James Joyce, Ulysses, Calypso, Leopold Bloom, Moses, Judaism

Is Leopold Bloom Jewish?

It is odd that the creator of the most outstanding Jew in modern literature did not at that time know any of the Jewish community in Dublin. – Padraic Colum, p. 56, Our Friend James Joyce

Yes. Only a foreigner would do. The Jews were foreigners in Dublin at that time. There was no hostility towards them. But contempt, the contempt that people always show towards the unknown. – James Joyce, in the New York Times

It is a truth universally acknowledged that James Joyce’s modernist epic Ulysses tells the story of a Jewish Dubliner named Leopold Bloom. So famously Jewish, in fact, that Mel Brooks borrowed the name for the peevish accountant in The Producers. I say this because the title of this post may seem absurd on its face. “Of course Bloom is Jewish!” you may be scoffing. Before you turn to another blog, hear me out. Is Dublin’s most famous Jew not really Jewish?

Bloom’s father Rudolph was a Hungarian Jew, so most of the Jewish references swimming around Bloom’s mind have their origins in childhood memories of him. Jewishness is matrilineal, however, and Bloom’s mother, Ellen (née Higgins) was not Jewish. There is some speculation among folks who are given to speculate about such things that Ellen’s father, Julius Higgins, was also a Hungarian Jew and therefore Leopold is ¾ Jewish, though this is not explicitly backed up in the text of Ulysses. We know little about Julius Higgins other than that he was born Karoly. While this is a common Hungarian name, it doesn’t necessarily make him Jewish.  Regardless, even if Julius had been devoutly Jewish, his status alone wouldn’t factor into whether Leopold or Ellen were Jewish as he was a father and not a mother.

Continue reading “Is Leopold Bloom Jewish?”

Ulysses James Joyce Kevin Egan

Ep. 41 – Froggreen Wormwood

449px-Edouard_Manet_-_The_Absinthe_Drinker_-_Google_Art_Project
Édouard Manet, The Absinthe Drinker, 1859

Images of early morning Paris through the ineluctable modality of Stephen Dedalus’ memory, smells of incense and absinthe. We discuss Stephen’s life as a starving artist (literally), Kevin Egan and his unwilling exile in Paris, Egan’s real life counterpart, New York Times write-ups of duels in the 19th century, Irish nationalist groups of the 19th century, the proper way to drink absinthe, dalcassians and Arthur Griffith, Maud Gonne, Édouard Drumont v. Léo Taxil, and the pitfalls of attempting to make Ireland more like continental Europe.

Continue reading “Ep. 41 – Froggreen Wormwood”

James Joyce, Leopold Bloom, Ulysses

In the Jakes with Mr. Bloom

The life of [Ulysses] comes first and the philosophy afterwards. Obscenity is a question of manners and conventions for ever changing. Virtuosity, if it stood alone, would soon become demoded, and philosophy too, but living character stays through whatever material is presented. – Frank Budgen

Professor Bloom is a finished example of the new womanly man. – Ulysses, p. 493

While Leopold Bloom’s interest in butts is not the first thing we learn about him in “Calypso,” it certainly plays a key role in his actions over the course of Ulysses’ fourth episode. Ulysses, among many, many other things, is an ode to butts. It was written by a man smitten with hinderparts, as revealed in Joyce’s love letters to Nora Barnacle, which describe in graphic detail his lust for her butt and its various, predictable functions. Butts are celebrated in Ulysses’ 700+ pages as both functional and sexy. 

Of our two protagonists, Leopold Bloom shows a particular affinity for shapely cheeks. Bloom is so connected to butts that when he appears as Haroun al-Raschid in Stephen’s prophetic dream, one of the symbolic images Stephen recalls is, “The melon he had he held against my face. Smiled: creamfruit smell.” The image of a melon culminates  in “Ithaca” when Bloom finally curls up next to Molly, head to toe, and describes how “he kissed the plump mellow yellow smellow melons of her rump, on each plump melonous hemisphere, in their mellow yellow furrow, with obscure prolonged provocative melonsmellonous osculation.” A melon is not just a melon in Ulysses.

