translation that follows is a fascinating bit of late nineteenth-century popular (or at least middlebrow) culture that arose from the period's traditionalist-vs.-reformist Kulturkampf. It's a passage from a document that Joyce discovered at the impressionable period of young adulthood, and carried with him till it came time to select useful items for inclusion in the Ulysses draft over a dozen years later. Marvin Magalaner pointed out nearly forty years ago the way in which Joyce never let go of bits of experience, or culture, or culture as experienced by him, till they were worked properly into the mosaic of Ulysses. (1) Such a bit is the opening passage of Léo Taxil's La vie de Jésus, one of the many harsh but hilarious anticlerical and anticatholic works that poured from the pen of this prolific author and polemicist early in the final quarter of the nineteenth century. That Joyce was aware of the book and its opening sequence is clear from his use, in the original French, of several phrases from Chapter V of Vie, at several significant stephanic junctures in Ulysses (3.158-78; 14.301-12; 15.2577-90). Joyce also makes his reference quite clear by mentioning Taxil's name in the first two of these passages.


When did Joyce see
Vie? In "Proteus" (3.158-78) Stephen mentally links Vie with memories of his Paris trip, presumably in winter or early spring 1903 (notice that soup is being drunk). Joseph Casey and his son Patrice are the life-originals from which the fictional Kevin Egan and his son Patrice grow, and Ellmann discusses them in connection with the second, post-Christmas visit of Joyce to Paris, (2) which lasted from 23 January till 11 April. (3) This period extends a few weeks on either side of Joyce's attainment of legal adulthood, while living on his own in Paris: a crucial personal circumstance of which he was most likely fully conscious. If this is the period when Joyce saw Vie, it is also no more than a few weeks from when Pope Leo XIII, Taxil's great target from near the outset of his reign, celebrated his jubilee--the twenty-fifth anniversary of his papacy--on 3 March 1903: an event prominently covered in Parisian newspapers.

What would young Joyce have known of the Leo-attacking Taxil aside from what Patrice Casey told or showed him in 1903? To the extent that popular culture and the world of "what's hot" always move on quite rapidly to the next set of fads and celebrities, Taxil may well have been less than front-page news. But he had been a scandalous anticlerical figure in France as in other Catholic countries in the early 1880's and again in the late 1890's. Oral information and sensational anecdotes circulated widely about his activities and sayings, among both the scandalized and the hero-worshipping (see the linked life of Taxil with its parallels to not a few aspects of Joyce's own life and work). In early 1903, Taxil's dramatic public revelation in Paris of his supposedly anti-masonic Diana Vaughan imposture, and his renewed espousal of anticlericalism thereafter, were less than six years in the past.

From the atheistic Patrice, Joyce would no doubt have heard both generalizations and details about Taxil, as is commonly the case in conversations about something sensational that is of interest to both parties. And back in Dublin Joyce may possibly have seen journalistic pieces or received oral information about Taxil from the unconventional or anticlerical members of his circle of acquaintances (the Gogarty or Cosgrave types). Joyce might also have seen information about Taxil in scandalized traditionalist newspapers, or amused and approving anti-traditionalist outlets, that would have come under his eye in Catholic Trieste and Rome during his early years on the continent. If Joyce more or less regularly read local newspapers, he would not likely have missed the reviews of Taxil's life and activities that appeared in obituaries at the end of March 1907 and the beginning of April, following his death on 29 March. (
4) Trieste's Il Piccolo and Il Piccolo della Sera are the most likely sources, though any Italian newspapers available in Trieste would have mentioned Taxil's death and career. (5)


In his Avant-Propos Taxil tells the reader from the outset just where he stands among current opinions on religion. Some believe in the literal God-Man Christ of traditional Christianity, some take Christ as a reformer who anticipates socialism, and some see the Gospels and all religious stories as based on misinterpretation by the irrational and the cynical. The third position is Taxil's: the idea that religion like everything else is colored by a basic human mixture of stupidity (which makes people often gullible) and self-interest (which causes people to mislead others, and mislead themselves about their own less than exalted motives and less than accurate beliefs). Thus, like Comte's mid-century francophone positivisme Taxil's worldview is purely immanent, empirical, and practical. (
6) In Chapters I through V of Vie, people's attitudes and actions are driven by their ordinary, personal day-to-day needs and problems, such as--most commonly perhaps--the need for money (or wish for more of it), the dream of greater comfort and ease, the desire for love and sexual pleasure, and egotism. Irrational fantasy about oneself and selfish manipulation of others' desires and fantasies are the central activities.

