The Ultimate Novel

William Empson

  • Ulysses by Hugh Kenner
    Allen and Unwin, 182 pp, £10.00, March 1980, ISBN 0 00 480003 6
  • A Starchamber Quiry: A James Joyce Centennial Volume 1882-1982 edited by E.L. Epstein
    Methuen, 164 pp, £9.50, February 1982, ISBN 0 416 31560 7

It is wonderful how Professor Kenner can keep on about Ulysses, always interesting and relevant and hardly repeating himself at all. His book gives a survey of books about Ulysses, mentioning only two previous ones by himself. He weeds out bad ideas and adds more promising ones, always with acknowledgement to other critics: and it is impressive that he had plenty more material available for the centenary collection, A Starchamber Quiry, just after printing his own book. He puts a new idea of his own into both of these books, and it urgently needs refuting. Stephen, he says (Kenner’s Ulysses, p. 152), is practically blind all through the book; his eyes without his glasses focus eight inches in front of his nose, and he broke them ‘yesterday’. This proves that whenever he claims to see anything he is only remembering what he usually sees. He is thus merely a windbag. (‘Yesterday’ comes on page 546 of the Modern Library 1942 edition. I need to give references because some of my assertions are controversial, but Joyce deliberately made it difficult. Kenner gives a welcome assurance that a definitive edition will soon at last appear.)

This disability in Stephen would soon become obvious in the book: but he can recognise people when they meet, he can catch the glint of the dusty jewels through the shop window. Indeed the strongest refutation comes at the start, when he and Malachi look out from the Martello tower at the morning sea. Malachi tells him to revere our great sweet mother, and Stephen looks at the mail-boat clearing the harbour mouth. Kenner is right to insist elsewhere that the ‘stream of consciousness’ method reports what the subject thought at the moment: Stephen must have recognised the mail-boat. Malachi then says his aunt believes that Stephen killed Stephen’s own mother by refusing to pray for her. Stephen regards the sea as the green bile which her coughing had torn up from her rotting liver (she died of cancer). Kenner, with very bad taste, I think, calls this ‘a brilliant example of Joyce’s scrupulous care for the limits of a character’s perceptions’. Next they quarrel over a phrase which had been used by Malachi as soon as Stephen’s mother was dead. Malachi goes, but Stephen ‘stood at his post, gazing over the calm sea towards the headland. Sea and headland now grew dim. Pulses were beating in his eyes, veiling their sight ...’ When Malachi has gone he becomes calm, and can look again: ‘Woodshadows floated silently by through the morning peace from the stairhead seaward where he gazed. Inshore and farther out the mirror of water whitened, spurned by lightshod hurrying feet. White breast of the dim sea ...’

Kenner says that Stephen is merely ‘trying out phrases, outdoing Yeats’, or perhaps imitating Homer (Starchamber Quiry, p. 26): but Kenner is the one who has no eyes here. Joyce often expresses fascination at the incessant slight movements of water around the tidal estuary of the Liffey: consider the reappearances of the throwaway pamphlet in the Wandering Rocks chapter, consider the end of Finnegans Wake. The brief description here is as vivid as it is beautiful.

The explanation is simple. Kenner’s evidence is that Stephen fails to light a cigarette in Nighttown and says: ‘Must get glasses. Broke them yesterday. Sixteen years ago.’ It was an hour ago, or a little more, but he is amused by the technicality that a new day begins at midnight – as when he tells Bloom he hasn’t dined since the day before yesterday, ‘improving on himself’ (Ulysses, p. 640). Also he remembers being unjustly beaten over breaking his glasses when he was a new boy at school; in a blurry way, he is reflecting about time. The glasses were broken in a scuffle at Westland Road station, where Malachi was taking the last train back to the tower. It left at 11.10 p.m., and Stephen had arrived there in time to quarrel with him; Bloom was following Stephen, thinking he might need help, and is our only source of information about what happened. Kenner does well to draw attention to this part of the story, and it is a pity that he missed the further point. Stephen feels triumphant when he arrives at the brothel, led by Lynch, but about two-thirds of the way through the chapter he begins to say that his hand is hurting. It would be numb at first, but he would feel it ‘after an hour or two’, says Kenner (p. 116), and he feels it just after he has mentioned the broken glasses. The girls have just said that it is ‘long after eleven’. Probably Stephen merely shouted insults at Malachi, who knocked him down and left him on the platform, but the bruised hand seems to represent an honourable wound. If the glasses had really been broken on the day before, the incident would have nothing to do with the novel.

