James Joyce: all day on Radio 4
Saturday 16 June is Bloomsday, the date that the apparently mundane perambulations of the characters in Ulysses take place. Joyce’s novel is one of the great milestones in modernism, but there’ no denying that it’s heavy going and probably ranks asa one of the great unread books of the twentieth century. I gave up a few years ago at the chapter that begins “Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus. Send us bright one, light one Horhorn, quickening and wombfruit…”
People who’ve struggled through to the end tell me it’s well worth the time and effort: a rich, boozy, bawdy, song-filled celebration of words and thoughts, centred round the kindly figure of Poldy Bloom (though his unfaithful, sex-loving wife Molly and Joyce’s alter ego Stephen Dedalus are, in their ways, equally as important). Like many others, I’ve long promised myself that one day I’ll finish it.
Well now the BBC is doing at least some of the hard graft for me and my fellow Ulysses-shirkers. Tomorrow, Radio 4 is devoting the entire day to the novel, with a five-and-a-half hour unabridged dramatisation, punctuated by Mark Lawson in Dublin, discussing the book’s place in twentieth century literature. Henry Goodman, who plays Poldy in the dramatisation, will start the ball rolling by cooking kidneys on the Today programme. Molly’s Bloom’s stream of consciousness soliloquy (where most of the really racy stuff comes) is, conveniently for the BBC, at the end of the novel and so after the 9.00 pm watershed.
It may seem an indulgence on the part of Radio 4 to devote an entire day to one book – even a book as important as this one. No doubt some listeners will object, although news, Any Questions and Women’s Hour will survive non non-Joycean form. But Radio 4 is supposed to be about serious current affairs coverage and arts programming. It’s supposed to educate as well as entertain. It’s supposed to treat its audience, in other words, as adults. Which is why I’m looking forward to Bloomsday – and the prospect is all the sweeter because (if only for one blessed week), it means the disapperance of the insufferable Saturday Live, a programme whose twee middle class banality represents everything that Radio 4 must not be allowed to become.
Yes I said yes I will Yes.