Magnificent Cuckolds

William Empson

Frank Budgen’s last pamphlet ‘Further Recollections of James Joyce’ (1955) carries a bit of personal reminiscence which looks as if it might be more important than most. He remembers that he had one day remarked to Joyce that he could never understand why Bloom, in Ulysses, lets his wife commit adultery with Boylan; but we gather that after this leading question he offered his own answer, hoping it would irritate the great man into a correction, which shows he understood interviewers’ technique. Joyce said: ‘You see an undercurrent of homosexuality in Bloom as well as his loneliness as a Jew who finds no warmth of fellowship either among Jews or Gentiles, and I think you are right. But there is another aspect of the matter you have missed.’ And he went on to claim that the only reason why his play Exiles wasn’t acted in Paris in 1921 was that Le Cocu Magnifique by Crommelynck somehow ‘took the wind out of the sails of Exiles. The jealousy motive is the same in kind in both cases. The only difference is that in my play the people act with a certain reserve, whereas in Crommelynck’s play the hero, to mention only one person, acts like a madman.’ Crommelynck’s is in the British Museum Library, and I would like to offer a report on it as it seems little known among readers of Joyce and strongly supports my previous opinion, which no other writer yet supports, about the fundamental topic of Ulysses.

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