Felix M Larkin



Bloomsday 2017

Bloomsday Miscellany, 2017


This Bloomsday miscellany was presented to a small gathering in Martello tower no. 7 in Killiney, Co. Dublin, at about noon on 16 June 2017.



I am extremely grateful for this opportunity to share some of James Joyce’s writing with you today. My thanks to Niall O’Donoghue for inviting me to do this, and to Pól Ó Duibhir for volunteering me for it – and thanks also to all of you for turning up here this morning.

Since I was director of the Parnell Summer School for three years, from 2012 to 2015, I would like to begin by reading the brief exchange between those who, in the ‘Hades’ episode of Ulysses, visit Parnell’s grave after attending the interment of Paddy Dignam. I quote:

The mourners moved away [from Dignam’s grave] slowly without aim, by devious paths, staying at whiles to read a name on a tomb.

– Let us go round by the chief’s grave, Hynes said. We have time.

– Let us, Mr Power said.

They turned to the right, following their slow thoughts. With awe Mr Power’s blank voice spoke:

– Some say he is not in that grave at all. That the coffin was filled with stone. That one day he will come again.

Hynes shook his head.

– Parnell will never come again, he said. He’s there, all that was mortal of him. Peace to his ashes.

Joyce venerated Parnell's memory. There is absolutely no doubt which side of the argument he favours in the famous Christmas dinner scene in the Portrait when the rights and wrongs of the Parnell split are rehearsed. To quote from the Portrait, the young Stephen Dedalus was ‘for Ireland and Parnell, and so was his father’. His nationalism was firmly rooted in the Irish constitutional tradition, and he rejected any form of militant republicanism and narrow cultural nationalism. This is clear from his lampooning of Michael Cusack, the founder of the GAA, as ‘the citizen’ in the ‘Cyclops’ episode of Ulysses, but arguably it comes across more starkly in the Portrait of the Artist, in the discussion which Stephen Dedalus – Joyce’s alter ego – has with his friend Michael Davin, ‘the peasant student ... [who] had sat at the feet of Michael Cusack’ and who was thought of ‘as a young fenian’ by his fellow students. Joyce wrote of him in the Portrait that ‘whatsoever of thought or of feeling came to him from England or by way of English culture his mind stood armed against in obedience to a password’. Davin was based on George Clancy, who went on to become Sinn Féin mayor of Limerick and was murdered by crown forces on 6 March 1921, shortly after his election as mayor. The discussion in the Portrait that I am referring to goes as follows:

– Try to be one of us, repeated Davin. In your heart you are an Irishman but your pride is too powerful.

– My ancestors threw off their language and took another, Stephen said. They allowed a handful of foreigners to subject them. Do you fancy I am going to pay in my own life and person debts they made? What for?

– For our freedom, said Davin.

– No honourable and sincere man, said Stephen, has given up to you his life and his youth and his affections from the days of Tone to those of Parnell, but you have sold him to the enemy or failed him in need or reviled him and left him for another. And you invite me to be one of you. I’ll see you damned first.

– They died for their ideals, Stevie, said Davin. Our day will come yet.

Some things don’t change: republicans are still using the phrase ‘Our day will come’ – ‘Tiocfaigh ár lá’. I wonder do they take that phrase from Joyce; somehow I doubt it.

Joyce’s rejection of Irish cultural nationalism – the so-called ‘Celtic revival’, what Yeats would call culture that ‘must come from the soil’ – is likewise comprehensive. Thus his portrait of Miss Ivors, the Irish language revival enthusiast, in ‘The Dead’ is unsympathetic – and she was based on Kathleen Sheehy, one of the daughters of Mrs David Sheehy who features in the ‘Wandering Rocks’ episode of Ulysses. In ‘The Dead’, Joyce identifies with Gabriel Conroy’s more cosmopolitan outlook: though a Catholic, Gabriel writes for the unionist Daily Express newspaper in Dublin – and when he rejects Miss Ivors’ invitation to go on an excursion to the Aran Islands for a whole month and he tells her that he likes to go every year on ‘a cycling tour with some fellows  ... to France or Belgium or perhaps Germany’, she chastises him with these words: “... haven’t you your own land to visit ... that you know nothing of, your own people and your own country?’ Gabriel responds: ‘I’m sick of my own country, sick of it’.

