While regular calendars note February 2 as Groundhog Day, it’s worth recalling that, on the literary calendar, today is the birthday of Dublin-born novelist James Joyce. On on this day in 1922, age at 40, he published Ulysses (which he pronounced “Oolissays”). February 2 was a lucky date in his mind. (He also thought blue and white most auspicious hues.)
At the Barnes and Noble website—home to regularly sound book reviews, short and long, and its Daybook—I learned the genesis of the repeated, breathless use of that already breathy word “yes” in the “famous 45-page, 8 sentence, Molly Bloom monologue” that ends Ulysses. Apparently, Joyce had simply heard a friend, an American named Lilian Wallace, saying the word “yes” over and over in conversation. She was in attendance at a special dinner Joyce held on the day Ulysses was published. (And at this dinner he unveiled a copy of Ulysses, which had blue covers and white type.)
Should you crave to read a tad more about Joyce and his quirks, which were legion, even by writers' standards, check out today’s Writer’s Almanac. A sample here:
Joyce was afraid of thunder and lightning—during electrical storms, he would hide under bedcovers—and he was also afraid of dogs, and walked around town with rocks in his pockets in case he encountered any roaming mutts. He didn't care for the arts other than music and literature, and he especially had no patience for art like painting. Over his desk he kept a photograph of a statue of Penelope (from Greek mythology, the wife of Odysseus/Ulysses) and a photograph of a man from Trieste, whom Joyce wouldn't name but said was the model for Leopold Bloom. On his desk he had a tiny bronze statue of a woman lying back in a chair with a cat draped over her shoulders. All of his friends told him it was ugly, but he kept it on his desk anyway. One of his Parisian friends remarked, "He had not taste, only genius."