One of the goldmines in Ulysses, largely overlooked by scholars, is Leopold Bloomʼs personal library, described in some detail in the “Ithaca” chapter. Indeed, home is incomplete without such treasures as The Story of Heavens or In the Track of the Sun. The books teach us mathematical cosmography, introduce us to the Towers of Silence, and explain what “gnomon” means. Ulysses is a book of books, its intertexuality beautifully captured in the image of Bloom noticing first his own and then his booksʼ “visual impression” (17:1357) in the mirror. Thus Joyce places his creation in the company of “several inverted volumes improperly arranged” (17:1358).(1)
To establish the relevance of these volumes to Joyce’s text, we first need to “Catalogue these books” (17:1361). The curious jumble of twenty-three items can be classified and placed in such categories as Reference, Literature, Self-help, History, Religion, Philosophy, Science, and Travel. But not all the volumes can be fully catalogued, especially one with an unknown author and an inaccurate title such as The Beauties of Killarney, “unidentified,” according to Don Gifford.(2) Searching in the National Library of Ireland, I came across the book, a slim volume whose precise title is Picturesque Guide to the Lakes of Killarney. The title “The Beauties of Killarney” appears not on the title page but on the first page--used almost as a chapter heading-- except that the “chapter” is the whole book of twenty-eight pages, the heading repeated on every other page. A reader could easily register and later recall “The Beauties of Killarney” as the proper title.(3)
More intriguing is a volume that seems dubious, listed as an “invisible” book or “pseudobiblia.” Such is the case of Voyages in China by Viator. Since no “Viator” has penned a book on China, we can dismiss the entry as another Joycean invention or take on the implied challenge to identify the source(s) inspiring it.(4) Meaning traveller, wayfarer, a wanderer, “viator” was sometimes used by authors--not all of them necessarily travellers--who wished to remain anonymous. We next focus on the title, and here Joyce as usual has left us a clue: in the awkward usage of the preposition “in,”--“Voyages in China.” In English the term “voyage” is most often used for sea voyages to a distant land; one travels in China; one does not voyage in China. The preposition “in” points to the work of a translator of a sort--and not a very good one.
Faced with a sizable number of books that were published during a time frame appropriate to our search, we then have to establish a set of criteria, among them the possibility that the book was originally composed in a language other than English. Given the writerʼs anonymity and the large number of travel books written on China--some by authors who had never been to that country--we can assume that Joyce could be referring to multiple “wanderers/authors.” The Odyssey, we may recall, is also thought to be the work of several authors collectively called “Homer.” As far as primary clues are concerned, we have to trust Bloom, even if his references to China may be distorted by his habits of misquotation, association and transference.
Our knowledge of Bloomʼs reading habits tells us he likes popular books found in second hand bookshops or “under Merchantsʼ arch... on the hawkerʼs cart” (10:315-316). But given his intellectual aspirations, Bloom would showcase books with both entertainment and educational value in his library. In selecting the books, we may also bear in mind Bloomʼs ways of reading the world, his tendencies as an observer and traveller: his patient focus on small, mundane details, his sympathy for his subjects, his sensorial responses to what he perceives, and his willingness to “bend[ing] his senses and his will” (4:163) to immerse himself in his environment. Also important is Bloomʼs suspicion of travel narratives--”Probably not a bit like it really” (4:99)--and Joyceʼs ridicule of their fantastical claims and biases by way of the sailorʼs yarns: “I seen a Chinese one time...that had little pills like putty and he put them in the water and they opened and every pill was something different. One was a ship, another was a house, another a flower. Cooks rats in your soup...the chinks does” (16: 570-573). Bloomʼs only direct allusion to Voyages in China is in the “Hades” chapter: “A corpse is meat gone bad. Well, and whatʼs cheese? Corpse of milk. I read in that Voyages in China that the Chinese say a white man smells like a corpse” (6:981-983). Besides the appropriateness of the three “corpses” in the passage, what is interesting is the olfactory image. The association between ethnicity and smell is nothing new, and the statement about the Chinese and white manʼs smell might be one of those sayings that quickly gain currency but are almost impossible to trace to their origin.(5) In a parenthetical aside, George Orwell--writing in 1937, too late for Joyce--mentions: “Incidentally, orientals say that we smell. The Chinese, I believe, say that a white man smells like a corpse...” (6). Is Orwell echoing Bloomʼs line? Or, did he draw on the same source Joyce did? We donʼt know this source, at least not yet. The people who commonly referred to Westerners smelling not like a corpse or cheese but like butter are the Japanese; the phrase is “bata-kusai,” meaning “stinks of butter” (qtd. in Synnott 201). We donʼt know if such notions had gained popularity in Joyceʼs time; but if they had, Bloomʼs statement makes sense, given his habit of misquoting, or multi- texting; hence the confusion of the Chinese with the Japanese, cheese with butter.
