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.