Joyce, <i>Ulysses</i>, Melodrama

Timothy Martin

in Bloomsday 100

Published by University Press of Florida

Published in print October 2009 | ISBN: 9780813034027
Published online September 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780813038162 | DOI:
Joyce, Ulysses, Melodrama

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Ulysses is among the most open-ended and naturalistic of novels, but it is striking how frequently James Joyce resorted to the theater — and to the melodramatic idiom in particular — to create moments of intensity and smaller climaxes that offer local and intermittent drama even if Ulysses as a whole does not. This chapter discusses the literary intertexts of Ulysses and explores how James Joyce adopts not just the structural elements but also the ethos and affective characteristics of nineteenth-century theatrical melodrama. Drawing on the work of Robert Heilman, it argues that melodrama tends to be monopathic, that is, to insist upon intense but unmixed emotion, and also to give precedence to politics and action within the world. Heilman's attachment of melodrama to politics, social action, and right and wrong gives us considerable purchase on the melodramatic qualities of “Cyclops.” The chapter provocatively speculates that Joyce may have gravitated toward melodrama in the later episodes of Ulysses, especially “Cyclops” and “Circe,” as a reaction against the now hampering constraints of the modernist aesthetic.

Keywords: Ulysses; James Joyce; melodrama; theater; Robert Heilman; politics; social action; Cyclops; Circe; aesthetic

Chapter.  4891 words. 

Subjects: Literary Studies (20th Century onwards)

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