Continue reading “In the Jakes with Mr. Bloom”

Who Was the Real Leopold Bloom?

Yes. Only a foreigner would do. The Jews were foreigners in Dublin at that time. There was no hostility towards them. But contempt, the contempt that people always show towards the unknown. –James Joyce

This post is a part of an occasional series on the real people behind the characters in Ulysses.


Where to begin piecing together the jigsaw puzzle of Leopold Bloom’s inception? Like most of the characters in the Joycean canon, Bloom was inspired by real people and events from Joyce’s life. Unlike a character like Buck Mulligan, however, there is no single, definitive inspiration for Bloom. Such a literary puzzle leaves the curious amongst us to hunt down clues and tidbits.

Let’s start by considering Blooms’ defining characteristics.

Leopold Bloom lives in a house on 7 Eccles St. on Dublin’s north side. He works as an ad canvasser for the Freeman’s Journal, a nationalist newspaper. He has an unfaithful wife, a maturing teen daughter, and a son who died in infancy. He loves organ meats. He’s ethnically Hungarian on his father’s side. He’s tepidly Jewish. He has a moustache. He’s awkward and nebbish on the outside but insightful and witty in his internal monologue. He’s our Dubliner-Everyman-Odysseus, the consummate outsider living in his hometown. 

Finding a single person in Joyce’s life that meets all these prerequisites is difficult. Instead, one begins to realize that Bloom is actually a Frankenstein’s monster of moustachioed Jewish men that Joyce knew throughout his life. The list I’ve compiled is by no means comprehensive, but I have tried to include the major inspirations for these definitive qualities of Leopold Bloom. The sum total of their parts is a truly singular, Hellenic-Hebraic-Hibernian hero.

Continue reading “Who Was the Real Leopold Bloom?”

James Joyce, Ulysses, Calypso, Leopold Bloom

Ulysses & The Odyssey: Calypso

“… I found that for [Joyce] human character was best displayed – I had almost said entirely displayed – in the commonest acts of life. How a man eats his egg will give a better clue to his differentiation than how he goes forth to war… Cutting bread displays character better than cutting throats.”  – Frank Budgen

Part of an occasional series on the Homeric parallels in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

The Odyssey: Book 5

The gods are having a council. The nymph Calypso has imprisoned Odysseus on her island, Ogygia, and Athena persuades Zeus to intervene. Hermes the messenger is sent to Calypso, delivering Zeus’ message to release Odysseus or else. Calypso wanted to make Odysseus her immortal lover, but he was not interested. While on the island, he was forced to spend nights with Calypso and then spent the days weeping on the beach. Calypso lets Odysseus go, but not before reminding him that she’s way hotter than his wife. Odysseus builds a raft and sails away. Poseidon is not impressed, though, and sends thunderstorms to destroy Odysseus and his raft. After more divine intervention, Odysseus makes it to land.


Is it just me, or is it incredibly satisfying when, after finishing those last few pages of “Proteus,” you turn the page and it says “II” in giant Roman numerals? If you’re feeling a pronounced sense of accomplishment, feel free to raise your fists aloft like Rocky. You deserve it. Maybe stop for ice cream on the way home tonight.

Angelica_Kauffmann_-_Calypso_calling_heaven_and_earth_to_witness_her_sincere_affection_to_Ulysses
Calypso calling heaven and earth to witness her sincere affection to Ulysses, Angelica Kauffmann, 18th c.

Here in “Calypso,” the fourth episode of Ulysses, we finally meet our hero, Mr. Leopold Bloom, namesake of Bloomsday and our Odysseus stand-in. Like his son Telemachus, the reader spends the first three episodes of Ulysses searching for their own lost Odysseus, and here he is! Though Joyce’s novel runs parallel to Homer’s epic, the characters and situations are not always direct correlations. Rather, they are sideways versions of Homer’s archetypes. When we meet Odysseus in The Odyssey, he is languishing on the island of Ogygia where he is held captive by the nymph Calypso. Mr. Bloom is also languishing, but more subtly. Rather than weeping on a beach, he is preparing breakfast for his household. While Odysseus’ emotions are powerful and effusive, Bloom represses and evades his frustration as best he can.

