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The Virags and the Blooms

Martin Greene

Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition, by James Joyce, ed by Hans Walter Gabler, Wolfhard Steppe and Claus Melchior, Garland Publishing, 3 volumes, 1,919 pp, ISBN: 0-824043758 

Joyce’s Creative Process and the Construction of Characters in Ulysses, by Luca Crispi, Oxford University Press, 368 pp, £60, ISBN: 978-0198718857
Leah, the Forsaken: A Play, in Five Acts, by Augustin Daly, Forgotten Books, a facsimile edition of the 1862 original published by Samuel French, 52 pp, £9.59, ISBN: 978-1330798003

It’s often said that Ulysses “has no story”. This is true in the sense that it doesn’t have a single story which captures the essence of the work as a whole. But it does contain a multitude of smaller-scale stories. These emerge from the events of the day and the characters’ conversations and thoughts. They can seem to be about trivial matters. They can also be difficult to follow because the information provided is often incomplete, dispersed widely across the eighteen episodes, presented out of sequence or hidden in obscure passages of text. But they repay close attention because they can provide insights into the novel’s characters and themes and Joyce’s compositional method. Knowledge of the text’s compositional history can also help to reveal their meanings.

Consider the stories about Bloom’s interest in attending a performance of the play Leah at the Gaiety Theatre and his encouragement of his daughter Milly to take up a job in a photographic studio in Mullingar. These initially seem to be stories of everyday life of the most mundane kind: Bloom is interested in the play because its theme – Jewish emigration from Hungary – is relevant to his father Rudolph’s migration from Hungary to Ireland; and he is happy about Milly’s job because she is following in a family tradition in photography established by his Hungarian antecedents. As will be shown below, however, close attention to them suggests that Rudolph’s departure from Hungary caused a family rupture – subsequently suppressed in his and Bloom’s version of the family history – and that, moreover, Bloom’s talk about photography and Leah is a smokescreen to conceal his complicity in his wife, Molly’s, affair with Hugh “Blazes” Boylan.

But it’s also clear that these findings are matters of likelihood, not certainty. This is mainly because the characters’ thoughts – on which they depend – are shown to be unreliable. It’s also due in part to a gap in the Leah story. The account of Bloom’s breakfast-time conversation with Molly in the Calypso episode – which depends on Bloom’s thoughts ‑ makes no mention of his telling her that he would be late home that evening because he was planning to attend the performance of Leah. Later, however, the reader is informed, via Molly’s thoughts in the Penelope episode, that he had done so. In Molly’s view, this was his way of signalling to her that the coast was clear for her planned assignation with Boylan that afternoon. But Molly’s account of the conversation is uncorroborated and her assessment of Bloom’s attitude may not be objective.

The net effect is to present the reader with much food for thought – but no certainty – in relation to Bloom’s behaviour and character. The compositional history reveals one way in which uncertainty was programmed into the text as it developed: a last-minute revision to the photography story served not to bring clarity to the outcome but to introduce ambiguity into what would otherwise have been unambiguous. It also identifies the moment when Joyce saw how limited references to photography and Leah could be transformed into stories with consequences for the text as a whole.

Because of the missing piece in the account of Bloom’s breakfast-time conversation with Molly, the reader is unaware of this background on encountering the first references to Leah in the Lotus Eaters and Hades episodes. The result is an inversion of the usual form of dramatic irony: the fictional character knows something about which the audience is kept in the dark. The references, prompted by advertisements for the play, occur in Bloom’s thoughts after he has left the family home for the day. In Lotus Eaters, he thinks:

Hello. Leah tonight. Mrs Bandmann Palmer. Like to see her again in that ... Poor Papa! How he used to think of Kate Bateman in that. Outside the Adelphi in London waited all afternoon to get in ... And Ristori in Vienna ... By Mosenthal it is. Rachel is it? No. The scene he was always talking about where the old blind Abraham recognises the voice and puts his fingers on his face.
Nathan’s voice! His son’s voice! I hear the voice of Nathan who left his father to die of grief and misery in my arms, who left the house of his father and left the God of his father.
Every word so deep, Leopold.

In Hades, he reflects further: “Mrs Bandmann Palmer. Could I go to see Leah tonight, I wonder. I said I.”

