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, 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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