This is not quite the end of it. One might ask why the glasses were not mentioned in the first chapter, when other needments were being assembled. Well, there are larger questions to answer there. Stephen’s mother has been dead for a year, all but ten days, and he is still in strict mourning for her, though it is hard for him to get clothes: but why does no one mention the eccentricity of this prolonged mourning? Why has Stephen waited a year before quarrelling with Malachi over a phrase used just after the death? They have been in close contact for most of the time. And why does he not shave, when Malachi does? Malachi had coaxed him into giving up his Paris beard (Ellmann’s Joyce, p. 136), and this was to have been a gala day for Stephen, standing treat with his earnings. Kenner himself gives the answer (p. 31): that the first page of Ulysses is like ‘the first page of a novel’, meaning a short story for a magazine. It must be smart and ‘gripping’, with stock sentiments (Wyndham Lewis jeered at them heartily, not realising that they were intentional). This is enough reason for it to leave out the detail of the spectacles. Ellmann also reports that he disliked having to wear them, leaving them off at parties apparently, but surely he would wear them when taking a class, at which he notices a boy using a crib.

Kenner has long been inclined to take the mickey out of Stephen, and still maintains here that he was incapable of becoming the great novelist. This theory is a step towards the right answer, but taken alone it is absurd. Joyce was a self-important man, as he needed to be, and he had described Stephen in a book title as a portrait of himself when young: he would not trivialise the character without warning, in a continuation. Actually, the book confronts Stephen with a grim necessity: for a time at least, he must commit himself to becoming a concert singer, a companionable life, but one from which the novelist would be unlikely to emerge. Joyce himself had escaped it, because he saw Nora walking along a street and at once stopped her and took her name and address. With Nora behind him, he could leave Ireland and teach English abroad (with his BA), but without her he would sink. Bloomsday, as Ellmann discovered, was the day she first consented to walk out with him, and he expected his friends to celebrate it as a sort of private Christmas. The story of the book is sad, but it can be treated with satirical gaiety because it did not happen: instead, a goddess had descended, and Joyce had reacted with instant vigour. But it would be foul to drag Nora into his autobiography; impossible, too; the only way to demonstrate her importance was to tell what would have happened without her. Molly Bloom, of course, is not a doctored version of Nora; as Nora remarked when asked the question, with her usual command of brevity: ‘She was much fatter.’ Because Nora enabled Joyce to leave Dublin, he can survey it as from a pinnacle. All this should have been obvious since Ellmann published his great biography, in 1959.

