Seminar, 2 February – ‘Sirens’, 71-94

Precisely 96 years after Ulysses was published, and 136 after Joyce was born, we continued with our reading of Sirens.

‘Who? Where’ are indeed the questions. Although ‘gold’ is Miss Kennedy and ‘bronze’ is Miss Douce, it’s often quite hard to distinguish the two throughout the episode, and we wondered if there is a hierarchy in this episode in which ‘gold’ is at the top. We discussed Miss Douce’s wet lips, noting the sexualised and cinematic image, wondering if they were wet due to her having wetted them herself, in a bid to make herself more attractive. A striking phrase of Hiberno-English, ‘mind till I see’ means here ‘let me see’. The looks swapped in this extract are short yet provocative, and lead to bigger conversations about the active role these women play in their objectification.

As we spent many years discussing the layout of the newspaper office in Aeolus, so the floorplan of the Ormond street hotel might fox us. We noticed that in the line ‘she darted, bronze’ the narrator appears to be clarifying the location more clearly for us (in the previous session we spent a long time discussing the location of individuals relative to the crossblind). Is the ‘backmost corner’ that she runs to at the corner of the window? Either way she runs to a window, which her breath forms a light condensation on (‘a halo of breath’) (though there was some disagreement over how realistic this seem: a window on a sunny day would hardly generate much condensation). Bronze here is both noun and adverb, and has an echo of ‘brazen’ about it.

Her ‘wet lips’ appear again, this time ‘tittering’. We were reminded of Orpheus and Eurydice in this line – in both cases it is a man who looks back to a woman or women – and there is an imprecise allusion to the Homeric sirens too (Odysseus could look at the Sirens, but his men could not hear them).

Do the barmaids really believe that the honourable Gerald Ward, A. D. C. is attracted to them? We touted the possibility that they would like to believe he is, but ‘with sadness’ has the poignant air of a joke that inadvertently reveals a sad truth; on the page, the line also acts as a musical instruction, to speak with sadness. ‘O wept’ avoids her committing blasphemy, and reveals her exasperation, a general frustration with men. We heard ‘idiots’ and not ‘eejits’ as an attempt at a higher class of expression; ‘it’s them that has the fine times’ has something of the wistful and envious about it.

The longest paragraph of the episode so far, we noted ‘Miss Kennedy sauntered […]’ includes three sentences, each one revised slightly from the previous one. The revision allows Joyce to feature certain techniques, such as assonance and alliteration, and demonstrates in miniature Joyce’s compositional process for the whole novel, expansion through revision.

‘A man’, Bloom, marks quite an abrupt, even cinematic, transition. Does Bloom fit the stereotypes of men we’ve thought about so far in Sirens? ‘Bloowho’ echoes ‘boo-hoo’ but also suggests the barmaids’ unfamiliarity with Bloom. At this line, we noted the differences in punctuation between various editions and the changes to phrasal intonation that occur as a result.

Moulang is a jeweller pipe importer based on Wellington Quay; Wine’s and Carroll’s are further establishments in this part of town. Are the ‘sweet sinful words’ Bloom has in his mind from the book (which he read in Wandering Rocks), or from Martha Clifford’s letter?

We go back to the bar and again see dense repetition within just one sentence (‘The boots to them, them in the bar, them barmaids came’). Is this repetition useful, as a means for Joyce to reiterate a point, or does it alienate, even confuse, the reader? We discovered a rare deletion from the Little Review edition of this passage: Boots originally ‘from the hallway came’. In removing this description, Joyce prioritises the musical effects of the line, thereby establishing his priorities for the rest of the episode. In the repetition we heard a ‘live rehearsal’: the narrator seems to be finding out which construction works best.

Chattering into the barmaid’s moment of sadness comes the china, recalling Bloom delivering the breakfast things to Molly in Calypso (though he would never use the aggressive tone that Boots does here). Are these, by the musical logic suggested, cymbals or tympanums?