By the end of the story, however, Gabriel has been overwhelmed by the Celtic Twilight – and is, both physically and metaphorically, in darkness. The discovery of his wife's deep affection for her dead lover, Michael Furey – the hold from beyond the grave that he still has on her imagination – and her nostalgia for the West of Ireland where he is buried, devastates him. She has rejected Gabriel’s tentative sexual advances in favour of a romantic evocation of something long dead and gone. The Celtic Revival was analogous to that in Joyce's eyes – the very antithesis of what he wanted, which was to reach out and explore new horizons, looking towards Europe and its culture for inspiration, instead of wallowing in the past in a backward-looking Irish-Ireland. Gabriel is a broken man at the end of ‘The Dead’, and in the beautiful final paragraph of the story he concedes that ‘The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward’. That sentence is the measure of how thoroughly he has been defeated. I will now read that paragraph in full:

A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly on the Bog of Allen and, further westward, falling softly into the dark mutinous Shannon waves. It was falling, too, upon every part of the lonely churchyard on the hill where Michael Furey lay buried. It lay thickly drifted on the crooked crosses and headstones, on the spears of the little gate, on the barren thorns. His soul swooned slowly as he heard the snow falling faintly through the universe and faintly falling, like the descent of their last end, upon all the living and the dead.

Joyce, unlike Gabriel Conroy, did escape from Ireland and from its constraints, both political and cultural – spending the rest of his life in Trieste, Zurich and Paris. As he wrote in Finnegans Wake:

He ... ran away with hunself and became a farsoonerite, saying he would far sooner muddle through the hash of lentils in Europe than meddle with Irrland’s split little pea.

As so often with Joyce, this passage is packed with a multitude of allusions: ‘ran away with hunself’ identifies Joyce with the Asiatic people who invaded Europe in the fourth and fifth centuries  he too had 'invaded' Europe  and, furthermore, it acknowledges Germany’s powerful position in Europe in the early years of the twentieth century; ‘Irrland’s split little pea’ sums up our history, especially in the years since the 1916 Rising; and ‘a hash of lentils in Europe’ captures the mishmash of empires and kingdoms, nationalities and loyalties, that Joyce encountered when he went into exile.

This highlights what is one of the great attractions for me of Joyce’s work: while it is not history or even a sound historical source, it is nevertheless deeply rooted in actuality and suffused with a sense of history. It is, to quote Elizabeth Bowen about her novel The Last September, ‘fiction with the texture of history’. Joyce himself told the sculptor Arthur Power: ‘In Ulysses, I tried to keep close to fact’. Joyce had a deep knowledge of history – that is evident everywhere in his work – but, more importantly, he seems to have understood what the discipline of history is actually about. It is quite distinct from public memory or political-cum-ideological narratives of the past, and it may often be in stark opposition to such. The approach that should characterise the work of the historian is one of interrogating the past, questioning received orthodoxies and restoring their frail and imperfect humanity to heroes – the mindset is sceptical, iconoclastic, disruptive. Bluntly, the historian should be a kind of ‘bullshit detector’, with zero tolerance – and that is the spirit in which Joyce approaches his material. His alter ego, Stephen Dedalus, is described in the Portrait by his friend Davin as a ‘born sneerer’. Nothing is sacred to Stephen or to Joyce, and it is relevant in this context to recall that the French historian Pierre Nora wrote that:

Memory instils remembrance within the sacred; history, always prosaic, releases it again.

Moreover, historians must always be aware of the importance of contingency in shaping the past. As the distinguished American historian, David McCullough, the biographer of John Adams and Harry Truman, has stated in a recent interview:

Nothing ever had to happen the way it happened. History could have gone off in any number of different directions in any number of different ways at almost any point, just as your own life can.      

Joyce anticipated this insight – and I think expressed it rather better than McCullough did – when, during the class that Stephen teaches in the ‘Nestor’ episode of Ulysses, he speculates in his own mind about what might have happened in the past, the ‘what if’ questions of history, what historians call ‘counterfactual history’. I quote:

Had Pyrrhus not fallen by a beldam’s hand in Argos or Julius Caesar not been knifed to death. They are not to be thought away. Time has branded them and fettered they are lodged in the room of the infinite possibilities they have ousted. But can those have been possible seeing that they never were? Or was that only possible which came to pass?

I propose now to illustrate the extent to which Ulysses is rooted in actuality by considering the opening sequence of the ‘Aeolus’ episode which is set in the offices of the Freeman’s Journal newspaper in North Prince’s street, Dublin – beside the GPO. There are many casual references to the Freeman throughout Ulysses – and Leopold Bloom is employed as an advertisement canvasser for the Freeman’s evening newspaper, the Evening Telegraph – but it is in the ‘Aeolus’ episode that Joyce firmly locates the Freeman’s Journal ‘in the heart of the Hibernian metropolis’, socially as well as physically. The episode begins at about 12 noon – in other words, at about this very hour – on 16 June 1904, and Mr Bloom is in the Freeman’s offices on business concerning an advertisement for the firm of Alexander Keyes. With a colleague, Red Murray, he observes the ‘stately’ arrival in the building of the long-time editor of the newspaper, W.H. Brayden – editor from 1892 to 1916. Bloom, noticing Brayden’s ‘fat folds of neck’, recalls Simon Dedalus’s gibe that ‘all his brains are in the nape of his neck’ – Simon is, of course, Stephen Dedalus’s father. Let me read some of this opening sequence (beginning outside the GPO, and then moving seamlessly inside the Freeman’s premises):

Under the porch of the general post office shoeblacks called and polished. Parked in North Prince’s street, His Majesty’s vermilion mailcars, bearing on their sides the royal initials, E. R., received loudly flung sacks of letters, postcards, lettercards, parcels, insured and paid, for local, provincial, British and overseas delivery ...

