Puzzles and Puns in Ulysses
Buck Mulligan looks for a face cloth to clean his razor and not finding one in his pocket exclaims: Scutter!
(See Gabler's corrected text Ulysses - Line 66, page 4) The explanations I've seen denote <bustling about or scurrying about>. The word is actually an expletive, and is a more polite expression for excrement.
I'm melting, he said, as the candle remarked when ... (L333, page 10) seems to be an unfinished joke. It seems the joke remains unknown. Some references relate the comment to Icarus and his wings of wax. But this takes us away from the candle!
What about this contribution! I'm melting ... as the candle remarked ... but still wicked!
(The word wicked here can be a one syllable or a two syllable word!)
- a not inappropriate suggestion considering that the speaker is Mulligan.
Ulysses Annotated (Don Gifford with Robert J. Seidman) and Sam Slote's Ulysses with Annotations specifically state that Mr. Deasy's school in Dalkey is a boys' school. Yet, while Armstrong struggles in explaining what a pier is, some girls present in the class are amused - Edith, Ethel, Gerty and Ethel (L36, page 21). Not only this, but Edith (Edy!) and Gerty are the names of the child-minders in Episode 13. Gerty in particular is the cynosure of Bloom's eye while they are on Sandymount strand!
The opening paragraphs of Episode 3 give importance to the visible, the coloured and the audible. An understanding of colour will help us to tune into Stephen's thought processes. When we look at grass we say it is green. In fact, this is not true. The truth is - grass appears green to our eye. What happens is this: In daylight, grass absorbs all of the wavelengths of the colour spectrum of light - except for green. Green light is reflected back out and its light waves travel in space to the retina at the back of our eyes. There, the cones interpret the sensation as green colour. Dogs, cows, bulls - and many other animals besides - interpret the colour of grass in various shades of grey. These animals have no colour-interpreting cones in their eyes.
Of course! - in the middle of a dark night - and - in the middle of a grassy field - we can "see" that the colour of grass is black! Well, actually no! You see, black is not a colour at all! Aristotle thought it was. He had the view that the light spectrum - including the colours - ranged from colourless to black.
Lines 82 (...our daily...) and 216 (...On earth as it is in heaven...) clearly tells us that Bloom's subconscious thinking is Christian, and that he is familiar with the Christian prayer, the 'Our Father'. His purchase of the pork kidney in Dlugacz's is very un-Jewish at two levels: its very purchase on the one hand and its availability on the other.
Line 224 tells us that 'A bent hag crossed from Cassidy's clutching a naggin bottle by the neck' - This is not possible as naggin bottles (not unlike hip flasks) have no necks!
Bloom is dressed in black - indicating that he is a committed participant in the Catholic funeral service for Patrick Dignam.
Lines 340-374, Page 66: Joyce’s hostility to his Catholic upbringing emerges here. He targets the sacred and mystical prayer of the Church, namely the Mass, for his opprobrium. This is neither his first nor the last time, that he does this. The idea that Latin stupefies the people is bizarre. Joyce would have known that Latin was a spoken and learnt language for well over a thousand years in Ireland. People had knowledge and understanding. The phrase Hokypoky penny a lump mocks the most sacred moment of the Mass.
Glasnevin Cemetery was the first cemetery for Catholic burials in Dublin city. It was opened in 1832, a few years after Catholic Emancipation. The repressive Penal Laws had imposed severe restrictions on the priests and the people of Ireland. No Catholic services or prayers were allowed at burials. Daniel O'Connell was successful in the opening of Glasnevin as a Catholic burial ground. The Governors insisted that from the start Glasnevin had to be available for the internment of Catholics, Protestants, other religions and those of no religious persuasion. Every summer the annual blessing of the graves takes place as it has done since 1832 and every Sunday, Mass is offered at 9:45 am.
Molly is the focus of this comment. The time is June 1904. John Henry Menton tells us that 17 years earlier he danced with Molly at Mat Dillon’s in Roundtown ... ‘She was a fine looking woman’, Ep. 6, L696, page 87. And he continues ... ‘and a good armful she was’. Molly is 33 now ... or 32 ... if you accept her own word in Ep. 18, L475, page 618. So 17 years previously Molly was 16 or 15 years old. It is quite clear that she was quite a young child when she flirted with Mulvey and Gardner in Gibraltar ... ‘I was dying to find out was he circumcised’, Ep. 18, L314, page 615. Since Milly is 15 years old, it is clear that Molly was a child bride when she married Bloom!
