Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2344
Ulysses is an inordinately complex novel, in part because it unhinges readers’ expectations of what a novel is supposed to be. Those who appreciate novels and know something of the form’s development in England in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries come to Joyce’s novels expecting certain features with which they are familiar: a recognizable narrator or combination of narrators and a clear point of view; a mostly chronological storyline; a consistent style along with standard mechanical elements such as punctuation and quotation marks; introductory and concluding parts to sections which provide framework and ease comprehension. Without even knowing it, readers may come to Joyce’s work with the assumption that the world created within the text is a single, palpable world, one that all the characters in the work inhabit and which readers can recognize and make sense of. (Indeed, in the history of the novel, authors have taken deliberate measures to make the work of fiction appear real and true, often attempting to pass the novel off as an historical record, as in for example Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year or Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, in which latter case the first edition title page gives the additional information that the work is “an autobiography edited by Currer Bell.”) While there are exceptions, of course, especially in novels that have fantastic elements, the genre typically asks readers to believe that its depiction is a cohesive presentation of the known world. But the stream-of-consciousness technique Joyce uses here suggests multiple worlds and multiple points of view, causing some readers to long for the comfortable singleness of vision a novel such as Jane Eyre presents. When such readers come to Joyce’s novel, they quickly realize they are facing a work that appears to operate without rules or with the intention of ditching customary rules without explanation, one that seems deliberately opaque, intent on daunting readers, forcing them to rely on outside research and scholarship in order to decode what appears on many pages to be a labyrinth of nonsense. This essay explores some aspects of the quandary Ulysses generates in uninitiated Joyce readers and attempts to quell some of that dissonance, also pointing out secondary works that may help readers comprehend and appreciate Ulysses.
First, the narrator. Each of the three major divisions of the novel begins with a page that is blank except for a roman numeral; on the recto of this sheet a colossal letter fills much of the page followed by a much smaller letter or couple of words. These three beginnings are in the omniscient narrative voice readers may expect in a novel. In each beginning, then, readers’ first impression may not be unsettling. They might assume that this voice narrates all text that does not begin with a dash, which Joyce uses as a substitute for an opening quotation mark to identify dialogue. Some text is, to be sure, in this narrative voice. But quite soon, for example, in the first episode, Telemachus, with the dream paragraph beginning, “Silently, in a dream she had come to him,” the narrator makes some jumps that are so poetically smooth readers might miss the elisions. The narrator describes Stephen Dedalus’s dream, describes the sea, and equates the sea with the white china bowl at his mother’s bedside. In these steps inward, into the associative pattern of Stephen’s mind, readers slide away from the objective omniscient narrator and into the inner reality of Stephen Dedalus. Two pages later, the jumps are neither poetic nor smooth; they seem disruptive. Buck Mulligan puts his arm on Stephen. The text reads: “Cranly’s arm. His arm.” Who is Cranly and does the pronoun refer to Cranly’s or to Buck’s arm? These are simple skips compared to those that follow in this long novel, but they indicate the way the narrator can vanish and references occur without explanation. Don Gifford’s “Ulysses” Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s “Ulysses” explains that Cranly is Stephen’s friend in Joyce’s previous novel, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916); the assumption is that readers of this novel have read the previous one. Moreover, the stylistic point is that stream-of-consciousness technique presents readers with the associations of the character in whose mind the connections make a certain sense; no explanation within that technique is allowed to bring readers up to speed. An added complication is that the third-person narrator is not always this voice which begins these divisions; indeed, the third-person voice is clearly different elsewhere in the novel, for example, in the sentimental style of the Nausicaa episode.