The real-life American actress Millicent Bandmann Palmer did perform at the Gaiety Theatre in June 1904. Her performance was a reprise of five of the roles for which she was best-known, Leah included. The play featuring this role was Augustin Daly’s Leah, the Forsaken (1862). Daly was an Irish-American playwright and the operator of some of New York’s most successful theatre companies between the 1860s and the 1890s. Leah was his adaptation of Salomon Hermann Mosenthal’s German-language Deborah. For many years it was a staple of the English-language theatre on both sides of the Atlantic and it is staged still (for example, at the Metropolitan Playhouse, New York, in March 2017). Bloom has seen Leah previously and he mentions that his father saw both Deborah (in Vienna) and Leah (in London).

In Daly’s play, Leah is the leader of a group of “wandering Jews” who have arrived at a village in Austria after fleeing from Hungary to escape religious persecution. In their exile, they are again the victims of prejudice. Their chief persecutor now is Nathan, an outsider who has taken up residence in the area. Nathan is an apostate Jew who passes locally as a lifelong Christian and who aims to ingratiate himself with the local community by professing anti-Semitic views.

Bloom recalls a scene in the play in which Abraham, a member of Leah’s group and a blind old man, recognises Nathan by his voice and by touching his face:

That voice! I know that voice! There was at Presburg, a man whose name was Nathan. He was a singer in the Synagogue. It is his voice I hear.
... He left his father to die in poverty and misery, since he had forsworn his faith, and the house of his kindred
... (passing his hand over NATHAN’S face) And I recognise the features of Nathan.

Both this scene in Leah and Rudolph’s recollection of it as recounted by Bloom bear a striking similarity to the biblical story of Isaac and his sons Esau and Jacob. In the Book of Genesis, Jacob, attempting to usurp the rights due to his older brother, approaches the blind and dying Isaac, pretending to be Esau. As Jacob is an indoor type (“dwelling in tents”) whereas his brother is a rugged “man of the field”, he wears “the skins of the kids of goats upon his hands” to deceive his father’s sense of touch. The perplexed Isaac exclaims: “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.”

Bloom cannot recall the name of Mosenthal’s play but at least he realises that his first attempt (Rachel) is incorrect. The reference to Presburg means that both Leah (the victim of persecution) and Nathan (her tormentor) are Jews from Hungary. (Presburg, or Pressburg, now renamed Bratislava, is the capital city of Slovakia. Until 1918 it was part of Hungary. From the early medieval period up to and including the period when Daly and Joyce were writing it had an important Jewish population). If the implications of this reference to Presburg have been noticed, the reader may now wonder whether Rudolph’s migration story parallels Leah’s (aiming to be free to practice her religion) or Nathan’s (intending to do well for himself by abandoning his religion). Otherwise, it will still be assumed that Rudolph’s biography is the story of an uncontroversial migration.

The unfinished sentence in the Hades passage (“I said I”) will take on more importance later. But at this stage the reader – still unaware of the full details of Bloom’s breakfast-time conversation with Molly – will see it as a puzzle: there is no knowing what Bloom means by the phrase except that it relates somehow to Leah.

This is the last the reader will hear of the Leah story until the Circe (or Nighttown) episode, when Bloom’s recollection of Rudolph’s account of the play – muddled together with his recollection of the related biblical story – will return to his mind to trouble him. In the meantime, the photography story is introduced.

The reader is aware from Bloom’s breakfast-time conversation with Molly that their young daughter Milly has recently left the family home to take up a position in a photographic studio in Mullingar. In Lestrygonians, Bloom fondly recalls her childhood and thinks: “Now photography. Poor papa’s daguerreotype atelier he told me of. Hereditary taste.”

Thus Bloom implies that in taking up a job in a photographic studio Milly is following in a family tradition in photography established by his Hungarian antecedents. Later, in Ithaca, there is corroborating evidence when it is revealed that a drawer in the family home contains a “daguerreotype” of Bloom’s father, Rudolph, and grandfather, Leopold, which had been “executed in the year 1852 in the portrait atelier of their (respectively) 1st and 2nd cousin Stefan Virag of Szesfehervar, Hungary”. (Following his arrival in Ireland, Bloom’s father changed his name by deed-poll from Rudolf Virag – or Virag Rudolf, to put the family name before the given one in accordance with Hungarian practice – to Rudolph Bloom. The Hungarian word “virag” can be translated as “bloom” or “flower”. The correct spelling of Stefan Virag’s home place is Székesfehérvár.)

