After fully four years we concluded episode 7, ‘Aeolus’, reading from (in the corrected text) line 1047 to the closing line 1075.
We had touched on lines 1047-9 at the previous seminar, but felt that more might remain to be said about this sentence. It offers a list, characteristically Joycean in form and in its unusual emphasis on naming details. We spent a little time trying to distinguish the various kinds of horsedrawn vehicle, from Hackney cabs (two contrasting versions of the origin of this name were offered) to broughams, noting that where the trams represent a public transport infrastructure, these vehicles are mainly for private passengers and also (as with ‘delivery waggons’) commercial purposes. ‘Mailvans’ quietly helps the sense of closing the circuit with the episode’s start, where ‘vermilion mailcars’ (line 16) had once prompted much discussion of colour. ‘Aerated mineral water floats with rattling crates of bottles’ stands out from the catalogue as a far more detailed item, last in the list and offering a greater degree of close-up. We suddenly see those rattling crates and their precise contents, whereas the previous listed vehicles items remain more generic. ‘Aerated’ is a bottled trace of Aeolian wind.
We raised the question of whether the paragraph intends any pointed contrast between stalled machines (‘becalmed in short circuit’) and mobile horses (rattling and rolling), but did not reach any strong conclusion.
‘WHAT? – AND LIKEWISE – WHERE?’ (line 1050) refers directly to Crawford’s twin questions that follow. As has often been the case, we were unsure precisely what kind of publication to imagine in relation to this headline, but it’s plain that the ingenuous questions make for comedy in capitals in a way they don’t from the editor.
Crawford’s question ‘But what do you call it?’ seems to ask Stephen for a specific title – perhaps still with the notion of publishing his vignette in the Freeman’s Journal. The banal question ‘Where did they get the plums?’ is never answered; Crawford is only asking it because, unlike us, he didn’t hear Stephen say that they were purchased from a girl at the foot of Nelson’s Pillar (line 941).
‘VIRGILIAN, SAYS PEDAGOGUE. SOPHOMORE PLUMPS FOR OLD MAN MOSES’ (lines 1053-4) describes the divergence that follows between the Professor’s Latin title for Stephen’s story and Stephen’s with its emphasis on Moses’ sight of the Promised Land. ‘PEDAGOGUE’ echoes Crawford’s ‘bloody old pedagogue’ for the professor at line 350. ‘SOPHOMORE’ appeared slightly incongruous, as Stephen is a graduate rather than a sophomore (and we are now more used to encountering this word in US contexts), but it was pointed out that the word also has connections to ‘sophist’, a term used by the ‘pedagogue’ in relation to Stephen a couple of paragraphs earlier (line 1036). ‘PLUMPS’ may carry a verbal drop of ‘plum’ juice, while the familiar register of ‘OLD MAN MOSES’ is reported by Don Gifford to derive from a song.
The professor needs to say ‘Call it’ three times (lines 1055-6) before alighting on his preferred name for Stephen’s tale – rather as he subsequently says ‘I see’ three times (lines 1059, 1061, 1066) in response to Stephen’s own title. The sense is perhaps of a rather self-indulgently dominant place in the conversation, allowing the speaker to make so many merely phatic utterances. At the same time, we noticed that Joyce in these closing stages maintains the close focus on odd aspects of the professor’s appearance and expressions (as for instance earlier in the ‘witless shellfish’ swimming in his ‘gross lenses’, line 826). Here he is seen ‘opening his long lips wide to reflect’ (line 1055). The professor’s chosen title, we noted, means ‘God has made this leisure for us’: this would presumably refer to the comfort of the old women at the top of the pillar. Despite having hymned the Greek language throughout the episode, the professor now turns to the supposedly inferior Latin.
In relation to the vignette his proposed title appears ironic and sardonic: so does Stephen’s ‘A Pisgah Sight of Palestine or The Parable of the Plums’ (lines 1057-8). Pisgah, we were reminded, is the name of a mountaintop from which God is said to have shown Moses the Promised Land of the Jewish people: a land that the prophet himself did not enter. This motif has been aired already in the episode (notably at line 873), with an implicit parallel between Moses and Parnell, or at least the Irish and Jewish peoples in general. (This earlier discussion of ‘Moses and the promised land’ explains the professor’s proud comment that ‘We gave him that idea’, at lines 1060-1.) It thus seems plausible to see Stephen’s title as a comment with nationalist connotations, but it wasn’t quite so clear how the old women on the Pillar compared with Moses: after all, they are seeing the city where they have already lived for decades, rather than one merely promised to them for the future. Stephen’s two titles offer both Old Testament and New Testament flavours, as ‘The Parable of the Plums’ sounds akin to the illustrative tales told by Jesus Christ. We were not necessarily clear that Stephen’s story had really offered any parable, but there was a suggestion that the foisting of plum seeds, by virgins, on barren, stony urban ground had symbolic significance.
The professor’s laughing ‘richly’ seems to imply richness of understanding and appreciation, though we were pointed to a note by Declan Kiberd claiming the opposite – that the professor in fact failed to grasp Stephen’s meaning. For this claim we could find no textual evidence. ‘Richly’ seems meanwhile to sound a faint echo of ‘Penelope Rich’ a little earlier (line 1040).
