‘After an interval’ (11: 271) the group continued with ‘Sirens’, reading 27 lines of the Gabler edition. Simon Dedalus is ‘raising his grog’: an unusual noun but, as a word for alcohol and water combined, seemingly one of those several instances where James Joyce uses a word that seems incongruous yet turns out to be precisely apt. ‘Grog’ also has nautical connotations pertinent to the Homeric theme.
‘Interval’ is a musical term and also, in context, indicates a delay before Simon Dedalus’s reply to Lenehan, adding to the reply’s disdainfulness. ‘That must have been highly diverting’ is a muted reply to Lenehan’s ironically grand description of the scene in a previous pub, and ‘I see’ adds no enthusiasm. ‘I see’ becomes a minor motif around here: the narrative first picks it up with the ungrammatical formula ‘He see’ (11: 273), then the more familiar ‘He drank’. ‘With faraway mourning mountain eye’ says that Mr Dedalus is drinking with a wistful gaze: possibly actually ‘mourning’ (his wife, for instance, as in ‘Hades’), prompting a textual echo in the Mountains of Mourne (11: 219), or possibly rather the reverse: he really is still thinking of those mountains (which are after all ‘faraway’), and the verb ‘mourning’ emerges as a suggestive play on their name. ‘Set down his glass’, without a grammatical subject, is yet another kind of factual narrative statement, unconventional in a different way from ‘He see’ and a more common formulation in later writers – Thomas Pynchon, for instance.
‘He looked towards the saloon door’ is a simple statement but inevitably made us wonder again about the space of the scene. Absent a fuller check, we think that three rooms are in question: the public bar (which opens to the Quay, with people walking directly in), the dining room, and the saloon bar. It’s quite often been remarked that it’s hard to locate oneself in this episode or to realise that characters are in separate spaces. A piano is evidently visible within the saloon: presumably (‘I see you have moved the piano’) it hasn’t moved there from another room but has shifted place within it. Has it shifted because ‘The tuner was in today’? We recalled the old critical theme of Molly Bloom and Blazes Boylan shifting furniture. A ‘smoking concert’, we noted, was an all-male affair dominated by cigar smoke. The character known in episode 8 as ‘the blind stripling’ enters the discussion here, now more respectably a piano tuner: ‘I never heard such an exquisite player’, says Miss Douce. It’s Miss Kennedy who has earlier been ‘Ladylike in exquisite contrast’ (11: 106), but the word seems to retain its aspirational air, as Douce ventures to describe ‘The real classical’ (11: 280). The tuner, we may guess, tested the piano with proper classical music rather than merely popular songs.
Despite Mr Dedalus’s earlier interest in chatting to the bar staff, he now seems disengaged: ‘Is that a fact?’ is his repeated, apparently non-committal answer to Miss Douce’s two statements about the tuner. Approval of his musical skills gives way to sympathy for his condition: ‘And blind too, poor fellow’ (we thought that ‘poor fellow’ might have been most frequently used of Paddy Dignam); ‘Not twenty I’m sure he was’ (the implication perhaps being that it’s even sadder for such a young person to be blind, or that his youth makes him still more vulnerable); ‘So sad to look at his face’ – something that she could do without being looked back at. The verb for this last statement is the unusual ‘condoled’. By now Simon Dedalus has already ‘strayed away’, somewhat surprisingly uninterested in using this topic to make any conversational headway. The best explanation may be that his attention has been distracted by Lenehan’s reference to his son.
With ‘God’s curse on bitch’s bastard’ (11: 285) the narrative voice picks up what the stripling himself said about the eccentric pedestrian who obstructed him on the street in the previous episode. This is not a piece of interior monologue but a case of textual memory; the text has also compressed its content, from a longer imprecation (10: 1119-20) to this abbreviated one which could appear to contain the idea of blindness itself as a ‘curse’ from a god.
‘Tink to her pity cried a diner’s bell’ (11: 286) appears to mean that a diner in the dining room has rung a bell (on his table?) which disrupts Miss Douce’s reverie of ‘pity’. ‘Tink’, in the vicinity of ‘tinkle’, plainly keeps us in the auditory territory proper to the episode. The bell prompts the first appearance of the character Pat the waiter, at ‘the door of the bar and diningroom’: it appears that he has walked up to the ringing diner and received his order, and now appears at the edge of the bar to pass it on to the bar staff. Pat’s epithets include ‘bald’, ‘bothered’ and the grander ‘waiter of Ormond’; we noted that ‘bothered’ has historically carried the meaning ‘deaf’, especially (or even exclusively) in Hiberno-English and from an Irish-language root. ‘Lager for diner’ may be what bothered Pat literally says, or may be the narrative’s telegraphing of it. The request doesn’t much please the barmaid anyway: ‘Lager without alacrity she served’ (11: 288), in contrast to her earlier ‘grace of alacrity’ (11: 214). The most plausible source of the contrast may simply be her briefly reflective mood at the thought of the piano tuner. We noted the relative novelty and rarity of lager at this time and place; you can get it in the Ormond Bar, but surely not Barney Kiernan’s or even Davy Byrne’s.
