Seminar, 7 December – ‘Sirens’, 219-241

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.

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Seminar, 2 November – ‘Sirens’, 200-219

A pleasure to see a number of new faces at the seminar on the 2nd of November; alongside all the old faces, of course. A lively session ensued, during which we covered nineteen lines and discussed the following:

“Bronze whiteness” – an earlier draft offers some potentially useful explication here: “Comely virgins. That brings the rakes in. Her bronze whiteness.” The sense would be that Miss Douce is not tanned, then (as she might well not have been, sunbathing in Rostrevor as she was) and the “bronze” is here, as elsewhere, her hair, contrasting with her pale skin. On the other hand, the two words on their own suggest another reading: we know that the summer of 1904 was a warm one; there is evidence elsewhere that Miss Douce has caught the sun – might this be a tan line, where the bronze ends and the whiteness begins? The revision opens up the words to more than one reading, in a manner we’re having to adjust to as we go through this episode: not everything can be cracked.

Simon’s use of “naughty” can be related to the heightened register of which Douce makes such frequent use, but there is a priestly note here too, carried by the subsequent allusion to indulgence (though it is really Simon indulging himself, pressing her hand and imposing on her physically) and the reference to temptation (Miss Douce as Eve – and siren – although in the context of Rostrevor she may well have been genuinely cosmopolitan in the eyes of “simple males”). Simon treats Miss Douce as the naughty child, indulgently: we reminded ourselves at this point of the less indulgent way in which he treats his actual daughter in ‘Wandering Rocks’.

Another almost throwaway pentameter line follows. Reinforced by “satin”, the verb “douced” suggests a smooth and gentle retraction of the arm. An earlier version had “pulled” instead – the underlying intention is clear: Miss Douce has had enough of Simon pressing her hand. On one level, she is being playful, but there is something more direct as well, a change of register if one wishes to see it. (In the 1922 edition, “go away” is followed by a comma rather than an exclamation mark, which nudges the reader more one way than another, perhaps.)

The epithet “simple” might mean a number of different things: lacking in guile (and sexually innocent too); slow on the uptake (“simple in the cradle”); there is also the pennilessness of the Simple Simon of the song (‘Says the pieman to Simple Simon/Show me first your penny/Says Simple Simon to the pieman/Indeed I have not any’). The narrator’s ironic “He was” looks forward to Simon’s protestations, then, but perhaps also refers to this lack of money.

The word “doaty” is Anglo-Irish: the OED instances Shaw and Beckett alongside this very sentence from Ulysses, with a variety of spellings to boot; coming along after this, “made answer” is strangely formal. Alongside the proverbial nature of Miss Douce’s ensuing question, reference to a doctor may be an unconscious reminder of Simon’s age; this is also playing up the idea of alcohol as genuinely medicinal, a common conception/pretext as that was at the time.

We talked about the repetition of “mused” (this is not the last one, either) and the casual nature of Simon’s response, as though he’s not all that concerned about what he drinks and even whether he drinks (but, knowing what we know, he really does want a drink, no doubt). The inversion of the usual running order of whisky (we did note the spelling, but could make nothing of it) and water reminded us of the diversionary tactics of a teenager in an off-licence. The qualifications certainly take away any sense of desperation, but how long has it been since Simon’s last drink? And then a “Jingle” – of which only the rest of the chapter will make sense.

We acknowledged that the next line is dialogue, but noted also that it need not be. Alacrity was a word in much more common use at the time – in the sense of cheerful readiness – but it still feels in keeping with Miss Douce’s high register. It also reinforces Simon’s simplicity and it allows Miss Douce to get him ‘away’ in getting on with serving him (although the enthusiastic ‘agreed’ is simultaneously reinforcing and masking the professional nature of the relationship, as any good professional barworker would make sure was the case).

The two uses of “grace” follow naturally after indulgence; in Joyce’s writings, the association of the word with drinking (via Tom Kernan in Dubliners) we thought worth noting also. The mirror takes us back to lines 118-19, though only now are we told what the “gildedlettered” writing actually consists of. We then wondered who else Miss Douce might turn at this point – what function is the “herself” playing here?

We thought it would be relatively straightforward to take “crystal keg” as metaphorical here – a bottle of whiskey, in other words – but wondered whether Joyce might not intend something more literal, an artefact we nevertheless had difficulty visualising. And then, thanks to some astute searching, we actually found the very thing: a decanter shaped like a keg, with a tap to boot. Surely the thing itself.

