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Last Updated: Friday, 11 June, 2004, 15:05 GMT 16:05 UK
Ireland set for festival of Joyce
James Joyce
Joyce picked 16 June 1904 as an example of an entirely ordinary day
Ireland is preparing to mark 100 years since Bloomsday, the day on which James Joyce's novel Ulysses is set - 16 June 1904. But why is Joyce - and Ulysses in particular - continually held up as such a landmark in literature?

Ulysses is consistently ranked in top 10 lists of greatest ever novels - despite being an immensely challenging read, due to the stream-of-consciousness style in which it is written and the way, in parts, Joyce often simply invented his own language.

Now Dublin is set to stage a huge festival of Joyce to mark the centenary of the date on which one of the city's most famous books is set.

"I have to confesses that I've never waded my way through Ulysses, but I'm hugely proud that we have produced a writer who's esteemed internationally," Laura Weldon, the national co-ordinator of the festivals, told BBC World Service's The Ticket programme.

"So I think that's a great thing."


The celebrations will include musical events, walking tours, art exhibits and theatre performances.

They have been criticised by contemporary Irish writer Roddy Doyle as part of a "Joyce industry", with Doyle particularly scathing about Ulysses, saying the book "could have done with a good editor".

Wen Jiabao
Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao: A big James Joyce fan
Ms Weldon admitted the Irishman was a very difficult author to read, and many who tried it quickly gave up.

But she argued it was because of this that the festival was important, as its main aim was to broaden Joyce's readership to readers who might consider the book too challenging.

"We are the first people to acknowledge that many people go out and buy the book, they get to page three, and they quit - and page three is the first page of text," she said.

"And we understand that. It's OK - it's a difficult, challenging book. But our premise is that there are lots of ways to approach the book, and to appreciate the book.

"So through our 73 different events, it's our goal to bring people of all skills these building blocks."

Joyce died in Zurich in January 1941, disappointed at the critical mauling given to his even more difficult follow-up to Ulysses, Finnegans Wake.

But Ms Weldon also stressed his universal appeal for those who do stick with his work, and said his books transcended cultural differences.

"Joyce was really the quintessential international writer," she said.

"Yes, he wrote in English and almost entirely about Dublin... but I think what resonates with people around the world are the themes that he deals with, which are not unique to any one nation at all.

"It has been said that Leopold Bloom in Ulysses is every man, and that Dublin - despite being described so specifically - is really every city.

"The themes that he deals with - love, death, marriage, birth - regardless of where you're born, those are all things we relate to."

Rejected in Ireland

This was echoed by Irish Prime Minister Bertie Ahern, when visiting the house where Joyce's short story The Dead takes place - 15 Usher's Island.

Mr Ahern said he was often surprised that wherever he went, people always knew about Joyce.

Dublin will stage most of the festivities
He highlighted Chinese Prime Minister Wen Jiabao as an example.

"This was intriguing me - why somebody like the now premier of China, where they had a cultural revolution, would be so fascinated by the style of this writing," he said.

"And the only explanation is the absolute quality of literature."

But Joyce was not always celebrated in Ireland.

One reason he left the country was the difficulty he had in getting a publisher.

And his book was rejected - but not banned - until the 1960s, principally because of its sexually explicit content, including an account of one of the principal characters masturbating.

"The book was seen as pornographic, not of worthy quality," Ms Weldon said.

"But that was very much a function of Ireland as a narrow society. When the book was originally published in 1922, it was banned in the US and it was banned in the UK - but it was never banned in Ireland."

Joyce's nephew Ken Monahan said he agreed.

"I think after all the years that Joyce was maligned in Ireland, it's great that there's a bit of fuss being made about him now," he said.

"I think he would have loved it himself."

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