Joseph, for example, exhibits these tendencies in courting Marie. He wants cooking, sewing, and a well-kept house. Though (given her clear lack of attraction to him) he would like to keep it a secret from her till after the wedding, he--a balding carpenter of less than genteel manners--craves sexual love from a pretty teenage wife. When the "angel Gabriel," trying to put right the consequences of his sex-with-Marie scheme--tells Joseph that marriage to her will make him famous as the Messiah's (step)father, he marries her enthusiastically, despite her seemingly cuckolding pregnancy. (
7) Only money drives Marie's parents to pressure her to withdraw from her pledge to Temple service. They have had financial problems, don't have the money to keep the pledge, and owe Joseph for carpentry--and Joseph (eager for a teenage housekeeper and sexpartner) will take Marie without a dowry. Marie meanwhile wants romantic love and sexual pleasure, which seem unlikely with Joseph, hence her willingness to believe the handsome "angel Gabriel," and let his Holy Spirit (or sacred "pigeon") do its work on her. The young man going by the name of "Gabriel" wants to have sex (in two cases, actually conceiving children) without personal, moral, or financial consequences. The whole priestly class (in Zacharie's time, and by implication in contemporary Europe) is interested in maximum income and benefits from their position, with minimal work and effort.

Taxil thus insists, comically and sarcastically, on people's generally selfish motives and stupid gullibilities. Despite the conventional, moral, or logical arguments we formulate to get our way or defend our choices, we are selfish. We simply keep our selfishnesses secret, considering them inappropriate to mention. But Taxil is going to drag us past any humbug that denies these basic, central truths about ourselves. Children are made not by "the working of the Holy Spirit" but by sexual interaction, which people (Joseph, Marie, Gabriel, etc.) are constantly maneuvering to attain in whatever ways they feel will please them. Taxil incessantly drops hints about this most basic and (at that period) least openly discussed of human drives. When (for example) Zacharie and Elisabeth are trying to have children, he says they do not succeed "despite all their efforts," even though they are "working with ardor" at "planting cabbages."
On the other hand, self-seeking human beings often prove gullibly self-destructive instead, and are manipulated by others. Religion itself is founded on "human stupidity" according to the Avant-Propos, and Gabriel would not get anywhere on any of his sexual projects if people were less driven by their selfishnesses and stupidities to believe irrational, non-empirical things. Meanwhile, people's desires (for money, sex, self-importance, etc.) form a comic combination with those irrationalities: hence the stupidity and superstition which Gabriel counts on with his targets, Zacharie in Chapter I, Marie in III, and Joseph in V.

This whole sensibility (which we might call the comic-satiric-cynical complex, familiar from Swift for example, or Cervantes, or Petronius, or Aristophanes) pervades in turn the ulyssean comic perspective on people. This is a very different sensibility from the much more serious or earnest and at times juvenalian (excoriatively satirical) sensibility of Joyce's early
Dubliners stories and Stephen Hero. Central components of Taxil's sensibility and worldview in Vie overlap with the basic worldview and sensibility Joyce eventually is able to arrive at in Ulysses. Ulysses emphasizes the typically human fusion between (on the one hand) self-focus and calculating canniness, and (on the other) imperfect rationality or silliness. It insists on the banal and often conventionally undiscussed aspects of human life (bodily functions and sexuality are only the beginning).

Bloom and Molly are pervaded by--are constituted of--their private drives and calculuses, their selfishnesses and their sillinesses, all revealed through the book's insistence on including an inside angle as a major part of the narrative, which strips open the secret and reveals the subjective landscape. To the extent that they are what they are, Joyce reveals in them the truth about males and females, and to the extent that they (and we) should try to think and act better than we do, satiric revelation of the characters' failings is meant to have a salutary effect on readers. Even Stephen, who would like to see himself as not subject to Bloom's and Molly's ordinary problems and failings, is as selfish, and as self-deluded, as they sometimes are. Until he figures out how to maneuver more functionally through life--less selfishly and with more functional engagement in ordinary experience--he will continue to be unhappily lacking in the kinds of connections with life, and the world, and anything outside of himself, that (whether he knows it yet or not) he needs in order to follow through on his literary ambitions.