The musicality of the passage is compounded by the use of ‘transposed’: not only are we moving between high and low pitches in this episode, but the idiom is also moving between the coarse and the refined (note Miss Kennedy’s ‘manners’). In a more literal sense, to transpose is to move things around, such as tea things.

What is the significance of lithia here? An advert for the brand can be seen here; the image compounds the eroticised space of the bar (‘safe from eyes, low’). On this last line, we stopped to note how sensorially various this episode is.

We begin again on Friday 02 March at line 11.95 (‘What is it?’).

Posted in Seminar Report, Sirens | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Seminar, 5 January – ‘Sirens’, 1-70

On the 5th of January, we started ‘Sirens’. In line with previous discussions about how to approach the opening of the episode, we treated the first 63 lines as a block, before proceding into the rest (i.e. the remaining 1,231 lines – probably a tad more than four years for this one).

Moving from ‘Aeolus’ to this episode saw an immediate comparison made between the content of this ‘block’ and the headlines of the earlier chapter. The matter of these lines is all drawn from the text to come, but with elements of distortion, compression and distillation. It was also pointed out that the lines do not appear in the order they should, if strict sequence were a concern (a parallel with the ‘coda’ at the end of ‘Wandering Rocks’ and with that episode more broadly – what looks like a model turns out to be no such thing).

We then discussed whether this could be thought of as an ‘overture’, the commonest critical shorthand in thinking about this section. The principal objection that arose was that an overture ought really to be comprehensible by itself, whereas this needs a reading of the episode as a whole in order to make any sense of it. Then again, is making sense of it the point?

We moved on to the idea that these lines present themes or motifs, in musical fashion. Clearly this does work with some of the words and phrases – those which recur, in particular “bronze” and “gold” – but it hardly seems to apply at all to others. We took note of the fact that the chapter would have needed to be complete before the opening could be finished

On the whole, then, we concluded that the ‘overture’ looks rather more meaningful than it turns out to be. We noted that there are some handholds, though, various ways in which the opening makes clear its relation to the rest of the book: the connexion with ‘Wandering Rocks’ (which introduces the reader to Miss Kennedy and Miss Douce, “gold by bronze”, at 10.1198-99); “O rose! Castile” is Lenehan’s riddle come round again (7.591); the various mentions of “bloom” and “blooming” too. Nor is it quite as mechanical as it appears at first sight, since it is not mere transcription of what follows.

We also considered the idea (possibly Hugh Kenner’s, though no one could remember where from) that this is better thought of as an orchestra tuning up. Which then led us to think about the quality of its fragmentation in other ways. While the opening of ‘Sirens’ might – probably should – startle readers of Ulysses as a book (we thought about some other chapter openings and concluded that only that of ‘Oxen’ comes close to this in terms of discombobulation), readers of The Little Review might have been more used to this kind of fragmented, experimental writing in the context of that publication. Both Ezra Pound and Harriet Shaw Weaver expressed reservations about this episode: Margaret Anderson presumably did not.

We also spent more time considering the links with ‘Aeolus’, which we thought were not merely the arbitrary product of us moving from that episode to this, that there are some meaningful connexions here: ‘Aeolus’ was appearing in The Little Review at the same time as Joyce was writing ‘Sirens’. January 1918 also marked the appearance of a second edition of Chamber Music – at this point we belatedly realised that we were looking at this, as a piece of published writing, precisely a hundred years after its first readers had done so. We shared a moment or two of wonder and then we pushed on.

Having decided to treat the first 63 lines as a whole, we made something of an exception of the final line: “Begin!” This does not appear at the end of the episode and is clearly different in kind from the rest as a result. Who might be imagined as saying this? Who is being invited to begin? The orchestra? The reader? Joyce?

To the episode proper, then, which reponds to the injunction to “Begin!” by sending us back to the beginning of this episode and, beyond that, back to the final section of ‘Wandering Rocks’. We discussed the potential redness of “Bronze” and the idea that there is a comparative value being set on the two metals here and, by extension, the two women themselves (this, we felt, was the sort of consideration that may well get lost in a reading of the episode as a whole).