Next, the storyline. There are two basic ways of looking at the story that this novel tells: one using the classical model; one focusing on the day in Dublin. Given the title and Stuart Gilbert’s book, James Joyce’s “Ulysses”: A Study, the novel is definitely linked to the classical hero and stories about him, the Greek Odysseus, whom the Romans called Ulysses. Joyce knew the parallels to the Odyssey would be hard for readers to deduce, so he wrote a schema for the novel and gave it to Stuart Gilbert to elucidate. Gilbert’s book is itself a sophisticated academic writing, but it received Joyce’s approval and thus presents what the author wanted to have said about the novel’s organization. Though the eighteen sections of the novel are untitled, the corresponding titles taken from the Odyssey are assigned to them in the schema. Much scholarship examines the Homeric parallels to these episodes, drawing from Joyce’s own guideline. The second story is more explicit and accessible: it is the hour-by-hour story of Leopold Bloom’s day trip around Dublin on June 16, 1904. It is mainly his story of being away from home, but his story includes the partial stories of other Dubliners who are going about their lives on this day and whose paths crisscross through the hours of daylight and night that follow. An excellent source for visualizing this day’s journey is provided in Frank Delaney’s James Joyce’s Odyssey: A Guide to the Dublin of “Ulysses,” which includes historical and contemporary photographs (from the 1900s and the 1980s) of the city along with city maps that explain the route and the spots of local interest where these Joycean Dubliners pause to engage with one another. In his introduction, Delaney remarks that Ulysses is for “many, a literary obstacle course.” A poetic and colorful writer in his own right, Delaney laments that the novel is “lodged outside the reach of the people about whom it was written.” This is true, and yet Delaney is able to deliver Joyce’s novel into those people’s hands, bringing the Dublin day into focus by introducing readers to the city as it was in 1904 and as it was in the 1980s when Delaney made his photographic tour.
Regarding style, it would take a long and erudite book to identify and explain all the styles Joyce uses in this novel. He makes the style match the subject in many places, as in the Aeolus episode in which Bloom visits the newspaper office and the novel’s text is divided by newspaper headings. Elsewhere, Joyce parodies types of styles, as in the women’s magazine style of the Nausicaa episode or the far more complex styles mimicking the development of the English language, which he attempts in the Oxen of the Sun episode. The virtuosity and breadth of these styles, the diversity and richness of the figures, puns, jokes, the complicated network of motifs (for example, the play on the word, throwaway, which refers to a horse running in the Gold Cup and a one-page advertisement handed out to pedestrians), all of this requires multiple readings, along with supportive scholarship, to begin to appreciate.
A couple of examples of this virtuosity may serve here. Delaney shows an almost Joycean zest in his appreciation of the puns that appear in the lunchtime Lestrygonians episode, in which Leopold Bloom enters a deli in search of his midday meal. Here is the interior monologue of Bloom as he eyes the display of food: “Sardines on the shelves. Almost taste them by looking. Sandwich? Ham and his descendants mustered and bred there.” Delaney exclaims: “Bloom the Jew. Ham. Mustard. Bread. Grrr! Joyce!” For another example, the episode equated with the Homeric Sirens shows how Joyce uses his considerable knowledge of music (he had a trained tenor voice) when he writes about the sounds in the Ormond Hotel. Bloom enters the hotel intent on observing Blazes Boylan who has planned a 4 p.m. assignation with Bloom’s wife, Molly. The jingle of Boylan’s car after he leaves the hotel, the in-coming tapping of the blind piano tuner returning for his tuning fork, the drunken songs from the bar, the associations that certain songs elicit, and all the street sounds that penetrate this busy meeting place are conveyed in a symphony of language. Here is a description of the two barmaids’ hair and what they hear as they lean out the hotel window to observe the viceregal cavalcade as it passes: “bronze from anear, by gold from afar, heard steel from anear, hoofs ring from afar, and heard steelhoofs ringhoof ringsteel.” A sound poem, perhaps, but a passage like this may leave some readers feeling lost. Here is a description of one barmaid serving and Simon Dedalus lighting his pipe:
With grace of alacrity . . . she turned herself. With grace she tapped a measure of gold whisky from her crystal keg. Forth from the skirt of his coat Mr. Dedalus brought pouch and pipe. Alacrity she served. He blew through the flue two husky fifenotes.
There may not be actual music described here, but there are many musical words: tapped, measure, pipe, fifenotes. To see what is happening in this scene is one thing; to appreciate the layers of stylistic choices is another.
The world that makes a single sense in this novel is the world within each consciousness. As Richard Ellmann explains in his insightful and highly readable Ulysses on the Liffey, the novel presents “a new odyssey in which most of the adventures occur inside the mind.” The interiority of the text can come as a surprise and a hurdle to new Joyce readers, but if they know something of the character beforehand then tracking the idiosyncratic, associative patterns of his or her thoughts can convey the world as that character experiences it. For example, when Boylan walks out of the Ormond Hotel, Bloom, hunching over his dinner, sobs. He experiences the other man’s departure as the outward sign of his wife’s imminent betrayal; others in the hotel and Boylan himself cannot experience the moment this way. As Joyce shifts the focus inward in this and his other novels, Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and the subsequent highly experimental and even more challenging Finnegans Wake (1939), he dramatizes the post-Freudian idea that dominated the modern period, the early decades of the twentieth century. The interior reality of the Joycean text, this stream of thoughts in the consciousness of separate people, asserts the sense that individuals experience, indeed even inhabit, separate worlds. These worlds are defined by the layered and much unconscious nexus of individuals’ past experiences, their beliefs, their education, their current situation. The way the character thinks about experience becomes in the stream-of-consciousness novel the plot that is articulated. This interior journey supersedes or blots out an objective reality as fully as Bloom’s lifted little finger blots out the sun. Nowhere is this interiority more obvious than in the hallucinatory journey into Nighttown, the Circe episode. Alcohol-induced, fatigue-induced, these surreal fantasies or dreams are the experiences of Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus. It is as though the guilty conscience (what Stephen calls, using Middle English, the “Agenbite of inwit”) designs the character’s delirium, the most repressed fears or regret surfacing to excoriate the person who harbors them.
