Reuben J Dodd

Reuben J Dodd

In Brief

As the funeral carriage starts up O'Connell Street, Martin Cunningham points out "A tall blackbearded figure, bent on a stick," and says, "Of the tribe of Reuben." His reference to one of the twelve tribes of Israel implies that the man is Jewish, and the harsh remarks and derisive laughter that follow make up the strongest outburst of antisemitism in Hades. But the actual Reuben J. Dodd does not appear to have been Jewish. Perhaps Joyce credited a false rumor, but it seems more likely that he deliberately made Dodd Jewish in order to spotlight Bloom's uneasy outsider status in the carriage. The characters in the novel do not display any doubt about the question.

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Reuben James Dodd, born in Dublin in 1847, was a solicitor and insurance agent for the Patriotic Assurance Company and Mutual Assurance Company of New York. His office, seen in Wandering Rocks, was at 34 Ormond Quay Upper, a building which also housed the post office to which Bloom is heading at the end of Sirens. Igoe notes that in 1904 "Dodd, a Catholic, was living at 90 South Circular Road, Portobello close to Dublin's Jewish quarter." This fact probably confirmed his Jewishness in some people's minds, as Jackson and Costello infer in their biography of John Stanlislaus Joyce: "it may have been because Reuben J. Dodd, soon to be John's sworn enemy, lived in this area...that everyone assumed that he too was a Jew" (103).

But the fact that Dodd ran a side venture lending money at interest must also have helped. Jackson and Costello note that in 1892 Joyce's father, whose finances were failing, was summoned to court and forced to repay £22.15s that he owed Dodd, plus another £5.6s in court costs (172). Less than a year later Dodd lent John Stanislaus the far larger sum of £400. He imposed harsh terms of repayment which eventually forced Joyce to sell off the houses he had inherited in Cork, and he "was never to be forgiven by John Stanislaus. A former supporter of Parnell––who claimed that The Chief had once actually visited him at home––the money-grubbing usurer had now failed a fellow-Parnellite in his hour of greatest need. John began a long campaign of vilification against him," a cause which his young son James apparently took up (179).

Years later, Joyce was still complicit enough in his father's old grievance to write Dodd into Ulysses as a despised moneylender, but his choice of a Jewish protagonist gave him reason to credit the rumors of Dodd's Jewishness and use that transformed figure to elicit antisemitic comments from his characters. Seeing him on the sidewalk, Simon Dedalus says, "The devil break the hasp of your back!" and Cunningham remarks, "We have all been there." Glancing at Bloom, he corrects himself: "Well, nearly all of us." This exchange throws Bloom's social isolation into high relief and also sheds light on the absurdities of antisemitic prejudice. Stephen has already responded to Deasy's slurring of "jew merchants" by asking, "A merchant is one who buys cheap and sells dear, jew or gentile, is he not?" In Hades the stereotype that Jews are usurers and Christians are their victims not only obscures the fact that the values and needs of Christians gave rise to Jewish moneylending. It also seems never to occur to people like Cunningham that Jews might owe money to Jews.

Bloom's response to the invidious stereotyping is cringe-inducing. He attempts to ingratiate himself with the men who have made him feel unwelcome by telling an unflattering story about Dodd's son, but he is interrupted by an uncomprehending outburst from Simon Dedalus ("Drown Barrabas! I wish to Christ he did!"), and then his speech is rudely "thwarted" when Cunningham commandeers the telling of the tale. In Lestrygonians Bloom seems to descend even further into assimilationist self-abasement by reflecting that Sir Frederick Falconer is "The devil on moneylenders. Gave Reuben J. a great strawcalling. Now he's really what they call a dirty jew." The popular image of Dodd as the embodiment of craven, grasping Jewishness earns him an appearance in Circe as "Reuben J. Antichrist, wandering jew."

The fact that Bloom is ethnically Jewish but nominally Roman Catholic might lead one to ask whether Dodd, or his father, could have been born Jewish and converted. But there is no evidence for this, and in fact Reuben was not an uncommon given name for Irish Christians. Slote notes that the 1901 census "lists forty-six Protestants named Reuben, ten Catholics, and six Jews (and one with an undeclared religious affiliation)."

In The Jews of Ireland (1972), Louis Hyman assumes not only that Dodd was Catholic, as his 1901 census form indicates, but that everyone in Dublin knew it: "Dodd, in fact, was an Irish Catholic and not a Jew, as Bloom and all his companions in the funeral cortège knew quite well. In visualising Dodd as 'a dirty jew', Bloom, as Father Boyle points out, is adopting the phrase used by the Dublin antisemites in condemning the Catholic Dodd, moneylender, whom they treat as a Shylock. Bloom, as Father Boyle further remarks, appreciates 'the irony of using the unjust condemnation by Catholics against the condemners'. Thus Bloom's attitude 'expresses perfectly his resentment against the prejudice of his fellow-citizens toward Jews. Bloom is using the language of Falkiner and Simon and Deasy and other Dubliners to condemn not Jews but both the Catholic Dodd to whom those other Catholics had applied the opprobrious term and all the anti-Semites who so readily used it'" (164).

To my mind this line of reasoning is too clever by half. While it does seem unlikely that Dublin's Catholics would mistake one of their own (a proud Parnellite, no less) for a Jew, it seems more unlikely that Cunningham would say "Of the tribe of Reuben" with the ironic awareness that the man is really a Gentile. When Cunningham says that "nearly all of us" have been in Simon's shoes, he clearly is implying that Bloom does not share in the Christians' fate of owing money to Jews––an implication which would be absurd if Dodd is a Gentile. The notion that Bloom is turning antisemites' language back on them is equally implausible. Surely it is significant that his words, "Now he's really what they call a dirty jew," come in a passage of interior monologue, not in dialogue with someone. They express Bloom's private thought, not an ironically tinged reply to his accusers. Even if most actual Dubliners knew Dodd to be Catholic, the characters in the novel clearly seem to think he is Jewish.

If one assumes that Cunningham, Dedalus, Power, and possibly even the author think Dodd to be Jewish, then the strain of antisemitism aroused by this character carries real bite, rather than being held at one remove by a kind of in-joke. And if Bloom believes it, then his "dirty jew" remark is not a knowing riposte to antisemitism but an expression of his desire to separate himself from the racial stereotype and be accepted into the Catholic middle class. This view is entirely consistent with his eagerness to tell the story about Dodd's son, and with other examples of racial humiliation that Joyce sprinkles into the novel.

To summarize:

Was the real Dodd Jewish?
Almost certainly not.

Did Dubliners think he was?
Maybe so, maybe no.

Did Joyce think so?
Probably not, but who knows?

Do Joyce's characters think so?
They sure seem to.
John Hunt 2023

Clanbrassil Street, the heart of Dublin's Jewish quarter, in three ca. 1950 photographs held in the Irish Jewish Museum. Source: