June 16 marks Bloomsday, so named for Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of James Joyce’s novel Ulysses. The novel traces Bloom’s activities back and forth across Dublin over the course of one day, June 16, 1904. For many years Joyceans have commemorated the anniversary of Bloom’s fictional adventures. The first such event occurred in Dublin in 1954, when a small group gathered to retrace the route described in Ulysses. (The novel’s geography is precise enough that it actually is possible to do this. In this case, though, the group ran out of steam midway, after the Bailey pub proved too distracting). Today Bloomsday celebrations occur worldwide, and often include dramatic readings from the novel.
The University of Delaware Library holds first editions of nearly all of Joyce’s works, including Ulysses, which was first published in 1922 in France by Sylvia Beach’s Shakespeare & Company. The first edition was printed in a limited run of 1000 copies, and was produced with considerable input from Joyce. (Joyce even spent a great amount of time deliberating over which shade of blue would be the right one to use for the cover. He wanted it to be reminiscent of the color of the sea). Previously, Ulysses had been serialized in the American literary magazine, The Little Review, between March 1918 and December 1920, but the serialization ceased abruptly after the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice sued The Little Review on grounds of obscenity and received a court order banning the work’s publication in America, an order which stood until Random House successfully challenged it in 1933. (The University of Delaware of Library also owns copies of The Little Review).In addition to the first edition and The Little Review issues, The University of Delaware Library also owns several other significant editions of Ulysses, including: the second edition (1922), Paul Bowles’ copy of the sixth edition (1925), the ninth edition (1927), Brian Coffey’s annotated copy of the eleventh edition (1930), the first authorized American edition (1934), and a 1935 limited edition illustrated with Matisse paintings that have absolutely nothing to do with Ulysses. (Although contracted for the edition, Matisse never bothered to read Ulysses; instead he provided illustrations derived from Homer’s Odyssey. Joyce was not pleased.) Textually, each early edition of Ulysses is significant, as each printing corrected earlier typographical errors but also introduced additional mistakes, which later editions in turn tried to fix, all of which scholars have since spent decades trying to reconcile. Lastly, in addition to these important English language versions, the Library also owns several early translations of Ulysses, including the German (1927), French (1929), Czech (1930), and Japanese (1931-1934) editions.