Seminar, 11 October – ‘Sirens’, 398-423

A new academic year and onwards with ‘Sirens’. On the 11th of October, the seminar reconvened once more and made the following progress, beginning at line 398:

For all the play on bronze and Douce, this is the only appearance of “Bronzedouce” in the episode, or indeed the book. We discussed “communing” and noted the punning on the double meaning of “rose”, but played with the grammatical ambiguity this sentence might just about permit: that the rose itself might be seeking Boylan’s flower (of the same colour, the two mirroring each other).

Lenehan’s wheedling pleading, his two pleases seeking a yes (or a double yes), contrasts with the “returning phrases of avowal” from ‘Goodbye, Sweetheart, Goodbye’, as it also does with Miss Douce’s “Afterwits”. Although it prompted some discussion and the OED had been checked, we couldn’t quite see what to make of this word. When Stephen uses it (9.1137), it is in the precise sense of something realised afterwards that would have been apropos at the time, but that hardly fits here. Is Miss Douce simply playing with the word ‘afterwards’ so as to soften the blow of her immediate refusal?

Maybe she’s being too soft, given Lenehan’s undiminished urgency. His “do” abbreviates Douce as the narrator’s “Kenn” will Kennedy shortly after (a need for speed – “Quick” – here): Miss Kennedy being out of earshot speaks to her refinement, but suggests she will know what’s occurring merely by hearing the ‘smack’. She has heard it before? If Lenehan and Boylan are “no-one”, who else has been present previously as like no-ones when Miss Douce has ‘rung the bell’? (Boylan has not experienced it before: “He never heard” at line 395.)

We noted the double meaning of “Sudden bent” (yielding to her own inclination and also, by physically bending, to theirs). The “kindling faces” watch her: a check on the OED suggested the word ‘kindling’ is even nicer than it first appears here, with the suggestion of warmth, but also the intimation of arousal and eagerness. We wondered whether she really needs to bend, but thought this might be in the interests of concealing herself behind the bar; a somewhat exaggerated movement nonetheless (she can reach the top of her stockings without going all the way to bending).

‘The Lost Chord’ is a song of 1877 composed by Arthur Sullivan, no less. We were reminded that Simon isn’t exactly performing here, but rather testing the piano: this line captures that sense of rehearsal and experiment. We initially wondered why Lenehan needs to keep insisting, when Miss Douce is now committed, reaching for “a peak of skirt”; but the mounting tension being created – “Delayed”, “taunted”, “wilful” – shows up the dynamic between this performer and her audience. We also learnt that “suspending” might apply to the music as well, suspension referring to an additional note being introduced into a chord before it is resolved.

The bald “Smack” – a word then associated with disciplining children (see the interaction between Simon and Miss Douce earlier) – contrasts with the sensual evocation of the smack itself in the following sentence. Alongside the sound of the smack, all of what is happening is concealed from view, of course, and the warmth and the thigh are both inferred and imagined. Other than by Miss Douce herself, but the imagination at work in this fragmentation and objectification of her body – we were reminded of Bloom’s thoughts about the nextdoor girl in ‘Calypso’ (4.148-51) – does not seem to be her own.

Is Lenehan really identifying himself as Miss Douce’s “owner” in considering how she has been “trained”? He’s undoubtedly likening her to a racehorse – vulgar indeed. We eventually riddled out that “sawdust”, much cheaper bedding than straw, is what does not fly up from the better sort of horse when, in another act of smacking, the crop is applied.

The “smilesmirked” seems to leave it open as to whether Miss Douce’s superciliousness punctures the mood or not. The “aren’t men?” points us back to line 79: “frightful idiots”. Miss Douce’s “lightward gliding”, aside from the summoned picture of her moving gracefully behind the bar with her legs hidden from view, suggests a movement away from the dark and the hidden and the act she’s just performed. We noted also the rhyme of “mild” and “smiled”: is Boylan or Lenehan “the essence of vulgarity” here?

