Ulysse, James Joyce, Mr. Deasy, anti-semitism

Never Let Them In

—They sinned against the light, Mr Deasy said gravely. And you can see the darkness in their eyes. And that is why they are wanderers on the earth to this day.

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here

We’ve already discussed Mr. Deasy’s retrograde and inaccurate views on the trustworthiness of women and his misinformed defense of the anti-Catholic Orange Order, so today we’ll complete the Mr. Deasy bigotry hattrick by taking a look at his anti-semitism. His disgust for the Jews stands out not only because it is his most impassioned prejudicial proclamation, but also because it’s the only one openly refuted by Stephen Dedalus. It also sets the stage for the arrival of Mr. Leopold Bloom in the episode after next.

Mr. Deasy doesn’t waste words on subtleties; his hatred of the Jews is on display in this passage. Naturally, the anglophilic headmaster focuses on the corruption of England rather than Ireland :

—Mark my words, Mr Dedalus, he said. England is in the hands of the jews. In all the highest places: her finance, her press. And they are the signs of a nation’s decay. Wherever they gather they eat up the nation’s vital strength. I have seen it coming these years. As sure as we are standing here the jew merchants are already at their work of destruction. Old England is dying.

James Joyce Ulysses women Mr Deasy Nestor
Mr Deasy suspects a woman of misdeeds.

This declamation against the Jews of England comes on the heels of a discussion of the importance of stanching an outbreak of foot and mouth disease. In my view, it comes out of left field but reveals the amount of influence that Mr Deasy thinks the Jews hold in that country. Because, he thinks, they control the press, they are muting discussion of cures for the disease. He follows up this commentary by borrowing a line from the William Blake poem Auguries of Innocence to really sell the idea of Jewish immorality to the young Artist:

The harlot’s cry from street to street

Shall weave old England’s winding sheet.

A “winding sheet” is a cloth wrapped around a body waiting to be buried. Blake speaks of the all varieties of corruptions that had beset England in his day, but the couplet about “harlots” (prostitutes) leaps to Deasy’s mind, showing he sees harlots and “conniving Jews” on par with one another when it comes to moral corruption. It’s no surprise that Mr. Deasy soon expounds upon the ways supposed harlots have harmed gallant men.

The phrase “Old England is dying” is of particular note as it satirizes a series of articles written by Oliver St. John Gogarty, Joyce’s friend and the basis for Buck Mulligan. In 1906, Gogarty published the first of a series of articles called “Ugly England” in Sinn Féin, a now-defunct newspaper published by the Irish nationalist political party of the same name. Sinn Féin’s founder Arthur Griffith was vehemently anti-semitic. “Ugly England” detailed Gogarty’s view that England had been infected by the malign Jewish influence. In addition, Gogarty was later successfully sued for derogatory references to a Jewish family in his autobiography As I Was Going Down Sackville Street. I’ve speculated a lot on this blog about Joyce’s bitter hatred toward Gogarty following their falling out in the Martello Tower, and I think this is a key piece in that puzzle. Joyce wove Gogarty’s views into his novel as dialogue of pro-English characters. Remember, Haines the English student said to Stephen in ‘Telemachus’:

I don’t want to see my country fall into the hands of German jews either. That’s our national problem, I’m afraid, just now.

When the first round of anti-semitic rhetoric fails to win Stephen to his side, Mr. Deasy invokes the legend of the Wandering Jew to insist to Stephen that Jews are inherently corrupt:

—They sinned against the light, Mr Deasy said gravely. And you can see the darkness in their eyes. And that is why they are wanderers on the earth to this day.

The Wandering Jew, Gustave Doré

The legend of the Wandering Jew, like most legends, has various versions. A common version tells of a Jew who mocked Jesus Christ (sometimes it’s the soldier who struck Jesus, as in John 18:22) en route to his crucifixion and, as a result, was cursed to wander the earth until the Second Coming. The Wandering Jew suffers through an unnaturally long life, and, in some versions, even converts to Christianity in an attempt at repentance. Throughout the Middle Ages (and as late as 1820’s Utah), people reported seeing him in various cities throughout the Western world. It’s thought that the vampire mythology in Bram Stoker’s Dracula was inspired in part by the Wandering Jew.  