The many experts summarised by Kenner are keen to make the book as prosy and flat as possible. American higher education allows much freedom of choice, and English students may practically major in Ulysses, but Teacher has the duty of keeping it from doing them harm. No weaker hypothesis, I submit, can explain the glee with which Kenner reports a total agreement of modern experts that Molly has been pure during the ten years without normal sex which have been imposed by her husband; though a few envisage one contact with the tenor d’Arcy. The evidence comes from one Answer in the Question-and-Answer chapter, and ignores the rest of the book. Bloom in his sleepy final reflections recalls a number of men who have been charmed by Molly; none of them have been to bed with her, so far as he knows, except the final one, Boylan. Bloom has been avoiding the name of Boylan all day but feels he has to face it, as he gets into his wife’s bed; but he does not want to think about any earlier lover. He is thinking about men who admire her more slightly; they feel an attraction mixed with alarm, then they understand her, then they become tired of her; and Boylan is ‘impressionable’, so he is likely to do the same. She is more dependent upon her husband than she realises – that is what he is getting at here, and her own monologue in the final chapter bears it out. She does not, indeed, name a lover from this long interval in her reflections, and one may deduce that none of them have meant much to her, but anyway her pronouns treat all men as identical. On the other hand, we have brief comic acts put on by Lenehan and old Dedalus, implying that she is promiscuous – not impressive witnesses, but they are sure that all hearers will accept it (Ulysses, 133, 264). Molly is a well-known public figure in Dublin, very expansive, and her husband is rather despised for giving her so much rope. But no one is surprised. The talk carries no animus against her; in a way the gossips are heartless, but they would gladly repeat instead the story told by Kenner, because it is much more surprising, if there were any hope of getting it believed. If she had had no lover for ten years, they would feel a certain awe of Bloom, which they do not. Their sources of information are vastly larger than ours, as we can only read the book. Still, even a reader can get an impression from her casual remarks, such as (p. 732) ‘its all very well a husband but you can’t fool a lover,’ or (p. 750) ‘I dont like a man you have to climb up to get at.’

Early in her chapter, Molly remembers that d’Arcy did something unnamed to her on the choir stairs after they had given a recital in a church, and afterwards he said it was terrible to do it there (the vigorous kiss proposed in Kenner, p. 144, would not have been sacrilege), but Molly is unabashed and thinks of showing her husband the place ‘some day not now’. So Bloom doesn’t know about this event, though she sometimes does tell him such things. The author is following a consistent plan in this curious list: and I don’t deny that, wanting a wide range of readers to like Molly, he may have been deliberately obscure. But the immense hidden fret of Bloom about Boylan all day is clearly not usual: bringing the lover to the house, so that the husband stays out late, is new. The real trouble about Boylan, I submit, is that he is ‘organising’ the new tour, a phrase Bloom dislikes having to repeat; it means he will take the share of the profit which usually goes to Bloom. Bloom is afraid of him:

Making for the museum gate with long windy strides he lifted his eyes. Handsome building. Sir Thomas Deane designed. Not following me?

Didn’t see me perhaps. Light in his eyes.

The flutter of his breath came forth in short sighs. Quick. Statues: quiet there. Safe in a minute.

No, didn’t see me. After two. Just at the gate.

My heart!

His eyes beating looked steadfastly at cream curves of stone. Sir Thomas Deane was the Greek architecture.

This cannot be mere embarrassment; he is afraid – unreasonably, perhaps – that Boylan will beat him up. He must make some firm plan (fearless of the risk to Stephen).

Some may feel that Stephen would refuse to take her on, if she is as bad as all this – or rather, so much despised even by creatures like Lenehan. This is one of the scars left by the reactionary movement of T.S. Eliot: modern critics cannot realise that an author around 1900 was usually trying to be advanced. Stephen was not a decadent but an Ibsenite: he would consider Madam Bloom an unusually satisfactory specimen of the New Woman. She earns enough money to be independent, by her art, without sacrificing either her sexual or her domestic life. The contempt of fools only makes her a bit of a martyr. In effect, Bloom is offering Stephen a smart appointment; and another advantage of it is that it will annoy his father.

