Leah

In Brief

In Lotus Eaters, as Bloom stands on the corner of Westland Row and Great Brunswick Street scanning the "multicoloured hoardings" posted on a wall, he sees a notice for a theatrical production: "Hello. Leah tonight. Mrs Bandmann Palmer. Like to see her again in that." The production of this powerful 19th century melodrama with a Jewish heroine makes him remember how much his father loved it, which in turn prompts feelings of guilt for abandoning the Jewish faith. Hades finds him thinking that he could go see the play "tonight," which would fit perfectly with the plan he has apparently communicated to Molly, of eating out and going to a show at the Gaiety Theatre. But in Nausicaa he realizes that it is "Too late." In Ithaca he regrets not going, but he tells Molly that he has done so.

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Leah, the Forsaken (1862) is a strong English-language adaptation by the American playwright John Augustin Daly of the hugely popular German-language Deborah (1849) by a Jewish-German-Austrian playwright, Salomon Hermann Mosenthal. Deborah was translated or adapted into more than a dozen European languages and given titles as various as Deborah, D'vorah, Leah, Miriam, Naomi, Rebecca, Ruth, Lysiah, Clysbia, and The Jewess. Trying to recall the original name, Bloom manages only to add another one to the list: "What is this the right name is? By Mosenthal it is. Rachel, is it? No." Gifford speculates that he may be thinking of "the Alsatian-Jewish actress Elisa Rachel (1821-58)," who played the title role in some performances of Mosenthal's Deborah. But he may simply be remembering Leah's sister in the book of Genesis. 

The tragic story of Leah runs as follows: In the early 1700s in a violently anti-Semitic Austrian village, a young Catholic man named Rudolf falls in love with a passionate Jewish girl who has fled a pogrom in her native Hungary and is passing through the town, where by law she cannot settle even for a night. He offers to run off with her, but their conversation beneath "a large ruined cross" in the forest is overheard by an apostate Jew named Nathan, who has assimilated into Gentile society for two decades by hiding his past and becoming more intolerant than the natives. Nathan brings the unwelcome news to Rudolf's father Lorenz, and convinces father and son to let him test Leah by going to the forest and offering her money to renounce her love, but he pockets the gold and falsely tells Rudolf and Lorenz that Leah has accepted it. Rudolf repudiates Leah and marries the Austrian girl that his father has picked out for him, only to learn the truth from Leah after the wedding. Five years later, she shows up outside the couple's house, tenderly embraces their daughter, calls out the parents, and denounces Nathan. Nathan is led away by the police, and Leah falls dead at Rudolf's feet. 

This spectacular starring role attracted many famous actresses of the late 19th century, including the Czech Fanny Janauschek, the Italian Adelaide Ristori, the American Kate Bateman, the French Sarah Bernhardt, and the English Milly Bandmann-Palmer. In addition to longing to see Mrs. Bandmann-Palmer "again" in the part, Bloom recalls his father telling him how two more of these leading ladies played the role: "Poor papa! How he used to talk of Kate Bateman in that. Outside the Adelphi in London waited all the afternoon to get in. Year before I was born that was: sixtyfive. And Ristori in Vienna."

But one scene from Leah that deeply impressed Rudolph Bloom did not feature the heroine. Over and over again, he has told his son about a moment when Nathan's Jewish identity is discovered. Nathan has lived in constant fear of being recognized by Jews from his old country, and Leah's band of wandering Hungarian Jews poses a mortal threat to him. In the third act this threat comes to life: "The scene he was always talking about where the old blind Abraham recognises the voice and puts his fingers on his face. / — Nathan's voice! His son's voice! I hear the voice of Nathan who left his father to die of grief and misery in my arms, who left the house of his father and left the God of his father. / Every word is so deep, Leopold."

The scene in act 3 shows a "dilapidated Hut" where Leah has brought the blind old Abraham and Sarah to stay the night. Nathan enters it and tries to bribe Sarah to leave Austria and take Leah with her, but Abraham appears, saying, "I hear a strange voice, and yet not a strange voice. . . . There was a man at Presburg, a man whose name was Nathan. He was a singer in the synagogue. It is his voice I hear. . . . It was said he became a Christian, and went out into the world. . . . He left his father to die in poverty and misery, since he had forsworn his faith, and the house of his kindred." Nathan tries to silence him all the while he is speaking, but Abraham says, "I will not be silent. I hear the voice of Nathan. (passing his hand over NATHAN's face) And I recognize the features of Nathan." Nathan grabs him by the throat and strangles him. He "loosens his grip from which ABRAHAM sinks supinely; at the same moment a thunder-bolt strikes the cabin, and the storm increases) / SARAH. (screams) He is dead!"

It seems clear that Leah, the Forsaken spoke powerfully to Rudolph Bloom because, like Leah, he was a Jew who left his native Hungary and wandered west. His particular interest in the scene with Nathan and old Abraham, however, is not so easy to explain. Perhaps he felt guilt over having "left the house of his father and left the God of his father" (Rudolph converted to Catholicism to marry Ellen Higgins). But his conversion cannot truly be called an apostasy, because Rudolph continued to live with Jews and he quietly preserved the memory of the religious traditions he was raised in, passing them down to his son.

Leopold Bloom went much further, rejecting the Jewish faith completely and, after living among Jews for the first few years of his marriage, leaving them behind to associate with Gentiles. Any guilt that his father may have felt while watching the craven and murderous Nathan must have been greatly amplified in his own recollections of his father's words. His thoughts about how Nathan abandoned his father to poverty and death are immediately followed by thoughts of his own father's death: "Poor papa! Poor man! I'm glad I didn't go into the room to look at his face. That day! O, dear! O, dear! Ffoo! Well, perhaps it was best for him."

The reader of Lotus Eaters learns, then, that Bloom suffers from a psychic affliction very much like Stephen's: natural grief over the loss of a parent has become infected with religious guilt. In Bloom's case more time has passed and the ailment is not as crippling ("Well, perhaps it was best for him"), but his response to Leah contributes significantly to the mental parallels that the novel is constructing between its male protagonists.

JH 2019
Poster advertising Mrs. Bandmann-Palmer's six performances at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre during the week of 16 June 1904. Source: chem.engr.utc.edu.