This legend is anti-semitic at its very core since it plays on the idea that the Jews were responsible for Jesus’ death, a notion used to persecute Jews throughout Europe. The idea of the Jews as “wanderers” also highlights that they are a people without a homeland and, as a result, are perpetual foreigners, displaced and suspicious no matter where they happen to make their homes. In this view, such a wanderer could never truly be Irish, English, etc. Using the Wandering Jew as a serious defense shows that Mr. Deasy believes all these stereotypes to be true.

I have previously compared Stephen’s conversation with Mr. Deasy to the experience of having to listen to the rantings of a conservative uncle at a family dinner. If you’re on the receiving end, you might choose to just wait out the rant and hope he moves on to other topics. Stephen has employed this tactic so far, since he can’t tell his boss to go to hell (yet), choosing instead silent, internal rebuttals. The anti-semitism is too much for him, though, and he finally speaks up:

—A merchant, Stephen said, is one who buys cheap and sells dear, jew or gentile, is he not?

When Mr. Deasy turns to his “sinned against the light” defense, Stephen reasonably replies, “Who has not?” Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Interspersed with this conversation is Stephen’s memory of Paris:

On the steps of the Paris stock exchange the goldskinned men quoting prices on their gemmed fingers. Gabble of geese. They swarmed loud, uncouth about the temple, their heads thickplotting under maladroit silk hats. Not theirs: these clothes, this speech, these gestures. Their full slow eyes belied the words, the gestures eager and unoffending, but knew the rancours massed about them and knew their zeal was vain. Vain patience to heap and hoard. Time surely would scatter all. A hoard heaped by the roadside: plundered and passing on. Their eyes knew their years of wandering and, patient, knew the dishonours of their flesh.

Though Stephen has acknowledged the basic humanity of Jews in his laconic responses to Mr. Deasy, his imagined scene of the Paris stock exchange is fairly stereotypical. The merchants in his memory are uncouth, loud and goldskinned. A gabble of geese, not men. They are preoccupied with money and trade, reminiscent of the money changers in the temple that so enraged Jesus. Stephen sees them as wanderers, too, though sympathetically. They are foreign, mysterious, other (“dark men of mien and movement,” as he described Moses Maimonides). Stephen has stepped far enough out of Dublin to open his mind, but his understanding of the world is still undeveloped beyond the surface. His experience is voyeuristic, like a tourist’s. He doesn’t hate these men the way Mr. Deasy does, but he has yet to see them as well rounded people like himself. His mind is yet immature, though it is apparent that he feels a budding kinship with these archetypical outsiders:

—History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

Lacking the privileged life of Mr. Deasy or the boys attending his school, Stephen looks at the excesses of history lurking in the pages of “Nestor” and sees one horror after another – the costly victory of Pyrrhus, the cruelty of centuries of Catholic oppression in his own country, the carnage of the Great War (known to the author if not the narrator). Stephen feels like a foreigner in his own country, unable to feel pride in English accomplishments like the headmaster. History’s nightmare belongs to the Irish and the Jews alike.

James Joyce Ulysses Mr Deasy Nestor The Odyssey Homer
Mr Deasy is a little too reverent towards Edward VII.

Mr. Deasy clings to the Victorian notion that the trajectory of history is progress, eternal growth for the good of empire, culminating in the manifestation of God. Any hiccups are the result of injurious Jews, rebellious subjects and women. The goal of all history is to glorify the dominant system which excludes such people. Stephen fliply identifies God as a “shout in the street.” I find a beauty to Stephen’s glib remark: the presence of God in ordinary, mundane experience. However, I think Stephen is denying the grandeur of God’s manifestation instead, likening the sacred to the mundane as a way to douse it’s religious power. Stephen’s rejection of religion sets him apart from his countrymen, Catholic and Protestant alike. Perhaps it is Stephen’s own apostasy that allows him to empathize with the Jews; both are persecuted, denied and rejected at the hands of Mr. Deasy, Haines, Mulligan, and Irish Nationalists.

At this point, Mr. Deasy gives up trying to win Stephen to his point of view. He has one last zinger as the young Artist departs, though:

—I just wanted to say, he said. Ireland, they say, has the honour of being the only country which never persecuted the jews. Do you know that? No. And do you know why?

And punchline:

—She never let them in, he cried again through his laughter as he stamped on gaitered feet over the gravel of the path. That’s why.