In the last analysis, or perhaps more so in the first analysis, readers need to hold on to some notion of why Joyce wrote the novel as he did, some notion of his purpose. In his excellent Preface to Ulysses on the Liffey, Ellmann states that Joyce’s method was comic:
He liked comedy both in its larger sense of negotiating the reconciliation of forces, and in its more immediate sense of provoking laughter. Sympathy and incongruity were his gregarious substitutes for pity and terror. . . . The comic method might take varied forms, malapropism or epigram, rolypoly farce or distant satire, parody or mock-heroics. But all its means must coalesce in a view which . . . Joyce was willing to call his faith.
Ulysses is grounded in autobiographical details, many of which Delaney identifies, but it is more than autobiography in every sense. Ellmann cites a September 1920 letter Joyce wrote to Carlo Linatti, in which the author states his intention in writing Ulysses and its schema:
My intention is not only to render the myth . . . but also to allow each adventure (that is, every hour, every organ, every art being interconnected and interrelated in the structural scheme of the whole) to condition and even to create its own technique.
So in terms of authorial intention, it seems there were two emphases, among many: first, to use comedy to recreate Dublin on a particular day and in that setting to recreate ordinary Dubliners living their ordinary lives; second, to use myth as a vehicle and an impulse in choosing the diverse styles of that comedy. Joyce heralds a new period in the development of the novel, one that directs readers to consider how subjective consciousness creates each individual’s perception of the world and one that invites readers to expand their awareness of literary history in order to see each work of literature in its greater historical and linguistic context, part of a continuum of culture and artistic expression.
Source: Melodie Monahan , Critical Essay on Ulysses, in Novels for Students, Thomson Gale, 2008.
Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4198
James Joyce left Dublin for good in October 1904 at the age of twenty-two. Dublin, Of course, never left him: ‘‘all my books are about Dublin,’’ he liked to say. And the Joyce household’s frequent address changes and Joyce’s own flaneur habits meant that he knew his Dublin well. In Ulysses he wanted ‘‘to give a picture of Dublin so complete that if the city one day suddenly disappeared from the earth it could be reconstructed from my book’’ (as cited in Delany 10; see also Bulson). But how much of the topographical and other detail in Ulysses did he carry with him in his head? How much of it relied on letters from home and on the two brief return trips that he made in 1909 and 1912? Such questions are grist to the mill of Joyce scholarship. The same questions have been asked about Leopold Bloom. Critics still debate Bloom’s compositional makeup. To some extent, he represented Joyce himself. He was also fashioned in part from Joyce’s encounters in Dublin. Joyce’s biographer Richard Ellmann has shown that Bloom was the same height and weight as one of Joyce’s college friends and that he made a living as a billboard advertiser, like another acquaintance (Ellmann, James Joyce 374–75); and Bloom was not an uncommon Jewish name in Ireland.
