Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Trapping the Fox You Are(n't) with a Riddle: The Autobiographical Crisis of Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses

Academic journal article Twentieth Century Literature

Trapping the Fox You Are(n't) with a Riddle: The Autobiographical Crisis of Stephen Dedalus in Ulysses

Article excerpt

Scholarship about Joyce has, from the start, envisioned autobiographical implications in Ulysses. In 1924, Herbert Gorman tells us that in the Stephen Dedalus of the first three episodes of the novel, "Joyce draws a portrait (obviously autobiographical) that is astonishing in its complexity and completeness" (124-25). In 1930, Stuart Gilbert, while also claiming that Stephen Dedalus is a self-portrait, adds that "Stephen Dedalus represents only one side of the author of Ulysses, "and that in the character of Leopold Bloom, "the balance is redressed" (102). In 1934, Frank Budgen likewise claims that Stephen is Joyce's self-portrait, and although he interprets Bloom differently, his interpretation still resembles Gilbert's biographic supposition:

There is a difference [between Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom] of dimension and substance as well as character. Stephen is a self-portrait, and therefore one-sided. Bloom is seen from all angles, as no self-portrait can be seen. (James Joyce 59)

In 1955, Hugh Kenner discusses the issue of autobiography too, though he limits his remarks to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and its even more autobiographical prototype, Stephen Hero, works that portray Stephen Dedalus but not Leopold Bloom (Dublin's Joyce; see especially 137). Yet the spirit that pervades even this shrewd book often betrays a willingness to go to the notebooks and conversations of Joyce, as if to find textual confirmation from the master himself.

In his exhaustive, authoritative biography of Joyce, first published in 1959, Richard Ellmann was a fastidiously close reader of the autobiographical content in Joyce's writings. He stresses the importance of Joyce's autobiographical material in the introduction:

The life of an artist, but particularly that of Joyce, differs from the lives of other persons in that its events are becoming artistic sources even as they command attention. Instead of allowing each day, pushed back by the next, to lapse into imprecise memory, he shapes again the experiences which shaped him. (James Joyce 3)

More than any other work of Joyce scholarship, this biography meticulously reckons instances in Joyce's life that got written into A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and Ulysses.

Such autobiographical consideration of Ulysses elicits little surprise, since Joyce himself encouraged looking at his work autobiographically. While working on Stephen Hero, Joyce rather muddlesomely signed some of his correspondence as "Stephen Daedalus"; [1] and while working on Ulysses, he tried to change his life to resemble his fiction. Budgen shows, for example, how Joyce would try to make his relationship with Nora resemble that of Leopold with Molly Bloom: Nora

became tearful and through her tears she told me that Jim wanted her to "go with other men so that he would have something to write about." Joyce, pretending to be more drunk than he was, was shuffling up in the rear, hoping presumably, to catch some helpful words. (Myselves When Young 188)

Again, Joyce seems to encourage autobiographical inquiries by his confession to Budgen that Stephen Dedalus as he appears in A Portrait of the Artist (a significant the before artist) is a self-portrait (James Joyce 60). Little wonder, then, that Joyceologists set a high importance on convoking instances of life experiences that Joyce, in Ellmann's phrase, "shapes again" in Ulysses. Here are a few they have found: the humorous valentine poem sent to Joyce, a valentine that Joyce later uses in Ulysses as the one Bloom sends to his daughter Milly (Ellmann, James Joyce 31-32); George Russel's snubbing Joyce by not including him in an anthology of young Dublin poets that Russel was editing, a snub that Russel administers to Stephen Dedalus in the library scene (Ellmann, James Joyce 174n); and Joyce's rescue by a Mr. Hunter--Joyce's model for Leopold Bloom--which appears as Bloom's rescue of Stephen in "Circe" (Beja 68). …

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