Sunday, 16 March 2014

Soap and Sunrise

I went to see Olwen Fouéré's magnificent Riverrun again yesterday at the Shed by the River Thames. The piece opens with the announcement of dawn and sunrise, and this is one of the first lines she speaks:

Guld modning, have yous viewsed Piers' aube? Thane yaars agon we have used yoors up since when we have fused now orther.

In 1939, Joyce's readers would have recognised this as a parody of famous soap advertising slogan. The story begins with the actress Lillie Langtree, who gave a testimonial to Pears' Soap in which she supposedly said, 'Since using Pears soap I have discarded all others.'

The ad was then parodied in this Punch cartoon of a tramp by Harry Furniss.

Rather than being offended, the Pears chairman, Thomas J.Barratt, bought the rights to use the cartoon, and turned it into a full colour advert.
In Joyce's version, the soap stands for the rising sun. 'Piers' aube' is Pears' soap plus Persse O'Reilly, another name for HCE, and 'aube', the French word for dawn.

Have yous viewsed Piers' aube

Have you used Pears' Soap?/ Have you all seen HCE's dawn/the sunrise? 

Joyce associates soap and sunrise in Ulysses, where there's a lovely vision of the lemon soap Bloom gets from Sweny the Chemist rising in the sky:

'BLOOM: I was just going back for that lotion, whitewax, orangeflower water. Shop closes early on Thursday. But first thing in the morning. (He pats divers pockets)....

(A cake of new clean lemon soap arises, diffusing light and perfume.)

We're a capital couple are Bloom and I;
He brightens the earth, I polish the sky.

(The freckled face of Sweny, the druggist, appears in the disc of the soapsun.)
SWENY: Three and a penny, please. 
BLOOM: Yes. For my wife, Mrs Marion. Special recipe.'

The association of soap with the sun may go back to Viscount Leverhulme's Sunlight Soap. Sunlight, originally produced in 1884, was 'the world's first packaged, branded laundry soap' (Wikipedia). 

Leverhulme and his soap get several mentions in Finnegans Wake ('if never he looked on Leaverholma's again and the bester huing that he might ever save sunlife?' 517.20; 'one bar of sunlight does them all' 544.35; 'Selling sunlit sopes to washtout winches' 578.23; with the so light's hope on his ruddycheeks' 493.08; 'make sunlike sylp om this warful dune's battam. Yet clarify begins at. Whither the spot for? Whence the hour by? See but! Lever hulme!' 593.11)

Sunlight Soap was so famous that it was mentioned in this Christmas carol parody, which I remember singing as a child in the 60s.

While Shepherds washed their socks by night
All seated round the tub
A bar of Sunlight soap came down
And they began to scrub.

There's also an obvious reason to make soap stand for dawn. One of the first things people do when they get up in the morning is to reach for a bar of soap.

You can now buy Sweny's famous sweet lemony soap online!


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