That Bloom is misremembering, or drawing on a bogus travel book can be further shown by his reference to “white man.” The Chinese did not call Europeans “white”; the color they associated with Westerners was red. As Robert Fortune, the famous Scottish botanist and traveller explains, “Hong-mou-jin” meaning “red-haired man” is “a term which they [the Chinese] apply to all Western nations.”(7) Expressions such as “white manʼs burden” referred mainly to the African population. But given Bloom’s focus on a notice about Conmeeʼs sermon on the African mission, the metonymic transfer from Africa to China makes sense:
At least two details are worth examining here. First is the mental association between opium and the reclining Buddha; perhaps more significant is the word “josssticks” instead of the more commonplace “incense.” Bloom’s other references to China also need our attention: his thoughts on “Chinese cemeteries with giant poppies growing produce the best opium Mastiansky told me” (6:769-770), and his comments on the “Chinese eating eggs fifty years old, blue and green again. Dinner of thirty courses” (8:869-870). Also significant is when he envisions travelling to the far east, Bloom singles out Tibet, “the forbidden country of Thibet (from which no traveller returns)” (17:1989). To summarize, Bloomʼs notations on China include the themes of odor, death, opium, incense, food, and travel.
From among a multitude of travel books on China that meet our criteria, two stand out as possible inspirations for Voyages in China. The first is Souvenirs dʼun voyage dans la Tartarie, le Thibet, et la Chine pendant les années 1844, 1845 et 1846 by the two Lazarist missionaries Evariste Régis Huc (or Abbé Huc) and Joseph Gabet, published in two volumes in Paris in 1850. The book was immensely popular and translated into English, German, Russian, Spanish, Dutch and Italian.(8) “Huc and Gabet” became the names associated with travel in China. The English translation, called Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China during the years 1844-1846, appeared in 1852 and was done by William Carew Hazlitt, grandson of the famous essayist. The second book, by Huc alone (Gabet had died by this time), is LʼEmpire Chinois, which appeared in 1854. The Chinese Empire: Forming a sequel to the work entitled ʻRecollections of a Journey through Tartery and Thibet’, in two volumes, appeared in 1855 and like Hucʼs previous work was widely read and distributed.(9) The translator, who is not mentioned anywhere in the book, was Jane Sinnett, or Mrs. Percy Sinnett. Famous for her translations of travel books, especially from German and French into English, Sinnett also wrote book reviews for such publications as the Westminsterʼs Belles Lettres.(10)
The Dublin Review in its laudatory essay on The Chinese Empire, praised its “lively and brilliant author” and went on to call his travel narrative a “compendious, but most comprehensive, encyclopaedia of the religion, the laws, the usages, and institutions of China”(11) (136). Not merely a “travellerʼs tale...it is a learned, laborious, and scholar-like description of...the country which was the scene of his travel” (136). Besides being a scholar, Huc was also a humorist:
Hucʼs missionary work in China was well known in the Catholic world since even before the China books, he and Gabet had published in the Annals of the Propagation of the Faith and the Annals of the Congregation of the Mission. Later, in 1858, Hucʼs Christianity in China, Tartary, and Tibet was published in Paris. We may recall the Jesuits were keenly interested in Catholic missionaries in China, given that the first European admitted to visit Peking and the Forbidden City was a Jesuit priest, the Italian Matteo Ricci, who entered China in 1583 and died there in 1610.(12)
Joyce could have come across Hucʼs work at University College or later, in the Bibliothèque Nationale in Paris. He may have also come across the missionaryʼs work in the National Library, which acquired Travels in Tartary, Thibet, and China in 1877; The Chinese Empire was in the Library by 1903, part of the Thom collection, the famous printer of Thomʼs Directory.(13) Joyceʼs title for Bloomʼs book could very well be a play on “Voyages dans....” the awkward use of “in” hinting at the work of a redactor badly plagiarizing or “translating” other travellersʼ tales. In his invention of a book on China, Joyce is drawing on legitimate sources but also ridiculing fabrications of travel narratives in which, as Huc says, “The China described is a work of imagination, a country which has no existence” (Chinese, II, 49).
