June 16 marks Bloomsday, the day Dublin and fans of James Joyce celebrate the day that is the focus of his magnum opus, Ulysses. Joyce selected that date because on June 16, 1904 he had his first date with Nora Barnacle, a chambermaid from Galway City. (And judging by what transpired on a park bench, it was a very memorable date!) He eventually married Nora in 1931.
Ulysses (the Latinized name of Odysseus) was inspired by Homer’s epic poem, The Odyssey, that recounts Odysseus’ ten-year journey, filled with trials and tribulations, as he returns to Ithaca after the Trojan Wars. The 18 episodes in Joyce’s novel correspond to the 18 episodes in Homer’s poem. The novel follows Leopold Bloom as he goes about his day in Dublin from 8:00 am to the evening to bedtime. Like all of Joyce’s literary works, Ulysses is full of allusions, metaphors, and symbols; Joyce once remarked: “[I] put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant.” That rascal…
The first edition of Ulysses, with a print run of 1,000, was published on February 2, 1922 (timed to coincide with Joyce’s birthday) by Sylvia Beach of Shakespeare and Company based in Paris. The novel is 738 pages long, containing approximately 265,00 words. The book features an aqua-colored cover. The first 100 copies were printed on fine Dutch handmade paper and signed by Joyce. Due to the materials used, a first edition of Ulysses in pristine condition is extremely rare. Some of the first authors to purchase the first edition were Andre Gide, Ernest Hemingway, Ezra Pound, Gertrude Stein, and W. B. Yeats. Since then, the novel has been published in at least 18 different editions.
A first edition, number 45, signed by Joyce, sold at auction in London on June 4, 2009 for $440,000, setting a record for the highest sale price of a 20th century first edition. The book dealer who brokered the sale praised the book’s condition: “In terms of collectability, Ulysses is considered to be the number one 20th-century book. This is such a find and it is in such fabulous, pristine condition. The [cover] color is amazing – this lovely Aegean Sea, Greek flag blue which would normally have darkened into a more dirty blue but because it has been in a box it is a complete thing of beauty.”
For further reading: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2009/jun/04/ulysses-sells-record-price