In Brief

"Japhet in search of a father" is the name of a novel published in 1836 by Capt. Frederick Marryat, an English naval officer. It represents the efforts of a "foundling" (a child deserted by unknown parents) to find his father. By identifying Stephen with Japhet, Mulligan mocks his aspirations to spiritual paternity.

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Thornton quotes several sentences from Japhet, in Search of a Father that typify Japhet's deep need for paternity: "if I saw a nose upon any man's face, at all resembling my own, I immediately would wonder and surmise whether that person could be my father. This constant dwelling upon the subject at last created a species of monomania, and a hundred times a day I would mutter to myself, 'Who is my father?'" After digesting Proteus and Scylla and Charybdis, the reader of Ulysses will realize that Stephen Dedalus has the same monomaniacal need—not for biological paternity (Simon Dedalus, or "Kinch the elder," is alive and well in Dublin), but for a kind of spiritual paternity that will enable him to become an artist.

Mulligan mocks this deep spiritual longing by comparing it to Marryat's obsessive character, whose searches do not amount to much; as Gifford observes, Japhet's father, "when finally found, turns out to be a testy old East India officer.” But Ulysses makes Stephen something more than just poor Japhet, by analogizing him to more consequential sons: Telemachus and Hamlet.

Together with William Cardell in England and Herman Melville in America, Marryat helped shape the genre of sea stories later popularized by Joseph Conrad, C. S. Forester, Dudley Pope, and Patrick O’Brian. In Ulysses (1987), Hugh Kenner notes the popularity of his fictions: "Though the allusion seems recondite now, we are to imagine that this was a boy's book for Mulligan. Many Marryat titles abounded in cheap reprint as late as the 1930s" (30).

JH 2011
Oil portrait of Frederick Marryat by John Simpson. Source: Wikimedia Commons.