The pouch and the pipe which Simon retrieves are delayed to the end of the sentence, so causing a little air of mystery. Nowhere is a pocket mentioned, so there are actually two pouches, one brought out from the other, provided by “the skirt of his coat”. We were forced to conclude that Simon is still dressed as he was for ‘Hades’, although no silk hat has yet been mentioned. How many sets of clothes does he have? Perhaps only slightly more than his eldest son, we assumed.

“Alacrity she served”: this we took to be not mere repetition but to refer to the actual moment of service, the point at which the glass goes down on the counter and is ready to be drunk from. Miss Douce is serving up to Simon her own alacrity – indeed, she is serving him this throughout, as she would serve the same to any valued patron – and thereby making him more alacritous too.

The sequence “blew”, “flue” and “two” gives us (three) rhymes, in imitation of the sound produced by Simon blowing through the flue of his pipe. Is this musicality functional – part of cleaning out the pipe – or playful? No reason it can’t be both, of course. With “husky fifenotes” both the dithyramb and Orange bands came up – though the sound seems perfectly exactly evoked.

“By Jove” is followed by yet another “mused”. The word is pointing towards music, as it is also placing Miss Douce in the role of muse. We took a look at the song ‘The Mountains of Mourne’ and its evocation of romantic, rural Ireland. But is Simon being sincere here – is this really a longstanding ambition – or is he merely seizing upon Miss Douce’s recent visit to Rostrevor and its proximity to these mountains, the perfect base from which to explore them (with the unstated, not to say unsayable implication that the two of them might take off there together at some point in the future, quitting the city like the singer and Mary in Percy French’s song of 1896)?

We left off at this point, to return to the Mourne Mountains in December.

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Seminar, 12 October – ‘Sirens’, 183-200

On Friday 12 October, we began at 11.183 (‘You horrid thing‘) and read 17 lines.

  • The exchange between Misses Douce and Kennedy, which centres around the comment ‘you horrid thing’, is more complex than it first seems. ‘Horrid’ appears to have a peculiarly English inflection, which made us wonder how it came into their vocabulary: through music hall song? Does it recall a comic opera stage direction? The tone of Miss Kennedy’s remark is one of mock-protestation rather than genuine rebuke, but perhaps the tone of ‘horrid’ changes a little when it is repeated; what the repetition in brackets does do well, though, is indicate the simultaneity of the episode.


  • What, precisely, is the distinction between a ‘flush’ and a ‘blush’? Characters do both throughout the novel, and we traced some of the similar instances of these words, especially in ‘Nausicaa’. Is there a distinction to draw between between emotional and intellectual responses to the situation? While there are blushes and flushes throughout Joyce’s work, it is rare that we see a flush recede, as here (‘flushed less, still less’).


  • Just at the point when we think we’ve got the colours of their hair clarified, Joyce sets down another puzzle. Does ‘more goldenly’ mean ‘more like herself’ (but we know so little of either of them, really) or is the light in some way accentuating the colour of her hair against her skin? Does this mean she’s moved and her relationship with the light in the space is different?


  • We spotted a Gabler oversight at the last session, in an inconsistent spelling of ‘greaseabloom’. In this session, we again discussed this inconsistency, and noted that the second instance is capitalised in both cases. Another name, Ceppi, is also worth commenting on: Ceppi is not Italian, as one might assume, but Swiss. The family had been in Dublin since the nineteenth century and sold picture frames, looking glasses and statues: with this information, the phrase ‘bright of their oils’ takes on a range of possible meanings. Is Joyce setting us a reader trap, or is he himself unsure of the details?


  • From Ceppi to Nannetti to Bloom. ‘Wheedling’ isn’t the most positive term, and, recognising that he too is without an office, Bloom’s thoughts appear to be going somewhere he doesn’t want them to. ‘Doors’ might be religious as well as secular; the gist of Bloom’s thinking on religion, then, is that it pays.


  • Then follows a series of seventeen monosyllabic words, notable also for including five iambic pentameter constructions. We sensed here a touch of the recitative opera and thought for a while about Joyce’s (and Bloom’s) familiarity with this form, and its relevance to this episode particularly. Again, Bloom appears to stop himself from thinking unwanted thoughts: what does he want? What is the unspoken thought between ‘I want’ and ‘not yet’? ‘Want’ here may of course suggest ‘lack’ rather than ‘desire’. This section invited us to consider the plotting of Ulysses as a whole and to this end we discussed Peter Kuch’s recently published Irish Divorce/Joyce’s Ulysses (a review by the Irish Times here), in which he suggests that Bloom allows the affair to happen – to drag on, even (‘not yet … not yet’) – so that he has reason to divorce Molly. In an extremely uncharacteristic moment for the Charles Peake group, we spent some time away from the line in question and pondered various aspects of the divorce process in Ireland in Joyce’s time. At this point, it is worth noting that all this Bloom material was added in a later draft: he interrupts the sirens.


