My last blog post about my literary adventures in Dublin seems to have struck a chord with several friends who asked to hear more about my love affair with James Joyce. (See HAPPY BLOOMSDAY, MR JOYCE!, June 16, 2014). So here’s the story.
In the late 1960s I was spending a summer in Denver, and decided to take that fateful course, innocently entitled Three Great Novels, where I read Ulysses for the first time. Every morning I drove to the University of Colorado campus at Boulder, and there I had my epiphany. Through the astonishing genius of James Joyce, I was transported from a sunny Rocky Mountain classroom to the city of Dublin at turn-of-century.
After that I couldn’t get enough and over the years took more Joyce courses – at Hunter College on a study sabbatical, at NYU’s continuing ed program, at the 92nd St Y, and at a Barnes & Noble reading group that met for 18 weeks (each week covering one of the book’s 18 famous episodes). Religiously every June 16th I celebrated Bloomsday at New York’s Symphony Space, and twice I went to Dublin for the James Joyce Summer School.
The Dublin program was run by University College, Joyce’s alma mater, and we met in the same building where the author attended class a century earlier. Thus I walked up and down the very staircase Joyce did, and looked out at the city through the same windows he did with his famously myopic vision!
The program was only two weeks long, but with an intensive study of one of Joyce’s books each week. Thus in two summers I studied his four great books – The Dubliners, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Ulysses, and Finnigan’s Wake. And yes I really did opt for the advanced Ulysses course taught by the world famous Joycean, who in fact I got to know quite well as we lived in the same dorm. Actually during the year our dorm was a convent for novice Dominican nuns, but apparently the novices had a break in summer, and then their very spartan rooms were rented out to us Joyceans.
But there was nothing spartan about our breakfasts in the convent dining room, with bowls of fresh fruit, and eggs, and cold meats, and hot porridge, and heaps of buttered toast and strong Irish tea. And walking to class was also a delight, even on a drizzly Dublin morning, as we crossed a little footbridge over the Grand Canal that flowed south from the River Liffey, and then we cut through St Stephen’s Green, the greenest and loveliest city park imaginable.
And it was true about my Guinness consumption. Apparently in Ireland it’s customary for professors to adjourn to a nearby pub after class and for their students to follow. Every afternoon we did just that, and at a large table at the back of the pub we’d spend another few hours together drinking and talking about literature and life. My friend Jeanne joined me in Dublin the second summer, and although we had lots of reading to do each night, we somehow found time for some serious pub- crawling.
I’d actually been to Dublin well before I discovered that wonderful summer program, but I was already a Joyce-lover so of course I took the James Joyce walking tour. I followed Leopold Bloom’s footsteps from # 7 Eccles Place, to Sweny’s the chemist, to Davy Byrne’s Pub, the Ormond Hotel, the National Museum and Nighttown. And I drove out to the Martello Tower where Stephen Dedalus lived with Buck Mulligan, and like legions of Joyceans before me I am sure, I rambled along the beach intoning aloud, “Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount Strand?’
But it was during one of my Joyce summer school summers that I realized I’d never been to Dublin’s Irish Writers Museum where you can see displayed books and letters and other artifacts related to the life and works of James Joyce, as well as Oscar Wilde, Jonathan Swift, William Butler Yeats, Sean O’Casey, and George Bernard Shaw. I decided to go after class one afternoon and called the museum for their hours. Hearing they closed at 5:00 I was afraid I wouldn’t make it in time.
“Don’t worry, love,” said the Irish voice on the phone, ” we’ll keep open until you get here.”
ERIN GO BRAGH!
Dana Susan Lehrman