In their search for Leopold’s real-life alter ego, both Ellmann and Louis Hyman, author of The Jews of Ireland, canvassed the possible links between Leopold and practically every Jewish family named Bloom in Ireland. Ellmann, prompted by a throwaway remark by Dublin academic A. J. Leventhal on their first meeting in 1952, was fixated for a time on a case involving an Irish Bloom who was party to a suicide pact, while Louis Hyman peppered one of his main informants about fin de siecle Jewish Dublin, Jessie Bloom, with queries by mail about Pesach Bloom (her husband), Solomon Bloom, ‘‘one of the Lombard Street Blooms who married a daughter of Levy of Cork,’’ ‘‘the Simon Bloom who was involved in the Wexford murder of 1910,’’ Basseh Bloom, ‘‘probably a sister of Simon or some near relative,’’ ‘‘anA. Bloom who was murdered in his saloon in Chicago in 1899,’’ and the ‘‘Jacob Bloom [who] had a daughter named Bertha Jenny who was born in Sligo in 1900.’’ Ellmann and Hyman both made far too much of even the most tenuous connections between Joyce’s Bloom and real-life Dublin namesakes. The Simon Bloom murder had taken place in a photographer’s shop in Wexford in 1910; for Ellmann, this ‘‘presumably’’ is how Milly, Leopold Bloom’s daughter, came to work in a similar establishment in Mullingar. Louis Hyman even speculated whether Leopold was modeled in part on Benny Bloom, listed in the 1901 census as a traveler and still selling holy pictures in Dublin in the 1960s. However, since Benny joined the army at the age of twenty in 1901 and did not return to Dublin until 1916, he seemed an unlikely candidate. All these searches for Leopold Bloom’s Dublin cousins turned out to be wild goose chases (Ellmann, James Joyce 375; Hyman 173–74).
Joyce lived mostly in the Hapsburg port city of Trieste while writing Ulysses. So was Leopold a Dublinized Middle European Jew? Joyce scholars (e.g. McCourt; Hartshorn) also have their answers to this question. Italian writer Italo Svevo, Jewish by birth though a convert to Roman Catholicism, once pleaded with Joyce’s brother: ‘‘Tell me some secrets about Irishmen. You know your brother has been asking me so many questions about Jews that I want to get even with him’’ (Ellmann, James Joyce 374).
Of course, critics also debate Bloom’s Jewishness. On the one hand, it is claimed that he did not qualify by strictly confessional criteria (compare Steinberg; Levitt, ‘‘Family of Bloom’’). His mother, Ellen Higgins, was a gentile; his father converted in order to marry her; their son Leopold was neither circumcised nor bar mitzvahed; he married out, going through the motions of conversion to Catholicism in the process; he flouted the Jewish dietary laws, and proclaimed himself an atheist. On the other hand, in support of the Jewish Bloom there is the possibility that his maternal grandmother was a Hungarian Jew. But surely what matters most is that Bloom was perceived as (or even mistaken for) Jewish by others: in Cyclops he is dubbed ‘‘a new apostle to the gentiles’’ and the ‘‘new Messiah for Ireland’’ by the anti-Semitic ‘‘Citizen.’’ The deity that he rejected was Jewish, and he always wore his Jewishness on his sleeve. For Joyce too, surely Bloom was an Irish Jew.
In part, the ongoing controversy about Bloom’s Jewishness springs from rival definitions of Jewishness. But it overlooks a key issue: what was it to be an Irish Jew a century ago? In 1866, the year of Leopold Bloom’s birth, Dublin contained no more than a few hundred Jews. The community, scattered thinly throughout middle-class Dublin, was in decline; it recorded only nine births in that year. Its status as a religious community was precarious: an English Jew who often made business trips to the city in the early 1870s was more than once summoned from his hotel on the Sabbath to make up the necessary minyan of ten adult males. The reason for the small size of the Jewish community was not (as the bigoted Garrett Deasy proclaimed in Ulysses) that Ireland had ‘‘never let them in’’ (Joyce 30:437– 42); it was Irish economic backwardness. Ireland had long been a place of emigration, not immigration. Within a few years, however, the earliest representatives of an inflow that would define Irish Jewry for a century settled in Dublin. Thanks to these immigrants from a cluster of small towns and villages in northwestern Lithuania, Dublin’s Jewish population exceeded two thousand by 1900, and it was nearly three thousand by 1914.
The half-dozen or so families that arrived in the 1870s settled first in run-down tenement housing. Some lived in Chancery Lane, not far from St. Patrick’s Cathedral, ‘‘in a little square wherein stood the police station, joining the other foreigners— Italian organ-grinders, bear leaders, one-man-band operators, and makers of small, cheap plaster casts of saints of the Catholic church.’’ Others lived north of the River Liffey on Jervis and Moore Streets, perhaps in order to be nearer Dublin’s only synagogue at St. Mary’s Abbey. Conditions were tough: Molly Harmel Sayers, a delicate child born in a Mercer Street tenement in 1878, ‘‘survived only because of the tender care bestowed on her by a drunken applewoman.’’