“Nestor” closes with Mr. Deasy laughing at his own joke. Exeunt Mr. Deasy.

In keeping with tradition, Mr. Deasy’s punchline is, of course, totally inaccurate. It does, however,  give us space to consider what the Jewish experience was like in Ireland at the turn of the last century.

The belief that Ireland never persecuted the Jews was a widespread belief throughout Irish history, quoted by Jew and Gentile alike. Quoth the “Great Emancipator” himself, Daniel O’Connell:

Ireland has claims on your ancient race, it is the only country that I know of unsullied by any one act of persecution against the Jews.

O’Connell, for his part, campaigned for Jewish and Catholic rights alike. Jews had populated parts of Ireland since the Middle Ages, particularly in Dublin, Limerick and Cork. The town of Youghal in County Cork elected a Jewish man as mayor in the 1500’s. However, Jews were expelled from Ireland and readmitted under Cromwell, just like in England. By the turn of the 20th century, the Jewish population of Dublin was rapidly growing as Eastern European Jews fled pogroms and other persecution during a period called the New Exodus.

In 1904, Ireland and England were officially tolerant of the Jews, but tolerance is not the same as acceptance. Author Louis Hyman, quoted in the introduction to Gifford’s Ulysses Annotated, said the idea of an Irish Jew in the early 1900’s would have been laughable to the average Irish person and that the climate in Ireland at that time was unsympathetic to the plight of the Jews, “at best grudgingly neutral… and at worst openly hostile.” Mr. Deasy’s views are in line with a Dubliner of his age and social station, as is Haines’ anti-semitic comment in “Telemachus.” Gifford believes that his concern over German Jews is a reference to an 1879 pamphlet entitled “The Victory of Judaism over Germanism,” which is one of the first print references to the term anti-semitism (which the pamphlet supported). The author, Wilhelm Marr, described the Jews as “dictators of the financial system.” The stereotypical views espoused by Haines, Mr. Deasy and the Citizen in “Cyclops” are directly in line with contemporary rhetoric of their time. There isn’t evidence that James Joyce believed or promoted these views. I personally believe that he wrote Leopold Bloom as such a sensitive, complex and flawed character to create a Jewish man in popular consciousness that wasn’t a conniving, hook-nosed miser.

The irony of all this is that Mr. Deasy represents two of the qualities he rejects in his Jewish countrymen. First, Anne Marie D’Arcy has an amazing and in-depth article detailing how the etymology of Mr. Deasy’s name ties him to a tribe of landless wanderers in ancient Ireland. She explains better than I ever could, so I emphatically encourage you to read her account here. Second, Mr. Deasy is fairly money-obsessed himself. He lectures Stephen on the virtues of frugality, the pinnacle of any Englishman’s life being a lack of debt. As he walks away chuckling at his own dumb joke,

On his wise shoulders through the checkerwork of leaves the sun flung spangles, dancing coins.

Further Reading:

Breathnach, R. (2014, Jun 28). Shalom agus sláinte. News Talk. Retrieved from https://www.newstalk.com/Shalom-agus-slinte

Burgess, A. (1968). ReJoyce. New York: W.W. Norton & Co.

Callanan, F. (1998, May 16). ‘We never let them in.’ The Irish Times. Retrieved from https://www.irishtimes.com/news/we-never-let-them-in-1.153649

D’Arcy, A.M. (2014). Dindsenchas, Mr Deasy and the Nightmare of Partition in Ulysses. Proceedings of the Royal Irish Academy, 114C, 1-31. Retrieved from http://www.academia.edu/3524058/Dindsenchas_Mr_Deasy_and_the_Nightmare_of_Partition_in_Ulysses_Proceedings_of_the_Royal_Irish_Academy_114C_2014_1-31

Davis, B. (2017, Jan 14). Jewish life by the Liffey: a look at the Jewish community in Ireland. The Jerusalem Post. Retrieved from https://www.jpost.com/Magazine/Jewish-life-by-the-Liffey-474803

Gifford, D., & Seidman, R. J. (1988). Ulysses annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Goldberg, G. (1982). “Ireland Is the Only Country…”: Joyce and the Jewish Dimension. The Crane Bag, 6(1), 5-12. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/30059524

Wandering Jew. (n.d.). In Encyclopædia Britannica online. Retrieved from https://www.britannica.com/topic/wandering-Jew


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