The brooding presence of Mrs Bandman Palmer, who acted Hamlet in person on the previous evening, no longer carries its due weight because she has been so completely forgotten. She managed an acting company on the Northern Circuit, which took in Bradford and Huddersfield as well as the larger towns: it could pop over to Dublin via Liverpool, and Bloom has seen her Hamlet on an earlier visit. The owner of the grocery and off-licence in my street when I worked at Sheffield was proud to have been in her troupe when young, and shocked to find I had never heard of her. Her rendition of Hamlet, I gathered, had been tempestuous: ‘The farting Hamlet, they called her. But when she left £40,000, they felt a respect for the old girl.’ Ellmann reports Joyce as trying to get more information about her visits to Dublin, while he was writing Ulysses, but without success on that occasion. The English actresses who worked in the South are much better remembered; they needed to be ladies and to have at least some contacts in Society; but Mrs Bandman Palmer was free to be populist, like Lloyd George. For Joyce, she would be the New Woman at the top of her form: very unlike Molly, of course, but he needed a contrasting specimen.

However, these social observations would not have disturbed him. One might think that a man so deeply (though not legally) married as Joyce would regard the sexual problems of the Bloom household chiefly as farce. But around that time Free Love was considered a very important idea, very advanced, and Bloom suffers as a result of accepting it. Someone in the period, Havelock Ellis probably, said that sexual jealousy was the next great obstacle before mankind, demanding a heroic culture-conquest. (It is a bit pathetic that they thought nothing worse would crop up.) Joyce insisted at one point, when the book was newly out, that it had no moral ‘and not one serious line in it’, but this was a claim to be an artist, usual among Ibsenites: he could not have meant to deny that he was fully abreast of modern thought. He would have wanted to present a real modern marriage, with the problems that were usually ignored in other novels, and leave his reader to draw the deductions. Four years before Bloomsday, in the Fortnightly Review, Joyce had praised Ibsen for doing what other authors neglect: ‘but the naked drama, either the perception of a great truth, or of a great conflict which is almost independent of the conflicting actors and has been and is of far-reaching importance – this is what primarily rivets our attention.’ At that rate, his first two books hardly do more than present his credentials; after Dubliners and the Portrait, works of basic reportage, he is prepared to advance upon a work of true greatness. Stephen raises the question of what calling he should follow, but for Bloom and the mature Joyce a more universal question looms up behind him: ‘What to do with our wives?’ (Ulysses, 670). Maybe Ibsen would not have been pleased by the result, but Joyce was not straying far here from his master.

All the same, one would expect him to need direct experience of a triangle, before he could write about it in depth. He arranged one, and the Ellmann biography, by a remarkable coup, catches him at it (Ellmann, 327). Roberto Prezioso, editor of the inflammatory sheet Piccolo in Trieste, was a pupil of Joyce and became his warm admirer. Joyce ‘rather encouraged’ his admiration for Nora, who ‘went so far as to have her hair done’. This was about 1911, when Joyce was 28 and Nora rather younger. Eventually the editor made some advance to her, and she told her husband. Joyce upbraided him in the Piazza Dante, and the painter Silvestri ‘saw tears running down Prezioso’s humiliated face’. Ellmann shows that the results were used effectively in the play Exiles. He seems to assume that Joyce laid the trap deliberately, as a devoted aesthete collecting material for his play: I do not believe he was cool enough about it to do that. Much more likely, he thought the happy triangle a noble ideal, and tried to arrange one; and then found, at the first approach to it, that his feelings resisted violently. In 1916, after finishing Exiles and starting on Ulysses, he kept a notebook in which he recorded Nora’s dreams with his own interpretations. One entry says:

Prezioso weeping.

I have passed him in the street.

My book ‘Dubliners’ in his hand.

... The point with which he tried to wound me has been turned against him – by her; the motive from which I liberated myself in art he is unable to liberate himself from in life. His complaint ... is a secret disappointment that for her it is impossible to unite the friendship of two men through the gift of herself differently to both for that which seemed possible in the first case is almost impossible in the second case.