The names of the two women are of considerable interest, in that Joyce might have chosen pretty much anything he liked – these are wholly fictional characters in a way that many of the others are not – but ‘Douce’ is clearly musical (French, but ‘dolce’ by another name), whereas ‘Kennedy’ is not. The “crossblind” we remembered from ‘Aeolus’ (7.440) – and from James Joyce Online Notes – a blind covering the lower part of the window (precisely so that those like Kennedy and Douce could look over the top while passers-by on the street could not see in). Horseshoes are made from iron – as “hoofirons” confirms – making “ringing steel” (“steelyringing”) a little mysterious.

We spent some time with the ‘heads’ and the idea that these are ‘hearing’ – but “Bronze” and “gold” are nouns here and may be the agents which hear instead. We also considered how this picks up on ‘Wandering Rocks’ and the idea that the ‘coda’ represents what may be seen from the carriages (so merely the heads of the two women); also the idea that we are moving directly on from one episode to the next in a way that isn’t usual. (Of course, we are actually going back in time a little from the very end of ‘Wandering Rocks’).

Precisely because ‘Wandering Rocks’ has told us, we know exactly who is in these carriages as Douce and Kennedy do not – ‘her’ is Lady Dudley, which Miss Douce knows as Miss Kennedy does not. (Something I’ve noticed only in writing the blog – it’s miss Kennedy and miss Douce here, but Miss and Miss in ‘Wandering Rocks’.)

Miss Douce’s response to Kennedy’s question is not preceded by a dash – so are these her exact words, or a distillation, a condensation of what she says? Is “sitting with his ex” (His Excellency) her abbreviation or something performed by the episode itself in that case? Speech seems undistorted elsewhere, but we were conscious of this as something that will need attending to as we go on.

That “pearl grey and eau de Nil” are both colours had not occurred to all of us in looking at this for the first time (the latter is a kind of green). That this might refer to Lady Dudley’s outfit and hat led us to discuss the significance of the two young women’s uncovered heads and the unlikelihood of the presence of any women not actually working in a pub in a pub (or even a hotel). Eau de nil recurs in the episode (11.465, 661), seemingly as an object of reverie; the combination of grey and green the height of fashion (see the bridal dress in ‘Cyclops’, “a creation carried out in green mercerised silk, moulded on an underslip of gloaming grey,” 12.1280-81).

In the light of all that, we wondered whether Miss Kennedy’s response – “Exquisite contrast” – was her own, exactly: received opinion on the fashions of the day? Or is there even a trace of irony, a kind of drollness about this? Miss Douce, already “agog”, becomes more eager still – looking slightly ahead, we deduced that the two of them could not be at the bar, but must be quite close to the window. Again, we can identify “the fellow in the tall silk” – “the honourable Gerald Ward A. D. C.” (10.1179) – as they cannot, but the synecdoche, “silk” for silk hat, we took to be theirs. Ward is not in uniform, as the other two men in the carriages presumably are.

We will resume at line 71 on the 2nd of February.


Posted in James Joyce, Seminar Report, Sirens | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Seminar, 1 December – ‘Aeolus’, 1047-1075

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.

Posted in Aeolus, James Joyce, Seminar Report | 2 Comments

Seminar, 10 November – ‘Aeolus’, 1031-1047

On the 10th of November, the seminar paid close attention to lines 1031 to 1047, perhaps slowing down a little with the end now clearly in sight. Unfortunately, your humble blogger was not paying such close attention to keeping a record of this session and has put aside the writing up of such jottings as he made for much too long – as a result, what follows will have to be a briefer than usual reconstruction of some of what we discussed. Not that this blog was ever intended to be an exhaustive record, of course – but my apologies nevertheless.

“Finished?” The inconclusive nature of Stephen’s ‘parable’ means that Crawford’s question is a genuine one, regardless of the preceding laugh intended to bring the narrative to a “close”; but there is also some tetchiness in it. We wondered (not for too long) exactly what the two women might do that would be worse. The Linati schema gives the ‘meaning’ of ‘Aeolus’ as the ‘derision of victory’ and we saw a certain application of that here (Stephen’s general derision, Crawford deriding Stephen, albeit gently . . . the name of Nelson’s flagship too, of course).

