In Ulysses, does Joyce cater to John Barth's idea of "an inclination to subjective distortion to point up the evanescence of the social world of the nineteenth-century bourgeoise"?

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To understand if Joyce did or did not point toward the evanescence of the social world of the nineteenth-century bourgeoise, it is important to understand what that (Victorian) world looked like. It is the Victorian era where we see family values and morality coming strongly into play. We also see a strong focus on Enlightenment values from the past century of education, culture, and rationality, as well as some of the first major breakthroughs in globalization with the advent of steam power. There is, in many ways, a sense of hope and a belief that the world, as well as the self, is stable and knowable during the nineteenth century. Also developing is a strong sense of national pride, especially for those as well off as the bourgeoise.

Joyce undermines almost all of these values at some point in Ulysses. Underlying much of the Leopold Bloom narrative, for instance, is the fact that he is ramping up to an affair which readers experience through letters between Leo and his potential mistress. Leo is also convinced that his wife is having an affair with Blazes Boylan. While suggesting the idea of adultery would have made nineteenth-century readers uncomfortable, we also see allusions to graphic sexual acts throughout Ulysses (cunnilingus and anal sex). All of these fly in the face of traditional Victorian values of the nineteenth century, and even in the twentieth century, Joyce struggled to get past censors for this reason.

While this points to an evanescence of Victorian-style family values, there are other instances in Ulysses which seem to make fun of the 19th century. For instance, Steven Dedalus, who in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man sees no value in religion, nationality, or language, seems to dislike his position as an educator. Despite the fact that he is an educated individual himself, Dedalus seems to feel that he cannot teach his students. Ultimately, he devalues the education that his own students are receiving. An undevoted teacher figure would have also made nineteenth-century readers uncomfortable, especially Victorian thinkers like Matthew Arnold or John Newman, who would claim that education is our salvation.

Even the structure of Ulysses makes a mockery of the more traditional Victorian novel, delving deeply into the wandering minds of the characters of Steven, Leo, and Molly. This approach pokes fun at the didactic and rational literary approaches of the previous century. In short, by using a radical subjectivity to distort conventional writing approaches, Joyce does suggest that the values of the nineteenth-century bourgeoise were not all that they were thought to be.

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