These plucky newcomers did not remain in the tenements for long. The first movers to the complex of small streets off Lower Clanbrassil Street and the South Circular Road on the southern edge of the city proper, where most of the community would settle, can be inferred from Thom’s Directory (a source much favored by Joyce while writing Ulysses) and other sources. Harris Lipman and Jacob Davis were living in Oakfield Place by 1880, and Michael Harmel was living in Lombard Street West; Meyer Schindler was a tenant in nearby St. Kevin’s Parade a year later. There they found purpose-built family housing, mostly rented out in three- or four-room terraced units. Others quickly followed, and by century’s end the Lithuanian-Jewish presence stretched south across the South Circular Road as far as the Grand Canal. Robert Bradlaw, ‘‘prince’’ of the immigrant community, formed its first chevra (or prayer house) in 1883, at number 7 St. Kevin’s Parade.
The area became Dublin’s ‘‘Little Jerusalem.’’ Few streets would ever become completely Jewish, or remain so for long. This was not the East End or the Lower East Side. Nonetheless, the area would boast a significant and unbroken Jewish presence for several decades. There is evidence of some confessional clustering within streets: the analysis of settlement patterns suggests that Jewish householders preferred to live next to Jewish neighbors.
Most of the newcomers, like the unfortunate Moses Herzog in the Cyclops episode of Ulysses, made their living as peddlers or credit drapers. This involved selling dry goods on credit to the poor, who were supposed to repay in weekly installments. Naturally, the peddlers became known as ‘‘weekl ymen.’’There were skilled craftsmen among the Lithuanian (or Litvak) immigrants too—cabinet- makers, shoemakers, tailors, cap-makers— some of whom worked for Jewish employers. But most of the immigrants lived up to the Yiddish dictum that ‘‘arbeiter far yennem was for a goy, nicht far a Yid.’’ A few quickly graduated to petty moneylending: the most prominent machers among the first generation of Litvaks were nearly all moneylenders.
The Litvaks arrived with mind-sets formed in the small shtetls of Lithuania. In considering Leopold Bloom’s Jewish milieu, this is very important. One hallmark of the Litvak community in the early years was quasi-endemic bickering about ritual and doctrine between factions within the community, and also between the immigrants and the ‘‘English’’ Jews in Ireland before them. In Cork the feuding between the Clein and Jackson factions lasted for years, to the bemusement of the local goyim. Blows and insults were often traded. In the wake of one reconciliation, Cork’s rabbi was congratulated on the shalom in the community by the Chief Rabbi, but Cork’s request for a new sefer torah was rejected, because the warring parties had beaten each other about the head with the previous one. In Limerick in early 1889 the police were notified when ‘‘the Chazan was knocked down, and the book used for the service was carried off.’’ That dispute lasted for several years; in 1901 a row about the ethics of money-lending resulted in another bitter split in the community. In Belfast in November 1912 the defeat of the ‘‘English’’ Mitanglim in an election for the vice-president of the new synagogue (which had been under ‘‘English’’ control from the outset) prompted enthusiastic celebrations by the Litvak Haredim. These tensions were a central feature of Jewish life in Ireland life a century ago, yet, on the evidence of Ulysses, Joyce and Bloom were impervious to them.
Both contemporary reports and autobiographical memoirs testify to the Litvaks’ intense religious orthodoxy (compare Bloom; Harris; Price). Consider the tragic deaths of Joseph and Rebecca Reuben, whose bodies were found hanging in their house on Walworth Road on a Saturday night in late March 1894. The Reubens were comfortably off, Joseph being a well-stocked wholesale draper. A near relative could offer no explanation for what the Dublin Evening Mail dubbed ‘‘the Jewish suicides’’ However, earlier that day two of Joseph’s clients, whom he had accused of theft, had appeared before a civil court. According to the Freeman’s Journal’s reporter, it was believed that remorse for having brought two co-religionists to court on the Sabbath led to the Reubens’ deaths.
According to the late Esther Hesselberg (nee Birkahn), who grew up in Cork’s ‘‘Jewtown’’ in the 1890s, so observant were Cork Jews that in the early days ‘‘nobody carried a handkerchief on the Sabbath.’’ The shul provided spittoons for the ‘‘bronchitic baila batim’’ and Esther’s brother related how ‘‘those kosher hillybillys were ‘dead eye dicks’ and never missed their target.’’ In Dublin as in Cork, observant Jews refused to even handle money on the Sabbath, and the shabbas goyimwho lit and stoked their fires and boiled their water were left their penny or two on the table or else collected it on a Sunday.
