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Bloom's Major Literary Characters: Leopold Bloom, and: A James Joyce Chronology, and: James Joyce in 90 Minutes, and: New Casebooks: "Dubliners" (review)

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 44, Number 2, Winter 2007
pp. 383-388 | 10.1353/jjq.2007.0034

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Harold Bloom reports with relish the sensation of "writing an introduction to a volume of Joyce criticism on June 16," given that "one's name is Bloom" (1). While a book series on "Major Literary Characters" seems an elementally good idea, and while the complete list sounds intriguing—including Elizabeth Bennett and King Arthur—in practice this particular volume is slightly flat. Bloom's characteristically sweeping introduction does not add to our understanding of his namesake. The content of the volume itself comprises eleven additional essays, all previously published, followed by a character profile (which, in an example of rather sloppy editing, cites some of the precise passages from Ulysses that the last essays do) and a brief bibliography. The selection includes excerpts from Richard Ellmann's and Hugh Kenner's works as well as more recent—though not that recent—selections from Suzette Henke, Vincent Cheng, Zack Bowen, and others. This is, in other words, a gathering together of highly respected Joyceans, chosen in no small part, it seems to this reviewer, for their pieces' relevance to Bloom's—Harold's, that is—own interests and preoccupations.

Since Bloom appreciates clear, inviting prose, we are thus treated to the opportunity to reread bits and pieces of Kenner's "Ulysses," and a very little bit indeed of Ellmann's "Ulysses" on the Liffey (a scant four pages), both of whose writing remains lucid and precise. Fritz Senn's "Bloom Among the Orators" repays rereading too, with its subtle and deliberate consideration of Bloomian rhetoric in the context of Dublin speech. Since Bloom also retains a strong interest in psychoanalysis, we are given the opportunity to reconsider Henke's exuberant French feminist reading of Leopold Bloom as the "new womanly man" (U 15.1798-99). Given the editor's interest in psychoanalysis, too, it should be unsurprising that the volume's selections stress the "Circe" episode above all others, thus giving us a very specific angle on Bloom's character—both Blooms, as it happens.

Of more recent pieces, a fascinating essay by Karen Lawrence on "Pocketed Objects as Props of Bloom's Masculinity in Ulysses" deserves the increased attention it will receive as a result of this volume, while the extract from Andrew Gibson's Joyce's Revenge reveals again the innovative interdisciplinary directions of much recent Joyce criticism. Marilyn Reizbaum's James Joyce's Judaic Other, however, contains a much more developed and sophisticated analysis of Jewishness, Leopold Bloom, and Ulysses than does the 1995 essay contained here.

Perhaps the most successful aspect of this volume is the opportunity it affords to consider critics alongside one another in new ways; thus we can compare Cheng's consideration of Bloomian speech with Senn's, David Hayman's consideration of Leopold Bloom as a provider with Kenner's, and so on. In this sense, the volume tells us a good deal about the directions of the Joyce industry and Joyce criticism, although perhaps less about Leopold Bloom himself, who seems to remain, in many ways, offstage. Thus, while it might provide undergraduates with an introduction to some of the great Joyce scholars, its usefulness on this count is tempered by the biases of its editor, who, one has to guess given his famously prolific output, did not devote excessive time to this volume.

Roger Norburn's A Joyce Chronology, on the other hand, speaks of a dedication of many years' work and proves an eminently useful text that will be thumbed repeatedly by Joyce scholars. As the series editor, Norman Page, notes in a preface, "There are times . . . when anyone reading for business or pleasure needs to check a point quickly or to obtain a rapid overview of part of an author's life or career; and at such moments turning over the pages of a biography can be [a] time-consuming and frustrating occupation" (viii). Norburn's chronology certainly makes available at the turn of a page the overarching facts of Joyce's life, as well as charting the progress of his work. Incorporating information to which biographers like Ellmann did not have access, Norburn is able to offer various correctives while remaining cautious about asserting the validity of unproven...

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