Each month At it Again! who created “Romping through Dublin – Ulysses the Manual” provide an insight into the motivation and method behind their work. This month they reflect on…. the vampires lurking in Ulysses
Here at At it Again! Headquarters in Dublin, we are inspired by Irish writers. We enjoy distilling the essence of literary classics and presenting them in a quirky way through written word and illustration. In turn, we wonder, who inspired them? The more we delve into their works and their biographies, the more intriguing it becomes. Connections are made, references unearthed and subtle jokes discovered.
Over the last year, we’ve been exploring Dubliner Bram Stoker’s seminal vampire novel Dracula. Stoker was a north-sider, so would have been walking out into eternity on Bull Island seeking inspiration for his writings. A few years older than Joyce, he left Dublin and lived most of his life as a theatre manager in London, prolifically writing when he got the chance.
Vampire folklore goes back to early civilisations. Vampires had many origins – some were thought to be criminals, others were suicide victims who hadn’t settled in their grave. Another tradition had it that they were wandering Jews. They were often represented as mysterious men caped in black who were alluring to women. In Dracula, the Count from Transylvania makes an iconic entry into England, crashing into Whitby bay on a Schooner on a stormy night.
Vampires lurk in Ulysses. In the Proteus episode, Stephen languishes on Sandymount strand thinking he comes, pale vampire, through storm his eyes, his bat sails bloodying the sea, mouth or her mouth’s kiss. The last sentence of Proteus is a description of a three masted boat her sails brailed up on the crosstrees, homing, upstream, silently moving, a silent ship. It’s as if Joyce is setting up the arrival of the main character, who we meet in the opening line of the next chapter. Leopold Bloom, the mysterious wandering Jew with Eastern European origins. His wife Molly recalls him at the time of their engagement – very handsome at that time trying to look like Lord Byron. Byron himself had been satirised in The Vampyre by J. W. Polidori.
It’s interesting to know that, in their young adulthood, Stoker and Joyce both lived on the edges of Monto, Dublin’s infamous red light district. Plenty of rich material for the weird sisters that live in Castle Dracula and the whores who pepper Joyce’s Nighttown. Perhaps it’s just coincidence that there are echoes between Dracula and Ulysses. The two novels have common themes, like Shakespeare’s works and being haunted by the un-dead. Stoker, in a more sinister way with his vampires and blood sucking. But Joyce’s novel also has many ghosts lurking – Stephen’s mother, Bloom’s father and his son. And all the decomposing bodies in Glasnevin Cemetery.
And then in Ulysses we have an episode known as Nausicaa, the ultimate vampire tale. It’s twilight on Sandymount Strand. Three innocent young women idly gossip about their love lives. Young flirty Gerty is full of romantic whimsy. A bat flitters about overhead. She spies a handsome mysterious man dressed in black. He’s gazing at her. As if hypnotised, her sexual nature is aroused……
Who’s the vampire? Bloom! At it Again!