Thankfully for Austin bibliophiles, the Harry Ransom Center (HRC) has everything you need to mark the occasion.

Considering the groundbreaking oeuvre was first published on February 2, 1922, this year’s Bloomsday also commemorates the 100th anniversary of the book’s controversial release. Since March, the HRC has marked that important milestone with a special exhibition exploring the important and largely unacknowledged role of four women in bringing his famed masterpiece to the masses.

Curated by Dr. Clare Hutton of Loughborough University, the exhibit, entitled Women and the Making of Joyce’s Ulysses, opened in March and runs through July 17, 2022. Objects from the HRC’s James Joyce Collection tell the story of the formative role of his family members and, in particular, of four women — Margaret Anderson, Jane Heap, Harriet Shaw Weaver, and Sylvia Beach, who were associated with innovative literary experimentation of the period — all of whom helped Joyce's novel gain widespread notoriety and success.

The HRC’s Bloomsday celebration will include guided tours of the special exhibit at noon and 3 pm, as well as a curator talk from Dr. Hutton at 4:30 pm. Guests can also take part in Joyce recitations, enjoy a photo opp with the famed Shakespeare & Company bookstore backdrop, and watch (or take part) in Joyce recitations. All HRC visitors on Bloomsday will also save 15 percent storewide in the gift shop, which features Joyce and literature gifts. 

Advance registration is required for Dr. Hutton’s talk, which will delve into the intellectual context surrounding the Ransom Center’s centenary exhibition and explore the correlations between biography, feminism, and the act of interpretation.

As the subject of banning books once again makes headlines, guests will have the opportunity to learn why Joyce's novel was a source of controversy and the subject of an obscenity trial in 1921. Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap's serial publication of the story in their American magazine The Little Review led to seizure of the edition by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice. This led to legal proceedings and the obscenity conviction handed down before Joyce had even completed the work.

Across the pond, Harriet Shaw Weaver gave substantial financial support to Joyce in the United Kingdom, and published excerpts of Ulysses in The Egoist. Within days of arriving to live in Paris in July 1920, Joyce also enlisted the help of Sylvia Beach, who played a pivotal role in bringing the full novel to print under the imprint of her bookshop and lending library Shakespeare & Company.

The HRC exhibit includes more than 150 rare objects to tell this story, including a first edition of Ulysses, page proofs for its first printing, original copies of The Little Review, manuscripts in Joyce's hand, rare books, printed ephemera, and photographs.

On top of all this, Bloomsday celebrants at the HRC can catch a preview screening of Arena: James Joyce's Ulysses, a new documentary delivering a detailed overview of why the novel continues to captivate readers today. Produced by the BBC and directed by Adam Low, this 90-minute film includes extensive footage of the places in which the work was conceived and written — Dublin, Trieste, Zurich and Paris — and will be the perfect way to cap off a day of literary jubilation. 

Learn more about the free event and register for Dr. Hutton's talk here.