The book that's a work of art, made by Matisse, Joyce and Homer.

The book that's a work of art, made by Matisse, Joyce and Homer.

“Bloomsday is the only holiday in the world exclusively dedicated to a literary character and of course a book worth this feat has amazing editions.”

Leopold Bloom is the main character of the polemic book Ulysses, written by James Joyce and published in 1922. Every 16 of June brings the Bloomsday, official holiday in Ireland and reason to comemorate for readers all around the world. The holiday is a homage to Bloom, the book and to James Joyce itself. The book can reach more than 1000 pages and tell the story of one day in the average life of the even more average Leopold Bloom. In the this day is 16 of June in 1904 which also the date when Joyce went out with Nora Barnacle, the woman who later became his wife.

Choosing the hero

James Joyce

The Ulysses was written using the structure of the Odyssey, the epic whose hero is Ulisses. Odisseus is the greek name, Ulisses is the latin version. To develop the main character of his book, James Joyce searched in other heros the characteristics he wanted to see in Leopold Bloom, but they had to be pacific, with no sexual constraints and, maybe paradoxically, they should be free of the desire to become heroes and being imortalised through violence.

As Deklan Kieberd says in his introduction to the Ulysses, the self imposed celibacy and lack of informations about his family put Faustus out of the dispute. Hamlet was another option since Shakespeare was Joyce's favorite writer, but to him Hamlet was not a complete man, because Hamlet was basically a son and that was not enough. Jesus was considered, but Joyce discarded him due to the sexual constraint he wasn't willing to impose upon his character, as he told Frank Budgen:

“Jesus was a bachelor and never lived with a woman. Surely living with a woman is one of the most difficult things a man has to do, and he never did it.”

Ulysses was the only greek hero who had no interest in going to war because he didn't believed the reasons subjacent to the Trojan war were good enough to leave his family behind. But the politics obliged him to go since he was the ruler of Ithaca and owed loyalty to the other leaders. Still, we see along the Odyssey that he won his battles using inteligence, traps and other less violent methods. He was a cautious and patient man. Besides that he was father of Telemachus, husband of Penelope, son of Laertes, companion of great war heroes like Achilles and a great adventurer, therefore, the most well developed heroe considered by Joyce. These were some of the reason that made Joyce use the Odyssey and it's hero to build work.

Matisse and the Odyssey

Henri Matisse

Bloomsday is the only holiday in the world exclusively dedicated to a literary character and of course a book worth this feat has amazing editions. Around 1930the american editor George Macey offered five thousand dollars to the painter Henri Matisse in order to get anything he could create for this money.

Apparently Matisse never read the Ulysse, at least not before creating the illustrations. His friend Eugene Jolas only summarized the book to him during. Despite that he created 26 illustrations based on themes of the Odyssey. The edition that united both the artistic sensibility of Matisse and Joyce's literary prowess was published in 1935. Matisse signed all the 1500 copies, and Joyce signed 250 of them.

In his illustrations Matisse chose the simplification, with his characteristic quasi childish lines made famous by some of his most popular paintings. Maybe there's a lack of colour to those who are familiarized with Matisse's works, however it was a contingency not only of time and money, but also of the medium, after all they were made exclusively to be used on books. The simple lines and the thems of the Odyssey match the technical complexity of the book and bring attention to the detailes of the homeric skeleton underlying the Ulysses without adding a unnecessary need of interpretative effort upon the reader. In the gallery below you can see 9 of the 26 illustrations of this edition:

Edition signed by Matisse and Joyce

It's still possible to buy a edition with the signatures of both of them, that is, if you have 30 thousand dollars to spend on a book. On Ebay it's also possible to find more affordable replicas, even though still above the usual prices of the average books. The good thing about books it that to know the book you don't need any fancy edition, any copy work just fine, be it digital or pocket.

Would it have been better it Matisse actually read the book? The illustrations lose their value because of this? To literature Roland Barthes claims that the book should be dissociated from the author and Anne-Marie Willis also defend some similar ideas while thinking Design. Two must-read articles that can be used as a first step to answer these questions.

First seen here.
The book can be found here and here.