Joseph Patrick Nannetti (1851 – 1915), foreman in the Freeman’s Journal was a nationalist and a Home Ruler. He was the son of an Italian sculptor and an Irish mother, Bridget Dempsey. He was educated in the Christian Brothers’ schools, and, in 1871 married Mary Egan. He was elected to Dublin Corporation and, in 1906 – 1907, became Lord Mayor of the city. From 1900 to 1915 he was an elected member of the House of Commons. In earlier years he was employed in Liverpool and was one of the first founders of the Liverpool Home Rule organisation. He also worked as a printer in the Kildare Observer in Naas. While there he participated in the founding of Naas GAA club in 1887. All his life he was an activist on nationalist issues and a prominent trade unionist. He was also a member of the Catholic Cemeteries Committee. Joyce, in Ulysses, has Nannetti working in the offices of the Freeman’s Journal on June 16th 1904. In fact Nannetti, on that day, was in the House of Commons in London complaining about the Chief Secretary's ban on the people of Dublin playing their own Irish games of football and hurling in the Phoenix Park.
The phrase < U.p: up > is one of the many puzzles in Ulysses (L258, page 130). Charles Dickens uses it in Oliver Twist to denote imminent demise. In The Celtic Times, dated June 18th 1887, the phrase U.P. UP appears as a heading and the associated article tells of the demise of the Caledonian Games Society. Perhaps for Denis Breen the game is UP! – that he is a dead man, that he is finished! It could also denote that he is bonkers!
The Quaker community (Religious Society of Friends) in Ireland can be very proud of its wonderful contribution to the social, cultural, commercial, financial – and not least – the spiritual welfare of the country. In this episode we meet with Thomas William Lyster, the Librarian at the National Library. He is presented to us as a member of this influential community. Another member of the Religious Society of Friends, the Englishwoman Harriet Weaver, had a significant impact on Joyce’s life. She supported him with great generosity throughout his writing life and paid his funeral expenses when he died.
In Line 967, page 173, the solicitous Lyster is called to give attention to a Father Dineen. In one sentence the priest is mentioned and in the next he is gone. In fact, Fr. Dinneen, known as An tAthair Padraig Ó Duinnín was a significant personality in the revival of Gaelic language, literature and culture. His Irish-English dictionary is considered a masterly achievement. It was produced in 1904 and made an immediate impact. An tAthair Ó Duinnín’s eminence in Dublin society is reflected in the fact that on his death in 1934 he was given a state funeral to Glasnevin cemetery attended by the leaders of church and state, and by prominent members of all of the cultural, literary and social movements of the time. I find the minimalist mention of this great literary figure in Ulysses rather odd! Another great clergyman, Canon O'Hanlon, also has his significant literary achievements ignored by Joyce,
Tom Rochford, L464, page 191, was a sanitation worker in Dublin Corporation. He nearly died while trying to rescue a colleague from a sewer. The event occurred on the 6th May 1905 – nearly twelve months after the 16th June 1904! Lenehan and M’Coy acknowledge that ‘He’s a hero’,L492. Lenehan was aware that the accident happened - not in a drain - but down a manhole, A workman named John Fleming descended into a sewer to examine a broken pipe but was overcome by fumes and died. Tom Rochford tried to rescue him but was pulled out before he too was overcome. Constable Patrick Sheahan of the Dublin Metropolitan Police went down and pulled out - and saved- another rescuer, Kevin Fitzpatrick. He then went down a second time to rescue Fleming. But sadly he was overcome by the fumes and died. Constable Sheahan was noted for his bravery– previously he rescued an elderly couple from a collapsing building in Dawson Street and on another occasion he tackled and wrestled with a runaway bull on Grafton Street. Constable Patrick Sheahan was born in Glin, Co. Limerick, in the townland of Ballyguiltenane. He was 29 years of age when he died. He is buried in Kilfergus graveyard. Soon after his death, the then Lord Mayor of Dublin, Joseph Hutchinson organised the erection of a memorial in his honour. This memorial is located at the junction of Burgh Quay and Hawkins Street. The next member of the DMP to die while on duty was Constable James O’Brien. He was the first casualty of the 1916 Rising. He also came from Glin in Co. Limerick.
Simon Dedalus and Ben Dollard reminisce about the time they borrowed the tight trousers from the Blooms. We learn from this that, when times were hard, the Blooms dealt in second-hand clothes. In Line 496, page 222, we come across a tiny yet potent pun. Simon Dedalus tells his audience: ‘Mrs Marion Bloom has left off clothes of all descriptions’. This has a totally different meaning to: ‘Mrs Marion Bloom has left-off clothes of all descriptions’.
Molly again: Handball, played in a 3-walled ball alley, was a very popular sport in Ireland dating back to the early 1500s and remained so up the middle of the 20th century. (The statutes of Galway in 1527 ordered the native people to stop playing handball against the walls of the buildings in the town.) From the 1950s onwards the game moved indoors and is now played in courts that are part of sports complexes. It appears that there are some 700 ball alleys, in various stages of disintegration, abandoned in Ireland. Should you come across one – there is still a splendid one in the village of Shanagolden in Co. Limerick – you will immediately note the massive front playing wall. It is high. It is broad. It is stark. What a simile to describe Molly! See Line 503, page 251 – ‘The fat heap he married is a nice old phenomenon with a back on her like a ballalley.’
(I come from Shanagolden!)
