BackgroundThe literary world has been thrown into disarray following the discovery of a hitherto unknown sequel to James Joyce’s famously impenetrable novel Ulysses by construction workers in Paris. Unearthed during the building of a new scenic landscape over a much-loved stretch of dual carriageway, the manuscript has struck a blow to an already beleaguered intellectual community still reeling from several high-profile discoveries of lost Modernist texts by Parisian construction workers.
The Ulysses sequel, Twolysses, was part of the short-lived Modernist follow-up fad of the late 1920s, in which many of the writers and artists of the period tried to cash-in on their artistic credentials by turning their masterpieces into money-spinning franchises. Other examples include TS Eliot’s Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock spin-off (The Power Ballad of J. Alfred Prufrock), William Faulkner’s Sound and the Fury Part II: 2 Loud 2 Furious and Ezra Pound’s Wrath of Cantos.
Twolysses was to take place exactly 10 years after the original novel and just prior to the outbreak of the First World War (which, as historians have noted, eventually had a sequel of its own). As well as a new date, there was also a new location: while its illustrious predecessor was famously set in Dublin, for the sequel Joyce relocated the inaction to the UK’s second city, Birmingham. The move was prompted by a cultural regeneration scheme that offered tax breaks to artists who agreed to move to the area. Joyce, of course, was unwilling to leave Paris on account of his fondness for mille-feuille, pain au chocolat and other French pastries, so negotiated a deal with Birmingham’s civic leaders to relocate his characters instead.
Joyce’s Ulysses famously contained parodies of every single book, poem and play that had been published prior to the author’s first date with Nora Barnacle. With Twolysses, Joyce went one step further and parodied bestselling novels of the early 21st century that hadn’t been written yet.
The follow-up fad came to an abrupt end in 1927 during a party held at Ernest Hemmingway’s Parisian home to commemorate the removal of one of the great writer’s more troublesome wisdom teeth. Joyce, Picasso and other leading lights of the Modernist movement were in attendance when a drunken Gertrude Stein ‘gert-crashed’ the gathering and made lewd and disparaging comments about the guests’ artistic integrity and the host’s choice of hors d’oeuvres.
Devastated by these comments, Joyce swiftly threw away his canapé and – later that evening – discarded Twolysses. Like so many other abandoned Modernist sequels of this period, it was subsequently used as roadfill by the local authorities.
Plot SummaryThe story begins in the early hours of 16th June 1914, when police discover a young man’s corpse with a stake through his heart on the banks of the River Liffey. Leopold Bloom arrives, much to the chagrin of the investigating officers, and starts pumping them for information. The years have not been kind to Bloom: following the events of Ulysses, his wife – Molly Bloom – moved to Birmingham and filed for divorce (with marriage breakdown still outlawed in Ireland, Birmingham had become a top divorce destination). Bitter and disillusioned, Bloom quit his job and launched the outspoken political magazine, Póg mo Thóin (tr. ‘Pogue Mahone’). For several years Bloom’s investigative reporting ruffled the feathers of Dublin’s elite, but more recently he’d lost credibility after linking a series of unsolved vampire slayings to the mythical Irish undead chieftain, Nosfer O’Toole.
Bloom notices that the corpse’s back carries the same tattoo of a ‘paddy wagon’ that appeared on previous victims, and urges the officers to investigate his earlier claims that an unidentified member of Dublin high society is secretly a murderous blood-guzzling monarch. The police refuse to take Bloom’s vampire conspiracy seriously, even after the corpse bursts into flames at sunrise. They laugh scornfully at him for an entire chapter.
While walking back home along Sandymount Strand, a crestfallen Bloom finds a blood-splattered postcard written by the murder victim in his final moments, or at least before he had a chance to get a stamp. It’s addressed to his friend Stephen Dedalus – also now living in Birmingham – who Bloom hasn’t seen since the Ithaca chapter of Ulysses. Although reluctant to travel to the UK’s much-mocked second city due to his unresolved feelings for Molly, Bloom pockets the evidence and books a seat on the next ferry, determined to clear Stephen’s name and avoid Dublin on Bloomsday.
When Bloom arrives at Stephen’s home he finds a man far removed from the melancholic turn of the century hipster he fondly remembers. Stephen is now a world-famous professor of symbology who recently published a bestselling book on the hidden language of Irish republican art entitled The de Valera Code. He lives with his beautiful lover, Anna, in Perrott’s Folly, Birmingham’s very own Martello tower that harkens back to an era when the city still had a thriving coastline.