The most important connections of all between
Ulysses and Taxil's work have to do with sexuality. Taxil has a thisworldly and pragmatic (shading into cynical) view of people as interested in sexual and related issues. Joyce too sees sexual desire as pervasive and crucial: sometimes fleetingly and on a moment-to-moment basis, and sometimes focused on a life-partner over decades, involving mutual support, mutual infliction of pain, and the perpetuation of the species. Sexuality and all the personal and social modes that derive from or are influenced by it profoundly affect personal and transgenerational blooming--or lack of same--for individual, family, and society. For Taxil, when people such as Zacharie, Marie, Joseph, and Gabriel believe in or talk about religious or seemingly miraculous activities, sexual projects are really afoot--it's simply that people are not honest with each other (or, often, with themselves) about it.
For example, when Joseph gets angry at her pregnant condition, Marie blames it on "the pigeon," by which she would like to mean the magic force that came upon her when Gabriel visited: the Paraclete, (
8) the Holy Spirit which is represented so often as a bird in Catholic iconography ("my father's a bird," 1.585) because of the idea that it flies down from God to human beings to carry inspiration or the like. But inadvertently, Marion betrays to the visually-minded reader the rather vivid picture of what is really causing the pregnancy and transmitting "the working of the Holy Spirit": the bird-like penis with its beak and mouth and neck. Yes, as Taxil says near the beginning of Chapter IV, "the pigeon was doing things well." (Or, as Joyce has Stephen express the idea, a bit differently, in Stephen Hero, when explaining to Cranly why he has left the Church and whether he thinks Christ is an impostor or not: the Holy Ghost "is intended for a spermatozoon with wings added." (9))

Magalaner early on connected Taxil's view of the Joseph/Mary relationship to the marriage of Bloom and Molly in
Ulysses: (10) an older man (Bloom is a few years older than Molly) and a younger woman, in a situation of mutual sexual allegiance, where the woman does not see the male as fulfilling her needs (sexual, interpersonal, financial, etc.), and is therefore willing to look elsewhere for something more exciting and uplifting (sexually, and otherwise). That is the situation toward which Molly has found herself evolving in the decade-plus since Rudy's death. In his eagerness to squelch pain and guilt (was he somehow, for example spermatically or venereally, responsible?) for Rudy's death in 1894, Bloom has shifted his and Molly's marriage into sexual modes that do not allow for the possibility of reproduction--nor for sexual satisfaction for Molly--, because he wants to avoid another Rudy, another inviable child. As reinterpreted in sexually problematic ways by Taxil, the Holy Family becomes a dysfunctional family assimilable to modern people's hidden but basic problems.

The parallels between the ancient couple and the modern one even carry over from the sexual and experiential into symbolic details. In Taxil's first five Chapters, the daughter of Joachim and Anne is referred to 40 times by name, 23 as Marie--and 17 times as the variant Marion which later becomes the female protagonist's given name in
Ulysses. But the onomastic linkage leads back to the symbolic and cultural ones. Molly, formally Marion (who like Taxil's Marion is a pretty brunette, mildly dark-complected, and younger than her mate), becomes for Joyce an immanent, real, sexually- and maritally-focused transvaluation of the idealized and spiritualized Mary/Marie/Marion of Catholic tradition (11)--just as the Christian Marie/Marion is sexualized by Taxil in Vie.