– There it is, Red Murray said, Alexander Keyes.

– Just cut it out, will you? Mr Bloom said, and I’ll take it round to the Telegraph office.

The door of Ruttledge’s office creaked again. Davy Stephens, minute in a large capecoat, a small felt hat crowning his ringlets, passed out with a roll of papers under his cape, a king’s courier.

Red Murray’s long shears sliced out the advertisement from the newspaper in four clean strokes. Scissors and paste.

– I’ll go through the printingworks, Mr. Bloom said, taking the cut square ...

Red Murray touched Mr Bloom’s arm with the shears and whispered

– Brayden.

Mr Bloom turned and saw the liveried porter raise his lettered cap as a stately figure entered between the newsboards of the Weekly Freeman and National Press and the Freeman’s Journal and National Press ... It passed statelily up the staircase, steered by an umbrella, a solemn beardframed face. The broadcloth back ascended each step: back. All his brains are in the nape of his neck, Simon Dedalus says. Welts of flesh behind on him. Fat folds of neck, fat, neck, fat, neck.

– Don’t you think his face is like Our Saviour? Red Murray whispered.

The door of Ruttledge’s office whispered: ee: cree. They always build one door opposite another for the wind to. Way in. Way out.

Our Saviour: beardframed oval face: talking in the dusk. Mary, Martha. Steered by an umbrella sword to the footlights: Mario the tenor.

– Or like Mario, Mr. Bloom said.

– Yes, Red Murray agreed. But Mario was said to be the picture of Our Saviour.

Jesusmario, with rougy cheeks, doublet and spindle legs. Hand on his heart. In Martha.

Co-ome, thou lost one,

Co-ome, thou dear one! ...

They watched the knees, legs, boots vanish. Neck.

A telegram boy stepped in nimbly, threw an envelope on the counter and stepped off posthaste with a word:


Mr Bloom said slowly:

– Well, he is one of our saviours also.

A meek smile accompanied him as he lifted the counterflap, as he passed in through a sidedoor and along the warm dark stairs and passage, along the now vibrating boards. But will he save the circulation?

The question ‘But will he [Brayden] save the circulation?’ is significant – for, while the Freeman was still the leading daily newspaper in Dublin in 1904, Joyce knew with the benefit of hindsight that it was doomed. In the following year (1905), William Martin Murphy would launch the modern Irish Independent, at half the price of the Freeman  a halfpenny, instead of a penny  and with a more popular format and a less partisan editorial policy. In effect, he copied what Lord Northcliffe (Alfred Harmsworth) had done in London in 1896 when he launched the Daily Mail, the first mass circulation newspaper in these islands. It also cost a halfpenny, and Joyce belittles Northcliffe’s achievement by referring to him in ‘Aeolus’ as ‘Harmsworth of the farthing press’. Murphy’s new Independent was an immediate success, and its success came at the expense of the Freeman. The Freeman began to incur heavy trading losses and no dividends were paid to shareholders after 1908. Brayden was replaced as editor in 1916 in an effort to save the paper, but it would eventually close in 1924.

The passage that I have just read includes references to two people other than the Freeman’s editor, W.H. Brayden. The first of these is William Ruttledge, who was a business manager with the Freeman – in fact, the cashier of the newspaper. The other was a well-known Dublin newspaper vendor, Davy Stephens. He is characterised by Joyce as ‘a king’s courier’, because Stephens’s newspaper stand was at Kingstown (now Dun Laoghaire) harbour and he was reputed to have offered King Edward VII a newspaper when the king disembarked at Kingstown on his visit to Ireland in 1903.