Gerty’s age is the big puzzle here. She is very keen ‘about the boy that had the bicycle off the London bridge road’, L130, page 287. The boy, Regie Wylie, is studying for the intermediate examination. This indicates that he is not yet 15 years old. The expectation is that Gerty is younger still. This is a realistic expectation since Gerty is one of four girls in Stephen’s class earlier in the morning in Mr Deasy’s school. See L36, page 21. The students are in first year and the ages of the students would be in the range 12 to 13 years. We also read in L547 that Bloom ‘thought it must be after eight because the sun was set.’ Sunset in Dublin on June 1st 2015 is at 9:42p.m. It is later still on the 16th June. The later introduction of <new time> and the adoption of GMT explain this discrepancy.
Oxen of the Sun
When Stephen and the other medicals leave Holles Street Maternity Hospital they go the pub. Bloom lingers and engages in conversation with Nurse Callan. ‘Then all being gone, a glance of motherwit helping, he whispers close in going: Madam when comes the storkbird for thee?’ L1404, page 345. Here, Bloom is very personal and very familiar with Nurse Callan. Is Nurse Callan Martha Clifford? Maybe yes! Consider the ending of Martha Clifford’s letter to Henry Flower: ‘Henry dear, do not deny my request before my patience (patients!) are exhausted.’ L254, page 64. Is the pun rather deliberate here? Is it revealing?
Quite a lot of comments can be made on this episode. For you, I’m choosing this one: in L1838, page 404, we read 'Brother Buzz calls on Bloom to ‘perform a miracle like Father Charles.’ Father Charles (1821-1893), born in the Netherlands, was a very holy priest who lived the last 36 years of his life in Mount Argus Passionist monastery, Harold’s Cross in Dublin. He was a particularly pious priest renowned as a miraculous healer. Crowds flocked to the monastery on a continuous basis. He was beatified in 1988, and, in 2006 His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI canonised him a saint. To-day his tomb and shrine in the church in Mount Argus is a place of prayer and veneration.
Many times in Ulysses a factual statement appears and it may puzzle us. The reason is simple – it makes sense in 1904 but with the passage of time the meaning has become a puzzle. An example: Because ... 'there being no pump of Vartry water available for their ablutions let alone drinking purposes', L6, they decided to go to a cabman's shelter. The Vartry Reservoir at Roundwood was the source of drinking water for the people of south Dublin. Most of the houses had no piped water. Instead - pumps, and drinking troughs for animals – were spaced along the streets – and from the pumps the drinking water was drawn and taken back to the houses. There weren't that many houses near Butt bridge.
And in L29 we come across another example of something that was then quite common, namely the professional whistler. Feis Ceoil, established in 1896, held musical competitions every year and whistling was one of many items on the agenda. Classical music and slow Irish airs were the specialities for whistlers.. They performed on stage and in the musical halls regularly even up to the 1950s and 1960s. The popularity of whistling declined rapidly once the radio appeared and especially the small transistors. Later came the walkmans- and even today we have the smart phones. Feis Ceoil dropped whistling as a musical item many years ago.
The anachronism surrounding Bloom and Stephen's issue about the arrival of St. Patrick to Ireland deserves a comment (see L30 et seq.) – particularly about St. Patrick. The importance of St. Patrick as a man, as a scholar, as a saint, as a devoted apostle to the then people of Ireland, is grossly under appreciated even here in Ireland. Yes, he converted the people to Christianity, but also, he brought the Roman alphabet into the country (replacing ogham!). He introduced and established a new language, Latin. He instituted the art of script writing. Consequent to the endeavours of St. Patrick, monasteries began producing codices of sacred texts. The Book of Kells is just one of many examples. But St. Patrick has this unique distinction – he wrote the first book – the Confessio – a book that has style and a lot of literary merit. And all of this was accomplished more than 1,500 years ago. St. Patrick should have been awarded (posthumously) the Nobel Prize for Literature long ago.
(Maybe someone (or some group) should take this up as a crusade !!!)
Molly is the big puzzle here. Her background is a puzzle. Her rearing is a puzzle. Mrs Rubio, the household help is a Spanish nationalist. It seems she does not have much English. When she brings Mulvey's letter to Molly, Molly asks for the hairpin ... 'staring her in the face ...', L751, and she does not understand. Molly has to ask for it in Spanish ... ah horquilla. Was Spanish Molly's first language.? Where and from whom did she learn English? In fact how did Molly become an accomplished singer in many languages? Yes, Molly was a practising Catholic in Gibraltar. She went to Mass regularly to the Church of Santa Maria – but as a child! The date of Molly's marriage to Leopold Bloom is another puzzle. She was certainly a child bride. I don't buy the claim that Episode 18 is Molly's soliloquy. I'm of the view it is Nora Barnacle who is speaking. I have noted in Gordon Bowker's biography of James Joyce that Nora liked to read Joyce'swork and that she certainly knew the Penelope episode well enough and often quoted passages from memory – page 418.
© Copyright Ulysses Uncovered