Kelly and Dermot explore Ireland’s historic connections to various pretenders to the English throne, how this connects to Stephen’s unsquashable beef against Buck Mulligan, Solange Knowles, medieval abstrusiosities of all sorts, the mystery of the princes in the Tower, Dermot’s disdain for the Tudors, whether or not Ireland is still a “paradise of pretenders,” Stephen’s sadness and guilt, his shadow projection, his hydrophobia, his relationship to his sister Dilly, and the drowning motif of Ulysses.
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.
Kelly and Dermot set sail for the time of Vikings and jerkined dwarfs! They discuss the differences of similarly-shaped seafaring vessels, Lochlanns, Fr. Dineen’s Irish dictionary, the intersection of Viking and Celtic cultures in Ireland, torcs, tomahawk, the horrors of 14th c. Dublin, famine, plague and slaughters, the story of the time a pod of cetaceans washed ashore in medieval Dublin, the story of the time the Liffey froze over and people grilled on top of it, Stephen as a changeling, Stephen momentarily becoming displaced in time, and Stephen’s attempt to construct an Irish identity.
Steve Carey of Bloomsday in Melbourne drops by to chat about how to put on a Bloomsday theatre production in the time of Covid.
Kelly and Dermot consider, Stephen’s decision to leave the Martello Tower, his struggles as a would-be artist in the colonial landscape of Edwardian Dublin, his fear of dogs, the protean process of death and decay, what the heck a grike is, why Sir Lout talks like that, how to pronounce “gunwale,” some more meditations on death and decay, and who the two maries are.
“On the doorstep he felt in his hip pocket for the latchkey. Not there. In the trousers I left off. Must get it. Potato I have. Creaky wardrobe. No use disturbing her.” Ulysses, p. 57
The episodes “Calypso” and “Telemachus” correspond roughly to the same point in Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus’ day – 8:00 A.M., breakfast hour. The beginning of their stories overlap in many ways, including that both Stephen and Bloom leave home that morning without their key. Stephen’s is “usurped” by Buck Mulligan, while Bloom’s is absentmindedly forgotten. A relatable mistake to most folks – he changes his trousers for a funeral, but neglects to transfer all the contents, leaving his latchkey in the other pair. However, he is unwilling to go back upstairs and disturb a dozing Molly, and so he leaves to buy his kidney without the latchkey to the front door of his Ithaca. However, Bloom idiosyncratically remembers a seemingly odd and insignificant item – a shriveled, black potato. A peculiar and impractical object to carry in a pocket it would seem, but Bloom thinks as he leaves for Dlugacz’s “Potato I have.” Why in the world would a grown man carry a dried-out, old spud in his pocket?
He took a page up from the pile of cut sheets: the model farm at Kinnereth on the lakeshore of Tiberias. Can become ideal winter sanatorium. Moses Montefiore. I thought he was. Farmhouse, wall round it, blurred cattle cropping. He held the page from him: interesting: read it nearer, the title, the blurred cropping cattle, the page rustling.
The cited passages appear mainly on pgs. 59-60 of Ulysses (1990 Vintage International Edition).
Sometimes all a man needs is a nice pork kidney to start his day.
Leopold Bloom is endeavoring to do just this in “Calypso,” Ulysses’ fourth episode. Our hero has nipped around the corner from his house to buy the last pork kidney from Mr. Dlugacz, a porkbutcher and fellow Hungarian Jew. This encounter highlights just how tepid Bloom’s Judaism is – he’s opting for a decidedly un-kosher breakfast treat while ogling the “moving hams” of a stout cleaning woman. To reign in his lust while waiting in line, Bloom picks up a pamphlet for Agendath Netaim, a Zionist “planter’s company” offering to sell plots of land in Palestine to be planted with citrus trees and other crops. The Zionist movement encouraged the Jewish diaspora to settle in Palestine in order to create a Jewish homeland, eventually (spoiler alert) culminating in the foundation of the state of Israel in 1948. Bloom reads the pamphlet with interest, but given the casual nature of his Judaism, does it stir a longing in him for a Promised Land far to the East?
This episode of Blooms & Barnacles takes an esoteric twist as we continue deeper into “Proteus”, Ulysses‘ third episode. Topics include: why Dermot is not impressed with the Library of Alexandria, the length of a mahamanvantara, what the heck a mahamanvantara is, Joyce’s youthful rage put into poetry, Joyce’s youthful interest in theosophy, Pico della Mirandola’s desire to speak to angels, Renaissance magic, hermeticism, , correspondences in Ulysses, and why Dermot thinks Neil de Grasse Tyson is wrong.
Join Kelly and Dermot for a story about James Joyce’s youthful rebellion against the literary establishment of Dublin, his obsession with the apocalyptic predictions of a 12th century monk, a tale of psychic horror by W.B. Yeats, Jonathan Swift and Dublin’s oldest public library. It’s a jam-packed episode! The paragraph discussed in this episode can be found on p. 39-40 of the 1990 Vintage International edition of Ulysses.
Bonus: Dermot interviews Kelly about completing her blog series about “Proteus.” Check out those blog posts here.
Dermot and Kelly get an insider’s view of the Sandycove Martello Tower – the Omphalos of Dublin itself! Maggie Fitzgerald, James Holohan and Andrew Basquille give Blooms & Barnacles a tour of all the museum’s nooks and crannies. Discussions include the Joycean historical items on display in the museum, the history of the tower, what really went down the night Joyce stormed out of the museum, how to get a milk can up a ladder, the work of maintaining a Joycean landmark, an original song by Andrew, and why exactly a museum in Dublin is flying the Munster flag.
A special thanks to Michael Steen.
Blooms and Barnacles’ series on Mr. Deasy and “Nestor” comes to a close with a discussion of the old headmaster’s biased views of women’s negative impact on history. The relative culpability of four woman accused of causing history’s great evils is explored, along with what exactly Stephen means when he refers to God as a “shout in the street.”