‘Differently’ must be a fig-leaf only: if the sexual act itself is not in prospect, the whole thing is trivial. Nothing seems to be known about the earlier ‘case’, but he had taken the ideal of the happy triangle pretty seriously if it took two such disasters to convince him it was no good. Five years after the second one, he is still pretending to himself that his friend had tried to betray him, whereas the friend was only trying to carry out Joyce’s scheme, and that Joyce’s wife secretly regretted its failure, though the story is that she told Joyce of the friend’s advances at once, rightly presuming that Joyce would stop them. One would suspect that Joyce’s informants had made the whole story up, in their gossip, if he did not admit it himself in these absurd private efforts at self-justification. He admits that he had wanted a happy triangle, because he claims to have liberated himself from it by his art. He never realised that Exiles is a bad play, boiling with self-righteous excuses and irrelevant claims to have been wronged, in which the author uses the hero frankly as a mouthpiece, with the sadism and masochism quite raw: but given a certain moral depth, however unpleasantly, by a craving to incur and enjoy shame. No doubt he felt peaceful after writing it, as after a good cry or a good scold.

So Joyce when planning Ulysses would not aim at propaganda for the happy triangle; he might even regard it as another pretentious ideal which he had exploded, though, in fact, he had only found it to be incompatible with his own temperament. But he would believe the practice to be quite usual, though treated with absurd secrecy; the offer was a likely thing to intrude upon young Stephen (if he had not found Nora). The triangle proposed is almost grotesque, but still has its magic; it may well give Bloom the crucial bit of help that he needs, the ‘disintegration of the obsession’ of Molly for Blazes Boylan. (In the same way, Joyce’s published work always ridicules spiritualism, though he had listened earnestly to AE when young: but he still feels that it is charming, and a normal kind of thing for people to believe.) To make Stephen bolt from it as if he were Bertie Wooster, ‘howling for Jeeves’, would seem very out of character: but then the author wants the average reader to treat his question at the end, ‘Will Stephen return?’, as a real and challenging one.

At present there is a thick fog blanketing all such questions, a general movement among American critics towards formalism or unrealism. Its most startling tenet is the Wimsatt Law, which lays down that no reader can grasp the intention of any author. As that is just what the reader ought to be trying to do, the Law is a powerful means of destroying all literary appreciation. Here it takes the form of believing that an Arranger adds into the text all the parodies and comments that accompany the main narrative. The Arranger is not the author, but in effect one of the characters, or presumably several. It has a shockingly trivialising effect: one needs to realise that Joyce is always present in the book – rather oppressively so, like a judge in court.

This is not to deny that he is sometimes hard to interpret. In the Wandering Rocks chapter, which appears to give a typical sample of the streets of Dublin, Stephen meets an Italian called Artifoni who tells him he is sacrificing his voice by trying to become an author, not a singer, and he promises to think again. This seems a crude bit of boosting for Stephen: he is torn between two splendours, and foreigners plead for him in the streets. The presence of Artifoni is never explained: in fact, the device is so bare that he might have strayed out of the Circe chapter, where he makes a brief token reappearance. For years I thought it justified as satire, debunking the high claims for Stephen’s voice: ‘arty-phoney’ – what could be plainer? At last I noticed in the Ellmann biography that this was the name of a senior in Joyce’s teaching organisation, who had given him help and advice. (He had welcomed Joyce as a brother Socialist, so not everyone regarded the political ideals of the young Joyce with the same contempt as Ellmann.) Maybe Joyce wanted the long-suffering official to read the apparently complimentary passage before he died, imagining that he had received an immortal reward, whereas English-speaking readers could take it otherwise; or perhaps he was merely sure that an Ellmann would come along some time. One could not recommend this as a way to write a novel, but at least it is better than inventing an Arranger who is not the author.

