Colm Tóibín’s essay on Ulysses (Life & ArtsJanuary 22) provides many interesting insights into the Irish and European political landscape of the early 20th century.
But his interpretation of James Joyce’s lampooning of the execution of the patriot Robert Emmet in 1803 as being a send up of a “mawkish and burdensome” Irish patriotism, is puzzlingly one-sided, something that Joyce certainly was not.
It seems far more likely that Joyce was lampooning the pretentiousness of the small Anglo-Irish class who saw the execution only as an opportunity to display their petty “ascendancy”, hence the invitations to the execution with the long English names.
Tóibín may unwittingly give the impression that Joyce was particularly averse to Irish nationalism, but was equally averse to British imperialism, to both the established church and anti-Semitism, even to markers of social status, and, astonishingly for his day, genderism.
This is all in Ulysses – an extraordinary expression of the universal human person set in the everyday local. It is Joyce’s eschewing of all political prejudice that provides us with the universal “hero” of the Jewish Irishman Leopold Bloom.
Professor of Psychiatry
Trinity College Dublin, Ireland