Joyceʼs title might also be a cunning rebuke of the translatorʼs work, especially that of Mrs. Sinnett, who was not the worldʼs best prose stylist. George Eliot found her style “tiresome” and had to find an excuse for Sinnettʼs prolific outpouring of reviews: she “seems to have needed money earned by this regular reviewing” (qtd in Houghton 623). Sinnettʼs preface to The Chinese Empire reads much like the prose in the “Eumaeus” chapter, loaded with redundancies, without any of the comic brilliance:
The encyclopedic nature of Hucʼs book on China would have appealed to Joyce. He may have also sympathized with Hucʼs final decision--to leave the order of the Lazarists after the completion of his travels. The emphasis on Tibet is also significant, given Bloomʼs reference. Hucʼs first expedition in China, where he accompanied Jospeh Gabet began in 1839, their mission a journey from Peking to Mongolia and Tibet. The two men spent several years learning the language in a region near Peking they called “Valley of Black Waters,” a name that might have resonated with Joyce. In August 1844, the two young men--Huc was 32, Gabet 35--dressed as lamas, their guide a single Christian native, set out for Inner Mongolia. After an arduous three-month trek, they arrived in the famous Buddhist monastery of Kumbum, where they stayed for several months to learn the Tibetan language; there, Huc managed to translate some of the Buddhaʼs instructions. But the missionariesʼ ultimate goal was to reach Llasa, which they did in January 1846, after a four-month crossing of snow-covered mountains. The Tibetans welcomed the two missionaries, but the Chinese were less enthused; two months after their arrival, Huc and Gabet were ordered to leave Tibet and return to Canton. Gabet left for Europe; Huc stayed for another three years and returned to France in 1852. A year later, he left the order perhaps because of disagreements about his missionary work in China.(14)
Hucʼs work reads less like a treatise on converting non-Christians than an adventure book chronicling a daring expedition into unknown territories. Itʼs Indiana Jones dressed as a lama addressing a wide audience. As Huc puts it, “It is our purpose to address readers of all opinions, and to make China known to all”; more importantly, he asks the reader to consider not just the European but, as he puts it, the “Chinese point of view” (Chinese I, xxvii). Huc admonishes travelers who only stay “some time in a port half Europeanised” and return with “unpleasant recollections”; instead, he suggests that one should identif[y] with the life of the Chinese...liv[e] long among them, and...almost become a Chinese [one]self. This is what we did for a period of fourteen years, and we are therefore in a position to speak with confidence concerning an Empire that we had adopted as a second country, and that we entered without thinking of a return. (Chinese I, xxvi)
Always engaging and unpretentious, Huc offers the kind of reading most attractive to Bloom, a seeker of intellectual enrichment but also entertainment. As an empathetic observer and reader of his environment, Bloom is Hucʼs ideal audience.
