On this day…30 September

On 30 September 1906 Joyce wrote to his brother about a story concerning Mr Hunter.

Most of the postcard that Joyce wrote to Stanislaus on 30 September 1906 was taken up with Joyce’s plans for dealing with Grant Richards who had just decided not to go ahead with publishing Dubliners. In a PS Joyce mentioned that his landlady has just increased the rent, and then, in a PPS, he wrote that he had a new story for Dubliners in his head, one that dealt with Mr Hunter.

Joyce decided to call the story ‘Ulysses,’ and on 13 November he wrote again to Stanislaus saying, amongst other things, that he had thought of a beginning for his story, but that he hadn’t made a start on it as he had too many other concerns. On 3 December Joyce was asking Stanislaus to write to him about Hunter, but by 6 February 1907 Joyce had to admit that his ‘Ulysses’ had got no further than the title.

Joyce himself later claimed that his book Ulysses had originated in his time in Rome, and by November 1907 he was already discussing the possibility of turning his idea for a story into a book. Even so, Joyce didn’t start writing Ulysses until 1914, though he seems to have given it a lot of thought in the meantime.

Joyce had the idea for ‘Ulysses’ at an important moment. On 25 September 1906 he had written to Stanislaus saying that he felt he had been too harsh in his depiction of Dublin and that he had failed to reproduce the attraction of the city in Dubliners. This moment of realisation that he would have to represent the city in another way seems to have been behind the inspiration for ‘Ulysses’ and perhaps also ‘The Dead.’

When he wrote to Stanislaus again in November, Joyce mentioned that he was reading Guglielmo Ferrero’s L’Europa giovane (Young Europe), a book which had a significant influence on him. Amongst other things, Ferrero discussed different classifications of emigrants, including the Irish, and he had a chapter on anti-Semitism. Here Joyce found a combination that interested him for Ulysses, which he later called an epic of two races, the Irish and the Jews.

Joyce’s claim that the story he conceived in September1906 was to deal with Mr Hunter also combines these two races since the Dubliner Hunter, according to Richard Ellmann, was rumoured to be Jewish. Stanislaus Joyce claimed that his brother had only met Hunter once or twice, but WP D’Arcy, a friend of John Joyce’s in Dublin, claimed that Hunter had acted as a good Samaritan after Joyce had been involved in a fracas in Dublin in June 1904. Ellmann seems not to have trusted D’Arcy’s claim, saying that any other confirmation of it was lacking.

Even today only a little is known about the real Alfred Hunter who seems to have been the original inspiration for Joyce’s Ulysses, and the character of Leopold Bloom, though it may have been modelled on Hunter originally, also drew on other men Joyce knew.


Sources & Further Reading:

Ellmann, Richard: James Joyce – new and revised edition, Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1982.

Joyce, James: Letters of James Joyce, vol. I edited by Stuart Gilbert, vol. II edited by Richard Ellmann, London: Faber & Faber, 1957, 1966.

Killeen, Terence: ‘Marion Hunter Revisited: Further Light on a Dublin Enigma,’ in Dublin James Joyce Journal, no. 3, 2010, pp. 144-151.

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