Zacharie and Elisabeth have the same marital problem as Joseph and Marie--at the most basic level, a sexual and interpersonal or reproductive mismatch of some major kind. In both these cases of sexual and reproductive frustration, a younger man--shades of Blazes Boylan--talks his way into a little sexual gratification, while offering the younger Marie and the older Elisabeth (respectively, the dark-haired virgin and the middle-aged wife) a chance at sexual satisfaction and reproductive fulfillment that they are not getting or expecting to get from their formal fiancé or husband. (12) Maybe Zacharie and Joseph can accept that their partners have been impregnated by someone other than themselves (which, absent actual angelic agency, makes John the Baptist and Jesus bastards--half-brothers not just cousins--raised by males other than their genetic father. Possibly they can further accept that this is in part a result of their own imperfections and failings. If so, then perhaps each of them can still go on to live with the history that has occurred and the resultant situation, and still have a constructive life-relationship with, respectively, Elisabeth and Marie. And perhaps the same is possible likewise for Bloom, post-Boylan; and Joyce, post-Prezioso; as also Shakespeare after Ann's unfaithfulness, according to Stephen's analysis of him in episode 9, which is of course dovetailed throughout Ulysses with Bloom's situation).

All these males in midlife crisis, none fully functional, can benefit from the spur to action, the wake-up call, that is given them by their partners through sexual disloyalty. Perhaps after 16 June, Bloom will be able to get hold of himself and do something, before it is too late, about his relationship with Molly--his "treasure," as Gabriel the cheater describes Marion the cheater to the middle-aged and cheated-on Joseph in
Vie, Chapter V. He'd have to do this though renovating his and Molly's sexual, reproductive, and general interpersonal modes with each other in days to come. If he does, he'll deserve the shift from mon vieux to mon garçon seen in Gabriel's speech to Joseph in Vie Chapter V, where Gabriel convinces him to take Marie back and make something of his relationship to her. But in Ulysses as in life, the future is not guaranteed, and presents itself only as a slate on which writing has yet to be marked, and could be marked in constructive ways.

Finally, all these theories of sexuality and personal, emotional, reproductive, and familial life tie in with Stephen's rather particular transformation of monotheistic theology, set forth in "Oxen of the Sun" in the heart of his pre-thunderclap series of speeches. At 14.277-81 he takes over the conversation by picking up on Bloom's anticlerical comments, like Taxil cynically viewing priests as self-serving hypocrites. Soon, Stephen is presenting himself as the anticonventional Christ-figure and priest at a Thursday night re-enactment of the Last Supper (14.281-85). He argues that whether or not Mary/Marie was faithful has effects on how one looks at many important things: not only at traditional Christianity but at sexuality, plus the immanent world of time and space; the possibility of a logic to the empirical, or any reality to the idea of a transcendental, realm; and the relationship between the immanent and any possible transcendent realm (14.289-312).

Stephen's "Oxen" speeches pack many conceptual possibilities into a small scope. For the purposes of this essay, the general assertion will have to suffice that the Taxil pigeon-phrases, and everything that is incorporated by reference to them in Ulysses, touch solidly on a wide but intertwined range of the book's largest sexual and interpersonal themes, as first suggested by Magalaner, added to by Fritz Senn, and supplemented here.


But in addition to all the links between Taxil's and Joyce's sexual, marital, and reproductive themes, there are also lots of connections between Joyce's life and work and Taxil's life and work, some but not all of which have been cited by Magalaner and Senn. In a bit over twenty important pages in his 1959 Time of Apprenticeship, Marvin Magalaner was the first to point out (certainly in published form) the autobiographical and experiential connections between Taxil and Joyce as people and authors, and between the themes of the opening of
Vie (as quoted briefly at several significant junctures in Ulysses) and Ulysses itself. (13) Magalaner discusses connections between Taxil's life and work (mainly, the opening of Vie) on the one hand, and various aspects on the other hand of the episode where Taxil's name and prose first appear in Ulysses: episode 3 ("Proteus"). Things that are as general, and as absent from Ulysses' verbal surface, as Taxil's personal and career metamorphoses resonate with both "Proteus" narrative ("seaspawn and seawrack," 3.2-3) and "Proteus" themes--the shapeshifting seachanging flux of experiential complexity, both moment-to-moment in Stephen's consciousness, and in his (or any reader's) personal development through experience over autobiographical time, a major theme eventually of Ulysses as a whole. (14)

