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Hungarian Connections

Martin Greene
Ulysses, by James Joyce, Vintage Classics, 672 pp, £10.99, ISBN: 978-0099511199 Joycean Unions: Post-Millennial Essays from East to West, eds R Brandon Kershner and Tekla Mecsnóber, Rodopi B V, 260 pp, £62.94, ISBN: 978-9042036116 In Ulysses, Leopold Bloom, a Dubliner of Hungarian descent, draws on stories about his Hungarian origins to construct an elaborate deceit aimed – apparently – at concealing his complicity in his wife Molly’s affair with Hugh “Blazes” Boylan. The characterisation of Bloom and Molly draws heavily on works by two Austro-Hungarian writers, Otto Weininger and Leopold von Sacher-Masoch. In the nightmarish Circe episode, Virag, Bloom’s long-dead Hungarian grandfather, preaches a doctrine of sexual excess. There is a suggestion, in the Cyclops episode, that Arthur Griffith relied on advice from Bloom when formulating his Hungarian-inspired strategy for Irish nationalism. And this is to mention only the most significant parts of the Hungarian material. But how important is the Hungarian material for the text as a whole? The present writer explored this question in a series of studies in recent years – four published in the Dublin Review of Books and one in History Ireland. Following a brief review of Joyce’s connections with Hungary, the present article draws together the threads from the earlier studies and proposes some overall conclusions. There is also brief consideration of a 1962 intervention on this topic by Robert Martin Adams – then a leading American Joyce commentator. As will be seen below, the principal finding is that the Hungarian material constitutes a dimension of central importance for the text as a whole because it makes a significant contribution to some of the work’s most important events, characters and meanings. Joyce lived in Austria-Hungary from late October 1904 to June 1915 and again, briefly, in 1919-20, but always on the Austrian side of the dual monarchy. After an initial period of less than a year in Pola (now in Croatia), he made his home in Trieste (now in Italy), in both cases working as an English-language teacher at the local Berlitz school. As far as is known, he never visited Hungary – but a letter he wrote to his brother Stanislaus in 1919 suggests that he considered visiting Budapest at that time for some unknown reason involving Rudolf Goldschmidt, a Hungarian-Jewish associate of his when he lived in Zurich during the war years. His interest was clearly engaged with Hungary to some extent even before chance events…

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