St. Ursula, Buck Mulligan, James Joyce, Ulysses

Ulysses CCD: St. Ursula

—I pinched it out of the skivvy’s room, Buck Mulligan said. It does her all right. The aunt always keeps plainlooking servants for Malachi. Lead him not into temptation. And her name is Ursula.

Part of an occasional series on Catholicism in Ulysses.


Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan discuss, as Stephen puts it, a symbol of Irish art – the cracked looking glass of a servant, a literal looking glass that Mulligan stole from a literal servant. “Skivvy” means a menial laborer or a servant. Mulligan laments that his aunt only keeps unattractive servants to keep her nephew out of trouble. “Lead him not into temptation” is a play on a line from the Lord’s Prayer. But it’s her name, Ursula, that we’ll focus on today. There’s no wrong time to learn about the religious allusions found in a Buck Mulligan insult.

Naming the servant “Ursula” connects her to a saint with a distaste for the less fair sex and an interesting legend attached to her. “Ursula” is  Latin for “little female bear” and she is the patron saint of archery, England, and the cities of Cologne, Germany and Binangonan, Philippines. Her feast day was on the 21st of October until it was removed from the liturgical calendar in the late 1960’s. St. Ursula lived in the 3rd or 4th century and, based on several biographies I read, is either a valiant warrior for women’s rights or a total fabrication.

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joyce ulysses haines black panther

Ep. 7 – In Defense of Dorkiness

BZwOMBNCQAAJ6ZI.jpg-largeKelly and Dermot discuss Stephen’s tower-mate, the Englishman Haines. Haines was based on a real-life roommate of James Joyce’s – Dermot Chenevix Trench. Did Joyce’s personal dislike of Trench color his characterization in the novel? What’s up with that black panther mentioned in ‘Telemachus?’ Why does Dermot (our host) have bad memories of learning Irish in school? These questions and more will be answered. Other topics include: Irish identity in 1904 and now, Joyce’s bad attitude, and Gogarty, the unreliable narrator of his own autobiography.

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Decoding Dedalus: A Dedalus Never Pays His Debts

—I will tell you, he said solemnly, what is his proudest boast. I paid my way. … I never borrowed a shilling in my life. Can you feel that? I owe nothing. Can you?

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a paragraph of Ulysses and  break it down line by line. 

The passage below comes from “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 30-31 in my copy (1990 Vintage International).


A guide to pre-decimal currency can be found here.

Mr. Deasy’s quote above is meant to be the pride of the English – being so sensible (or just wealthy, let’s be real) that you live your whole life without debts. It’s worth recalling that in “Telemachus,”  Haines the Englishman said to Buck Mulligan, “Have you your bill? We had better pay her, Mulligan, hadn’t we?” just moments before Mulligan underpays the milkwoman for her milk, an underpayment on owed money. Stephen, most unEnglishly, also has his fair share of debts, of which he takes mental stock after Mr. Deasy extolls the virtues of lacking debt. Stephen’s debt mirrors the financial realities of James Joyce himself at a similar age.

Much like Stephen, Joyce had returned from medical school in Paris, his family in disarray following his mother’s death. His father, John Joyce, was selling off their household items to patch holes in the family’s dire financial situation while coping with the strain through alcohol. Though James could have hypothetically worked to support his family, he was dead set on making his mark as an Artist. This sometimes took the form of all-day writing sessions and other times sleeping until four in the afternoon following an all-night drinking session. In Joyce’s mind, one justified the other.

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Homer The Odyssey Ulysses James Joyce Stephen Dedalus

Ulysses & The Odyssey: Telemachus

I am now writing a book based on the wanderings of Ulysses. ‘The Odyssey,’ that is to say, serves me as a ground plan. Only my time is recent and all my hero’s wanderings take no more than 18 hours. – James Joyce, 1918

For a discussion of this topic, check out our podcast episode here.

Welcome to the first post in an occasional series in which I read The Odyssey, break down the references in each of Ulysses’ eighteen episodes and pull out the ancient Greek parallels. Ulysses has its basis in Homer’s ancient Greek epic, so exploring the journeys of Leopold Bloom and Odysseus side by side seems like an obvious route. However, a word of caution: while The Odyssey is present in the text of Ulysses, knowing and understanding the Homeric parallels in Ulysses will only take you so far and will sometimes present you with “false friends” – apparent parallels where there are none. It’s kind of like the Spanish word embarazada. It looks a lot like a familiar English word, but using it to mean embarrassment might lead to… well, embarrassment.