In like manner, “eyed, eyed” might be Boylan looking at Miss Douce, but it might equally be she eyeing him (we remembered “your other eye” at line 148). It also suggests a double ‘aye’ (or a double yes; see above) in response to Miss Douce’s statement. The image of Boylan drinking his sloe gin from a tiny chalice is comical, though ‘toss’ did carry a sexual connotation even then: we discussed the function of the chalice in the Mass (and in ‘The Sisters’) but noted its relation to the Arthurian note we detected some sessions back, when Boylan was ordering the drinks.

We thought of Homer’s sirens in considering Boylan as “spellbound” and the union of drinking and eyeing was noted too: the play with eyes and mirrors (and the mirrored top of the bar as well) as Miss Douce withdraws and becomes one among all the other trappings, the glasses, the shell, all “concerted”.

To be blunt, we ran out of time, and may not have said all that might have been said about the last couple of lines. We can make sure we haven’t missed much next time, but a nominal start, perhaps, at line 424: “Yes, bronze from anearby.” Next time has now been confirmed as November the 8th (the IES listing has been updated) – hope to see you then.

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Change of Date – November Seminar

I’ll be posting the blog from our first seminar of the new academic year as soon as I can, but this is to let you know that our next seminar will take place, not on November the 1st, but on November the 8th instead. I’m waiting to hear back from the IES about a room.

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Seminar Dates 2019-2020

Hope you are all enjoying the summer and apologies for the slowness in getting these out there. As ever, seminars will take place on the first Friday of the month, with two exceptions: October and January, where it’s the second Friday instead. Hope these suit and hope to see as many of you as possible in October. (And, yes, I have checked the date of Good Friday – we’re well clear.)

Friday 11 October 2019

Friday 8 November 2019

Friday 6 December 2019

Friday 10 January 2020

Friday 7 February 2020

Friday 6 March 2020

Friday 3 April 2020

Friday 1 May 2020

Friday 5 June 2020

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Brenda Maddox

It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Brenda Maddox on Bloomsday. Though not able to attend the seminar for some years, Brenda was always a delightful presence when she was able to make it (what you’d learn about Ulysses in the seminar being all but eclipsed by what you’d learn about Rosalind Franklin and much else besides in the pub afterwards). Her biography of Nora had an impact on the study and appreciation of Joyce which few books have matched, and the impact of that book was not confined to Joycean circles either. She will be missed.

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Seminar, 7 June – ‘Sirens’, 377-397

[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).

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Seminar, 3 May – ‘Sirens’, 352-376

On the 3rd of May we looked at a further twenty-four lines of ‘Sirens’.

The first line we came to was the subject of much revision prior to arrival at this final form, a key part of which was that “she” was at one point “he”. Clearly Joyce wanted to blur the line between a reponse to Boylan’s question – when do the racing results arrive? – and Bloom’s thoughts (if any of this is Bloom’s), looking back to line 188 (“At four, she said”). Does Molly ‘say’ this? Is Bloom (if Bloom: “Who said four?”) wondering how he knows? These ambiguities – a form of purposeful confusion – turned out to be something of a theme of this session.

The next line, for instance, seems to be the narrator’s, but there are touches of Bloom in it, we thought. We noted the nod to the Sirens in the emphasis on ears and throat (though the adam’s apple has been made prominent previously: “He looked with vague hope up and down the quay, a big apple bulging in his neck”, 10.895-96). The sherriff’s office is just a few doors away. “Avoid” has to be Bloom, but is the man to be avoided Cowley (presumably because he will touch Bloom for a loan) or the more constant man to be avoided (Boylan)? “Goulding a chance” – a pretext to enter the Ormond – doesn’t settle this question and the final “Wait” floats in the same way as does “Avoid”.

