Writing Elijah

U 15.2188-224

In the summer of 1920 Joyce was in Paris, collecting and writing up material for the ‘Circe’ episode of Ulysses. This article looks at the background to the Elijah passage in ‘Circe’ (U 15.2188 ff) and finds new evidence which helps us to understand the network of references within the passage.

Commentators have rightly concentrated in the past on John Alexander Dowie, ‘Prophet Dowie’, the charismatic Scots-born religious leader known as ‘Elijah III’ (next in line after John the Baptist), who lectured, preached, and published widely, established a community at Zion City, Illinois, and famously led a march on New York in 1903 in search of new adherents.1

But Joyce interwove references to Dowie (who died, disgraced, in 1905) with another American evangelist, Thomas Jefferson Shelton – ‘inventor’ of the ‘sunphone’ – to produce the composite ranter of the Elijah passage. And he drew heavily on expressions regarded as typical of fast-talking America (especially commercial sales pitches, gambling talk, and advertisements), as well as other topical references, to provide the mishmash of verbal impressions which assault Bloom.

Silly sunphonies: does Jesus want me for a sunbeam?

Slippery gamblers Philately is for bumboosers

Advertising patter Next stop Paradise!

The Great Harmonia and the music of the spheres

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1 A number of Dowie’s works are readily accessible at archive.org, and cylinder recordings of three of Dowie’s talks are accessible at http://www.james-joyce-music.com/extras/dowie_bio.html (accessed 18 November 2011). NB Bloom hears Dowie’s ‘Scotch’ voice on the ‘Gramophone’. See the Oxford Dictionary of National Biography and the American National Biography for further information on Dowie.