The newcomers from the east, some of them almost penniless on arrival, were not made welcome by their co-religionists already in Dublin. This was a common pattern wherever East European Jews settled. Indeed, representatives of the mainly middle-class ‘‘English’’ community offered the glazier Jacob Davis, one of the first men (if not the first) to arrive from Lithuania, the considerable sum of $40 (enough then to employ an unskilled worker for a year or more, or about $8,000 in today’s money) to betake himself and his panes of glass elsewhere. Long after the establishment of a grand ‘‘English’’ synagogue on Adelaide Road on the south side of the city in 1892, a majority of the Litvak faithful clung to their own rabbis and places of worship. In late 1889, as members of the Dublin ‘‘English’’ community rehearsed their annual show for the Montefiore Musical and Dramatic Club, a group of young Litvaks were establishing reading and lecture rooms in Curzon Street. The latter belonged to ‘‘the poorest class,’’ ‘‘extremely anxious to raise their educational status,’’ and welcoming gifts of books in English, German, and Hebrew. For a time in the 1900s the Adelaide Road shul suffered the indignity of having to pay a few poor Litvaks to attend in case they were needed to make up a minyan. The most successful of the Litvak men married into the ‘‘English’’ community, but that meant forsaking Little Jerusalem; ‘‘they all lived on this side of the system [ . . . ] and didn’t have much to do with the foreigners on the other side.’’
The immigrants probably did not think much of the native gentiles at first either. Their attitudes towards non-Jews back in der heim were unflattering, to say the least. According to the Encyclopedia Judaica entry on Lithuanian Jewry:
Lithuania was a poor country, and the mass of its inhabitants, consisting of Lithuanian and Belorussian peasants, formed a low social stratum whose national culture was undeveloped. The Jews, who had contacts with them as contractors, merchants, shopkeepers, innkeepers, craftsmen, etc. regarded themselves as their superior in every respect.
It surely stands to reason that the immigrants brought some of their superiority complexes with them to Ireland and that this conditioned their initial interaction with the host community. There are scattered hints that such was the case. Writer Leslie Daiken, who grew up in Little Jerusalem, recalled an earthy and unpleasant piece of Yiddish doggerel doing the rounds during his childhood, d presumably e r der heim: ‘‘Yashka Pandre ligt in drerd, Kush mein tokkes vee a ganze ferd (Jesus Christ lies in s——; kiss my arse the size of a horse)’’ (Daiken 19). Yaski (or Yoshke) Pandre was a rude and offensive way of describing Catholics. An unpublished family memoir refers to drunken Galway neighbors in the 1880s as ‘‘horrible—all Yoshke Pandres.’’ Much in the same vein is the currency in early twentiethcentury Dublin of ‘‘laptzies’’ or ‘‘laptseh,’’ a disparaging Yiddish term for gullible gentile clients (Schlimeel). The terms goy and shikse were also in widespread use; in those Jewish households that could afford an (invariably Catholic) domestic servant, she was called the shikse. Jessie Spiro Bloom’s mother banned the use of the word in their home by the Grand Canal, but her parents were atypical. Her father shunned the ‘‘weekly payment’’ business because, according to Jessie, ‘‘the idea of taking a shilling a week from poor Irish people who were hardly able to repay it repelled him’’ (Bloom 23).
The immigrant community in the 1880s and 1890s was clannish and resilient and steeped in what economists and sociologists dub ‘‘social capital.’’ It was wonderful at caring for its own, quickly establishing a vibrant and exclusive network of clubs and support groups. It was made up of immensely gregarious people, who had fun together. A police report dating the early noted: ‘‘They only associate with themselves [ . . . ] always trading when possible with one another.’’ Chaim Herzog, future president of Israel and resident of Little Jerusalem (where he was known to his friends as Hymie) between 1917 and 1935, concurred. ‘‘Physically and psychologically, he remembered, ‘‘the Jewish community was closed in on itself. [ . . . ] Very few Jews mingled socially with non-Jews’’ (Herzog 9).
Ongoing day-to-day contact between native and newcomer in Little Jerusalem and its satellites in Belfast and Cork would erode such attitudes in due course. Initial suspicions, rudeness, and hostility on both sides gave way to mutual respect and, on occasion, close friendships and intimacy. Children helped to break the ice. Leslie Daiken’s mother advised him not to have ‘‘anything to do with that rough crowd from the back streets,’’ but he ignored her, and ‘‘could not find anything bad about them’’ (Yodaiken 30).
For most of their existence these Irish Little Jerusalems were successful experiments in multiculturalism. They are warmly remembered as such by both present and former residents of all faiths. Yet, almost certainly, negative stereotypes were still powerfully present on both sides up to 1904, when James Joyce left Dublin. Even in the 1920s it took a long time for ‘‘a [Jewish] trader from Hungary with his big red beard and a lot of children’’ to be accepted by the Litvaks.