The next paragraph is equally ‘floaty’ and it took us some time to talk through the possibilities and probabilities in an attempt to assign these snippets to Bloom and to Goulding. “Best value in Dublin” sounds like something Bloom might say, but it could just as well be what a man like Goulding would say to Bloom (because he is Bloom). The three sentences in the middle – “Diningroom. Sit tight there. See, not be seen” – we took to be interior monologue: Bloom knows the layout of the Ormond (so can it be he feigning ignorance of the place?); he sees it as somewhere to sit tight (strapped to the mast, as it were) through the coming awkward hour (four); and, alternatively, as somewhere to play the voyeur, watching Boylan without himself being seen. The narrator has Goulding lead and Bloom follow; we then considered whether “Dinner fit for a prince” might be spoken, thought, or even the Ormond’s own advertising, perhaps there at the entrance (Bloom and Goulding become princes at line 1000).

We half-wondered if Boylan ordered sloegin just so he and Lenehan might watch Miss Douce’s attempt to retrieve it from a high shelf (quite the Carry On moment here). Clad as she is in satin, arm and bust, nevertheless “satin arm” suggests the smoothness of that arm and even of the attempt itself. The final “high” anticipates the climax of Simon’s rendition of ‘M’Appari’ (745-750) just as “burst” and Lenehan’s “O! O!” anticipate the Roman Candle bursting in ‘Nausicaa’ (13.736-740). Lenehan follows “each stretch”, suggesting that the attempt has actually been far from smooth, consisting of repeated stretches upwards.

Far from easy, then, but the language now seems to align itself with how Miss Douce might want this to be described (another switch between the two sides of Douce, the low to the high, as the high is brought low): the “prey” here is that of the siren; reference was made to Burne-Jones’s ‘Depths of the Sea’ (1887). Boylan’s suggestion that Miss Douce “grow” is not original, but is another old chestnut much like the three we looked at in April.

We admired “dealing” here and considered the obliqueness of the jar: at an angle as she pours, but perhaps at an angle to the bar as well. Liquor “for his lips” plays on licking; “flowed” leads beautifully to “flower” (which nobody gave to Boylan; he helped himself at 10.327-28); “syrupped”, as that relates to ‘douce’, is a quality we imagined Miss Douce actively lending to her voice. Her words need no explanation, but the narrator provides some anyway. The musicality of the sentence after that – “Neatly she poured slowsyrupy sloe” – is indeed ‘neat’.

“Here’s fortune” neatly refers to the coin and proposes a toast: to good luck at the races. That it is a broad coin suggested to us a halfcrown: “pitched” with confidence, the upshot is that Boylan doesn’t care what the round has cost and the coin will cover it and then some (the assumption being that Sceptre’s inevitable victory in the Gold Cup will lead to further fortune).

The next three lines threw us back into confusion, since they all seem to be spoken by Lenehan, albeit performing three separate actions. We tried to give at least one of them to Boylan, but this mirrors the earlier muddle between Goulding and Bloom. It is definitely Boylan who talks of having “plunged a bit” – a sexual innuendo seems to go along with the reference to the bet, but drowned sailors came to mind as well. As for the suggestion that the bet was due to the “Fancy of a friend of mine” – which might lead the unwary reader to think Molly has picked the horse – Sceptre was the favourite and this is hardly a red hot tip.

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Seminar, 5 April – ‘Sirens’, 329-351

On the 5th of April, a stuffed seminar considered twenty-two more lines of ‘Sirens’.

Though the reader will remember Lenehan’s joke about ‘Rose of Castile’ from ‘Aeolus’, Miss Kennedy has not heard it (yet); she is presumably given this title here simply because of the rose she is wearing. The carriage stops at the curb, but we also noted the curb chain as a piece of the horse’s bit that may well be jingling (is this jingling audible to those inside the Ormond?). We considered the rhyme of rose and close and the musical connotations of “fretted”: Kennedy is fretted and forlorn in response to Lenehan’s badgering perhaps, but we wondered what the Irish Independent could possibly contain that would have rendered her ‘dreamy’.