The question how the author intended the reader to react to his way of ending the story has been important in the gradual acceptance of the book. The reader is made to take an increasing interest in Bloom and Stephen; then they meet and are found to need each other; then they are alone together for two long chapters, but they seem to get duller and duller, as well as less and less able to communicate. Can it mean that they were never worth bothering about at all? This was presumably what caused E.M. Forster’s first reaction to the book: he said it insulted the universe, meaning that it insulted the heart of man. Kenner thought they both deserved all they got, for being heretics, so he was pleased by the ending, though he made the same error. Budgen reported Joyce as saying they become like stars, eternal and remote, and plainly that is the effect: but does it imply that Stephen will not return? Stars usually drift apart, but sometimes collide, causing turmoil; and for the author to turn on a chill by technique does not even pretend to alter the characters. The process of bargaining is often felt as a chill. Our sympathies have been so much aroused that any theory allowing the events of the day to do them some kind of good comes as a relief, in keeping with the book’s realistic good-humoured tone. Even Kenner now lets drop (Kenner’s Ulysses, 118) that their nightmares will probably help them to shake off their phobias later, but this seems merely a sop for a common demand. The book is ‘not a psychological treatise’, he says, implying that all novels are forbidden to suggest any means by which such an improvement could be made. It seems plain that each of these men, left to himself, would continue to get worse: that is a major reason for wanting to know what happened next.

A Christian interpretation would be less bleak, but the Ellmann biography made that much less probable, as was widely recognised. However, such attempts are still being made. Robert Boyle SJ, in the Quiry, points out the liturgical grandeur of the language at the parting of Bloom and Stephen, as they purge themselves by pissing together in the garden with their eyes on the lighted blind which shows that Molly (the Holy Ghost) is not yet asleep. Boyle finds various echoes from Dante which probably were in the mind of the author, and he did mean them to praise Molly and not laugh at her, but this is not enough. Boyle concludes, with an enhancing modesty: ‘I believe that the omens indicate ... that it is at least equally likely that Stephen may drown this time.’ Joyce might answer that he had renounced the authority of an autobiographer over that stage of the night, so he could not tell. However, it might be asked: ‘What else would he leave the house for?’

If he wants to get anywhere with Molly, it would be fatal to meet her first as a homeless derelict brought in by Bloom out of charity – his ever uneasy pride would be enough to tell him that. Also, as we heard in the first chapter, he usually feels unable to face life in the morning, before he has got a pint in him; tomorrow morning will be particularly bad. And all the more because he is practically blind (the broken spectacles fit in well with the plot here). Nowadays he would have to wait for weeks, but I can remember a graduated tray of spectacles in Marks and Spencer’s, all for sixpence, and you could choose for yourself the pair that felt comfortable. Bloom has just repaid him thirty shillings, when he presumably thought he had thrown all his earnings away, so he feels no longer a suicide, and able to make small arrangements. Even he might reflect that a clean shirt would be a help, but he would probably first think of bringing Molly a bouquet – not too expensive in June. It does seem suicidal, one can’t deny, when he sings to Bloom the insulting ballad; it is like firing on the rescue ship. But when Bloom refuses to be insulted he becomes accepted by Stephen, all the more readily because Stephen has no anti-Jewish feelings and merely used the insult that was available. It does seem odd that he should continue to make jokes against Jews, even though much milder ones, but he feels that he has established a joking relationship (as defined by anthropologists). Bloom is made to reflect, before Stephen has even drunk the cocoa (Ulysses, 657), that Stephen has ‘an equal and opposite power of abandonment and recuperation’. If there was any doubt, it becomes plain that he is not going to drown himself when he imitates a jew’s harp (I have no idea what it would sound like) as he walks off down the back lane. As to where he spent the rest of the night, the previous chapter told both Stephen and the reader the whereabouts of two dosshouses, one rather low for sixpence, but in the other ‘you got a decent enough do ... for a bob’ (Ulysses, 601). The derelict Corley told Stephen this, and Stephen gave him half-a-crown. The details seem to need fitting into the action: when Stephen felt ready for a dosshouse, he probably chose the one for a bob.

