No two ways about it, we are going to need a bigger room. Another lively session in May, during which we covered twenty more lines of the ‘Sirens’ episode (seventeen, eighteen, twenty . . . we’re definitely picking up the pace).
Miss Kennedy’s refusal, spread over two lines, takes a song-like form – with “But Bloom?” a third line perhaps – but the rhyme of “don’t” with “won’t” is strangely broken across it. We toyed with the idea that if might be Miss Douce who speaks the first line (asking her friend not to plug her ears?) – if it is Miss Kennedy speaking both, the form is confusing and, we thought, unprecedented, with the double em-dashes and all. We could almost hear the laughter, though, surely the underlying motive for the form.
This is the third post-overture sighting of Bloom (see lines 86 and 102) and it has the effect, at this point, of conflating him with the old fogey. Leaving that aside, might this be taken as the reader’s question (where is the supposed protagonist of this book?), or as Joyce offering reassurance (he’ll be along shortly), or somehow both? We spent some time thinking about the bathos of the name.
According to the OED, “snuffy” means annoyed – a still current present-day equivalent might be something like ‘testy’ – but we assumed the associations with snuff would have been available to readers of the time as well: a combination of poor customer service and sniffliness, then. Miss Douce’s grunting represents another departure from her genteel facade, although it is the chemist she is transforming into an animal – Circe’s form of enchantment, of course, though the suggestion that the old fogey is hard of hearing does tie in to ‘Sirens’.
Miss Kennedy unplugs her ears – we thought of bottles as well as earplugs – she clearly wants to hear but goes back to protesting: the sense is of a well-rehearsed double-act, a routine in which Miss Douce mocks and Miss Kennedy mock-protests. All of this is heightened by the hyperbole (although Miss Kennedy does come rather close to expiring, in point of fact, or at least giving a good impression of it, at lines 166-7). That said, we may not be in a position to judge the actual hideousness of the “old wretch” since we never learn quite what did happen that “night in the Antient Concert Rooms.”
The three ‘sips’ in the next line were taken to be developing a theme, in analogy with music. The sentence is both musical and mimetic, we thought, Miss Kennedy testing the tea for its heat before relaxing into drinking it, ‘distaste’ giving way to the sweetness, while the metrical rhythm of the first part gives way to something more uneven. We found the word “brew” slightly discomfiting – why not tea? – but it fits with the setting of a hotel bar.
Miss Douce is imitating the chemist, cocking his head the better to pick up sound, we assumed – beyond that, however, we couldn’t decide whether the “ruffling” of “nosewings” was being enacted by the performer’s nostrils solo or whether a hand would be assisting. “Hufa! Hufa!” returns us to snuffiness.
“Shrill shriek of laughter . . .”: this would be, at any earlier point in Ulysses, an entirely normal sentence, if it just had the indefinite article at its start – but that sense of the hitherto suppressed laughter finally overcoming the protests is emphatic and leaves Miss Douce in control (the “imperthnthn” reminds us that she huffs and snorts as the boots previously sniffed, no less rudely in some ways, but less sullen certainly). A “snout in quest” made us think of truffle pigs (an invisible rhyme for ‘ruffle’).
The “shrieking” is oddly placed in the next sentence and the “O!” somewhat inadequate (there are a torrent of ‘O’s coming up below, we noted) for what is now a fully-fledged fit of the giggles. There is just the one “goggle eye” here – we discussed Joyce himself in relation to the mocking of eyes, given not only his own troubles but his daughter’s strabismus as well: a subject on which he must presumably have been quite sensitive?
The “chimed” is more pleasant than “Shrill” – and allows for the double “in” – but the “deep bronze laughter” (distinguishing between the two again here?) is succeeded by “shouting” returning us to the indelicate mode in which Miss Douce is now revelling. “And your other eye!” may allude to the song ‘When you Wink the Other Eye’, made popular by Marie Lloyd (whom, in turn, the song made popular), or it may be a rather lower form of wit (some of us went there – the link between the single eye and the penis is a lot older than you might think). We took the line to be a little botched either way, as if Miss Douce knows this to be funny, but doesn’t quite get why.
The “eye!” is also an ‘aye’, a yes . . . so here he comes. “Bloowhose” is an echo of and a response of sorts to “Bloowho” (l.86), as the “dark eye”, reading on Bloom’s behalf, completes a trinity of eyes. “Aaron Figatner’s” is a pronouncedly foreign and presumably Jewish name – strange that Bloom does not reflect on this directly, but the idea of gathering figs made us think of Agendath Netaim and the cultivation of Palestine in ‘Calypso’. We discussed Bloom’s “dark eye” as a signifier of Jewishness (and sadness too).
“And Prosper Loré’s huguenot name”: it took us quite a while to realise that this is the narrator, that Bloom’s eye is reading this name next as he proceeds along Wellington Quay (another foreign name, as is Bassi’s). Although we also thought that the specificity of “huguenot” might be Bloom’s contribution to the sentence, given his thoughts on this in ‘Lestrygonians’ (8.889-90).
We did say a little about statues of the virgin, but the chair heard the sound of the theology klaxon and decided we’d be coming back to that next time – sitting behind the big desk in 243 must have gone to his head after all. Do please join us on June the 1st, for sweets and giggles.