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.
— O rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words.
While Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan were sniping at each other over breakfast on June 16, Leopold and Molly Bloom were discussing the idea of metempsychosis (better known as reincarnation) over their morning tea. After toiling through “Proteus,” we’re all familiar with high-minded metaphysical ideas and obscure references sliding in and out of the text of Ulysses. “Calypso,” like the preceding episodes, is full of references a 21st century reader might miss, but in this episode, we find high-minded topics like metempsychosis embedded in pop cultural ephemera that would have been recognizable to people in 1904 but might go over our heads today. Welcome to the mind of Leopold Bloom.
Bon soir, mes amis, et bienvenue a Blooms et Barnacles! Kelly and Dermot discuss Joyce’s disastrous sojourn to Paris as a youth and its parallels to Stephen Dedalus’ recollections of his time in Paris. Discussion topics include the fin de siècle fashion of French symbolist poets, what exactly mou en civet is, Stephen feeling down and out in a French post office, the mockery of saints in Heaven, Stephen’s collection of French pornography, and whether it was Stephen’s mother or his nother mentioned in that fateful telegram.
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.
Stephen Dedalus learns the value of gentlemanly blasphemy in this episode of Blooms & Barnacles. Our hero evades the nets of his oppressors while recalling a conversation with a friend in Paris. Topics include the changing face of Ringsend, the Pigeonhouse, Stephen’s epiphanies and the Epiphany, Dermot speaking French, what Jules Michelet doesn’t know about women, absinthe, the elaborate blasphemies of Leo Taxil’s pornographic pope period, Baphomet, the freemasons, and the greatest trick ever played on the Catholic Church (that might be overstating it, but it’s a fun story).
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.
Dermot and Kelly tickle your brain with Stephen Dedalus’ thoughts on the Eucharist, William of Occam, hypostasis, consubstantiation, transubstantiation… we’ve got it all! Other major philosophical queries discussed include: How can so much bread and wine all become Christ’s body and blood. Does Stephen really understand hypostasis. When does soup become soup? Is it immoral to impersonate a priest as long as you don’t hear someone’s confession?
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.
Linus Ignatius and Llewie Nuñez starred in the play Lucia Mad as James and Lucia Joyce, respectively, back in their university days. They drop by the podcast for a deep dive into the complex and tragic life of James Joyce’s daughter Lucia. We discuss how they prepared to portray the Joyces on-stage, Lucia’s genius as an artist, her struggle with mental illness, the stigma she faced within the Joyce family, her influence on Finnegans Wake and the relationship between Joyce and his daughter