The reading - five hours, starting at noon - is a regular feature of Bloomsday, the Rosenbach's annual celebration on its way to becoming a tradition. Bloomsday, June 16, is the day when Joyce's fictional Leopold Bloom wandered around Dublin in Ulysses, which many critics consider the greatest novel written in the English language in the 20th century.
Not all critics, by any means.
One, a fellow Irishman named George Bernard Shaw, called Ulysses "a revolting record of a disgusting phase of civilization," although he added, ''but it is a truthful one."
Another fellow Irishman, the critic George Moore, made the acerbic observation: "Probably Joyce thinks that because he prints all the dirty little words he is a great novelist." Moore certainly didn't think so. ''Ulysses," he declared, "is hopeless."
And if a lot of Joyce's Irish contemporaries didn't love him at all, considering his works obscene and his person obnoxious, Joyce himself was not all that enamored of his birthplace. He referred to Ireland as his wife, Nora's, "native dunghill," and, from 1912 until his death in 1941, he lived elsewhere - in Trieste, Zurich and Paris.
Joyce never came to Philadelphia, but Joyce's manuscript of Ulysses did. A.S.W. Rosenbach, the famed book dealer, paid $1,975 for it in 1924 and brought it to the 19th-century townhouse in Center City which is now the Rosenbach Museum and Library. Among other items of Joyceana in the eclectic collection are the printer's copy of the first edition of Ulysses, a letter in Joyce's almost indecipherable hand, a Man Ray photograph of Joyce, and Joyce's death mask.
Ulysses, according to Rosenbach director Stephen Urice, is the only work of art celebrated internationally with a holiday. The Rosenbach, where the manuscript resides, has "a special mandate to bring that work to the public," he declared.
"I think we are fulfilling our role as an educational institution in a new way and clearly in a way that's bringing us new audiences."
Bloomsday in Philadelphia this year will actually be a two-day celebration.
It will begin at noon tomorrow with the readings - free, of course - from the steps of the Rosenbach, 2010 Delancey Place, scheduled to last until 5 p.m.
A cocktail party will be held from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. at the Arthur Ross Gallery in the University of Pennsylvania's Furness Library, 200 S. 36th St., followed by dinner at the Faculty Club. Cocktails and dinner are $125 and reservations may made until tomorrow at noon by calling 215-732-1600.
Joseph Strick, the Philadelphia native who directed the 1968 film Ulysses; Milo O'Shea, the Irish actor who played Leopold Bloom in the film; and National Public Radio's Ray Suarez will join in an "illustrated conversation" on Ulysses, on Joyce and on whatever else comes to mind, starting at 8 p.m. at the Annenberg Center's Zellerbach Theatre, 3680 Walnut St. Afterward, there will be a reception in the Annenberg Center lobby. Tickets are $10 (senior citizens and students, $7) and may be purchased at the door or by calling 215-898-6791.
On Saturday, a festival of films based on Joyce's works will be held in the Van Pelt Auditorium of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The festival will begin at 10:30 a.m. with Strick's Ulysses and continue at 1:30 p.m. with pioneer woman filmmaker Mary Ellen Bute's Finnegans Wake - the Rosenbach borrowed a rare copy of the 1967 film from Cecile Starr, film writer and lecturer. After Finnegans Wake, Joyce scholar Derek Attridge, chairman of graduate studies of the Rutgers University English Department, and Craig Saper, University of Pennsylvania film professor, will lead a panel discussion of the film, starting at 3.
John Huston's The Dead (1987) will be shown at 4:30 p.m., followed by Roberto Rossellini's Voyage to Italy (1953) at 6:30. Joyce scholars Vickey Mahaffey and Nicholas Miller, both of the University of Pennsylvania, will lead an hour's panel discussion of Voyage to Italy at 8.
Film festival tickets will be available at the museum's west door - $5 for one film, $10 for the series.
An exhibit, Visual Joys - a pun Joyce himself no doubt would have approved - is on display at the Rosenbach through July 30. Curated by Marian Eide, it features works by Philadelphia native William Anastasi and Robert Motherwell and portraits of Joyce by Louis de Brocquy, Susan Weil and Tom Chimes. Admission: $2.50 (students and senior citizens, $2.50). Information: 215-732-1600