However, the possible suicide is not central to Boyle’s argument. He offers evidence that Joyce gradually became reconciled to Christianity, and his recorded attendance at church services will probably seem the strongest part. But the frequency of these cannot be shown to have increased with age. He had always admired the liturgies for some particular days of the Church year, and heard them when he could, and one need not labour here to distinguish aesthetic feelings from religious ones. He also felt deeply a specific dogma, or you might call it a neurotic compulsion, but on either view it was fixed. How a God with infinite love, power and foreknowledge could produce a world bursting with sin and misery has always been recognised as a problem. Believers merely accept it as a profound paradox. The young Joyce had various reasons for not doing that; he was subjected to hell-fire sermons, and needed an escape from them; but also his brother Stanislaus, when they were both quite young, was already telling him that the Church and the drink between them had been the ruin of Ireland. Joyce decided that if this God exists he must be a very evil being, so naturally the people who worship him do great evil, as can be seen all the time. The reply of the clergy to this is merely to assume that such a thought could not occur. Boyle says that Joyce came to recognise the importance of the Church, as if he did not know that from the start, as if he would automatically worship any big enough evil.

Joyce makes Stephen say in the Portrait that he dared not go to mass unbelieving (all the more, he dared not pray at his mother’s death-bed) because ‘I believe there is a malevolent reality behind these things I say I fear.’ He was a very superstitious man, so he need not positively believe here in a malignant Creator: some pompous imp may be supposed at work. But in 1913, when he was laying the foundation for Ulysses, a girlfriend had an operation for appendicitis, and he was appalled by the scar – ‘libidinous God!’ (Ellmann, 356). The operation had been successful, but that was no excuse for God, who is himself both voyeur and sadist, doubly a sexual pervert. The idea is used firmly in Ulysses. Stephen mentions in the Library chapter: ‘the hangman God ... in all of us, ostler and butcher ... eater of carrion’ (210). It was equally strong in his political beliefs: though he was fierce against the English presence in Ireland, he considered like his brother Stanislaus that it merely provided a distraction, because what was ruining Ireland was the combination of the Church and the drink. He did not say this all the time, being a very sociable man, but Ellmann provides no hint that he weakened on it.

In 1928, says Robert Boyle, he ‘publicly consented to act like a believing Catholic’ when he ‘signed his name as sponsor’ for a daughter of Ford Madox Ford; Ellmann says he did it ‘though he did not like to stand at the font’. This is evasive language, but we may expect that Joyce, who seldom did what he disliked, only signed his name in the vestry, and meant by it only that he promised to help the child in case of need. In the same way, he eventually married Nora, but only to protect her legal rights after his death. In 1932 we find him at a party in Zurich where a priest praises creation while exhibiting the stars from a terrace, and Joyce grumbles (in German): ‘The whole thing depends on mutual destruction.’ Animals eat each other, but hardly stars: it seems an automatic reaction. By this time he was fairly advanced upon Finnegans Wake, which uses a good deal of Christian symbolism, but that had not affected his basic resistance. His grandson was born in 1932, and ‘a year or two later’ his old friend Byrne paid a visit. During playful chat about the grandchild he took for granted it had been baptised. Joyce was appalled, and Byrne managed to pass it off as some flat joke about the baby – its leakiness, perhaps. Not long after, the madness of his daughter distracted him from any worry about the grandson, but at the moment he felt that this baptism would have been a personal betrayal. After his death, a priest approached his wife and son to offer a religious service, but Nora, with her gift for brevity, said: ‘I couldn’t do that to him.’ She would say this with humour, but knowing that he really would have considered it a betrayal. He would also think it a betrayal to twist his writings into propaganda for the worship of the torture-monster. It is pitiful to think of his ghost for ever dancing in fury.