Following this introduction, the photography story remains dormant until it and the Leah story find their joint denouement in the final episode.

In Circe, Bloom, now in Dublin’s Nighttown district after a long and trying day, is in a disturbed state of mind. This is due in part to his distress owing to Molly’s assignation with Boylan. (It was clear from his breakfast-time conversation with Molly that Boylan was calling to see her in the afternoon in connection with a projected concert tour in which she was to participate as a singer). Initially he seems to be coping reasonably well but events soon run out of control. Before long he meets his deceased father Rudolph. Rudolph’s words and gestures here echo both the Abraham/Nathan scene in Leah and Bloom’s recollection of Rudolph’s account of it: “(with feeble vulture talons he feels the silent face of Bloom) Are you not my son Leopold, the grandson of Leopold? Are you not my dear son Leopold who left the house of his father and left the god of his fathers Abraham and Jacob?” Bloom meekly responds: “I suppose so, father. Mosenthal. All that’s left of him.”

The reference to Mosenthal makes the link to Leah explicit – albeit that Mosenthal was the author of the original rather than the English-language version of the play. The reader will probably now suspect – whether or not the implications of the reference to Presburg have been understood – that the circumstances of Rudolph’s emigration from Hungary provoked a family rupture because they were seen by his father as involving a betrayal of religious and family loyalties. By now the reader will also have learned, in Lestrygonians, that Rudolph had converted from Judaism to Protestantism following his arrival in Ireland. The charge of betraying religious and family loyalties would fit Rudolph better than it does Bloom. But Bloom may feel implicated in the guilt because of his role in falsifying the family history and because, as he acknowledges in Ithaca, he feels “remorse” for having in his youth “treated with disrespect certain beliefs and practices” such as “the supernatural character of Judaic scripture”.

As the episode proceeds, Bloom continues to be troubled by thoughts about Leah. When he encounters an old flame, Mrs Breen, he lies to her about his reasons for being in Nighttown: “I was at Leah.” Later he meets Paddy Dignam whose funeral he had attended earlier in the day. Dignam addresses him: “Bloom, I am Paddy Dignam’s spirit. List, list, O list!” Bloom responds: “The voice is the voice of Esau.” This again echoes the language of Leah or, more exactly, the language of the biblical story on which Leah draws: the idea of recognition by voice and touch in the absence of vision is common to both but Esau is a character only in the biblical story. Bloom, however, muddles not only the two stories but also the characters in the biblical story: the “voice” is Jacob’s, not Esau’s.

Later, in Ithaca, Bloom, having extricated himself from Nighttown and returned home, reviews the activities of his day, acknowledging a “provisional failure ... to obtain admission ... to the performance of Leah by Mrs Bandmann Palmer at the Gaiety Theatre”. But, when Molly later queries him about his day, he lies: he “included mention of a performance by Mrs Bandmann Palmer of Leah at the Gaiety Theatre”.

In Penelope, Molly is reflecting on Bloom’s knowledge of – and his attitude to – her affair with Boylan. As she sees it, Bloom “has an idea about him and me hes not such a fool he said Im dining out and going to the Gaiety”. This seems to put the reader in the picture about the missing piece in the account of the breakfast-time conversation and to solve the puzzle of the unfinished sentence in Hades: he had, according to Molly, said that he would be “dining out and going to the Gaiety”. Because the reference here is linked to Bloom’s knowledge of the affair it also suggests that Bloom’s talk about Leah was to signal to Molly that the way was clear for her afternoon assignation with Boylan. (At this point, readers of Ulysses who are familiar with the Dubliners story “The Sisters” will recall that the use there of the word “gnomon” – a term from geometry meaning a parallelogram from which a piece, also in the shape of a parallelogram, has been removed at one corner – had put them on notice that the “missing piece” can be the most important part of any story. The term was smuggled into “The Sisters” as a strange word that the child-narrator recalls having heard in the schoolroom.)

