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The riddles of Ulysses

Jorn Barger April 1998 (updated Sept2000)

Joyce claimed many times that Ulysses and Finnegans Wake were full of puzzles and riddles... but the current fashion in Joyce-crit has been to dismiss these as unsolvable.

Martha Clifford: One little-acknowledged exception was Patrick Hogan's proposed solution (JJ Lit Supp, Fall 1992) to the secret identity of Martha Clifford, who's flirting pseudonymously with Bloom by mail. [qv] (Briefly, the evidence is: Nurse Callan is unmarried, unused to typing, but has access to a typewriter. She makes the patience/patients typo because she says patients-are more than patience-is, and the other-world slip because she might often use this euphemism for death. And Joyce tips his hand in Sirens [qv] by having Bloom seize the name Callan at random out of the obits, when pretending to Richie Goulding that he's answering an ad.)

A paper on Martha's letter

And if this one has finally fallen, 70 years after the book was published-- and I find Hogan's case completely convincing-- then what of the many other well-known-but-unsolved puzzles?

Macintosh: The best known of these is the identity of the Man in the Macintosh, who appears as the 13th mourner at Dignam's funeral [qv], and is mentioned again and again thruout the day. ([WRocks], [Eumeus], [Ithaca]) Nabokov bet it was Joyce himself, but the evidence seems stronger that it's the widower of Mrs Sinico in Joyce's story "A Painful Case" (or Mr Duffy). [qv] I've proposed, based on some worksheet notes, that Macintosh is an arsonist as well, who sets the blaze at the end of the Oxen chapter. [qv]

Here's an argument that Macintosh is James Clarence Mangan: [Deja]

UP; I AM: Another is who sent Denis Breen the 'libelous' postcard reading either "U. P. up" or just "UP" [qv] and what was libelous about it? And what was Bloom going to write in the sand to Gerty: "I AM..." or "I AM A..."? [qv] (My guess, based on length and Joyce's later comments: I AM A PIG.)

Feb2003 afterthought: The Homeric parallel to Bloom's 'I am' might be Odysseus addressing the Phaeacians in Book 9, "I am Odysseus, son of Laertes..." (but LB is too defeated to assert himself fully). The final 'A' then would not be a full word, just a repeating of the first letter of 'AM' as he spells it out.

Sins: Another is whether Boylan was Molly's first adultery, or the latest of many. Informed opinion thinks there was at most just one (Gardner c1900) before. Yet another is whether Stephen is masturbating at the end of chapter three... probably yes, based on the symmetry with Bloom in chapter 13. and Molly in chapter 18. [more]

Symmetries: Ellmann devoted a book "Ulysses on the Liffey" to a search for symmetries in the structure of Ulysses, generally agreed to be unconvincing. But based on the evidence of Joyce's earliest plans, and his first (Linati) schema, I think I've found a mirror symmetry in the central twelve chapters, comprising Odysseus's twelve adventures as Bloom's navigation between ethical extremes like over-religiosity (Lotus Eaters) and over-profanity (Oxen of the Sun). [more]

Parallax: The greatest riddles emerge, though, when you do the homework of doublechecking Raleigh's chronology of Bloom's life. Joyce has clearly chosen several key events and presented them in fragments, differently recalled by various witnesses. This 'parallax' requires from the reader an enormously scrupulous detective-work to reconstruct what must really have happened, exactly the sort of literary detection that Dedalus himself demonstrates in the central chapter "Scylla and Charybdis" wrt William Shakespeare's purported cuckoldry as revealed via 'Hamlet'. [more]

The Glencree dinner is one of these parallax-centers, recalled not just by Bloom and Molly, but also by Lenehan. I suspect this was based on a traumatic dinner for Nora Joyce, insulted by James's co-worker in Pola in 1904, inspiring also events in "The Dead". [more]

Bloom's Waterloo: The sequence of Bloom's jobs and residences is also very confused. Solving this one may involve retracing the route followed by the Blooms after a concert in February 1893, to confirm whether Bloom's subsequent 'fall' was related to a lottery-ticket scandal happening at the same time. Budgen reports that Joyce had analysed "six main errors of judgment" one might make while navigating a maze (JJMU123), and this is exactly the sort of deep-AI that would allow making very subtle puzzles based on routes thru a city. [more]