We spent a long time puzzling over the various parts of the next, proto-Wakean headline: its inaccuracies (Antisthenes may have studied under Gorgias, but is not remembered as a Sophist exactly); its use of tabloidese (“WALLOPS”) as well as other, less obviously sourced forms of euphemism (“PROBOSCIS”, “MOLARS” – gnashing of teeth is scriptural, but placed here as though it were Homeric); the significance of the pen (Antisthenes’s book); and the use of the nose as a symbol of beauty (Cleopatra’s rather than Helen’s).

The professor is here re-establishing his credentials, having ceded the ground to Stephen for as long as he has for such inscrutable reward. The details about Gorgias are not strictly necessary, after all, suggesting MacHugh is a little thrown. Nevertheless, Stephen will produce Antisthenes as a “pupil of Gorgias” in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ (9.621) and turns again, in both ‘Wandering Rocks’ (10.816) and ‘Circe’, to “the dog sage” (15.2642)

The bitterness against self and others which reminds the professor of Antisthenes may have been foregrounded by the nature of Stephen’s story, but applies to Stephen more broadly. That Antisthenes was the “son of a noble and a bondwoman” introduces themes of disinheritance, the notion of being only half a citizen, which also apply to Stephen, at least by analogy.

Both “book” and “palm” are deceptive words here. We wondered whether “poor Penelope” might be imagined as suffering at the hands of “Argive Helen” beyond any judgments made by Antisthenes (Helen it was who made Penelope wait, perhaps). Stephen proceeds to play with the words – is there some form of Mollyfication of Penelope at this point? – though “Penelope Rich” recurs as a real woman in Shakespeare’s London, in ‘Scylla’ again (9.639).

In making ready to cross, the pub-bound men are presumably looking around for oncoming trams (which, as we will see, have stopped). “O’Connell street” was officially Sackville Street in 1904, but was widely referred to as O’Connell Street nonetheless (an act of renaming made permanent in 1924). This custom would have intensified after the statue was erected in 1882, at which time the renovated bridge the statue looks out on was indeed renamed for O’Connell, but not the street behind him.

“HELLO THERE, CENTRAL” takes us back to the start of the episode and the heart of the Hibernian metropolis – there is also the sense of a phonecall being made here, with the GPO a little way north, another centre. The repetition and recurrence of many of the names from the opening of the chapter feed into the sense of motionlessness and these halted trams, with the power gone; “becalmed in short circuit” also points back towards the Odyssey, of course.

At the end of the seminar, after some discussion – and in now time-honoured fashion – we put to a vote the matter of which episode to move on to in the new year. This will be chapter 11, the ‘Sirens‘ episode, which we will now be starting on the 5th of January, 2018. Up next – a much better blog, to finish off ‘Aeolus’, courtesy of Joe.

Posted in Aeolus, James Joyce, Seminar Report | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Seminar, 13 October – ‘Aeolus’, 1006-1030

Having had only a brief two weeks since our previous seminar, we began again at 7.1006 ‘Some Column! – That’s What One Waddler Said’.

We noted that this headline displays more coherence than many have for a while: it’s easy to imagine this as a real headline. There’s a tabloid feel about this one, though, and we repeatedly noted during the seminar that it’s important to have a clear sense of what an Irish paper of 1904 would have thought of a scandal, innuendo, or straight-up yarn.

