One hundred years ago, in February 1922, Sylvia Beach, owner of the Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company, published James Joyce’s Ulysses, in full, for the first time. Now to mark the centenary of the seminal novel’s publication, the publisher and bookseller she ran is set to release an ensemble recording of its complete text, featuring major names ranging from Eddie Izzard to Margaret Atwood.
More than 100 writers, artists, comedians and musicians are coming together to read a section from Ulysses for Shakespeare and Company, including Will Self, Jeanette Winterson, Ben Okri and Meena Kandasamy. The recordings will be released as a free podcast, starting on 2nd February and ending on 16th June, the date also known as Bloomsday in honour of the day in 1904 when Leopold Bloom wanders the streets in Ulysses.
“We thought we have to do something to mark the occasion,” said Shakespeare and Company literary director Adam Biles.
“Normally our instinct for something like this would be to do a big party on the day itself, but because of Covid restrictions, and the difficulties the bookshop has been through in the last few years, we came up with the idea to get people to record readings. It just kind of spiralled from there, to putting out an entire unabridged version of Ulysses – it’s never going to reach Joyce’s level of ambition with the book, but it’s something wildly ambitious for us to do.”
Authors and artists were keen to sign up for the project, said Biles. Self will be the first reader – “He’s a great performer, and also a great torch bearer for modernism,” said Biles – followed by Winterson. Izzard is taking on the famous first section of Calypso: “Mr Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crust crumbs, and fried hencods’ roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine.”
Molly Bloom’s soliloquy will be read by multiple voices, including Atwood and Deborah Levy, said Biles. “It’s going to be very polyphonic.”
The readings will be accompanied by a “Bloomcast” of 10 episodes, hosted by Biles and intended to be a primer for those new to Ulysses. “So many people have started and abandoned Ulysses, and it is a very tough book in many ways. But it’s also a book which really returns on the investment you make into it. It is hard work. But it’s also an incredibly powerful book emotionally speaking, it’s certainly one of the most intense literary experiences out there,” said Biles. “And having this diverse cast of differently accented people, with different ways of reading, has meant that each section is going to take on its own character, and hopefully keep people interested and keep their attention between February and June.”
The readers will be using the text of a new edition of Ulysses, published by Penguin Classics to mark the centenary. The novel will also be celebrated at the Hay festival with a series of live discussions and performances between 26 May and 5 June. Shakespeare and Company is not the only organisation to mark the centenary with a recording: Thornwillow Press has signed up readers including Stephen Fry and Salman Rushdie for a video and audio podcast reading of Ulysses. Weekly episodes will culminate on Bloomsday, when readers will be able to watch or listen to 300 readers, over 30 episodes, reading Ulysses. (Guardian)