Telemachus_and_Mentor1
Telemachus and Mentor, Pablo E. Fabisch, 1699

Just so we’re clear on terms – “Homeric parallels” are the ways in which Ulysses is modeled on Homer’s Odyssey. “Ulysses” is the Latin name for the main character (Odysseus in Greek) after allIf you’ve used a reading guide or annotation to Ulysses, you’ve likely noticed that each episode in the novel is given a title corresponding to The Odyssey. The first chapter about Stephen and the boys in the tower is called “Telemachus,” for instance. Although these designations are common coin amongst Ulysses enthusiasts, they never appeared in any published edition of the book. They were popularized by Stuart Gilbert after they appeared in his 1930 book Ulysses – A Study.  Joyce provided Gilbert with a schema outlining his novel as well as prominent themes and parallels in each episode. If you use an annotation that lists the corresponding organ, color, art etc. for each chapter, these also have their roots in Joyce’s schemata.

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James Joyce Ulysses Buck Mulligan

Ulysses CCD: Mulligan Mocks Mass

To hear a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here.

Part of an occasional series on Catholic allusions found in Ulysses.


In 2017, I was a founding member of the Ulysses Support Group at T.C. O’Leary’s pub in Portland, Oregon. Our goal was to read the entirety of Ulysses aloud between two Bloomsdays. On the first night, as we started analysing the opening lines of the novel, I pointed out that Mulligan’s actions atop the Martello tower were a blasphemous mockery of the Catholic Mass. One of the other participants blurted, “How do you KNOW it’s about Catholicism??” It caught me off guard, but another member deftly responded, “Joyce was Irish. Of course it’s about Catholicism!”

I was raised Catholic in a small town where most people were Catholic. I went to Sunday school (called CCD) every week. Monty Python and the Meaning of Life was banned in our house because of the “Every Sperm is Sacred” song. One thing I learned through our book club is that a lot of the religious references and imagery don’t necessarily stand out for those of us who didn’t grow up steeped in Catholicism. I also notice a lot of reading guides and annotations for Ulysses assume the reader’s familiarity with Catholicism. In this post and many posts to come, I hope to answer the question of Book Club Dude: “How do you KNOW it’s about Catholicism??”

Today, I’m taking on that very first passage of Ulysses about stately, plump Buck Mulligan.
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James Joyce Ulysses Buck Mulligan

Poetry in Ulysses: The Ballad of Joking Jesus

-We oughtn’t to laugh, I suppose. He’s rather blasphemous. I’m not a believer myself, that is to say. Still his gaiety takes the harm out of it somehow, doesn’t it?

In “Telemachus,” Stephen Dedalus and the boys head down to the sea beside their Martello tower home in Sandycove to bathe in the sea. On the way, Buck Mulligan regales them with a blasphemous tune he’s composed called “The Ballad of Joking Jesus.” Haines, the English student, is amused, but we learn that Stephen is tiring of the “Ballad,” having heard it “three times a day, after meals” for God knows how long.

joyce ulysses buck mulliganThe inclusion of “The Ballad of Joking Jesus” establishes Buck Mulligan as a low-brow blasphemer – a man whose irreverence has no deeper meaning behind it, unlike that of an artist such as Dedalus. Mulligan is just saying rude things to get a rise out of his friends or maybe a few laughs. He’s basically that one friend who constantly posts edgy memes on Facebook with the comment, “I’m going to hell lol.” Stephen’s rejection of the Church comes from a deeper more philosophic place. Stephen also refused to pray at his mother’s deathbed on principal, so I have a hard time taking his side here.

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joyce ulysses buck mulligan

Who Was the Real Buck Mulligan?

—He’s in with a lowdown crowd, Mr Dedalus snarled. That Mulligan is a contaminated bloody doubledyed ruffian by all accounts. His name stinks all over Dublin.

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episode here

Most of the links that come up in a Google search for “Oliver St John Gogarty” are for pubs, hostels, apartments etc. instead of the man himself. At 8 a pint, The Oliver St John Gogarty pub in Temple Bar allegedly serves the most expensive pint in Ireland, according the Irish Sun. However, I don’t think it is a fitting legacy for the man fictionalized by Joyce as Buck Mulligan.

Oliver St John Gogarty (pronounced like Sinjin Gogurt-y), was a notable figure in his own right – a surgeon, a poet and a politician. In Ulysses, he appears as Malachi “Buck” Mulligan – a joshing blasphemer and Stephen Dedalus’ main antagonist. Mulligan has a habit of showing up and making Stephen look foolish and injecting crass commentary into otherwise serious discussions, as in “Scylla and Charybdis” when Mulligan shows up at the National Library to add his two cents to Stephen’s Shakespeare theory. Joyce said of Mulligan, “He should begin to pull on the reader as the day goes on… to the extent that Buck Mulligan’s wit wears threadbare….” Personally, Mulligan didn’t wear on my nerves, but he does come off as a bully and tormentor. The dynamic between Mulligan and Dedalus has its roots in Joyce’s complex, real-life relationship with Gogarty.

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