Magalaner also rightly connects Taxil's life and cultural work to Mulligan as a mocker of traditional religion and values in the Telemachiad, especially episode 1 ("Telemachus"). He ties Taxil to the mature (Work in Progress) Joyce's interest in Shem the penman (see especially
Finnegans Wake I.7): the mocker, player with ideas, provocateur, and in some senses fraud. (15) The language-artist is a forger who plays with cultural ideas in order to help and/or force others to think things out better (while also being a selfish self-promoter). Magalaner also links this to another Telemachiad and "Telemachus" theme: the impostor/pretender/usurper idea, which climaxes of course in the final word of episode 1 of Ulysses. (16) Finally, Magalaner links Taxil's life to the antisemitism theme that starts to show up in the Telemachiad (recall Haines's antisemitic comment late in episode 1, and Deasy's late in episode 2), and runs on through Ulysses. (17)

Fritz Senn in his 1982 "Taxilonomy" article adds to these Taxil/Joyce tie-ins by connecting Marie's mother's suspicion that a cousin named Panther got Marie pregnant to the black-panther dream that in episode 1 Stephen recalls Haines having had on the night of 15/16 June. This is a dream connected to such major plot-points as Stephen's decision to leave the Tower, and to such central characters as the human leo-pard (leo = lion, pard = panther) named Leopold with whom Stephen will connect (or partially connect) so crucially late on the evening of 16/17 June. (
18) Senn also ties Marion's would-be affectionate term for Joseph, "mon gros lapin" (in the paragraph immediately prior to the one which ends with fichue position) to Stephen's memory of the rabbit-faced (French lapin = rabbit) Patrice Egan lapping his milk (plus other echoes of "lap" in "Proteus") immediately after the tags from Taxil occur in Stephen's thought-flow. (19)

Pace Magalaner's idea that there might be no more autobiographical or experiential connections for Joyce to discover in Taxil after the latter's return from Geneva, (
20) perhaps, if he was aware of it, it would also have been of interest to James Augusta Joyce (creator of Leopold Paula Bloom) that Taxil adopted late in his career feminine pen-names such as Diana the ex-masonic vessel and Jeanne the housewives' helper. In fact, if Joyce was somehow aware of Taxil's late writing on home management, he might have found the one-time anticonventional provocateur's ultimately household focus, from 1904 on, quite resonant at a period when Joyce himself likewise took definitively to domestic life (about which he would eventually write his two most important books). Joyce in fact had both of his children with Nora during this final, domestic period of Taxil's career. Thus, the Joyces arrived back in Trieste from Rome on 7 March 1907, Taxil died on the 29th, and Lucia was born 26 July.

So yet another of Joyce's seemingly myriad
Ulysses agendas (overt and covert) is to allude a triad of times, via various combinations of author, book-title, and a couple of crucial lines, to a figure whose life and work overlap with those of the book's author--and this in turn points the eventually curious in the direction of a web of linkages between Taxil and Vie and Ulysses and Joyce generally, spanning from as early in Taxil's life as his Jesuit upbringing and eventual rebellion, to his end-life focus, just discussed, on domesticity with epicene hints. Did Joyce know everything that we likewise can easily know, from basic information-sources about Taxil and his life and work, and from the opening passage of Vie? And did he intend all that to be taken as part of the relevant field of reference for thinking about Ulysses?

To a significant extent the answer to both questions would seem to be yes, even from a relatively ordinary exegetical perspective. There is the information that anyone familiar with the infamous and publicity-craving Taxil would have tended to know of his life and career. There are the plot-points, themes, phrasing, and words that a retentive and linguistically sensitive person would pick up in reading the pregnancy passages of Taxil's Vie, Chapters I through V. Such relatively clear linkages include things as general as the sexual dynamics of the Bloom/Molly relationship and Marion's name, and things as local as the lapin play in "Proteus," and the "panther" and "beastly" echoes in "Telemachus" and thereafter.

But even though authorial intention is interesting and crucial, the still more broadly significant issue is the place of a cultural document or artefact within a developing culture--what that document or artefact subsumes from, or does with, or adds to, or alters in, its cultural environment. Except where there is fairly overwhelming proof of authorial intention, perhaps the most crucial thing is to talk about how a document like
Ulysses converses amicably and critically with its ambient culture, since that in fact is the larger issue in any case. What is any document doing with its culture, no matter what specific ways some particular human mind might have molded the document into what it is by some mixture of rationality, intuition, instinct, what have you? Magalaner and Senn are certainly right to view the overt presence of Taxil's pigeon in the book as intimately intertwined with, and somehow allusively including in Ulysses, a much wider array of the book's themes and interests than is obvious on the surface (absent considerable knowledge of Taxil and the first five Chapters of Vie). The taxilian phenomena are never actually brought out explicitly by the book's three Taxil-passages, but are instead left as silent but recoverable cultural information.

