restricted access Romantic "Ghoststory": Lingering Shades of Shelley in Ulysses
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Romantic "Ghoststory":
Lingering Shades of Shelley in Ulysses

In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the influence of the Romantic poets on the developing character of Stephen Dedalus is obvious and acknowledged in, for example, Stephen's defense of Byron. Shelley, however, was a more subtle, but arguably more lasting Romantic influence on the stylistic and aesthetic development of both Stephen Dedalus and Joyce himself. Nevertheless, most critics seem to have generally ignored or brushed off Shelley's influence in Ulysses as either an inconsequential youthful hold-over or as mere scaffolding on which Stephen's (and Joyce's) more mature aesthetic thought was erected. While the number of influences that bear on Ulysses is truly astounding, the absence of any detailed exploration of Shelley's influence is curious considering the importance of the Defence of Poetry's articulation of the ideal role of poetry and the poet, grounded in Shelley's belief in the power of universal love. Furthermore, an analysis of Shelley's Alastor; or, The Spirit of Solitude reveals several interesting correlations between the Shelleyan poet and both Stephen Dedalus and Bloom, who after all has "a touch of the artist" in him.

The Romantic poets vitally influenced Joyce's early development, and consequently Stephen Dedalus's. As Andrew Gibson notes, "English literature self-evidently helped form Joyce's very rebellion against 'the English conventions' via Blake and Shelley, for example," and in Portrait, Stephen's self-image is certainly that of a Byronic hero.1 Jack Weaver goes so far as to argue that the Stephen of Portrait is "twice as Byronic as he is Shelleyan" while "out-Byroning Byron."2 This, I believe, fails to account for the significant influence of Shelley, who, as Jacques Aubert commented, "guided [Joyce's] first steps as a critic."3 Tracey Schwarze demonstrates that the aesthetic philosophy that Stephen develops in the final chapter of Portrait, despite its characterization as "applied Aquinas" (P 209), "owes as much to the influence of Shelley as to that of Aquinas," even though Shelley is only mentioned explicitly in connection with his metaphor of the "fading coal" of inspiration, "when the esthetic image is first conceived in [the] imagination" (P 213).4 As Schwarze points out, Stephen's definition of claritas, in [End Page 416] fact, denies Aquinas's theory of the objectivity of beauty in favor of Shelley's subjective power of "the mind of the artist."5

That Shelley's subtler influence would play a more integral role in Stephen's development is understandable considering that, as confirmed by Stanislaus Joyce, James Joyce "had progressed from his boyish hero-worship of Byron through Shelley to Blake."6 This acknowledged progression, along with the many references to Blake in Ulysses, may be why critics seem to agree with Aubert that "references to Shelley in the Portrait of the Artist need to be put into perspective," and why the references to Shelley in Ulysses have been generally overlooked or de-emphasized.7

Another reason may be that the majority of the direct references to Shelley in Ulysses are in "Scylla and Charybdis," where, as Andrew Gibson has shown, they are part of a sideways attack on Thomas Lyster's mentor, Edward Dowden, a Trinity College professor and authority on both Shakespeare and Shelley, who had strongly favored Matthew Arnold's famous pronouncement of Shelley as a "beautiful and ineffectual angel, beating in the void his luminous wings in vain."8 Stephen's performance in the library is seen from this perspective as an all-out attack on the reigning literary judgments of the day, using Shelley as a flank to the frontal assault with Shakespeare.

But I believe the ties to Shelley, while by no means the only or even strongest influences in Ulysses, are more significant than the critical scholarship to date indicates. One important aspect of this influence can be gathered from the overriding importance Shelley placed on love, which Floyd Stovall summarizes as "the principle which actuates the life of the universe," and its primary actuator, Poetry.9 In A Defence of Poetry Shelley writes:

The great secret of morals is Love; or a going...