Over dinner, Anna tells Bloom that she and Stephen met following her brief stint as a minor character in an unpublished short story that was supposed to be included in Dubliners. Bloom, ever the investigative reporter, suspects she’s hiding something because of her strong West Midlands accent.
When Bloom tells the young couple about the tragic murder victim, Anna bursts into tears, revealing that the dead man was her brother and that both of them were vampires. This comes as a shock to Stephen, although it helps to explain Anna’s strong aversion to sunlight and fascination with blue steak. He spends several chapters coming to terms with the revelation as he neither believes nor disbelieves in the existence of vampires (he’s agnosferatu). Stephen is finally convinced when Anna reveals a large tattoo matching that of her murdered brother. He quietly muses upon the irony of a world-renowned expert on hidden symbols not noticing that his girl had a paddy wagon tattoo.
Anna explains that she was born into an eccentric community of vegan vampires who lived on the outskirts of Dudley. These so-called ‘Yampires’ had renounced their blood-sucking ways and peacefully co-existed with Dudley’s human population and neighbouring mythical beasts like West Brombies and Werewolverhamptons. This idyllic existence was shattered, however, by the arrival of O’Toole and his vicious gang, The Gobshites. These ultra-conservative puritans – appalled by this utopic vision of human-vampire coexistence – cruelly forced the Yampires to fight each other to the death in a series of elaborate, famine-themed sporting tournaments. The few that survived fled to Ireland, although Anna decided to stay in Birmingham because of various academic commitments and an acute ferry allergy.
Anna’s narrative is interrupted when the tower comes under attack by O’Toole and his Gobshites. Bloom, Stephen and Anna put up a brave fight, but are swiftly defeated by the gang due to their overwhelming numbers and superior tailoring. Anna is kidnapped.
While rifling through a captured gang member’s pockets, Bloom discovers a ticket for a Pre-Raphaelite art exhibition at the city’s Bingley Hall. At the exhibition, Stephen notices Edward Burne-Jones’ famous large-scale oil painting, A Doom Fulfilled. Through a careful reading of the painting’s intricate symbolism, Stephen is able to determine not only that O’Toole has kidnapped his lover in order to fulfil an apocalyptic prophesy, but that Anna is heavily pregnant and about to go into labour. Once again, he quietly muses upon the irony of a world-renowned expert on hidden symbols missing something so conspicuous.
Ironically, a Burne-Jones painting that would have revealed Anna’s exact whereabouts was on loan to the National Gallery of Ireland. With no other option available, Bloom is forced to turn to the one person in Birmingham who can help him: his ex-wife.
In the years following her divorce, Molly Bloom gained some notoriety when the Birmingham Post serialised her scandalous memoir, Molly Bloom’s Diary of a Divorcée. During a signing at Hudson’s book shop, Molly had a chance encounter with her former lover, showbiz impresario Blazes Boylan, who had also moved to Birmingham and was now managing the Aston Hippodrome theatre. The two subsequently resume their obsessive affair, with a renewed emphasis on sadomasochistic sauciness and bad prose.
When Bloom and Stephen explain Anna’s predicament to Molly in the tea rooms of Rackhams Department Store, Molly is initially unwilling to help as she still hasn’t forgiven Dedalus for leaving the previous novel so abruptly. However, she reluctantly agrees to make enquiries after being moved by the sight of her ex-husband’s eating haddock and eggs. As a gesture of reconciliation, Bloom hands her his lucky shillelagh.
While searching for Boylan at his theatre, Molly discovers a secret passageway leading to an underground dungeon. Assuming it was a surprise birthday present from her lover, she’s astonished to discover Boylan and a heavily-sedated Anna in a makeshift maternity ward. Boylan reveals that he is, in fact, Nosfer O’Toole, and Anna’s child will be the first ever human-vampire hybrid – the prophesised ‘Boy Wizzard’ – who will annihilate humanity through the medium of glam rock music. Nosfer offers Molly the chance to rule by his side, and Molly responds by clobbering him over the head with Bloom’s shillelagh.
Molly and Anna make their dramatic escape during a preview performance of The Pirates of Penzance, with Anna giving birth to a healthy baby boy during the interval. After rendezvousing with Bloom and Stephen, our heroes flee to Dudley with O’Toole and his Gobshites in hot pursuit. There, they form an alliance with West Brombies and Werewolverhamptons, and a cataclysmic battle follows during which Bloom and Molly, now reconciled, sacrifice their lives to destroy Nosfer and save the child.
Just like in the original novel, the events of Twolysses all take place within a single day.