The story of Leopold Bloom fits uncomfortably into the setting described here. The first false note concerns Bloom’s putative birth in May 1866 at 52 Upper Clanbrassil Street. A Dublin Tourism plaque marks the spot today. Upper Clanbrassil Street links Little Jerusalem proper to Harold’s Cross on the other side of the Grand Canal: presumably Joyce chose it with Little Jerusalem in mind. Yet, as we have seen, there was no Little Jerusalem in 1866. And although Peisa Harmel, at one time the wealthiest man in the Litvak community, lived on Upper Clanbrassil Street for a while in the 1880s and 1890s, the street never really formed part of Little Jerusalem. On Lower Clanbrassil Street, to the north of Leonard’s Corner, it was a different story. That was ‘‘the kosher street where we go to do our shopping [with] foodstuffs that you cannot buy in O’Connor’s, Burke’s or Purcell’s’’ (Yodaiken 29). But neither Joyce nor his interpreters made the distinction between the two Clanbrassil Streets. Joyce’s quest for verisimilitude, his ear for the varieties of Dublin English, and his eye for Dublin foibles and characters, make Ulysses a rich source for the historian of Ireland and its capital city. The same cannot be said for his account of Irish Jewry. At a time when it was almost unimaginable for an Irish Jew to ‘‘marry out,’’ Leopold Bloom, the son of a Hungarian-Jewish father and an Irish Protestant mother, married a Catholic. What stretches credibility even more is that Bloom could have blended into the immigrant Litvak community described above. Joyce paints a vivid and credible picture of the petty racist jibes inflicted on Bloom by the ‘‘Citizen’’ and others. But had Bloom stepped from the written page into the real-life Little Jerusalem of Joyce’s day, his mixed parentage and his marrying out would almost certainly have ensured him a rather cold welcome from that quarter also. Much has been made of Joyce’s references to several real-life inhabitants of the Jewish quarter. Louis Hyman identified Moses Herzog, featured in the Cyclops chapter (Joyce 240:31–34), as the peddler who lived at number 13 St. Kevin’s Parade between 1894 and 1906. ‘‘Poor Citron,’’ with whom Bloom spent ‘‘pleasant evenings,’’ was Israel Citron, another peddler, who lived at number 17 between 1904 and 1908. ‘‘Mastiansky [recte Masliansky] with the old cither’’ in the same passage in Calypso was Citron’s nextdoor neighbor. But it is well known that Joyce lifted these and most of the Jewish names used in Ulysses from his copy of Thom’s Directory, perpetuating some of the transcription errors in the directory in the process (Hyman 168, 185).
Citron and ‘‘Mastiansky,’’ both natives of Lithuania, are supposed to have been Leopold Bloom’s friends. But would their English have been fluent enough for nocturnal conversations with Bloom on topics such as ‘‘music, literature, Ireland, [ . . . ] prostitution, diet, the influence of gaslight or the light of arc and glowlamps on the growth of adjoining paraheliotropic trees, exposed corporation emergency dust-buckets’’ (Joyce 544:11–18)? Bloom’s background and upbringing would almost certainly have precluded him from understanding Yiddish, the dominant language in the homes where he spent so many ‘‘pleasant times.’’ Rudolph Bloom had attempted to pass on a little Hebrew and some knowledge of the Jewish scriptures to his son, but he was no Yiddish speaker. It is difficult to imagine the immigrants in the 1880s or 1890s switching to English, even if they could, for an outsider like Leopold Bloom.
And whatever about Leopold Bloom himself, it is simply inconceivable that Molly Bloom, that sensuous and earthy shikse, would have been offered the basket-chair normally reserved for Israel Citron when she and Bloom visited the Citron home in St. Kevin’s Parade (Joyce 49:205–07). Nor by the same token is it easy to imagine the ‘‘funny sight’’ in the ‘‘Lestrygonians’’ episode of the pregnant ‘‘Molly and Mrs. Moisel [ . . . ] two of them together, their bellies out’’ on their way to a mothers’ meeting (Joyce 132:391– 92;Hyman 190).Most likely the pious residents of St. Kevin’s Parade or Greenville Terrace would have shunned Leopold and Molly; Leopold for doing the unthinkable and marrying out (insofar as they would have regarded him as Jewish in the first place), and Molly for being the trollop who seduced him. So—to refer to the ‘‘Circe’’ episode of Ulysses—Harris Rosenberg, Moses Herzog, Joseph Goldwater, and others of the ‘‘circumcised’’ would have been far from ‘‘wail[ing] [ . . . ] with swaying arms [ . . . ] in pneuma over the recreant Bloom’’ (Joyce 444:3,219–25). Nor—given the social distance between the two groups—is it likely that an ‘‘English’’ Jew like Bloom would have been happy to work as a mere canvasser for one of the Litvak ‘‘weekly men.’’
The Litvaks differed from Leopold Bloom in yet another respect: while Bloom, like the Joyce family, were Parnellites in politics, in the early 1900s the Litvaks were still emphatically loyalist. Only a few years earlier they had celebrated Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897 with gusto, and during the Boer War they sided with the British, while the Catholic Irish tended to be pro-Boer. In the alleyways of Little Jerusalem, Jewish lads had fought ‘‘battles of sticks and stones with the Catholic boys, we representing the British and they the Boers [ . . . ].’’When Joseph Edelstein, Jacob Elyan,Arthur Newman, and a few others established the short-lived Judaeo-Irish Home Rule Association in September 1908, they faced considerable opposition within their own community, and their first public meeting in Dublin’s Mansion House ended ‘‘with several interruptions and a free fight.’’
Despite the huge literature on the Jewish content of Ulysses, and Joyce’s reputation for being fastidious—indeed obsessive—about context and geography while writing it, it is hard not to conclude that his portrait of Leopold Bloom owed much more to information garnered during his time in Trieste (1904–1919) than to first-hand contacts with Irish Jews before leaving Dublin at the age of twenty-two. The very different character of Trieste Jewry—more urbane, more middle- class, more integrated, more western than their Dublin brethren—would have suited both Joyce and Bloom well. Though some Ostjuden had reached Trieste in the 1880s and 1890s, in 1910 nearly three-fifths of its Jews spoke either Italian or German as a first language. Bloom’s agnosticism would have been more acceptable in a city where one Jew in five had renounced his or her faith, and where a significant proportion of marriages involving Jews were mixed.
Richard Ellmann began to work on his classic biography of Joyce in 1952, and he showed an interest in likely connections Joyce might have had with Irish Jewry from the start. In his quest for the Jewish in Joyce, he was sometimes reluctant to give up the hares he raised. Long after Louis Hyman had proven to him that the ‘‘dark complexioned Dublin Jew named Hunter,’’ who rescued Joyce from a fracas outside a brothel in early 1904, was not Jewish at all, Ellmann continued to refer to him as ‘‘putative Jewish’’ (Ellmann, James Joyce 162, 230; Delany 53–54). And the Sinclair twins, William and Harry, whom Joyce met through the writer Padraic Colum, were thoroughly assimilated and only nominally Jewish (Hyman 148–49; Ellmann, James Joyce 579). Culturally and economically, Hunter and the Sinclairs were far removed from the exshtetl Litvaks represented by Moses Herzog, Israel Citron, et al.
Other aspects of Ulysses reinforce the suspicion that Joyce knew less of Jewish Dublin before he left in 1904 than his many interpreters suppose. The boycott against Jewish traders in Limerick earlier in that year would surely have been still fresh in Jewish minds on June 16, yet there is no explicit reference to it in the text. Indeed, for all the detailed references to Jewish custom and Jewish Dublin, there is no hard evidence that Joyce knew anybody in the Litvak community well. In his scrupulous identification of the real-life Jews named by Joyce, Louis Hyman, who did more than anyone to clarify what he called the ‘‘Jewish backgrounds of Ulysses,’’ admitted as much. He evidently did so with reluctance. In the end, Ellmann too implicitly conceded that he had exaggerated the influence Dublin Jewry had on Joyce’s creative imagination. Three decades after his first musings about Joyce’s interests in Jews and Judaism, Ellmann declared that there was ‘‘not much in it’’ (Ellmann, as cited in Reizbaum, ‘‘Sennschrift’’ 1). It is surely telling that for all Joyce’s empathy with the tribulations of Irish and world Jewry, there was no one in the Dublin Litvak community to whom he could address queries from Trieste. None of this, of course, takes away from the genius of James Joyce or Ulysses.
Source: Cormac O Grada, ‘‘Lost in Little Jerusalem: Leopold Bloom and Irish Jewry,’’ in Journal of Modern Literature, Vol. 27, No. 4, Summer 2004, pp. 17–26.