Papist propaganda is so agile. It manages to suggest that the book opposes contraception. But the Hospital chapter is powerfully in favour of that, and needs to be, because it is a test of Bloom’s determination to overcome his phobia against having children. The experience of Mrs Purefoy is what he will risk putting Molly through, and the gay jokes of the students are particularly unpleasant here. He seems to be the only person in the room who thinks it wrong of her husband (who is a Protestant, so the balance is held fairly) to force her into producing a ninth child by three days of agony. But he is cautious about saying so, and other things are going on in the chapter; the reader is expected to know his attitude from previous remarks. They come in an unexpected place. Walking out for his lunch, he sees one of the Dedalus daughters:

Home always breaks up when the mother goes. Fifteen children he had. Birth every year almost. That’s in their theology or the priest won’t give the poor woman the confession, the absolution. Increase and multiply. Did you ever hear such an idea? Eat you out of house and home. No families themselves to feed. Living off the fat of the land ...

When Bloom has found a decent place for lunch, with one glass of burgundy, he hears across the bar, in another room, old Dedalus still singing beautifully to please his friends; so presumably he could still have earned money in a concert-room; and his children are starving in the street. The combination, of having children because he is orthodox and refusing to feed them because he is a gentleman, makes it particularly bad. The boy who inherits the voice ought to be looked after.

Both Bloom and Stephen receive insults at the hospital party, so that they are geared up to have nightmares of self-reproach in the next chapter; Malachi presumes Bloom to be impotent, and Stephen is given some insult about his mother by the nastier Lenehan, which though obscure almost drives him from the room. I do not deny that the vaunted parallel with Homer is overstrained here. Ulysses had a curse on him because his crew had killed the Oxen of the Sun: but Bloom has not been using any contraceptive with Molly, and the medical students are in no way the crew of Bloom.

Wiping off the accumulated piety, I submit, makes it more likely that Stephen did come back, as he had promised, and at least have a shot at winning Molly. Kenner has always been eager to maintain that he didn’t, and his chief apparent argument (in both these books) is that the question is childish, because nothing happens after the end of a novel. I agree that there was a fashion for this attitude around 1904: the decadents admired frank artificiality, whereas the Russian short story often ended with a situation of quiet despair, to imply that Czardom was imposing paralysis. Joyce himself could use the Russian manner very sincerely in Dubliners, because he believed that the Church was causing paralysis in Ireland. But in Ulysses the end is a great question-mark, and if you are not interested in the answer you have no real interest in the book. As for the supposed logical rule, Trollope and Thackeray and suchlike took for granted that a novel should have a final chapter promising the readers that things went on all right after the book stopped. Forster said that the peculiar merit of the novel form, and also the reason why it needs so much detail, is that it can work up to making a reader feel: ‘That’s true. I know it now, though I would never have guessed it. That is just what the character would have done.’ The end of Ulysses does the same, but it takes the final step of refusing to tell the answer.

Kenner quotes a passage that makes the character of Bloom vividly clear, his sturdy good judgment and good will and his mysterious absurdity, and says: ‘There is no Bloom. There is language’ (Quiry 28). He does the same in the other book (156): ‘On nothing is Ulysses more insistent than that there is no Dublin there, no Stephen there ... simply language.’ But come now, this book is a continuation of a novel about Stephen called Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Are the first readers to regret that they have no book in their hands, because the author drowned himself ten years ago? And when was there no Dublin, anyway? There is just a bit of truth behind the sophistry, one need not deny: this author is rather more ready than most to generalise a situation. Burns does it splendidly in Cutty Sark whenever he drops the dialect and gives a couplet in standard English: the experience is recognised as universal. This does not entail not caring what happened next.

The other argument of Kenner is more powerful, but has to be insinuated by winks and nudges: he finds it obvious that refined educated Stephen could not endure coarse ignorant Bloom. Next day, Stephen will be saying to some of the other aesthetes: ‘My dear, it was too embarrassing. I had to tell any lie I could think of, just so that I could crawl out of the house, flapping my bright red ears.’ But Stephen despised young men like that intensely, partly from envy perhaps; if his compulsive rudeness had no other merit, it did at least save him from behaving as they did.