[The following is a guest blog from Joe, the detail of which puts me to shame, as I was unable to attend in June.]
In the last seminar of the academic year 2018/19, the group covered 20 lines of the Gabler edition of Ulysses. We benefited from a range of online resources including not just a searchable text, a song on YouTube and the OED online but, for the first time for this seminar, the James Joyce Digital Archive which showed us earlier drafts of the passage in question.
Line 377: ‘Lenehan still drank …’ posed few problems till we wondered about what exactly miss Douce is doing: ‘all but’ humming, her lips ‘not shut’ (do lips have to be together to hum?). She is, we can say, lightly repeating the melody of the song that she was singing earlier (line 236): ‘In The Shade of the Palm’ from the musical Floradora. Reviewing the lyric we realised that the song does not contain the word ‘Idolores’ which Douce sings earlier, and which is repeated here at line 379, but ‘my Dolores’: has she misheard or misremembered it? Mishearings and mis-transmissions of songs became a theme. ‘Trilled’ (the same verb from line 225) indicates a fast tremolo, alternating between two high notes. The beautiful compound noun ‘oceansong’ (378), which was the title of Hugh Kenner’s chapter on ‘Sirens’ in his 1980 study, suggests ‘In The Shade of the Palm’ itself, which talks much of the ‘The eastern seas’ (379), and also more generally the oceanic atmosphere so prevalent in the episode: sirens, beaches, seashells.
Line 380: ‘Clock whirred’, suggesting that it is winding itself up for something climactic. (No one got round to proposing ‘whirred’ as a homonym for that other word.) The clock then ‘clacked’ (381): it sounds like the progress of a minute hand, but in context we thought that this was more likely a climactic sound, equivalent to a bell chiming the hour. Is it a weary, failed bell, reduced to clacking? That was our best guess. Meanwhile Mina Kennedy passes, presumably behind the bar, in an assonant formulation ‘bearing away teatray’ (381): the one that the barmaids used on their break. We puzzled a little over her parenthetical reflection: ‘(flower, wonder who gave)’ (380-1). Its primary meaning is clear: Blazes Boylan has a flower in his lapel, and the observer wonders who gave it to him. But the thought has already been thought by Lydia Douce (366), so there appears to be a certain contrivance in indicating that both women think the same thought. And is the parenthetical thought to be taken literally as interior monologue, in the way we are familiar with, or is it something slightly different: the material of interior monologue further compressed by ‘Sirens’ style, or primarily included for its repetition of the earlier thought from miss Douce?
Miss Douce takes (382) the coin that Boylan has put down (371): she strikes the ‘cashregister’ to open it, ‘boldly’ perhaps because it requires a bang or perhaps, we felt, more as part of her ongoing performance. The machine’s clang adds to the clamour of sound effects, with the clock clacking again, and again – ‘A clack’ (384) – at the end of the paragraph. We were unsure how many ‘clacks’ there should be, and whether, even, one of them might be hidden beneath the intervening lines: ‘Fair one of Egypt teased and sorted in the till and hummed and handed coins in change. Look the west’ (383-4). ‘Fair one of Egypt’ echoes but varies the song’s ‘Fair one of Egypt’. Another mishearing on miss Douce’s part? (But she’s not singing the words out loud, is she, but humming, or ‘all but’ humming: so how could she be getting the words wrong?) Or a textual variation for thematic reasons: something about Egypt as the location of Eden, or of the sirens in the Mediterranean? A search for the word ‘Egpyt’ shows a lot of ‘fleshpots’, but their relevance isn’t altogether clear. ‘Look to the west’ has an Irish flavour (the mutinous Shannon waves and all), though it is directly from the song. There is also a local echo in miss Douce’s handiwork: ‘teased and sorted in the till’, against W.B. Yeats’s evocation of Catholic shopkeepers ‘fumbling in the greasy till’ in 1913. ‘Teased’ surely means ‘teased out’ – withdrew the change – while also carrying a secondary connotation of teasing as flirtation, typical of this episode.
The clock does seem to have sounded a change of hour, as Boylan asks if it’s four (385), though a earlier draft said half past three. The narrative’s isolated phrase ‘O’clock’ carries on a strain of bathos in this episode (compare ‘Of sin’ at 157), though it was suggested that this phrase might indicate the fourth and final ‘clack’, and it certainly echoes ‘A clack’.
