Hungarian nationalism, serialized novels, and the German anarchist Max Stirner: modernists at large will appreciate the many resonant literary and historical contexts that Vincent Sherry gathers into his recent study of Ulysses.As good as Sherry is with literary and intellectual history, however, his real strength is as a reader of what he calls the “grace notes” of Joyce’s novel:
“Tiptop,” Bloom responds innocuously enough to Charlie M’Coy’s inquiry after Molly. Rhyming doubly with “tup,” the rural dialect word for animal copulation, these two syllables are loaded with covert meaning: the image of the tipster (Boylan shares his confidences about racing horses) topping Molly to tup her springs from the verbal foliage here (these sounds will mount to crescendo as the fated hour of 4:00 p.m. approaches, in the musical monologue of “Sirens”). Conjuring the scene of the inexpressible, Bloom is following the logic of dream, allowing the fears and desires that go unspoken in waking life to be released, here in verbal code.
Sherry is uncannily attuned to the Joycean warp of the unsaid; and only occasionally does he slip between the lines of Ulysses.When Sherry writes on the subject of Bloom’s choice of sandwich, for example—“Notice how the cadence and stress pattern of Gor-gon—zo-la matches exactly with that of Blaz-es—Boy-lan” (49)—the critic’s crescendo sounds defensive and shrill. But more often, Sherry’s scoring of le non ditin Ulyssesenriches the novel’s narrative digressions, as with this interlude of Bloom’s excerpted from “Lestrygonians”: “Wouldn’t mind being a waiter in a swell hotel. Tips, evening dress, halfnaked ladies. May I tempt you to a little more filleted lemon sole, miss Dubedat? Yes, do bedad. And she did bedad. Huguenot name I expect that.” (101) Drawing “tiptop” and “tupping” from Bloom’s reverie on “tips,” Sherry encourages us to savor the fancied dame’s name:
And so a name respelled to read “and she did bedad” seems already to utter Molly’s “yes”; to affirm the positive, curative force in Bloom’s nominal substitutions, the wish-fulfillments and compensations of coded words, which also serve here to appease his paternalistic need: yes, do be (a) dad. That such consolations are merely verbal, however, is the grimmer inference of Miss Dubedat’s Continental background. Hers is a “Huguenot” or “hug-you-not” name.[101–102] [End Page 159]
Bloom himself hints in “Sirens” at the cold consolation of Huguenot-hug-me-not word play; and here Sherry tallies Bloom’s complaint, hedging his critical bets on what he hopes to portray as the “profoundly human” consolatory value of the “graphic lie,” the Joycean celebration of contingency in language.
Sherry is indeed anxious to turn Ulyssesinto a tale of “alleviation” if not one of “compensation.” And what sort of alleviation issues from a study of the epic unsaid? Bloom’s balm is his “do bedad” friendship with Stephen Dedalus and his questing for “social totality”: returning to his wife’s bed in “Ithaca,” Bloom knows himself no longer as Molly’s possessed and possessing husband, but as part of an infinite series of lovers who tiptop and tumble across an unsayable single-syllabled predicate. Molly too transcends series and linear time—Molly’s “O,” suggests Sherry, punctures the “militant continuum” of writing—and she does so by returning to an originary moment of conjugal passion at the end of “Penelope,” marking her “Yes” as a Bergsonian arrival at a continuous present of “pure potentiality.” Can even such full-blown modernity save a marriage that dissolves after the death of a child? Here the salve runs thin across Sherry’s Ulysses:potentiality seems ineffectual against the loss and betrayal that drives the verbal and sexual revelry of 1904 Dublin.
In this 1994 addition to the Cambridge “Landmarks of World Literature” series, Sherry confesses his own desire to restore a “wrongly lost” “continuity” or “developmental unity” to Joyce’s novel. What’s new about this old call for literary unity is the...