Continue reading “Ulysses & The Odyssey: Calypso”

Ep. 33 – Nuncle Richie

Stephen contemplates the horror of a visit to his Aunt Sara and Uncle Richie’s house. We discuss parallels in this scene with Joyce’s real life aunt and uncle, why Joyce’s Aunt Josephine gave away her first edition of Ulysses, the intractable Dubliner/culchie divide, middle class pretension, Hiberno-English, Wilde’s Requiescat, and the difficulty of parsing conversations written in Joyce’s signature stream of consciousness.

Continue reading “Ep. 33 – Nuncle Richie”

James Joyce, Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses, Proteus, homosexuality, Oscar Wilde

The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name

On page 49 of “Proteus,” Stephen Dedalus spends a paragraph thinking about his shoes, which feels appropriate rounding out an episode that consists of walking on the shore:

His gaze brooded on his broadtoed boots, a buck’s castoffs, nebeneinander. He counted the creases of rucked leather wherein another’s foot had nested warm. The foot that beat the ground in tripudium, foot I dislove. But you were delighted when Esther Osvalt’s shoe went on you: girl I knew in Paris. Tiens, quel petit pied! Staunch friend, a brother soul: Wilde’s love that dare not speak its name. His arm: Cranly’s arm. He now will leave me. And the blame? As I am. As I am. All or not at all.

Tramping around Sandymount in boots borrowed from Buck Mulligan, Stephen is aware of his reliance on the snarky medical student for his material necessities, including his bed in the Martello Tower. We also learn a new tidbit about Stephen’s time in Paris – he once tried on a female friend’s shoe and “delighted” when it fit. These details accompany a few memorable names -Wilde, as in Oscar, and Cranly, as in Stephen’s erstwhile confidant from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. One phrase in particular stands out: “Wilde’s love that dare not speak its name.” Might Mulligan or Cranly have been more than a “staunch friend” or “brother soul” to Stephen?

Continue reading “The Love That Dare Not Speak Its Name”

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

Ep. 23 – The Nightmare of History

Wandering_jew
The Wandering Jew, Gustave Doré

Kelly and Dermot deconstruct the nightmare of history shared by the Irish and the Jews alike. We further explore the intricacies of Mr. Deasy’s bigotry and what it tells us about what life was like in 1900’s Dublin. Other topics covered include one possible source of Joyce’s hatred of Gogarty, the correlation of antisemitism and nationalism and the legend of the Wandering Jew and its influence on Ulysses.

Continue reading “Ep. 23 – The Nightmare of History”

Mr Deasy Dalkey James Joyce Ulysses Nestor

Ep. 22 – Perviest Breakfast

dalkey
Main St., Dalkey, Co. Dublin, likely 1905-1911

Per vias rectas! Mr. Deasy’s origins – revealed! Kelly and Dermot dive into Joyce’s real life acquaintances and experiences that inspired the gruff headmaster Mr. Deasy in Ulysses‘ second episode, “Nestor.” Topics covered include why Mr. Deasy is so concerned about foot and mouth disease, the relative rebelliousness of voting in favor of the Union and why Mr. Deasy seems to be unaware of his own history, even though he’s so proud of it.

Continue reading “Ep. 22 – Perviest Breakfast”

Ep. 20 – Big Words Which Make Us So Unhappy

History is the art of Nestor, so let’s immerse ourselves in the nightmare of history, at least the bits covered on  p. 31 of Ulysses. Learn about Stephen’s hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.  Mr. Deasy tries to teach Stephen a bit of history, but (spoiler alert) he doesn’t know much about history. Topics covered include Daniel O’Connell, the Orange lodges, the Famine and the Fenians.  This episode covers some heavy stuff, but learning new things will make you feel like the woman in this picture.

6e277661-c3e6-4b68-b978-e8b561d6e96d_1.e1eda18b64d42da8b2f18e132f3058fd

Continue reading “Ep. 20 – Big Words Which Make Us So Unhappy”