‘With patience Lenehan waited for Boylan with impatience, for jinglejaunty blazes boy’ (11: 289-90): most simply, Lenehan is waiting patiently for Boylan. Possibly the attribution of patience is not to be taken literally but is a spin-off from a textual effect, the association of Boylan with impatience – primarily just a pun on his name, but also seemingly congruent with his character. The pun was first made by Tom Rochford in the previous episode (10: 486), heard by Lenehan, so it is conceivable that its reappearance here corresponds to Lenehan’s actual reflection while he waits. Terms like ‘jingle’ have already begun to spread through the episode, and are becoming more firmly associated with Boylan, whose name can also be broken into the relatively appropriate title of the ‘blazes boy’.
The next paragraph slightly shifts scene and perspective, in a rhetorically unusual way. ‘Upholding the lid he (who?) gazed in the coffin (coffin?) at the oblique triple (piano!) wires’ (11: 291-2): Simon Dedalus has ‘strayed’ into the saloon and is looking inside the aforementioned piano. Joyce could tell us this straightforwardly, but instead withholds the character’s name throughout the paragraph, and plays upon this lack of information with the parenthetical ‘who?’ – in effect miming or priming the reader’s response to the pronoun ‘he’. The same can be said of the parenthetical ‘coffin?’ – suggesting a reader disconcerted by the appearance of such an item. This could be another of Joyce’s odd exactitudes, as a coffin can be simply a box; or it may rather be metaphorical, suggesting that Mr Dedalus sees the piano in these terms, perhaps primed by his previous ‘mourning’ mood. The parenthetical ‘piano!’ appears to imply a reader getting back on track by recognizing the ‘oblique triple’ as belonging to that instrument. ‘He pressed (the same who pressed indulgently her hand)’ confirms that this is Mr Dedalus (the previous pressing was at 11: 201-2), but in a peculiarly coy way. What he is pressing is ‘a triple of keys’: perhaps a chord. He combines this action with ‘soft pedalling’, prudently muting the sound, and with observing the inside of the piano at work: ‘to see the thicknesses of felt advancing, to hear the muffled hammerfall in action’ (11: 293-4). For the first time in the musical episode, someone is playing a musical instrument.
The scene shifts again, more drastically: ‘Two sheets cream vellum paper one reserve two envelopes when I was in Wisdom Hely’s wise Bloom in Daly’s Henry Flower bought’ (11: 295-6). This is a wilful mess of a sentence, which we gradually parsed to mean: In Daly’s stationery shop, Leopold Bloom bought two sheets of paper and two envelopes for Henry Flower. We can add: the paper isn’t literally vellum, this name indicates its thickness; he buys two sheets (and likewise two envelopes) with ‘one reserve’ in case, with either the letter or the address, he botches the first attempt; he is ‘wise’ because of this prudent stockpiling, but the epithet is probably also transferred from his memory of ‘Wisdom’ Hely’s, recalled mainly because it’s a stationer and also because Hely’s half-rhymes with Daly’s. ‘When I was in Wisdom Hely’s’ looks like a small chunk of interior monologue dropped into a sentence otherwise working without it, but in this episode the division between interior monologue and other narrative discourse can be unusually uncertain. The next lines do, though, seem to be in Bloom’s mind: ‘Are you not happy in your home?’ is a memory of Martha Clifford’s letter (5: 246), and ‘Flower to console me and a pin cuts lo’ (11: 297) a reflection on it. The second half of this reflection, though, was as puzzling as anything we encountered in this session: the best we could do was paraphrase it as ‘The flower’s meant to console you but imagine, lo! The pin cuts you and undermines any consolation’. In ‘Means something, language of flow’ (11: 297-8), ‘flow’ is primarily an abbreviation of ‘flowers’ – an idea from episode 5 that will recur in episode 13 – but it’s abbreviated in a way that deliberately, from Joyce’s point of view, introduces the thought of ‘flow’ as well (‘stream of life’, in another of Bloom’s favoured motifs [8: 176]).
The stream of life will bring us next to reflect on Mr Bloom’s question to himself: ‘Was it a daisy?’ (11: 298).
[Posted by me, but written by Joe, to whom a big thank you.]