And whether the newspaper contains a story to which Lenehan’s question is responding, for all that the phrase itself is an old punchline (JJON has much of interest on this formula). Miss Kennedy responds, “slighting”, with an old chestnut of her own, though this one has a source in Goldsmith’s She Stoops to Conquer, Act III: “Ask me no questions, and I’ll tell you no fibs.” We noted the difference between gentle ‘fibs’ and the stronger ‘lies’, but eventually suspected that this was already an old line when Goldsmith used it. Kennedy has not fallen, but risen – we discussed the distinction between “Like lady” and “ladylike” – and the conquering hero is on his way.

Or, rather, his shoes are. We learn from ‘Wandering Rocks’ that these shoes are new (10.307), which explains why they creak. Glancing ahead to Bloom, there is nothing stealthy about Boylan here, as he strides in. The “Yes” which sets off a new movement feeds into Molly’s yesses in ‘Penelope’ as Gold and Bronze hear him. Lenehan “heard and knew” – so ready as he is for Boylan’s arrival, does he even need to look round to know? – and hails Boylan with yet another cliché, this one deriving from Handel’s Judas Maccabaeus (1746).*

We detected an echo of the end of ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ in Bloom’s movement between “car and window”, passing between two possibilities and here choosing not to escape. Neither conqueror nor conquered in this moment of potential, Bloom is “unconquered” and, though ‘wary’, in following Boylan so far he is showing more steel than he did at the end of ‘Lestrygonians’. There is a sudden consciousness of Boylan’s body too, both the threat posed by this and the idea that Bloom might somehow find a way to displace that body with his own (as, eventually, he will do on climbing into bed in ‘Ithaca’).

The notion of Bloom as a “hecat” points towards a newfound competitiveness, then, though cats have other reasons for seeking out warm seats. We thought about, not only Bloom’s cat, but the pattern of Bloom as cat: here again, the end of ‘Scylla’, the “black back” and the “step of a pard” that Stephen notes as Bloom walks before him. Bloom is unconsciously walking towards Richie Goulding’s “legal bag” – like Boylan’s shoes, more synecdoche (a “costbag” in ‘Wandering Rocks’: 10.472) – and, as Lenehan hails Boylan, so Goulding salutes Bloom.

Another line from Simon’s song is followed by Boylan’s deadpan response to all this hailing and yessing. The language takes on a mock chivalric tone (without going so far as to use the word ‘hat’), while “She smiled on him” is figurative, but here makes reference to a real smile, we assumed. Miss Douce is ‘”sister” in some respects but clearly not in others – the word is a rhythmical enhancement to the sentence, certainly – as, “preening”, she pushes herself ahead of Kennedy, only for the narrative to take her to pieces (hair, bosom, rose).

“Smart Boylan” plays on ‘Smart Boy’, as used in adverts for jobs (‘Smart Boy Wanted’); “bespoke” was archaic as a verb by the 20th century; and “potions” keeps up the pseudo-Arthurian tone (Mulligan uses the word in the same sense at 9.560). As for “What’s your cry?” most of us were familar with the formula, but only with ‘shout’ rather than ‘cry’ as its conclusion: it is impossible to tell whether Boylan is genuinely asking Lenehan or just goes ahead and orders for him (the former knows what the latter drinks and both know who’s paying).

We discussed the nature and appropriateness to Boylan of sloegin – it is not so out of keeping with the port and the peaches that Boylan has sent on ahead to 7 Eccles Street, the sloegin suggesting that it is he as much as Molly who has the sweet tooth – while the “Wire” would be bringing news of the results at Ascot.

*An irony not detected at the time: while Handel’s oratorio treats a Jewish hero, it was written to celebrate the Duke of Cumberland’s return from Culloden; the application of the line to Boylan therefore points in two very different directions simultaneously.

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