John Stanislaus Joyce, James Joyce’s father (looking like a real joker).
I’ve just come back from lunch and a catch-up with my father and thought I’d take a little time to talk about how for many reasons, it’s very appropriate that Bloomsday falls on Father’s Day this year. ‘Ulysses’, like all of Joyce’s fictions, is packed with visions of his father. In his biography of Joyce Richard Ellmann reminds us that Joyce’s father appeared in his work more centrally than anyone except Joyce himself, in various levels of disguise; in ‘Dubliners’ he’s the uncle of the boy in ‘The Sisters’ and ‘Araby’ and also Farringdon, Hechy, Hynes, Kernan and Gabriel Conroy; in ‘Portrait’ he’s Simon Dedalus; in ‘Ulysses’ he’s Simon again, and partly Bloom and partly the narrator of the ‘Cyclops’ episode; in ‘Finnegans Wake’ he’s the fallen HCE (Ellmann, 22).
John Stanislaus’s biographer, John Wyse Jackson, calls him ‘the ultimate Dublin character’ – so we can imagine his inspirational power. Joyce gives us perhaps the clearest idea of what his father, John Stanislaus Joyce, was like in ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’. Stephen, who stands in for the young Joyce, is asked about his father by his friend Cranly, who is trying to understand why Stephen behaves the way he does:
‘ —Was your father… Cranly interrupted himself for an instant, and then said: I don’t want to pry into your family affairs. But was your father what is called well-to-do? I mean, when you were growing up?
—Yes, Stephen said.
—What was he? Cranly asked after a pause.
Stephen began to enumerate glibly his father’s attributes.
—A medical student, an oarsman, a tenor, an amateur actor, a shouting politician, a small landlord, a small investor, a drinker, a good fellow, a story-teller, somebody’s secretary, something in a distillery, a tax-gatherer, a bankrupt and at present a praiser of his own past’
In this witty list, Stephen/Joyce tells us of his father’s versatility and profligacy, but he’s also imitating his father’s story-telling ability. Despite his disapproval for his father both early and late, and despite his fame and his artistic achievements, like him, Joyce would become a drinker, a story-teller, a singer, a man incapable of hanging onto money. More poignantly, Joyce wasn’t a faultless father himself to his two children. Joyce performs ‘being-his-father’ and ‘not-being-his-father’ simultaneously throughout his life, beyond his father’s death.
As is well-known, in ‘Ulysses’, Stephen’s search for an adequate father is a major theme and plot-point of the novel – Bloom’s function is as an alternative to Simon Dedalus and his profligate ways. Simon loves Stephen and is proud of him, but is demanding and unable to care in a meaningful way and Stephen sees his younger siblings suffer most for this. Meanwhile, Bloom compares himself to Simon and thinks of his own son, lost in childbirth:
‘Noisy selfwilled man. Full of his son. He is right. Something to hand on. If little Rudy had lived. See him grow up. Hear his voice in the house. Walking beside Molly in an Eton suit. My son. Me in his eyes’.
Bloom understands Simon’s possessiveness and of the power of the relationship between father and son. He has a daughter, but feels that the masculine line from his father to him to his son has been disrupted. This means spends much of the day missing his father – he isn’t just a father figure to Stephen, but he is *like* Stephen in feeling unanchored to father’s legacy. In this moment, he struggles to imagine his father as a real person, to imagine his father’s own feelings at leaving behind his Eastern European Jewish heritage, and, towards the end of the passage, to imagine his father’s suicide (which happened before the events of the novel):
‘Leah tonight. Mrs Bandmann Palmer…Poor papa! How he used to talk of Kate Bateman in that. Outside the Adelphi in London waited all the afternoon to get in. Year before I was born that was: sixtyfive. And Ristori in Vienna. What is this the right name is? By Mosenthal it is. Rachel, is it? No. The scene he was always talking about where the old blind Abraham recognises the voice and puts his fingers on his face.
Nathan’s voice! His son’s voice! I hear the voice of Nathan who left his father to die of grief and misery in my arms, who left the house of his father and left the God of his father.
Every word is so deep, Leopold.
Poor papa! Poor man! I’m glad I didn’t go into the room to look at his face. That day! O, dear! O, dear! Ffoo! Well, perhaps it was best for him’.
The trauma and joy of being a father or being a son in the Joycean universe is figured in Bloom’s father’s response to the music of Leah – he identifies with a feeling of loss and betrayal of his father’s culture, but also the joy of recognition and of love, and tries to tell his son how he feels: ‘Every word is so deep, Leopold’. In ‘Sirens’, we see Simon Dedalus fall under the sway of music in a similar way.
For Joyce, every father leaves a legacy that his son must grapple with. His response to this legacy was to transform it into the many incarnations of the father-son relationship in his works.