The Dead

I apologize for not posting last week: I’ve been a bit swamped with other obligations (intensive beginner German studies, mostly: “Learn German too” (6.84)) and haven’t had the time to commit like I should. But I couldn’t let the week pass without a brief comment on one of my favorite episodes, “Hades.” (I have things to say about “Lotus-Eaters,” “Calypso,” and “Proteus” as well, but I’ll have to skip those for now: perhaps I will have the opportunity to make some “trenchant” comments on them in “retrospective arrangement” (6.148-9) as we move forward.)

In my last post I pointed out that one way of reading Ulysses is as a ghost story: and probably no chapter is more haunted than “Hades” (well, maybe: feel free to disagree with me about that in four weeks or so).  There are several qualities of spectre populating this chapter, and I’d like to make a brief attempt to catalog them.

First, there are the obvious ghosts of the characters’ lost loved ones: Daryl’s already written on Bloom’s beautiful elegiac thoughts of Rudy, which weave into his memories of his father’s suicide; we can place these alongside Simon Dedalus’s self-pitying but still moving grief for Stephen’s mother.  And of course there’s “poor Paddy Dignam,” our Elpenor.

The Odyssey parallels seem particularly thick in this chapter, as are the Hamlet allusions, offering a second class of spectrality: the episode, like the book, is haunted by the Ghost(s) of Literature Past. More importantly, the chapter is populated by the shades of Joyce’s previous fiction: we open on a carriage filled with Bloom and three familiar faces. Martin Cunningham and Mr. Power both appeared in one of the most significant stories in Dubliners, “Grace”; Simon Dedalus, of course, looms large throughout Portrait (and there’s also a mention of “old Mrs Riordan” (6.378) from the famous Christmas dinner scene). Many more names from Dubliners appear in their conversation, or on the street as they drive by: Ignatius Gallaher (“A Little Cloud”), Paddy Leonard and Peake (“Counterparts”), Crofton (“Ivy Day in the Committee Room”) and others. The one story that you would most expect to see a connection to, “The Dead,” doesn’t seem to be mentioned, but it looms there in the background. (Gretta Conroy came up in episode 4; Gabriel will be mentioned in 7).

Speaking of Mrs Riordan and “Ivy Day,” perhaps the biggest ghost in the chapter, and the one that eludes many contemporary readers, is the ghost of Parnell, who along with other shades of Irish history and politics haunts  the city of Dublin and the conversations of its citizens. That’s far from my area of expertise, however, so I won’t linger over it.

Finally, the ghosts that I find most affecting in this chapter are two still-living characters who flit through it. Stephen is spotted by Bloom, but isn’t recognized by his own father, to whom he is as good as a ghost at this moment. And Molly haunts Bloom’s thoughts throughout the book, causing some quite painful moments in the carriage when she and Boylan come up in conversation, leaving Bloom to “review the nails of his left hand, then those of his right hand” (6.200). So subtle!

Anyway, that’s just a brief comment on one of my favorite chapters. I hope to have more on another of my favorites, “Lestrygonians,” later in the week.

2 thoughts on “The Dead

  1. Chris Forster July 28, 2010 / 12:37 pm

    Thanks very much for mentioning the politics in the novel. In the critical history of the novel (as you, surely know better than I) the historical specificities of Irish politics and (especially) the British colonial presence in Ireland have become increasingly central since the 1990s. The novel’s first readers tended to focus on its structure or its mythical correspondences (read: Eliot’s “Ulysses, Order, Myth”), ignoring the politics. And, indeed, the tendency to see Joyce as a cosmopolitan European modernist can lead to discounting the specificities of Irish colonial politics that seem to crop up everywhere.

    But it now seems hard to understand how one would overlook these persistent references. I wish I felt qualified enough to try to wrangle them all together. But I was glad to see some reference to Parnell and Irish politics. Thanks for the post.

  2. Stevie July 28, 2010 / 9:55 pm

    i remember as they pass thru dublin they look at the different statues & monuments & bloom notes the plinth they built for a parnell statue that never happened, for the obvious reasons. it lends even greater weight to the bitterness in stephen’s story in the next chapter, when he refers to nelson’s pillar as “the onehandled adulterer.”

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