  • What is the significance of The Clarence and/or The Dolphin? Why doesn’t Joyce make Bloom think about the Ormond in this moment? We discussed the distinctions between pubs and hotels, between wet and dry institutions, and the corresponding social hierarchies therein.


  • In strolls Simon Dedalus! We compared his rocky thumbnails with Bloom’s attention to his own nails in ‘Hades’ (when he and Simon share the ride in the funeral carriage and see Boylan out the window). He flirts with Miss Douce, apparently harmlessly, though he holds on to her hand for an uncomfortably long time until she pulls it away. The seminar ended with a discussion of the significance of Rostrevor as a location to take a holiday. Some wondered if it really is the kind of place to take a vacation; others read this word as a gloss for ‘free time spent with family, hardly unusual for a single woman’. We noticed the shell she brings back, which made us wonder where exactly in Rostrevor she’s been, and which reinforces the presence of the Homeric sirens. We discussed whether she had indeed been on the coast and might, therefore, be considered a ‘seaside girl’ in the manner of Gerty. This brief mention of a shell, then, arguably does some heavy lifting in painting a picture of Miss Douce as an attractive and desirable woman, showing her flesh to ‘poor simple males’.


Is it really sunny enough to get a suntan in Rostrevor? We wonder, and hope to find out at our next session. We start again on 02 November at line 200 (‘bronze whiteness’).

Before then please do look at the CFP for the Aeolus workshop, to be hosted in March 2019 in conjunction with the Leeds Joyce reading groups.




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CFP: Reading Joyce’s ‘Aeolus’

CFP: Reading Joyce’s ‘Aeolus’

London: Saturday, March 2, 2019

Reading Joyce’s ‘Aeolus’ (PDF)

Of the 18 episodes of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), ‘Aeolus’ has claims to be among the most neglected. Conspicuously revised after its first appearance in The Little Review in October 1918, it belongs exclusively neither with the opening chapters of Joyce’s novel nor with the more radically experimental narratives of the later episodes. In this way, it presents a textual curiosity in the book, long overdue critical reappraisal.

This workshop, a collaboration between the James Joyce reading groups at the University of Leeds and the Charles Peake Ulysses reading group, hosted by the Institute of English Studies at Senate House, aims to offer new perspectives on this all too easily overlooked episode.

We welcome papers that focus on this episode exclusively, or explore its relationship with other chapters of the novel, or the rest of Ulysses more broadly, or other texts besides. Possible paper topics include, but are in no way limited to:

  • Newspapers, popular media, and advertising
  • Technology, trams, telegraphs, and printing presses
  • Parnellism, the Irish language question, and political history
  • Alcohol, socialising, and homosocial spaces
  • Geography, city planning, urban infrastructure, architecture, and mapping
  • Minor and ‘real-world’ characters
  • The Little Review: adaptation, revision, and annotation

Papers should be no more than 20 minutes in length. 250-word abstracts and brief biographies should be sent to the organisers, Helen Saunders ( and Steven Morrison ( by 30 November 2018.

When: Saturday 02 March 2019

Where: Institute of English Studies, Senate House, University of London

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Seminar, 21 September – ‘Sirens’, 166-182

We’re back! On Friday night we welcomed old and new faces to the first Charles Peake seminar of the academic year 2018-19. After a brief round of introductions, we began reading ‘Sirens’ again, from 11.166.

We returned to Miss Kennedy’s abbreviated name (having discussed this in our final seminar of last year). As well as noting that this is the only time her name appears shortened, we wondered if it lends her a masculine edge (‘Kenny’) or perhaps indicates a pet name we are unaware of. Her strange posture (‘stooping’) reminded us of Swift (‘Stoop not to interest, flattery, or deceit’) and arguably Goldsmith (‘she stoops to conquer’), while the internal rhyme of fair/hair anticipates later examples of this in the passage (‘laughter after laughter’). ‘Napecomb’ appears to be a Joycean original – or, at least, the only example the OED recognises – and the fact of it being tortoiseshell makes it, according to the fashion press of the time, an especially desirable item. As such, ‘her tortoise napecomb showed’ suggests not just that it becomes visible, but that she reveals it in a particularly performative way. Is this a response to Miss Douce’s sun tan – is there a slightly competitive edge between them?