Brayden, Ruttledge and Stephens appear in Ulysses under their own names. This is not unusual, and reflects the fact that only passing reference is made to them. Joyce tends, however, to give pseudonyms to those who feature more prominently in Ulysses. Thus, Pat Meade  the editor of the Evening Telegraph  is Myles Crawford in ‘Aeolus’, and he later makes another appearance in the ‘Circe’ episode. Likewise, John Wyse Nolan is John Wyse Power, formerly of the Freeman staff and later editor of the Evening Herald, the Evening Telegraph’s rival published by the Independent; and Professor MacHugh is Hugo MacNeill, not a journalist at all  but described by Terence Killeen as ‘a somewhat under-achieving classical scholar’ who was a habitual loiterer in the Freeman office. Others who play lesser parts in the episode and appear under their own names – undisguised – include Patrick (‘Paddy’) Hooper, who was the last editor of the Freeman from 1916 to 1924, but he had been previously a London correspondent for the Freeman. This explains why it is said of him in ‘Aeolus’: ‘Came over last night’. It is reported that he had ‘gone round to the Oval [public house] for a drink’ with Jack Hall, and J.B. Hall was a long-serving reporter with the Freeman and later the author of Random Records of a Reporter, published in 1928. Patrick Hooper was the son of Alderman John Hooper, himself an editor of the Evening Telegraph – from 1893 to 1897. In Ulysses, Joyce accords the elder Hooper the dubious honour of having been one of Molly Bloom’s many casual lovers, and on a mantlepiece in the Blooms’ home at No. 7 Eccles Street was an embalmed owl described as ‘the matrimonial gift of Alderman John Hooper’. Leopold Bloom remembers this gift when he spots a bird ‘tamely perched on a poplar branch’ in Glasnevin cemetery, and he links Hooper’s name with the hooting sound which owls make.

The Freeman is described in ‘Aeolus’ as ‘a great daily organ’, but the thrust of the episode nevertheless suggests that Joyce held the Freeman and its staff in some disdain. This is revealed most sharply by his identification of the newspaper with Aeolus, the Greek god of the winds. That is typical of Joyce’s style of mockery – he was indeed a ‘born sneerer’. It conveys not only his view of the journalists as windbags, but also – to again quote Terence Killeen – ‘the inconsistency and changeability of the journalistic profession, its responsiveness to every wind that blows’. Joyce thus characterises journalists as ‘weathercocks’  he writes: ‘One story good till you hear the next’. Moreover, the journalists and others gathered in the Freeman’s offices in ‘Aeolus’ seem singularly out of touch with the contemporary world. In the words of Terence Killeen:

[‘Aeolus’] gives the impression of people existing in a cut-off world of their own, unaware of anything outside the confines of their own circle — and this despite ostensibly being the people with their fingers on the pulse of public opinion.

The ‘Aeolus’ motif similarly denotes the ephemeral nature of newspapers – they have a shelf-life of one day, hardly ever longer than that. This is encapsulated in the quasi-Biblical aphorism which Joyce inserted into the ‘Aeolus’ episode: ‘Sufficient for the day is the newspaper thereof’ – and also in the confusion over the horse ‘Throwaway’, which Bantam Lyons thinks Bloom has tipped to win the Ascot Gold Cup race because he told Lyons when he met him outside Sweny’s chemist shop in Lincoln Place that he was about to throw away his copy of the Freeman.

Joyce’s final sneer at the Freeman in Ulysses occurs in the ‘Circe’ episode, set in Dublin’s nighttown: the title of the newspaper and that of its weekly compendium edition, the Weekly Freeman, are transmogrified into the ‘Freeman’s Urinal and Weekly Arsewiper’. There was, however, one indignity which the Freeman was spared in Ulysses: when, in the ‘Calypso’ episode, early in the morning of 16 June 1904, Mr Bloom visits the privy behind his home in Eccles Street, he did not use the Freeman to wipe himself clean but instead relied on the popular English magazine, Titbits. I quote:

He felt heavy, full: then a gentle loosening of his bowels. He stood up, undoing the waistband of his trousers ...

A paper. He liked to read at stool. Hope no ape comes knocking just as I’m.

In the tabledrawer he found an old number of Titbits. He folded it under his armpit, went to the door and opened it ...

Asquat on the cuckstool he folded out his paper, turning its pages over on his bared knees. Something new and easy. No great hurry. Keep it a bit. Our prize titbit: Matcham’s Masterstroke. Written by Mr Philip Beaufoy, Playgoers’ Club, London. Payment at the rate of one guinea a column has been made to the writer. Three and a half. Three pounds, three. Three pounds, thirteen and six.

Quietly he read, restraining himself, the first column and, yielding but resisting, began the second. Midway, his last resistance  yielding, he allowed his bowels to ease themselves quietly as he read ... He read on, seated calm above his own rising smell ...

He tore away half the prize story sharply and wiped himself with it. Then he girded up his trousers, braced and buttoned himself. He pulled back the jerky shaky door of the jakes and came forth from the gloom into the air.

What this passage shows is that Joyce was every bit as analytical about matters scatological as he was about history. In both instances, he understood the process of production. Of Ulysses we can truly say ‘All human life is there’ – the motto of the News of the World, now also a defunct newspaper like the Freeman’s Journal.

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