This raises an important exegetical point about
Ulysses. The various Taxil-features only become exegetically visible when we realize that the book's allusion to Taxil might be inviting us to think that Ulysses is--to use the legal phrase--incorporating by reference everything having to do with Taxil (biographical, textual, or conceptual) that is germane, upon analysis, to Ulysses. Joyce set out to create a microcosm of life and culture in the book, and in doing so he tried to arrange things so as to encourage readers to see his work as the neck of an hourglass, through which flow a wide array of culture and experience in their largest senses. The book is interpretable not only by its direct allusions and themes, but by all the aspects of culture to which its direct allusions bring the interpreter's attention. To the extent that Ulysses seeks to get us to think about the overall structures and issues of life and experience and culture, it is de facto suggesting that we think about the patterns possibly inherent in the world and culture themselves (which are certainly more important than those of any one book). This further implies that we should think of the book as simply a stepladder to those more important phenomena, which also is true of all books and all literary interpretation--just much more intensively, it would seem, in the case of Ulysses.

That is, what the book seems to be calling for is a broadened exegetical approach, in which authorial intention is one aspect of the larger attempt to elicit significant cultural patterns from a text's internal structures, and from the relations of that text's (and author's) traits to any germane components of the culture out of which it grows and within which, and (partly at least) against which, it operates. There has been an either/or argument at times in the late twentieth century between more objectively focused cultural and textual analysis (which is often seen as new, due to the increasing influence of the social sciences on the humanities including literary analysis) and, on the other hand, more subjectively and authorially focused intentionalist analysis (which is often seen as culturally "older" because it comes out of modernity's--out of Romanticism's and Modernism's--focus on the creative, expressive individual). From a broader perspective, this exegetical argument emerges, as is so often the case with human disagreements both private and public, as an argument between two partial and limited perspectives, each insisting only on its own special angles, to the exclusion of a more accurately inclusive and complexity-respecting view where the two "inimical" positions are in fact complementary components.

Clearly, in the case of Taxil, there is a good deal of authorial intentionality on Joyce's part, as seen from various angles above. But there are other interesting things about Taxil's life, career, and text of which Joyce might have been aware, though of this there is no and perhaps there cannot be any absolute certainty. Since Joyce seems to have worked so hard, technically and stylistically, to remove himself from uncomplicated direct presence in the book (eschewing traditional objective narrative or simple reliable-narrator modes), perhaps what we owe his work, with all its hints at the patterns that pervade world and experience, is a careful documentation of his document's cultural position. This means we would make assertions about intentionality where they seem clear or at least fairly probable, but we would also go beyond that and lay out the "objective" cultural networks in which the verbal surface that is
Ulysses involves itself by the denotations and connotations of the words that are employed, and the cultural items that are thus, somehow, alluded to--in this case, Taxil and his life, as well as his words and ideas, plus the cultural networks in which all of those things participate.

These connections (intentional, or not, or of indeterminate intentionality), between the book and the larger culture (and world) tacitly argue that
Ulysses is in some sense intended as--and, intentionality aside, functions as--a microcosm that subsumes major aspects of culture and experience: sexuality, reproduction, personal and familial relationships, aspects of material and organic existence, various drives and desires, etc. Culture and experience themselves are really the crucial ulterior objects of exegesis, through direct explication of Ulysses of course, but in no way limited to its sheer verbal surface and most immediate implications. The point is that we should think about interpreting Joyce and Ulysses culturally, dealing with the issues of life and culture that Ulysses can only suggest in any case, no matter how big, densely structured, or tightly packed it is. But that means that everything inside and outside of the book weaves in and out of everything else. No wonder the dedalian phrase "obscure labyrinthine motifs" (21) suggested itself to Magalaner as a way of summarizing the first published discussion, some forty years ago, of all the seeming interpenetrations of Ulysses, Joyce, Taxil, Vie, culture, experience, life, and world.

© Gregory M. Downing
volume 3, issue 2, 2003