Does Myles Crawford want to publish Stephen’s story? He appears to praise it (‘that’s new’) but some seminar members couldn’t agree on the tone of ‘copy’: is this slightly derogatory? Is the story of the vestal virgins new, really? We did agree, however, on the fact of the headline acting as a metaphor for the content of the passage: Crawford is now the waddler. The waxie Dargle is reference to a rare, harmless enough, leisurely day out, yet ‘trickies’ threw us a little. Whether this is a reference to old prostitutes, or schemers, or just evokes a slightly mysterious air about the women, we could not agree. ‘Trick’ is also an American turn, applied playfully, towards a ‘small or amusing person’ (OED, first citation 1887) – we’ve noted a few Americanisms or links with the country in this chapter – while ‘trick’ to mean a sexual act (either paid for or free) doesn’t seem to be recorded until 1920s America.  Whatever Crawford is trying to get at, he drops in a ‘what?’, a word that both emphasises his point yet draws attention to his need to be validated in conversation. At this point we compared Stephen and Myles’ conversational styles: one has a subtle, drawn-out storytelling style; the other is crude, obnoxious, and drunk.

The women’s experience at the top of the column is that of a typical tourist, pointing out notable landmarks. Adam and Eve’s is the same as at that mentioned at the start of the Wake; the Rathmines church with the blue dome is the Church of Mary Immaculate, and in January 1920 a fire broke out as a result of IRA weapons being stored in the Church. This site gives a reference to the Irish Times, which discussed the rebuilt dome and recorded that ‘It will be a much more ornate dome than that existing before the fire, as well as being much higher’ (Irish Times, April 19, 1923, p.5).

Throughout the later part of this episode, we’ve had mixed views on Joyce’s characterisation of these women. The adjective ‘rambunctious’ only compounded this: is Myles trying to turn them into boisterous or exuberant women, perhaps inaccurately or unfairly? We discussed the term ‘female’ and its use in headlines of the time, also recalling the use of ‘those’ in ‘those lovely seaside girls’ or ‘those girl graduates’. Does this headline veer towards something like ‘clickbait’ for 1904? We couldn’t agree but realise that more research into headlines is required.

The gesture of settling their striped petticoats suggested to us the feeling of vertigo these women must be experiencing, a touching gesture that hints at their naivety. This sits at odds with Myles’ implicit suggestion that Stephen is trying to ‘sex up’ the story. That said, the quip of ‘onehandled’ is rather good, hence the Professor’s effusive response. Does the professor really understand the joke, though? We noted his slow, gradual response – starting with delight and only eventually ending with understanding. The very slow pace of the storytelling, which sits in contrast to some of the abrupt language and gestures of the passage, is especially self-conscious; we thought back to earlier in the episode and the status of storytelling and rhetoric. The lack of epiphany is also conspicuous.

So much for the relative clarity of the previous two headlines. This one contains the clear allusion to ‘dear dirty Dublin’, which contrasts with the (mock) grandeur of the two women. ‘Cits’ is short for citizen, but this doesn’t exactly help that much, as the syntax is still off, yet would almost make sense with a comma after ‘speedpills’. ‘Velocitous’ isn’t a word (not according to the OED, anyway, and Gilbert notes that this is a neologism) but does have a futurist tone about it. The spitting of the stones is clear (aerolith is a little-used word for a meteorite), but the final word left us puzzled.

Stephen slows the pace, yet again, by returning to his story and refusing ‘onehandled’ adulterer to become the punchline. He demonstrates his skill at rhetoric — the story’s final sentence is long and evocative — yet despite this, the climax is, fittingly for ‘Aeolus’, something of an anti-climax. Stephen has a habit of laughing awkwardly or nervously – compare ‘Nestor’, ‘He stood up and gave a shout of nervous laughter to which their cries echoed dismay’ – though this laugh seems different for being consciously put on: slightly unsure of his ability still, he uses this laugh to explicitly signal the end of the story.

We begin again at ‘Finished?’ (U 7.1031) on Friday 10th November.





Posted in Aeolus, James Joyce, Seminar Report | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Seminar, 22 September – ‘Aeolus’, 983-1005

And we’re back. On the 22nd of September, the seminar reconvened to consider lines 983 to 1005 of ‘Aeolus’. Some of our findings and observations follow.

Following on from “stables”, “nervy” relates to horses also (“a big nervous foolish noodly kind of a horse” at 16.1789, for example) and then gives way to a nautical register, “squalls” anticipating Lenehan’s cap. “All off for a drink” – but not Bloom, of course: “Arm in arm” may be metaphorical, but plays up the importance of physical gesture, Crawford “throwing out his arm” just before.

