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.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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.

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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.

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James Joyce Ulysses Mr Deasy Nestor The Odyssey Homer

Ep. 19 – Fogey and Tory

C2aVdIPWQAEjHrT.jpgA character study of the infamous Mr. Deasy, the headmaster of Stephen’s school in “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. We discuss how Mr. Deasy is a stereotypical Dubliner of his day, as well as his defining characteristics (including his impressive mustache!) Mr. Deasy has a lot to teach us, though he is an old wise man archetype with no wisdom. We talk lots of history and politics in this one! Also, Kelly reveals the worst Scooby Doo character.

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Ulysses James Joyce Kevin Egan

Decoding Dedalus: Wild Geese

In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me.

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 42 44 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Noon slumbers.” and ends “Remembering thee, O Sion.”

The “Proteus” episode of Ulysses (chapter 3 for those of you keeping track at home) is organized around the themes and characters of the fourth book of Homer’s Odyssey, which deals with King Menelaus’ fraught return home following the Trojan War. Since Menelaus is the central figure in that story, it would be tempting to think that since Stephen Dedalus is the central figure in “Proteus,” he must also be our Joycean Menelaus. However, Menelaus’ role is filled by Kevin Egan, the Irish-revolutionary-turned-exile Stephen met during his brief sojourn in Paris, a character that never appears “on screen” in Ulysses, only in Stephen’s memories as he walks along Sandymount Strand, south of Dublin.

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joyce ulysses haines black panther

Ep. 7 – In Defense of Dorkiness

BZwOMBNCQAAJ6ZI.jpg-largeKelly and Dermot discuss Stephen’s tower-mate, the Englishman Haines. Haines was based on a real-life roommate of James Joyce’s – Dermot Chenevix Trench. Did Joyce’s personal dislike of Trench color his characterization in the novel? What’s up with that black panther mentioned in ‘Telemachus?’ Why does Dermot (our host) have bad memories of learning Irish in school? These questions and more will be answered. Other topics include: Irish identity in 1904 and now, Joyce’s bad attitude, and Gogarty, the unreliable narrator of his own autobiography.

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