Rudy: The riddle of Bloom's fall is tied in to the riddle of Rudy's birth, and early death eleven days later. [more] It appears Rudy was born while the Blooms lived in Holles street, their lowest point just after Bloom's fall. Dozens of allusions are required to triangulate this possibility, though. The evidence strongly suggests that all the dates in the supposedly 'objective' chapter 17 are in error, while Molly gets things right in chapter 18 (contrary to patriarchal stereotypes, and decimating Danis Rose's strategy of 'correcting' Joyce's 'typos'). [more]

Mulligan: Another great puzzle involves the unseen fight between Dedalus and Mulligan between chapters 14 and 15. Stephen may hurt his hand during this, and the real explanation of their morning battles must be explained. (Gogarty blew some smoke about gunshots that I think is entirely false-- no holes have been found in the Tower, and nothing Joyce wrote supports that version.) [more]

Bannon: Another unsuspected riddle involves Bannon's affair with Milly. A close reading of Oxen shows Bannon is in search of an illegal condom, and the uniquely cryptic ending of that chapter may conceal that Bloom actually supplies it, out of his pocketbook... probably in full awareness that his daughter would be involved. [more]

Gerty: And Gerty's age is also open to question. My suspicion is that Bloom's subconscious ages her as the chapter progresses, and she's really around Lolita's age-- 12 or 13. (Joyce said on two occasions that the chapter is all in Bloom's head.) [more]

Birthday: And when you go thru all the text of Ulysses with a fine-tooth comb, there's one puzzle piece that doesn't seem to fit anywhere: In Ithaca, Bloom is reported to have saved a pink ribbon off an Easter egg in 1899.

My guess is that this was his 33rd (cf Jesus) birthday or the day after, and that family conflicts may have led Milly and Molly to have forgotten/ignored the birthday altogether.

Easter 1899 fell on April 2...


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Other Ulysses-riddles pages on this site: riddles overview, Bloom's Waterloo, Rudy, Bloom's condom, Gerty's age, Glencree crisis, Strand timing, murderous Henry Flower, Tower fight, structural symmetry, Joyce's lapses

chapters: summary : anchors : 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12a 12b 13 14a 14b 15a 15b 15c 15d 16a 16b 17a 17b 18a 18b
notes: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18
reference: Bloom : clocktime : prices : schemata : Tower : riddles : errors : Homeric parallels : [B-L Odyssey] : Eolus tropes : parable : Oxen : Circe : 1904 : Thom's : Gold Cup : Seaside Girls : M'appari : acatalectic : search
riddles: overview : Rudy : condom : Gerty : Hades : Strand : murder : Eccles
maps: Ulysses : WRocks : Strand : VR tour : aerial tour : Dublin : Leinster : Ireland : Europe
editing: etexts : lapses : Gabler : capitals : commas : compounds : deletes : punct : typists
drafts: prequel : Proteus : Cyclops : Circe
closereadings: notes : Oxen : Circe

Joyce: main : fast portal : portal
major: FW : Pomes : U : PoA : Ex : Dub : SH : CM : CM05 : CM04
minor: Burner : [Defoe] : [Office] : PoA04 : Epiph : Mang : Rab
bio: timeline : 1898-1904 : [Trieste] : eyesight : schools : Augusta
vocation: reading : tastes : publishers : craft : symmetry
people: 1898-1904 gossip : 1881 gossip : Nora : Lucia : Gogarty : Byrne : friends : siblings : Stannie
maps: Dublin : Leinster : Ireland : Europe : Paris : Ulysses
images: directory : [Ruch]
motifs: ontology : waves : lies : wanking : MonaLisa : murder
Irish lit: timeline : 100poems : Ireland : newspapers : gossip : Yeats : MaudG : AE : the Household : Theosophy : Eglinton : Ideals
classics: Shakespeare : Dante : Pre-Raphaelites : Homer : Patrick
industry: Bloomsday : [movies] : Ellmann : Rose : genetics : NewGame
website: account : theory : early : old links : slow-portal fast-portal

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