Lenehan’s yachting cap is mentioned in ‘Two Gallants’ (where it is “shoved far back from his forehead”), so it may be pretty well-worn here. It is borrowed garb, in the sense that it seeks to project an affluence and a social connectedness that are not Lenehan’s: he is here “on the cadge”, so holding out that cap, metaphorically speaking.

Bloom is not taken in by the “Usual blarney”: we were reminded here of Bloom’s idiosyncratic Irishness, in his blunt and unqualified use of this term. We were also reminded of the connexion Ezra Pound established between Joyce and the word, in The Pisan Cantos (Canto LXXIV):

Lordly men are to earth o’ergiven
these the companions
Fordie that wrote of giants
and William who dreamed of nobility
and Jim the comedian singing:
“Blarney castle me darlin’
you’re nothing now but a stOWne”

Bloom seems to be wondering whether Stephen is the one moving the others off for a drink: the Little Review version of this passage is less ambiguous, but “spirit” picks up other meanings here, of course.

The “good pair of boots” are, of course, Mulligan’s – this is literally borrowed garb – and the “muck” on them is from Sandymount Strand (where Stephen was hardly ‘careless’, an ironic word to use of him in any case). We wondered how well Bloom knows Stephen and when he would last have seen him (recently enough, given “heels on view” perhaps).

In speaking as he does,  Bloom is acting as though Crawford has said nothing. Bloom is revisiting the terms of the deal he was attempting to work out with Nannetti earlier: it is almost as though he is trying to advise the editor here; and, in commercial terms, advising him well enough. He has, however, failed to pick up on Crawford’s mood, due in part to the editor having to break hard news to O’Molloy.

“K.M.R.I.A.” – the addition of “royal Irish” took us back to Mr Deasy: “We are all Irish, all kings’ sons” (2.279-80). Myles Crawford is walking away “jerkily” from Bloom here, but it is not clear that Bloom knows how to respond anyway: “the point” he is “weighing” may still be his own from the previous section and “about to smile” is clearly not the same as smiling.

“RAISING THE WIND” took us back to Stephen as “weaver of the wind” (2.33). The gesture of Crawford’s hand precedes his meaning and we wondered about the specific derivation of “through the hoop” (its meaning in context is apparent enough). We detected an anti-semitic undercurrent here, in Crawford being so gentle with O’Molloy having been so abrupt with Bloom.

The meaning in context of “to back a bill” is obvious enough too, but the language is parliamentary (reminding us of Nannetti again), accompanying the legalistic register of “will” and “deed”. Taking “the will for the deed” can be found in Charles Lamb and Elizabeth Gaskell; the phrase “heart and a half” is noted by Gilbert as an example of hyperbole: the rhetoric stands in for any direct mention of money.

O’Molloy’s “long face” reminded us of horses again and we assumed that he and Crawford and the professor and Stephen are walking abreast in pairs, rather than all four alongside each other. Stephen returns to his parable with the fabulous “twenty fingers” and reaches the railings as the two women have worked their own way up to these.

MacHugh’s “Something for you” refers to a story worth hearing but also alludes to Crawford’s earlier invitation to Stephen to write something for the paper. All that has preceded this point in Stephen’s narration is boiled down to its gist in a striking (perhaps, for Stephen, disheartening) way by the professor.

I’m afraid this blog entry has ended up left behind almost as badly as Bloom, so that there is no point passing on information about the next seminar, because it has already happened. The blog for the October session has also already happened, put together by a swifter and more conscientious hand than mine. See below!

Posted in Aeolus, James Joyce, Seminar Report | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Seminar, 2 June – ‘Aeolus’, 951-983

A long time ago, in early June 2017, we had our final Ulysses meeting before the summer break.

  • We noted that ‘antithesis’ carries a lot of weight in this sentence: not only is the professor referring to Anne Kearns and Florence MacCabe having quite different appetites, the word itself marks a pivot within this section, this second half being quite different in tone to the previous half; the professor provides a narrative explanation of what is happening. The professor nods twice, gesturing again to the sense of doubling that runs through this section.


