Thursday, May 20, 2010

How Jewish is Ulysses?


Much has been of the fact that James Joyce chose to make Leopold Bloom, the lead character in Ulysses, Jewish. Bloom's father is a Hungarian Jew who immigrated to Ireland. Bloom's mother is Irish. While according to Jewish law Bloom would not be considered Jewish, he is certainly looked upon as other by the Irish community in which he lives. While Ireland was a safe place for Jews to live in the early 1900's, Joyce highlights several moments of anti-semitism in the book. In episode two, the school teacher Mr Deasy tells Stephen Dedalus that: "England is in the hands of the jews. In all the highest places: her finance, her press. And they are the signs of a nation's decay." At the end of The Cyclops episode of Ulysses, the Citizen hurls a biscuit tin at Bloom's head and threatens to crucify him after Bloom says: "Mendelssohn was a jew and Karl Marx and Mercadante and Spinoza. And the Saviour was a jew and his father was a jew. Your God."

By making Bloom Jewish, Joyce was able to create a connection between this very Irish tale and communities the world over. Additionally, Bloom's Jewishness underlines his outsider status in Ireland something that Joyce himself felt keenly as artist in self-exile in Europe. In many ways both Bloom and Dedalus are stands in for Joyce. Bloom as the older man trying to provide for his family with his unreliable income and Stephen as a young artist attempting to make his mark on a people and a society not yet ready to listen to him.

There is some discussion that perhaps it is Molly Bloom and not Leopold who is Jewish. The background of Molly's mother, Lunita Laredo, is unknown and there are intimations throughout her monologue that she was an outsider of somesort, a gypsy, an artist or perhaps a Jew. One of the most memorable Jewish characters in all of Irish literature, is of course the whoremistress Madame Bella Cohen who appears in The Circe episode and is the subject of Bloom's filthy sexual fantasies. For Radio Bloomsday 2010, Charles Busch performs the role of Bella Cohen, Aaron Beall is Bloom and T. Ryder Smith is the narrator.

The twentieth century Jewish community in Ireland was very prominent with two Jewish mayors and several Jewish ministers of parliament coming from a community of fewer than 2000 people. The first Jewish mayor of Dublin, Douglas Briscoe is pictured above. Irish historian Cormac O'Grada has written a very informative book about the Jewish community in Ireland at the time entitled Jewish Ireland in the Age of Joyce. More recently, a film Shalom Ireland which you can preview at the link discusses the Jewish community in Ireland today.

Although Ulysses has been translated into several languages including Hebrew, there has never been a Yiddish translation of the book. For Bloomsday, 2005, I translated a few paragraphs between Bloom and his old girlfriend Mrs. Denis Breen aka Josie Powell which you can read here -


-- O, Mr Bloom, how do you do?
OT, REB BLOOM, VOS MAKT IR?
-- O, how do you do, Mrs Breen?
NU, VOS HERT ZIKH, FRAU BREEN?
-- No use complaining. How is Molly those times? Haven't seen her for ages.
FAR VOS ZOL IHK KVETSHN? UN VI GAYT MOLLY AF YEDN TEG? ICH HOB A LANGE TSAYT ZI NISHT GEZEN.
-- In the pink, Mr Bloom said gaily, Milly has a position down in Mullingar, you know.
IN BESTN GEZUNT HOT REB BLOOM GEZOGT MIT FRAYD. MILLY HOT A JOB IN MULLINGAR, DOKH.
-- Go away! Isn't that grand for her?
NISHT EMES! DOS IZ ZAYER GUT FAR IR, NISHT VOR?
-- Yes, in a photographer's there. Getting on like a house on fire. How are all your charges?
YAU, BAY A FOTOGRAFER DORTN. S’IZ VI SHABES ALE VOKH. VI GAYT DI KINDER?
-- All on the baker's list, Mrs Breen said.
K’HOB NAKHES HOT FRAU BREEN GEZOGT
How many has she? No other in sight.
VIFL HOT ZI? KAYN ANDERE ZAY IHK NISHT
-- You're in black, I see. You have no...?
IR TUT AN SHVARTZE KLAYDER, ZAY ICH, IR HOT NISHT GEHAT KAYN -
-- No, Mr Bloom said. I have just come from a funeral.
NAYN, HOT MR BLOOM GEZOGT, ICH BIN YEZT TSURIK GEKUMEN OF A LAVAYA
Going to crop up all day, I foresee. Who's dead, when and what did he die of? Turn up like a bad penny.
S’VET ARAYNKHAPN ALE TOG, IKH ZAY, VER IZ TOIT, VEN UN FUN VOS IZ ER GESHTORBN, SVET ARAYN KHAPN VI CHOLERIA
-- O dear me, Mrs Breen said. I hope it wasn't any near relation.
OY VAY IZ MIR, FRAU BREEN HOT GEZOGT, IKH HOF AZ S’IZ NISHT GEVEN KAYN KROVIM
May as well get her sympathy.
A BISL MITLAYD, FAR VOS NIT?
-- Dignam, Mr Bloom said. An old friend of mine. He died quite suddenly, poor fellow. Heart trouble, I believe. Funeral was this morning.
DIGNAM HOT REB BLOOM GEZOGT, AN ALTE FRAYNT MAYN. ER IZ GESHTORBN ZAYER PLUTZLING, NEBEKH. TSUROS MITN HARTS MAYN IKH. DI LAVAYA IZ GEVEN IN DER FREE.
Your funeral's tomorrow
While you're coming through the rye.
Diddlediddle dumdum
Diddlediddle...

DAYN LAVAYA IS MORGN
VEN DU KUMST DURCHN RYE
YADADIE DIE DIE
YADADEE DEE DEE

-- Sad to lose the old friends, Mrs Breen's womaneyes said melancholily.
S’IZ ZAJER TROIERK VEN DI ALTE KHAVERIM GAEYN, FRAU BREENS OIGN HAT MIT TROIER GEZOGT
Now that's quite enough about that. Just quietly: husband.
GENUG SHOIN. SHA STIL – IR MAN.
-- And your lord and master?
UN IR GRAF UN BALABUS?
Mrs Breen turned up her two large eyes. Hasn't lost them anyhow.
FRAU BREEN HOT AB GEDRAYT IR ZVAI GROISE OIGN. ZI HOBN ZAY NISHT GELOZT, MIRTSHASHEM
-- O, don't be talking! she said. He's a caution to rattlesnakes. He's in there now with his lawbooks finding out the law of libel. He has me heartscalded. Wait till I show you.
OY! SHA, ZI HOT GEZOGT. A DYBUK IZ ARAYN IN IM. ER HAK MIKH A TCHAINIK. ER IZ ARAYN DORTN MITN TALMUD ZUKNDIK A DAVAR TOIRA VEGN LOSHN-HORE, IKH’LL ES AKYH BAVIZN.

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