Later in the episode, Molly returns to the topic and in doing so brings the photography story back into play:

such an idea for him to send the girl down there to learn to take photographs on account of his grandfather ... only hed do a thing like that ... on account of me and Boylan thats why he did it Im certain.

Thus she initially seems to endorse Bloom’s suggestion that he encouraged Milly to take up the photography job because he was pleased that she was following in a family tradition. But she then indicates that he did so “on account of me and Boylan”. This seems to suggest that Bloom’s motivation involved both family tradition and the affair: Milly was following in a family tradition and, by her absence from the family home, leaving the way clear for Molly to pursue her affair with Boylan. But in light of what is known about Bloom’s character from other parts of the text, the reader may also consider that there might have been yet another angle to his motivation – a solicitous concern to shield his daughter from knowledge of her mother’s behaviour.

The stories suggest that, contrary to Bloom’s version of the family history, the circumstances of Rudolph’s departure from Hungary caused a family rupture because they were seen by his father as involving a betrayal of religious and family loyalties. They also suggest that Bloom’s talk about photography and Leah was his way of signalling to Molly – without acknowledging to her, or perhaps even to himself, that he was doing so – that the way was clear for her to pursue her affair with Boylan.

But it’s also clear that these findings are matters of likelihood, not certainty. They accord well with the available information. But the reliability of that information – which depends mainly on the characters’ uncorroborated thoughts – is very much in question. The finding concerning family history depends on the reader’s interpretation of the mental turmoil provoked in Bloom by thoughts related to Leah. The play clearly had some exceptional meaning for both Rudolph and Bloom. But the finding suggested cannot be taken as certain because, although it accords more fully with the available information than any obvious alternative would do, it depends on an inference on the reader’s part. Moreover, there is ample evidence that Bloom, on whose thoughts the Leah material depends, has a taste for deceit and a tendency to muddled thinking.

The finding concerning Bloom’s complicity in Molly’s adultery depends on her thoughts. But the reader can’t rule out the possibility that her assessment of Bloom’s role in relation to the affair is her way of absolving herself of blame for her own behaviour. It’s possible that Bloom’s unfinished sentence in Hades would, if completed, confirm Molly’s account of the breakfast-time conversation. But this, though plausible, is speculative. Even if Molly’s account of the breakfast-time conversation is accepted, despite its not being corroborated by the account in Calypso or otherwise, the general problem of uncertainty arising from narrative gaps remains because the reader must now allow that there could be other – undiscovered – “missing pieces”. The inclusion of inconsistent or contradictory elements in the available information – for example, Bloom encouraged Milly to take up the job in Mullingar “on account of” the family tradition and “on account of” the affair – increases the sense of uncertainty around the stories. Moreover, the fact that this ambiguity in the photography story was the product of a last-minute revision – as will be seen below – indicates that providing the reader with clear-cut story outcomes was not among Joyce’s compositional objectives.

The reader may not initially recognise the extent of the uncertainty associated with the available information as there is a natural tendency to repose a high degree of trust in the available evidence when evidence of any kind is hard to come by. But the pervasive sense of uncertainty eventually makes itself felt. The net effect is to challenge the reader to consider a series of questions which will necessitate looking to the text as a whole for evidence as to Bloom’s character. Is he complicit in Molly’s adultery and if so what does this say about his character? Is it a sign of abject inadequacy: he is unable to secure Molly’s loyalty and accepts – maybe even wants – the role of cuckold? Or is it an indication of largeness of spirit: he understands Molly’s situation – empathising with her even when her behaviour is hurtful to him – and is willing to do whatever is necessary to keep his family together for the benefit of all its members?

There are also implications for the reader’s understanding of other parts of the text. For example, it could be argued that anguish related to the family rupture could have been a contributory factor to Rudolph’s suicide some years after arriving in Ireland. This loading of the stories with so much meaning represents a remarkable economy of resource use on Joyce’s part as the passages relating directly to Leah and the family tradition in photography amount to only about two pages or one third of one per cent of the text.