It goes without saying that there is much tea flowing in this episode. Previously out of a teapot tea she poured, into the teapot tea she poured; this time, it moves in and out of her mouth as she chokes with laughter. Whether this evoked something sexual, or simply conjured a sense of joyous abandonment, was discussed. Finally, we noted that the word order of ‘spluttered out of her mouth her tea’ seems a Joycean idiosyncrasy.

Having discussed the pharmacist at length in a previous session, the punchline of the joke between the two nonetheless eluded us. What is a ‘greasy eye’? Grease is frequently associated with Bloom in the novel – we noted the role of the narrator in trying to collapse the distinction between Bloom and the pharmacist – but does the word have anti-Semitic connotations in this specific example? We conceded that perhaps we misread the word previously, and that the pharmacist is lecherous or sleazy instead.

We had various imaginative responses to Miss Douce’s invitation to ‘imagine being married to a man like that’. We wondered about whether he (‘like that’) really is married (is Miss Douce thinking more of his wife than of him?), or whether this is a statement about her unmarried status more generally (‘imagine being married’). Marriage rates were on the decline in Dublin at this time; celibacy and social purity movements, moreover, on the rise. Again, we know very little about the barmaids but we did wonder if their suggested resistance to marriage indicates their youth: they have a choice to be single, if they wish, a socially-acceptable decision not available to women of the previous generation. Perhaps, however, the call to ‘imagine’ reflects their inexperience, and to this end we paused for some time on ‘a full yell of full woman’: is this a genuinely womanly noise, or just something meant to sound as a woman should?

‘Delight, joy, indignation: while the reason for their indignation is suggested only, other examples of this word in the novel might provide a clue. Bloom wonders if Martha Clifford is putting on an act in her seductive letters (‘Wonder did she wrote it herself. Doing the indignant: a girl of good family like me, respectable character’) and in ‘Circe’ Mary Driscoll, defending herself against charges of improper behaviour around Bloom, speaks ‘indignantly’.

Many different editions of the text were used in the session; Gablers were thin on the ground. Importantly, the clause – in some editions – ‘after bronze in gold’ is, in Gabler, ‘after, gold after bronze’. We reflected on what Gabler’s reason for making this change might be for some time. ‘Shrill’ suggests something discordant (just as ‘indignation’ adds a disruptive tone to a previous sentence), notably through the vocabulary itself rather than the rhythm of the words. We thought about bells for a time – bells in pubs especially – and wondered if there is something slightly metamorphic or anthropomorphic going on here.

‘Married to Bloom’ was evidence, to us, that the Arranger (to use David Hayman’s term) of this episode is increasingly characterful and performative (compare this with our earlier discussion of what parts of the conversation about black satin blouses actually did/not take place). ‘Married to Bloom’ is reported but not actually said. Again, the Arranger collapses the distinction between the pharmacist and the novel’s central character (‘greaseabloom’) (notably, non-Gabler editions have ‘greaseaseabloom’).

Once the Arranger joins in, the two women go back to ostensibly polite dialogue, reported in a conventionally realist mode, although ‘I wished’ seems a little at odds with this. As too does the joke (‘I’m all wet’) which seems to suggest three types of wetness – sweat, urine, lubrication – but never commit to one of these. We discussed here how our historical distance makes the innuendo harder to read, while even between Misses Douce and Kennedy there is an unwillingness to be explicit. Is this an attempt to continue the laughter, which falls a little flat?

The next seminar, where we may attempt to answer this question, will take place on Friday 12 October. We will begin again at ‘-O Miss Douce!’ (11.183).

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Seminar Dates – Update

I have just been reminded that we’ve already done ‘Aeolus’. I meant ‘Sirens’. We will resume our reading of ‘Sirens’ in September. Please do blame this on the boogie.

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Seminar Dates 2018-19

We have dates for the next academic year, as follows:

21 September 18.00-20.00
12 October 18.00-20.00
2 November 18.00-20.00
7 December 18.00-20.00
4 January 18.00-20.00
1 February 18.00-20.00
1 March 18.00-20.00
5 April 18.00-20.00
3 May 18.00-20.00
7 June 18.00-20.00

All will be taking place in Senate House, room to be confirmed (I’ve asked for a roomier room, but the IES is constrained by only having a small range of free venues – and we’ve managed so far, I suppose). Hope to see seminarians new and old in September, when we will be resuming our reading of ‘Sirens’ at around lines 165 to 166.

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