On the 7th of December, we picked up where we left off – with Simon Dedalus’s musings about the Mountains of Mourne not quite completed – and considered the following:
“Must be a great tonic in the air down there”: tonic waters were a mainstay of Cantrell & Cochrane’s and we discussed the contemporary vogue for taking the air – but tonic and air are both musical terms, of course. The Mourne Wall, construction of which began in 1904, was also brought up, as was the fact that, from Dublin, everywhere else in Ireland is “down” (even mountains, it would seem). “But a long threatening comes at last, they say”: if this is a saying, it is not one that has retained its currency, but we riddled it out as meaning something along the lines of ‘I may have been saying it for a long time, but that doesn’t mean it won’t happen at long last.’ Then a cluster of yesses, as Simon’s two are followed by one of the narrator’s own.
We suspect that Mermaid might well have been a brand of tobacco and it is still possible to find examples of pipes with mermaids on the bowl, rather in the manner of a ship’s figurehead; ‘meremaids’ was once a common enough rendering of ‘sirens’ too. The “shreds of hair” are tobacco: Stephen imagines “tobaccoshreds” catching fire in thinking of Kevin Egan in ‘Proteus’ (3.240). Maidenhair has been the name of various ferns down the ages, but the idea of it as pubic hair the OED gifts to D.H. Lawrence in Lady Chatterley’s Lover. There’s clearly something lascivious going on in the narrative here (even if, as later references in the episode suggest, this actually has to do with the way Miss Douce is wearing her hair).
The chips are off Simon’s thumbnail, the shreds tobacco, and there is yet more musing. As for “Mute” – apart from being something one puts in a trumpet to muffle the sound – the sense here is that Simon wants Miss Douce to respond (he actively desires to hear the siren’s song) and the ungrammatical and playful, but emphatic triple negative in the next line – “None nought said nothing” – is the outcome, rounded out with another, here ironic, “Yes”.
Though we took the tumblers which Miss Douce is gaily polishing to be flat-bottomed, these originally had convex bottoms, so that they couldn’t be set down until they’d been drained. Trilling – and the sense of tremulousness – goes with birdsong. The song in question, which will be recurring in many places in ‘Sirens’, is from Owen Hall’s popular musical comedy Floradora, first performed in 1899; we speculated on how Miss Douce would have known it (she certainly wouldn’t have had to attend a performance of the whole musical to hear the song recited in various places in Dublin) and noted its cheeriness as acting, in some respects, as a rebuff to Simon.
The ensuing question foxed us for a while, since the narrative seems set up to suggest this is Lenehan butting in; but we assured ourselves that the question is actually Simon’s (we’ve now encountered a number of these deliberately estranging moments in the episode – we compared them to the interpolations of ‘Wandering Rocks’ – and they haven’t all had obvious solutions). So it is actually round Simon that Lenehan is peering, but the idea that he is searching for someone (Boylan) leads to the confusion between the two possible speakers here.
Lenehan, whose views on Bloom the reader has already encountered in ‘Wandering Rocks’, gives way to Bloom – see also “Blew. Blue Bloom is on the” in the overture (11.6). Essex Bridge gave us the opportunity to think about Bloom’s location as he gets nearer to the Ormond, but also about the naming of bridges and streets: this bridge is named as Grattan Bridge in ‘Wandering Rocks’ (10.1204), with Lenehan upon it, but here it bears its pre-1872 name, named not for Elizabeth’s favourite in fact, but for a Lord Lieutenant of Ireland nonetheless. We discussed the concept of ‘official’ names – Derry/Londonderry as well as Sackville/O’Connell Street – and wondered about the tension between wordplay and political resonance: the latter cannot always be the priority, we concluded.
Then again, given it is the set-up for a gag that seems more in Lenehan’s line anyway – “Yes” and “Yessex” – perhaps the choice of the older name is not so odd. The pairing of ‘Yes’ and ‘sex’ leads the reader, if not Bloom, to Molly (when did Joyce decide on the final word of Ulysses?), whereas Bloom thinks of Martha instead. The word order is curious here – “To Martha I must write” – as if Bloom’s interior monologue is being orchestrated in some way.
The end of the paragraph may be more conventionally set up as Bloom’s, though the narrative is picking up on the connexion Lenehan made between the song and Bloom’s name in ‘Wandering Rocks’ (10.524) – rye is golden rather than blue, it should be noted. The “civil” girl in Daly’s is presumably business-like and so Bloom need not worry about her spreading gossip. We wondered whether “Old Bloom” might be a brand name of some sort.
That Mr Lidwell was “in at lunchtime” reminded us that this is the Ormond reopening; that lunch was some time ago. Lenehan is somewhat forward here as he comes forward – he offers no greeting, does not attempt to ingratiate himself. In the call and response which follows, Miss Douce responds accordingly: abruptly, formally, but not actually answering at all, merely passing the question on. We deduced that Miss Douce knows Lenehan and takes him for a bit of a chancer (he’s certainly not here to order a drink, and will wait for others to step forward in that respect).
The reference to “upstairs” makes us suddenly aware of a mysterious ‘elsewhere’ in the Ormond. That Douce addresses her friend as “Miss Kennedy” is another form of withholding and distancing, while Miss Kennedy is still out of sight, still on her break, and still, we assumed, on her crate. This constitutes another ‘elsewhere’, hidden from Lenehan’s view (and Simon’s? Did he know she was there? Miss Kennedy has been out of sight for some time). Only then do we get the “teacup poised” (a second cup of tea rather than a second cup) and the page (this is Miss Douce’s perspective, or Miss Kennedy’s own, all again withheld from Lenehan). We thought about the audible and the visible – Miss Kennedy’s “gaze” – and how this might relate to Stephen’s experiments at the opening of the ‘Proteus’ episode.
“No. He was not”: there is no mollifying here, though the response is not, we considered, quite as blunt as it might have been (‘No’). “Miss gaze” echoes “Miss voice” and plays upon the whole business of being heard and not seen (an inversion of the usual formula, as applied to children). Miss Kennedy’s concentration is unbroken throughout and we thought this a most elegant description of someone caught up in the act of reading (that what is being read is a copy of the Independent becomes clear further on). In spite of which, Lenehan is determined to intrude: around the end of the bar, he winds his body round – the body is round as seen through the sandwichbell, we assumed; Miss Kennedy’s perspective, then.
A sandwichbell is a glass cloche used to display sandwiches – it would more usually house cakes in this day and age. More discussion will ensue in January, when we will meet again on the 4th – hope to see you there.