Lenehan’s eyes are ‘small’ (387) because porcine and naturally small, or perhaps because squinting and peering, ‘ahunger’ (that is, hungry or hungrily) as they gaze on Douce’s ‘humming’ – that is, on her lips, as before (378)? – and / or, in any case, on her ‘bust ahumming’. We didn’t entirely reach consensus on whether a humming sound would primarily issue from the chest or higher up. Lenehan tugs Boylan’s ‘elbowsleeve’, but addresses Douce rather than Boylan. The gesture is to gain Boylan’s complicity in what Lenehan says: ‘Let’s hear the time’ (389), in other words the eventually forthcoming sound of miss Douce’s garter elastic. We noticed how much the earlier drafts had changed around here: not simply adding material but removing and reworking.
Cut to the dining room, where Richie Goulding’s ‘bag’ (390) once again is what guides Leopold Bloom. Bloom and Goulding are passing among ‘flowered tables’: floral tablecloths? More likely, we seemed to agree, tables with actual vases of flowers. ‘ryebloom’ then derives from this – flower, bloom – though even after an image search we weren’t certain what the bloom of rye (roughly, corn) would actually look like: perhaps not a flower at all, but just ripening, is the sense. Bloom has ‘agitated aim’ in choosing a table ‘near the door’: that is, near enough to hear and perhaps see Boylan’s actions and probable departure. His ‘agitated aim’ of anxiety is understandable, but is oddly matched with ‘Aimless’: the best guess here is that he is pretending to be casual, without any special intention, just as at other moments he makes a show of examining his fingernails or checking his pockets. Bloom again thinks that the Blazes-Molly tryst is at four, and wonders if Boylan has forgotten, or if the ‘trick’ is keeping a woman waiting or standing her up: ‘Not come: whet appetite’. (‘Desire’ in an earlier draft became ‘appetite’, perhaps fitting the dining room.) Bloom’s ‘I couldn’t do’ seems either to mean that he couldn’t be so cruel as to leave a woman waiting, or that he wouldn’t have the confidence. (He does spend much of the novel imagining affairs in which such decisions would be relevant.) ‘Wait, wait’ seems to be Bloom’s interior monologue, primarily meaning that he will and must wait patiently here to see what transpires. But the word is picked up by the sense of ‘waiter’, with Pat already ‘attending’ (391).
‘Sparkling bronze azure eyed Blazure’s skyblue bow and eyes’ (394) dazzled us more than any other line, for its rhythm and its local verbal innovation and assonance. The sense seems to be: ‘Sparkling bronze’ (miss Douce: the subject of the sentence, with ‘sparkling’ a qualifying adjective) ‘azure eyed’ (a verb: eyeing with azure eyes) Blazes Boylan’s eyes and bow tie (objects of the sentence), which are also blue. We hadn’t known that Douce’s eyes were blue till now, nor indeed Boylan’s; nor had we recalled that Boylan wore a bow tie, but a comparison with drafts seemed to corroborate that point. ‘Blazure’ is the most extravagant coinage here, taking ‘azure’ (presumably the colour of Douce’s eyes) and blending it with Blazes’ (nick)name, with a sartorial echo of ‘blazer’ also, or of a blazon (heraldic overtones: a prominent display). You can ‘eye’ someone without their knowledge, but to eye someone’s eyes is liable to become mutual. The group considered whether Joyce was guilty of a kind of sexism in this scene, making his barmaids apparently so susceptible to the cad. It would also make Boylan more a siren than them.
Lenehan’s ‘Go on’ (395) urges Douce to perform her auditory trick: ‘There’s no one’ means that no one save he and Boylan will hear, and ‘He never heard’ means that it will be new to Boylan. The strain of ‘…to Flora’s lips did hie’ is from Simon Dedalus in the saloon, still singing ‘Goodbye, Sweetheart, Goodbye’: the line should actually be ‘to floral lips doth hie’ (that is, morning is coming to open the flowers), which leaves the question whether Joyce’s line is misrepresenting what Dedalus is singing or representing others’ mishearing of what he is singing, or whether Dedalus is singing the wrong words, without knowing it, or deliberately singing the wrong words, in a mildly naughty and silly variation. This last appears most likely and fairly in character. We identified that ‘hie’ was indeed the ‘high note’ (397) which naturally shifts to its homonym ‘High’, ‘pealing’ like a bell in the ‘treble clear’ (and perhaps necessarily, if it were written down, the treble clef also).
We will resume by communing with ‘Bronzedouce’ (398).