‘HORATIO IS CYNOSURE THIS FAIR JUNE DAY’ (line 1063) offers another name for Nelson, perhaps in a newsprint spirit of elegant variation. A cynosure, it was pointed out, is a guiding star or focus of attraction: the line thus describes the fact that two characters look up at the status on its pillar in the following section. The headline here seems to have become more respectable than, for instance, the one with the walloping sophist at line 1032; we noted that few of the headlines are explicit about the immediate calendrical setting as this one is.
J.J. O’Molloy’s mere ‘weary sidelong glance’ at the statue reflects his relative alienation from the high-spirited conversation: the most melancholic figure in the group, he no longer wants to join in. Indeed he ‘holds his peace’, not merely saying nothing but perhaps, by implication, withholding something he might have said. The professor halts ‘on sir John Gray’s pavement island’: a pertinent site, as Gray had been the proprietor of the Freeman’s Journal as well as a nationalist figure. The phrase ‘pavement island’ itself was what stood out for us: it seems not to have been in use before this line, but a children’s book of this title was published in 1925. The phrase seems slightly incongruous for Dublin 1904, with its air of ‘traffic island’ (apparently a coinage of the 1930s) or even J.G. Ballard’s dystopian Concrete Island of the 1970s. If Joyce was unusual in lighting on the phrase, it was surely overdetermined by his Homeric interest in the island of Aeolus: the pavement island marks a last nod to that location.
The professor ‘peered aloft at Nelson’, a little as the two old women in the story do (line 1017). But doing it ‘through the meshes of his wry smile’ (line 1068) is a puzzle. Our best interpretation of this was that the professor’s smile is dimpling and crinkling his face, so the ‘meshes’ would in effect be crows’ feet or laughter lines, ‘through’ which his gaze travels.
The last headline (lines 1069-71) is one of the three most extensive in the episode (compare lines 77-9 and 1032-4), and seems to represent, at least from one point of view, a new nadir of newsprint as misleading, if entertaining, innuendo. In fact it is arguably true to the content that follows, which places a bawdy slant on Stephen’s tale. ‘DIMINISHED DIGITS’ (line 1069), the first of three successive alliterative phrases, appears to suggest Nelson’s lower number of fingers than most two-handed people. Something about this (or about Nelson in general, with the digits as a metonym for him) is alleged to prove ‘TOO TITILLATING’ for the old women: a claim that has little relation to what Stephen has reported, but essentially replicates the claim that Crawford will make in the episode’s last line. That claim appears to be that the two women were not merely amused but aroused by their proximity to the statue, if only because of Nelson’s risqué status as – in the phrase the professor repeats once more – a ‘onehandled adulterer’ (line 1072). The professor, being ‘tickled’ by Stephen’s form of words, is merely entertained; Crawford takes it and adds a cruder, though still fairly imprecise, connotation.
The professor’s physical expressions remain peculiarly in focus: after his rich laughter he is now ‘smiling grimly’, but the source of the grimness is not explained. If anything, the oxymoronic phrase perhaps suggests an air of worldliness befitting the sexual content. It was pointed out that ‘tickle’ – ‘to excite agreeably’ – and ‘titillate’ are close, via Latin titillare, bringing the headline and the section that follows it into close verbal connection.
To some of us, ‘FRISKY FRUMPS’ (1070) seemed another oxymoron. Anne Riordan is now joined by the more familiar ‘FLO’ McCabe, but what are they actually doing in the headline? Stuart Gilbert’s list of rhetorical figures (cited in Gifford) describes ‘WIMBLES’ as an example of an obscure technique called Hapax legomenon: essentially, a word that only appears once in a given corpus. The point then is perhaps that ‘WIMBLES’ never appears again in Ulysses. As for the exact meaning of ‘WIMBLES’ and ‘WANGLES’ as verbs, in context: if anything, they would seem to imply ‘becomes giddy’ and ‘moves unsteadily’. ‘CAN YOU BLAME THEM?’ seeks the tabloid reader’s complicity: presumably, to be precise, it seeks agreement about Nelson’s power to ‘tickle’ and disorient.
It was suggested that Crawford’s closing words – ‘if the God Almighty’s truth was known’ – had some implicit meaning in relation to the ‘parable’, which has perhaps failed to disclose the God Almighty’s truth or any very clear meaning. Either way, some of us found a note of anti-climax in this casual piece of verbiage – and it was accordingly suggested that anti-climax has been to the point in this episode, notably with the unresolved ‘parable’ itself.
At the next meeting we will commence episode 11, ‘Sirens’. One member of the group, Philip Contos, made a cogent suggestion that bears recording here: that rather than attempting to make a laborious close reading of the ‘overture’ (which will all in effect be ‘explained’ by later pages), we should start our close attention with the action proper, at line 64 (p.211). We could nonetheless commence with a reading aloud of the ‘overture’ and a general response to it as a readerly and auditory experience.