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.

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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.

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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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Decoding Dedalus: Full Fathom Five

I haven’t let this young man off very lightly, have I? Many writers have written about themselves. I wonder if any one of them has been as candid as I have? – James Joyce to Frank Budgen

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 page p. 50 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Five fathoms…” and ends “We enjoyed ourselves immensely.”


Before we leave the shores of Sandymount at the end of “Proteus,” we should dive into one last motif just a bit deeper. We’ve previously focused on drowning in relation to the death of Stephen’s mother and as a manifestation of Stephen’s hydrophobia, but at the end of the episode, the image of a drowned man in Dublin Bay resurfaces once more. As we’ll see, Stephen fear of drowning extends beyond his memories of his mother coughing up bowls of green phlegm.

Moving his focus from the sand, stones and seaweed on Sandymount Strand, Stephen begins to contemplate the waters of Dublin Bay. He has attempted to categorize and order the scattered people, creatures and detritus of the shore through Berkeleyan idealism and the fixed language of heraldry, but the sea is still a wild place, shifting and protean. The sea contains mysteries yet untamed, the ninth wave out from land a portal to the otherworld. It is not confined to the restrictions of solid forms like those found on the shore. It is a place of possibility, and ultimately, change.

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Ulysses, Proteus, James Joyce

Ep. 29 – Gaze in Your Omphalos

378px-Albrecht_Dürer,_Adam_and_Eve,_1504,_Engraving
Adam and Eve, Albrecht Dürer, 1504

In this installment of Blooms & Barnacles, Kelly and Dermot engage in some good, old-fashioned navel gazing. Discussion topics include working class life in Edwardian Dublin, the poetry of Algernon Swinburne, the perils of childbirth during the same period, gothic horror, whether Adam and Eve had bellybuttons, and why Kelly thinks people in antiquity had predominantly outie bellybuttons. They also get to the bottom of what exactly the heck an omphalos is and why everyone keeps talking about them.

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James Joyce, Proteus, Ulysses

The Word Known to All Men

Touch me. Soft eyes. Soft soft soft hand. I am lonely here. O, touch me soon, now. What is that word known to all men? I am quiet here alone. Sad too. Touch, touch me.

The lines above appear towards the end of “Proteus,” page 49 in my copy (1990 Vintage International), as Stephen pens the first draft of his poem while reclining on a rock on Sandymount Strand. Our key line today is Stephen’s unanswered question: “What is that word known to all men?” James Joyce seemingly never met an obscure allusion or rambly list that he didn’t love. Naturally, posing a question and not giving a concrete answer is solidly in line with his style. 

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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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Tatters, Proteus, Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses, James Joyce, Dublin

Dogsbody

This certainly wasn’t done by a dog-lover,” said Joyce. “I don’t like them. I am afraid of them. – Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses

James Joyce was a cat person. His brother Stanislaus recalled a family trip to the seaside town of Bray, south of Dublin, when James was attacked and badly bitten on the leg by “an excited Irish terrier.”  The wound was bad enough that he had to be taken to a doctor for care. Though he recovered, the memory lasted a lifetime, and Joyce took a liking to cats instead. Joyce transferred his fear of dogs to his literary avatar Stephen Dedalus. In “Proteus,” our young Artist encounters two dogs along the strand at Sandymount – one dead, ensablé:

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Agenbite of Inwit, Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses, James Joyce

Ep. 9 – Remorse of Conscience

James Joyce, Ulysses, literature, Stephen Dedalus, riddle, Ireland, DublinKelly and Dermot discuss the recurring phrase “Agenbite of Inwit” and why Stephen repeats it over and over on June the sixteenth. Other topics included in the discussion are Buck Mulligan as nagging conscience, the gothic horror of growing up Irish, Catholic guilt and whether or not Stephen would have been better off praying at his mother’s bedside.

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