Joyce's Creative Process and the Construction of Character in Ulysses by Luca Crispi (review)
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Reviewed by
Luca Crispi. Joyce's Creative Process and the Construction of Character in Ulysses. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2015. xxi + 368 pp. £60.00. ISBN: 978-0-1987-1885-7.

Leopold Bloom leaves the other Dubliners in Ulysses a little confused about his identity. He does not seem to fit neatly into the clear racial or sectarian categories by which they are used to negotiate Irish society: "Is he a jew or a gentile or a holy Roman or a swaddler or what the hell is he?" asks Ned Lambert. To which Martin Cunningham answers Lambert by describing Bloom as "a perverted Jew" (12.1630–35). Bloom himself seems to hold [End Page 263] contradictory views on this: in his public clash with "the citizen," a violent anti-Semite, he describes Christ as "a jew like me" (12.1808), but in private conversation with Stephen Dedalus, Bloom qualifies this, remarking "though in reality I'm not" (16.1084–85). One way to determine whether Bloom is a Jew or just a bit Jewish is to piece together what the novel tells us about this character's history and family background, as Luca Crispi does in Joyce's Creative Process and the Construction of Character in Ulysses. Much of this information is condensed in the question and answer form of Chapter 17, the "Ithaca" episode, where we learn that Bloom's father, Rudolph Virag, converted to Protestantism shortly after arriving in Dublin from Hungary and the continent. So, in Dublin parlance, his son may be a "swaddler" after all—except that we also learn that Bloom underwent conversion to Catholicism as part of his marriage to Marion (Molly) Tweedy in 1888. To the irritation of his wife, by the time of novel's events in 1904, Bloom seems to have lapsed from Catholicism into some sort of freethinking. Ned Lambert's confusion may be justified.

In addition to the complexities of his lived experiences and background, it can be difficult to grasp the identity of this character because, instead of conventional novelistic exposition, such details from Bloom's past are dispersed throughout the novel. Crispi's book goes beyond previous attempts to recreate the history of the characters in Ulysses by re-tracing how it was that Joyce determined the release of this information during the course of writing the novel. Poring over Joyce's notes and drafts, Crispi is able to establish that, for example, the date of Bloom's Protestant infant baptism can be found upon the earliest surviving version of "Ithaca" (85), but Joyce added details about the conversion of Bloom's father to a subsequent draft of the episode during the late summer of 1921 (76). Joyce used "Ithaca" in this way to consolidate hints about Bloom and his background from the gossip of Ned Lambert and Martin Cunningham that he had written two years previously.

Joyce's Creative Process is a triumph of clarity here, laying out complex and diverse materials in such a way that the reader can follow Crispi's reconstructions of Joyce's intentions and working processes. For, as Michael Groden has shown previously in Ulysses in Progress (1977), the pattern of Joyce's work on his novel was far from linear. Joyce began writing Ulysses for serial publication at the start of the First World War, before a prosecution for obscenity in 1920 forced serialization in the Little Review magazine to stop. From that point up to the publication of his book in February 1922, Joyce not [End Page 264] only completed the chapters he had yet to write, he also radically revised the chapters he had already published. In the process, these revisions inspired him to further revise the whole novel during the proof stages of printing the novel.

While these complications delayed the publication of Ulysses, the overlap between Joyce's work on different parts of the book facilitated the interconnecting textual weave of the published novel. In the midmorning, for example, Bloom notices a compositor at work in the printing office of the Evening Telegraph. The reversed letters of type prompt a memory of his father:

Poor papa with his hagadah book, reading backwards with his...