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, Ulysses, Proteus, Kevin Egan, Clerkenwell Prison

Ep. 42 – Under the Walls of Clerkenwell

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An artist’s rendering of the Clerkenwell Explosion, 1867.

Dermot and Kelly take on some of the history behind the tale of Irish exile Kevin Egan. This episode’s discussion covers the story of the 1867 Clerkenwell explosion, what that has to do with Kevin Egan, Egan’s relationship to his wife and son, Dermot’s relationship to Tayto crisps, Egan’s memories of Kilkenny, the Berkeleyan quality of memory, more father-son angst, and a cautionary tale for young Stephen.

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James Joyce, Calypso, Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, Tayto, potato

Bloom’s Potato

“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?

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Ulysses, Proteus, Stephen Dedalus, James Joyce

Ep. 38 – Pico della Mirandola like.

 

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Giovanni Pico della Mirandola

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.

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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.

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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. 34 – Translating Finnegans Wake into Japanese (w/ Kenji Hayakawa)

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Kelly and Dermot are joined by translator Kenji Hayakawa to discuss the gargantuan task of translating Finnegans Wake into Japanese.  We discuss Naoki Yanase’s translation of Joyce’s classic novel into Japanese, creating special software Japanese characters to tackle Joyce’s various coinages, why Japanese is an ideal language in which to read Finnegans Wake, why only translators truly understand Finnegans Wake, the sadism of Finnegans Wake, the influence of Harriet Shaw Weaver, and how Finnegans Wake is the antidote to book club hierarchies.

No need to speak Japanese or have read Finnegans Wake!

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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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Ep. 30 – Sweny’s Pharmacy Revisited (w/ P.J. Murphy & Jack Walsh)

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Blooms & Barnacles catches up with P.J. Murphy and Jack Walsh of Sweny’s Pharmacy in Dublin, the location where Leopold Bloom bought his lemon soap in Ulysses. In addition to P.J. and Jack, we had the chance to talk to many friend’s of Sweny’s from all over the world! Topics include the future of Sweny’s Pharmacy, why you should visit Sweny’s on Christmas, the repatriation of Joyce’s remains to Ireland, the purchase of “The Dead” house, a reading from  Ulysses in Turkish, the international appeal of Ulysses, the connection of certain Native American tribes to Ireland, songs, poetry, and the proper way to put jam on a scone.

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Orange Order, Diamond Dan, Ulysses, James Joyce

Ep. 21 – Croppies Lie Down

This week, Kelly and Dermot explain the nightmarish history tucked into Stephen’s terse rebuttal of Mr. Deasy’s weak grasp of Irish history. The passage covered can be found on p. 31 of Kelly’s edition of Ulysses (1990 Vintage International). Topics covered include the history of the Orange Order, the Battle of the Diamond, the Planters’ Covenant, the power of copyright law over sectarianism, and how all these issues still affect us today.

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