Was Leopold Bloom Austrian?

I promised to blog about Bloomsday 2009 in Vienna.

It was a hot Bloomsday, and the small art lounge in the basement of the Café Korb which takes pride in a lot of famous former guests like Arthur Miller or Andy Warhol was like a sauna. The readings were transmitted to the bigger room on the first floor where it was much cooler – but I wanted authenticity, and this meant sweating and drinking lots of water and some wine. Additionally, more than half of the audience of about 40 people smoked as if there was no tomorrow, which meant a slight feeling of anoxia and poor visibility.

The reading was non-stop. One advertising canvasser (or of a similar occupation) after the other was called by name and company, got the text and started reading, each one about 10 minutes. I have never read the German translation of Ulysses, although I own one, and was astonished how different some passages come across in another language. I hadn’t been at a reading for a long time, but found it very stimulating to listen for once and concentrate on the voices and the puns. And it was fun, too. By 11.30 we had seen and heard 32 people from newspapers, radios and TV-stations.

There was one contribution in English, read by Dardis McNamee from the Vienna Review, an English-language newspaper in Vienna. It was great to hear at least several pages of the original.

The readings were framed by the talks of three Joyce connoisseurs: Kurt Palm, director and author (of, amongst others, a James Joyce-ABC), Meinhard Rauchensteiner, advisor to the Federal President and Otto Brusatti, radio presenter and musicologist.

The people over here like connections to their own country, so Kurt Palm recounted that the first lines of „Ulysses“ were written in Trieste, which, at that time was Austrian.

Mr Rauchensteiner asked „Was Leopold Bloom Austrian?“ and presented references to Austria found in Ulysses. There are quite a few. For example the following passage from episode 7, Aeolus: „Emperor’s horses. Habsburg. An Irishman saved his life on the ramparts of Vienna. Don’t you forget! Maximilian Karl O’Donnell, graf von Tirconnell in Ireland. Sent his heir over to make the king an Austrian fieldmarshal now. Going to be trouble there one day. Wild geese. O yes, every time. Don’t you forget that!“

The background to this: Maximilian Karl Lamoral Count O’Donnell, Austrian born son of an Irish expatriate served as aide-de-camp to Emperor Francis Joseph. One day, he attended the emperor on his daily walk around Vienna.When the Emperor was attacked and wounded by a Hungarian tailor, O’Donnell knocked the man down. The Emperor subsequently asserted that he owed his life to O’Donnell.

The „Wild Geese“ refers to the large groups of people who left Ireland between 1600 and 1789, most of them to serve in the huge continental armies of Russia, Spain, Poland, France and Austria. One of them was the Irishman Maximilian Ulysses Browne, but we can’t be sure if his second name had any influence on the title of the book.

The question „Was Leopold Bloom Austrian“? was finally answered with „Yes, but only in his nightmares“.

I did not stay for the talk „Joyce and Music“ which is a pity but it was around midnight and I had to get up at 5. I’m sure the readings went on till the wee hours of the morning.

An evening well spent.


Rob Spence said...

Fascinating! It sounds like this odd - and really quite Joycean- idea worked. Bloom isn't Austrian at all really, but at the heart of the book is the feeling that he isn't quite Irish either. The dream-like quality sometimes stems from that feeling of estrangement, I think.
An account of the Dublin Bloomsday is here

The Buddhist Conservative said...

One of my fondest memories of Austria is its connection to the arts and literature. And the wine!

I have never felt so lost as a day we entered an underground shopping mall in Vienna from one door and left from a door some distance from where we started. It was wonderful! We discovered things we would have missed otherwise.

I am looking forward to hearing more and to our next visit, hopefully in the spring.


francessa said...

Rob, thanks for the great link!

I think, the feeling of estrangement is something that describes the Austrian mind, too.

Buddhist Conservative, it's nice to hear you have pleasant memories of Austria. I wonder where this shopping mall might be. Spring is a great time for traveling to Vienna!

Lydia said...

I need a reading vacation, I think. Or maybe this is one book that we can "read" together later on. I'm quite taken with your description of the reading. Sounds like a marvelous evening....all except for the smoke. ugh.

francessa said...

Oh yes, Lydia,I strongly support this idea of a reading vacation! Maybe we could start in July?

The smoke was so intense I felt like a smoked sausage and smelled even worse :-)

Stevie's full of good intentions said...

Was Leopold Bloom Austrian?

IMHO, the name Leopold is more common in Austria than anywhere else. So the answer to the question has to be: "Yesss, definitely." Ask yourself: If JJ would have given the name "Wilhelm" to his character, would you deny he is German?

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