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July 1980

Syphilis as a Major Theme of James Joyce's Ulysses

Arch Intern Med. 1980;140(7):963-965. doi:10.1001/archinte.1980.00040020963017

This article is to share our thought that James Joyce used syphilis as a major theme in his classic work, Ulysses.1 This should be of particular interest to physicians because it is an example of an artist using a well-defined disease process to describe brilliantly his conception of a society. Because of Joyce's technique of interweaving many themes, syphilis is so interwoven with other ideas that for the sake of clarity we will limit our arguments to five main points, leaving to the reader the pleasure of ferreting out the many more subtle allusions and devices that buttress these main arguments. To enable the reader to do so, we have added a Table of references to syphilis and its symptoms made in the novel. We mention only in passing that Joyce had venereal disease and not only knew it but also wrote letters to his friend Oliver Gogarty about it;