Bloomʼs reference to olfactory matters resonates in Huc. While there is no shortage of comments in travel narratives on what one writer calls “the powerful and most unfragrant ‘bouquet de peuple’” in China(15), it is only Huc who treats the subject differently. Under the heading “The Odour of China,” he writes:
But then he goes on to say:
Hucʼs sensory perceptions and his manner of perceiving oneself through the eyes--or nose--of another, be it a human being or a dog, would appeal to Bloom.
Hucʼs writings on the Chinese lack of interest in Christianity and the populationʼs addiction to opium also confirm Bloomʼs thoughts on the subject (5:326-327). He writes extensively and disparagingly about the wide usage of opium in the Celestial Empire and the British involvement in the trade:
The close observation of the opium pipe and the description of the best position for smoking it can only be found in Hucʼs narrative, an attention to detail Bloom shares in his humanizing depiction, for example, of the reclining statue of Buddha, “lying on his side in the museum. Taking it easy with hand under his cheek” (5:328-329). Huc writes: The Chinese prepare and smoke their opium lying down, sometimes on one side, sometimes on the other, saying that this is the most favourable position. (Chinese, I, 29)
It is also Huc who describes--and connects--two topics of great interest to Joyce: metempsychosis and insects, particularly lice. The exact phrase “transmigration of souls” appears in Huc and Gabet (Travels, I, 186). But in explaining the concept of metempsychosis to his readers, Huc does not engage in a grand philosophical discussion; instead he describes how Lamas refuse to kill a louse:
Hucʼs humane and somewhat comic approach to his subject matter is echoed in Bloomʼs efforts to teach Molly about the “transmigration of souls...in plain words” (4:341-342).
We also find in Huc descriptions of sumptuous Chinese dinners, a topic of interest to Bloom: “The Mandarins are in general pretty much of gourmands, and carry the business and refinements of the table to a tolerably high pitch. They have...cooks, who possess a vast store of receipts, and secrets to disguise dishes in a thousand ways” (Chinese, I, 200). But it is not Huc but another travel writer who focuses even more closely on Chinese delicacies in matters of food (“eggs fifty years old”) and sensory delights (“josssticks”).
Constance Frederica Gordon Cumming (1837-1924) was an aristocratic Scottish woman, who wrote extensively of her travels not only in China and India but also Egypt and Fiji, among other places. Her illustrated, two-volume Wanderings in China came out in 1886. Disguised as an epistolary travel book, it offers the minutiae of Chinese life many observers would consider too mundane to record. She catalogues in great detail the various courses of a Chinese dinner, from “fish-brains” to “sliced lily bulbs” (I, 222), and describes “ducksʼ eggs of a very dark colour, and of incalculable age--ante-diluvian, perhaps, as nothing is considered respectably old in China unless it dates back some thousand years! ...The Celestial palate...only recognises eggs when hard boiled, and much prefers them in advanced age” ( I, 223).
Cumming also writes extensively about her wanderings in graveyards, their architecture a reminder of Bloomʼs thoughts in Glasnevin: “In the midst of death we are in life” (6: 759). With great sensitivity, she describes her “long day in the City of the Dead, wandering in the great wilderness of nameless graves...In each case I entered a walled enclosure, and passing by a temple with gilded images at the gate, found myself in a labyrinth of street, arranged just as in a city of the living” (I, 304-305). During funeral services, she notes the use of josssticks and food: “[J]oss-sticks were lighted and stuck in bamboos, and so planted round the grave. The feast was spread and left for a while, that the hungry dead might feast on its essence” (I, 282). Visiting another graveyard, she notices “red earthen jars, in which are stored the bones and dust of some poor wanderer...These [the jars] are familiarly known as ‘the potted ancestors!’” (I, 278).
While we have yet to “prove[ ] by algebra” (1.555) that Joyce was influenced by these particular travel narratives, we can say they are the best prototypes of the books on China available to him. Closer familiarity with them can open new paths for scholars interested in genetic Joyce, in the architecture of Ulysses, or in the larger issues of ethnography and imperialism. Most importantly, reading what Bloom reads can enrich our understanding of his character and his position as the supreme viator.