Joyce worked methodically on the text of Ulysses between 1917 and January 1922, completing the episodes in the order in which they appear in the published work, except that Ithaca – the penultimate episode – was the last to be completed. For each episode, there was a three-stage process: manuscript (handwritten versions culminating in a ready-for-the-typist “fair copy”), typescript (typed versions culminating in a ready-for-the-printer typescript) and proof (printer’s proofs culminating in the published edition). Joyce revised heavily at all three stages. Precise dates can be established for some parts of the process but for others approximate timing is all that is possible.

By the spring of 1921, fair copy manuscripts for the first sixteen episodes had been completed; between then and January 1922 Joyce wrote and subsequently revised the remaining episodes – Ithaca and Penelope – and returned to the earlier ones to reshape them to dovetail with the ones he was now writing. As he began this final stage of composition, the photography and Leah stories had only a limited presence in the text. Much of the material from the first sixteen episodes was already in place but there were two crucial omissions: the language linking Milly’s job to family tradition in Lestrygonians and the unfinished sentence in Hades. Thus there was enough to suggest that Rudolph and Bloom had falsified the family history but there would have been no link between the stories and nothing to indicate that Bloom was complicit in Molly’s adultery.

Joyce’s first focus in the final stage of composition was the final episode – Penelope. In the case of the first of this episode’s two relevant passages, he composed the manuscript, including the first element (the affair) but not the second (attendance at the Leah performance) (NLI MS 36,639/14, p 1r). The effect of the subsequent addition of the second – at the typescript stage – is to link the affair with attendance at the performance. It also seems to solve the puzzle of the unfinished sentence in Hades and suggests that Bloom had signalled to Molly that the way was clear for her assignation with Boylan.

In the case of the second Penelope passage, he included the second element (the affair) in the manuscript (p 8r). But the first (family tradition) is effectively not present: a reference to “send[ing] the girl down there to take photographs” was present but the crucial phrase “on account of his grandfather” was a later addition at the proof stage. In this case, the late revision suggests that Bloom’s interest in the photography job is not (or not only) motivated by the affair but instead (or also) by family tradition. The location of the added element ahead of the pre-existing one may give it precedence in the reader’s mind when considering Bloom’s motivation on this point. Thus, the effect of the late revision was to introduce ambiguity into what would otherwise have been an unambiguous outcome.

Moving on to Ithaca, Joyce did not include either of this episode’s two references to Leah in the first draft of the manuscript. But before finalising it he added a marginal note: “Mrs B P Leah” (NLI MS 36,639/13, p 9v). This is indicated as being for insertion immediately after the “causes of fatigue” passage in Bloom’s review of his day. It is clearly the basis for the “imperfections of a perfect day” passage which Joyce added to the text when completing the subsequent fair copy manuscript. It may also have been the basis for the second Ithaca reference – Bloom’s untruthful claim to Molly that he had attended the play – which was also included in the fair copy.

Returning to earlier episodes at the proof stages, over three years after their fair copy manuscripts had been completed, he added the unfinished sentence to Hades and, to Lestrygonians, the passage linking the photography job to family tradition. The first of these inaugurates the puzzle that is solved – if Molly’s account is accepted – in Penelope. It also makes the story amenable to Sherlockholmesing – Bloom’s term, in Eumaeus, for puzzle-solving – by telling the reader early in the text that something relating to Leah has been suppressed in Bloom’s thoughts. The second provides the essential background for the Penelope passage which suggests that Bloom’s motivation in relation to the photography job involved family tradition as well as the affair.

The final stage of composition for these stories seems to have occurred in two phases, with the marginal note on the Ithaca manuscript marking the dividing line between them. In the initial phase, Joyce composed the Penelope manuscript, including both references to the affair but nothing relating to either Leah or photography (spring-summer 1921). He then composed the main body of the Ithaca manuscript, adding the marginal note relating to Leah apparently as an afterthought (also spring-summer 1921). Moving on, then, to the second phase, he composed the fair copy manuscript for Ithaca, including – drawing on the marginal note – the two references to Leah (August-late October 1921 – presumably early in this period). Next he returned to Penelope at the typescript and proof stages to add, respectively, the references to Leah (August 16th-mid-October 1921) and photography (mid-November 1921). He also returned to Hades and Lestrygonians at the proof stages to add, respectively, the unfinished sentence relating to Leah and the passage linking photography to family tradition (early September-September 19th 1921). Thus, it seems that the marginal note on the Ithaca manuscript marks the moment when he saw – and then acted upon – the potential to convert the photography and Leah material into stories with consequences for the text as a whole.