  • In remarking that he ‘can see them’, the Professor hints to Stephen that he is familiar with real women of the character Stephen suggests, flattering Stephen that he’s telling a good story. Yet at the same time, there’s a sense that the Professor doesn’t, actually, know any women like this – he’s very quick to break off his flattery and to discuss the urgent matter of getting to the pub with ‘our friend’. This is an odd way to describe Crawford – barbed, rather than aspirational, we thought – maybe touching on a sense of irritation too; when Myles Crawford returns in a few lines time, the Professor’s ‘cry’ and gesture of ‘waving his arm’ compounds this sense.


  • ‘Bevy’ is a rich description of the newsboys, testifying to the perceived number of them and their scattered arrangement. The vocabulary used in this sentence is strikingly similar to the previous sentences: ‘newsboys’, ‘scamp’ and ‘scampering’, and ‘yelling’ are all used repeatedly in conjunction in ‘Aeolus’. Their papers are different to the racing papers that featured earlier in the episode, and in drawing in these different kinds of papers, Joyce offers readers a really material sense of journalism and the production process behind it at this time. We noted that the newsboys give away copies of the ‘Racing special’ edition of the paper, which goes on to have great significance throughout the novel (Bloom’s ‘throwaway’, Boylan’s betting ticket, and so on).


  • ‘RETURN OF BLOOM’, it’s worth noting, puts Bloom, for once, centre stage. The line has a stagey, cinematic feel to it, and in this aggrandises our sense of Bloom’s presence. He is ‘breathless’ in a ‘whirl of wind’ created by the newsboys’ scamping. Curiously, despite being ‘Mr. Bloom’ to the narrator throughout the episode, he is ‘Bloom’ in the headline. Compounding the sense that Bloom is of at least some significance in this section is the fact of Crawford not responding to the Professor, but to Bloom, even amid a gaggle of noisy newsboys.


  • We paused at this time to discuss the Irish Catholic and Dublin Penny Journal and to think about the offices of these journals (we have yet to establish whether these two papers actually shared an office). The Irish Catholic was founded in 1888 by T. D. Sullivan, a Lord Mayor of Dublin who came from a journalistic family. The Dublin Penny Journal was, originally, an Irish language publication.


  • ‘Terrible tragedy in Rathmines’ is, it transpires, a bit of a joke. The phrase ‘terrible tragedy’ was used abundantly in the press of the time – a quick British Library search suggests the phrase appeared repeatedly in headlines in the Irish Times and Weekly Irish Times between 1890 and 1905 – so Joyce gestures towards this contemporary journalistic cliché. The phrase was reserved for real tragedies – murders, suicides, mass deaths – heightening the bathos of this line. We noted that the joke anticipates ‘Circe’ in its anthropomorphising of supposedly inanimate objects, and that altogether this scene offers a very striking impression of compressed urban modernity.


  • ‘Interview with the editor’ is another somewhat ironic headline, as the entire section is Bloom’s monologue, tiresomely explaining yet again his plans for the advertisement. Bloom’s tone is awkward yet apologetic. We wondered if ‘what will I tell…’ had a touch of Hiberno-English to it.


  • Gilbert identifies ‘abbreviation’ as the technique for ‘K. M. A.’, which doesn’t seem entirely correct – it is an acronym – but it also a euphemism for something much cruder (‘kiss my arse’). We also wondered if KMA might suggest any other significant acronyms or meanings at this time. We remarked on the self-consciousness and metaphorical strength of Joyce’s ‘for emphasis’ as a way to describe Crawford’s gesture. If Crawford’s ‘the stable’ is a somewhat confused rehash of a cliché, Bloom’s interior ‘nervy’, by contrast, is politely euphemistic.


We meet again on Friday 22nd September and will be reading from U 7.983 (‘Look out for squalls’).

Posted in Aeolus, Seminar Report | Leave a comment