Tag Archives: james joyce

Bloomsday and the Blooming Bally Bloody Book illustrator

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Celebrating the works of James Joyce and Mahlon Blaine on the same day? It makes a whole lot of sense.

I’m no Joyce scholar. I’ve barely looked at Ulysses, and only read Dubliners in college. But no one can escape the impact and import of his literary creations, it seems. Where would 20th Century literature be without Leopold Bloom?

Mahlon Blaine, on the other hand… I know a thing or two about him.

For instance, he celebrated his 10th birthday on June 16, 1904.

That’s the same day James Joyce and his wife-to-be, Nora Barnacle, had their first outing (whereupon they reportedly walked to the Dublin suburb of Ringsend).

Joyce set the events of his novel Ulysses on that very day, June 16, 1904.

Coincidence? I think not.

The troubles that Joyce’s literary works encountered at the hands of censors? They were arguably of a larger nature than Blaine’s suppression troubles. Yet John Sumner, head of the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice, prosecuted the Little Review for its publication of a portion of Joyce’s novel, and a few years later also seized and burned most of the copies of Jack Ketch the Hangman, a little satirical newspaper full of Blaine pen-and-ink illustrations.

A publisher or two of Blaine’s works was known to have spent time in the penitentiary for legal transgressions. Blaine himself apparently never spent time in the slammer for impropriety – arguing that his “Victoria’s Cross medal” could never be defiled by being placed behind bars. The dubious declaration may have worked its magic on more than one occasion.

For instance, it would have been a shame had his masterpiece portfolio, Venus Sardonica, met its fate in the furnaces under Police headquarters. Even Gershon Legman declared its publication the high point of 20th Century eroticism. That’s if you appreciate exquisite drawing and sly humor.

Always with the humor.

So, Happy Birthday Mr. Blaine, and Happy Bloomsday Mr. Joyce. What a two-fer!

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