Readers of Joyce’s writing who are familiar with Leah will notice, in addition to the references to the Abraham/Nathan scene, a considerable number of other echoes of Daly’s play in Joyce’s work, including representations of Jewish stereotypes. This is not surprising in works featuring anti-Semitism but in some cases the treatment is strikingly similar, for example, the presentation, in Leah and the Dubliners story “A Little Cloud”, of the Jewish seductress stereotype, with particular reference to the supposedly bewitching qualities of Jewesses’ eyes. But this could be merely a reflection of ideas that were in general circulation in the period when Daly and Joyce were writing.

Nevertheless, one of these echoes is worth noticing here because it also provides insights into Joyce’s compositional method. In Leah, Ludwig deploys the Jewish merchant stereotype: “if they once get fast, ten devils can’t move them”. This resembles language contained in a marginal note on the Ithaca manuscript (“how held on when given an inch”), where it is incongruously attributed to Bloom with reference to his father (NLI MS 36,639/13, p 11v). This was probably based on an entry Joyce made on a “note-sheet” containing material for Ithaca, now held in the British Library, that he prepared at about the same time (mid-1921): “Ul. Beggar given inch takes all (jew gets ?on)” (BL Ithaca MS 11.65 – the question mark indicates that the reading of the final word is not certain). This item wasn’t retained in the subsequent draft of Ithaca. But the same idea is evident in the “old Methusalem Bloom” passage in Cyclops, where it is more plausibly attributed to the episode’s bilious narrator. This was added to the text as a typescript addition (September 1921), over two years after the completion of the Cyclops fair copy manuscript, and at roughly the same time as Joyce dropped the similar language from Ithaca and moved decisively to complete the photography and Leah stories. Thus the arrival of this stereotype into the Ithaca manuscript, whether prompted by Leah or otherwise, and its subsequent deletion from Ithaca and appearance in Cyclops, suggests that it is an example of Joyce’s practice – noted by Luca Crispi and other commentators – of harvesting useful material as the opportunity presented itself and later finding a home for it in his text.

Note on Sources

Daly’s principal biography is The Life of Augustin Daly by his brother Joseph Francis Daly (Macmillan, 1917). Don Wilmeth and Rosemary Cullen provide the texts of three Daly plays (not including Leah) and a substantial introduction to his work in Plays by Augustin Daly (Cambridge University Press, 1984). Stephen Watt considers Leah in relation to Irish-Jewish connections in “Something Dreadful and Grand”, American Literature and the Irish-Jewish Unconscious (Oxford University Press, 2015). The principal history of Hungary’s Jewish population is Raphael Patai’s The Jews of Hungary (Wayne State University Press, 1996). István Szabó’s film Sunshine (1999) includes a gripping account of the history of Hungary’s Jewish population in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
The book by UCD academic Luca Crispi is the single most useful source for exploring the compositional history of Ulysses. It includes details of the extant manuscripts, a glossary of relevant technical terms and a case study showing how the “genetic studies” approach can be brought to bear on the work. It also takes account of the Ulysses manuscripts, now held in the National Library of Ireland (NLI), which came to light in 2002. The three-volume “Critical and Synoptic Edition” of Ulysses, edited by Gabler and others, is still valuable, even though it was published before the manuscripts now held in the NLI came to light, because it provides information about the compositional history of every phrase in Ulysses. But it requires an investment of time and effort on the reader’s part because it uses a complex system of symbols to track the history of the text from manuscript to publication and it assumes some knowledge of relevant technical terms. The NLI manuscripts are available online on the NLI catalogue.
The preparation of this essay also benefited from conversations with one of these authors (Crispi – at the UCD Joyce Summer School 2016 and subsequently) and Hungarian friends (and literature academics) Marianna Gula, Csilla Bertha and Donald Morse.


Martin Greene is a former Irish ambassador to Hungary and Brazil. He holds a PhD in economics from the University of Bradford. His assignment in Budapest sparked his interest in the Hungarian dimension of Ulysses.