Thursday, 23 March 2017

A damn good one about comets' tails

'To me, this chapter of Ulysses has been a substantial part of the novel's attraction. I love the movement of the characters around the city. I love that Joyce put actual people in actual places. I love the ordinary momentum of an ordinary afternoon. And if literature is ever to teach us anything, this is where Ulysses teaches us how ordinary and ordinarily mobile and natural life is, and how thrillingly and grippingly it can be rendered into art. More, as they say, next week.'

These are Frank Delaney's magnificent final words in Cavalcades and Comets Tails, his Rejoyce podcast of 15 February 2017. Frank was talking about the Wandering Rocks episode, which he had only recently started, after the long dry slog of Scylla and Charybdis.

Sadly, there was to be no next week.

Apart from missing Frank's insights, our big loss is the chance to listen to a beautiful weekly reading from Ulysses, working through the book a page at a time. But there is one way we can carry on the project, thanks to the 1982 RTE radio production which is on Youtube. If you start listening at 31.37 minutes in, you'll reach the point where Frank began his final podcast. The RTE production has the advantage of sound effects (such as Nosey Flynn's sniffling).

The last Rejoyce left us hanging in the middle of Lenehan's anecdote to M'Coy, which made me want to complete it here.  

Lenehan and M'Coy walk through Merchants Arch, by the Liffey's Ha'penny Bridge, where they see Bloom browsing the books.

A still from Joseph Strick's film of Ulysses

They went up the steps and under Merchants' arch. A dark-backed figure scanned books on the hawker's cart.
-- There he is, Lenehan said.
-- Wonder what he is buying, M'Coy said, glancing behind.
-- Leopoldo or the Bloom is on the Rye, Lenehan said.
-- He's dead nuts on sales, M'Coy said. I was with him one day and he bought a book from an old one in Liffey street for two bob. There were fine plates in it worth double the money, the stars and the moon and comets with long tails. Astronomy it was about.

Lenehan and M'Coy watch Bloom
The book M'Coy's talking about is Robert Ball's The Story of the Heavens (1890), which we came across earlier, when Bloom sees the timeball on the Ballast Office.

The Ballast Office Timeball from The Joyce Project
'Timeball on the ballast office is down. Dunsink time. Fascinating little book that is of sir Robert Ball's. Parallax. I never exactly understood. There's a priest. Could ask him. Par it's Greek: parallel, parallax.'

It's also in the catalogue of Bloom's books in Ithaca:

The Story of the Heavens by Sir Robert Ball (blue cloth).

This catalogue gives us all the chance to collect Bloom's library. I picked up a copy of Ball's book second hand, for £1.50, many years ago, so I will share the pictures of those comets with long tails.

Talk of comets' tails inspires Lenehan to begin his story:

Lenehan laughed.
-- I'll tell you a damn good one about comets' tails, he said. Come over in the sun.
They crossed to the metal bridge and went along Wellington quay by the river wall....
-- There was a big spread out at Glencree reformatory, Lenehan said eagerly. The annual dinner you know. Boiled shirt affair. The lord mayor was there, Val Dillon it was, and sir Charles Cameron and Dan Dawson spoke and there was music. Bartell D'Arcy sang and Benjamin Dollard.
-- I know, M'Coy broke in. My missus sang there once.
-- Did she? Lenehan said.....
-- But wait till I tell you, he said. Delahunt of Camden street had the catering and yours truly was chief bottlewasher. Bloom and the wife were there. Lashings of stuff we put up: port wine and sherry and curaçao to which we did ample justice. Fast and furious it was. After liquids came solids. Cold joints galore and mince pies.
-- I know, M'Coy said. The year the missus was there...
That's where Frank left us, cliff-hangingThe story continues.

Lenehan linked his arm warmly.
-- But wait till I tell you, he said. We had a midnight lunch too after all the jollification and when we sallied forth it was blue o'clock the morning after the night before. Coming home it was a gorgeous winter's night on the Featherbed Mountain. Bloom and Chris Callinan were on one side of the car and I was with the wife on the other. We started singing glees and duets: Lo, the early beam of morning. She was well primed with a good load of Delahunt's port under her bellyband. Every jolt the bloody car gave I had her bumping up against me. Hell's delights! She has a fine pair, God bless her. Like that.
He held his caved hands a cubit from him, frowning:
-- I was tucking the rug under her and settling her boa all the time. Know what I mean?
His hands moulded ample curves of air. He shut his eyes tight in delight, his body shrinking, and blew a sweet chirp from his lips.
-- The lad stood to attention anyhow, he said with a sigh. She's a gamey mare and no mistake. Bloom was pointing out all the stars and the comets in the heavens to Chris Callinan and the jarvey: the great bear and Hercules and the dragon and the whole jingbang lot. But, by God, I was lost, so to speak, in the milky way. He knows them all, faith. At last she spotted a weeny weeshy one miles away. And what star is that, Poldy? says she. By God, she had Bloom cornered. That one, is it? says Chris Callinan, sure that's only what you might call a pinprick. By God, he wasn't far wide of the mark.
Lenehan stopped and leaned on the riverwall, panting with soft laughter.
-- I'm weak, he gasped.
M'Coy's white face smiled about it at instants and grew grave. Lenehan walked on again. He lifted his yachtingcap and scratched his hindhead rapidly. He glanced sideways in the sunlight at M'Coy.
-- He's a cultured allroundman, Bloom is, he said seriously. He's not one of your common or garden... you know... There's a touch of the artist about old Bloom.

M'Coy doesn't find this story funny or entertaining, which is why, after putting on a brief show of smiling, his face grows grave. M'Coy identifies with Bloom, looking up to him as more successful version of himself. He's been an advertising canvasser, like Bloom, and his wife is a singer too, as he reminds everyone he meets. Here's how he's described in Dubliners:

Mr. M'Coy had been at one time a tenor of some reputation. His wife, who had been a soprano, still taught young children to play the piano at low terms. His line of life had not been the shortest distance between two points and for short periods he had been driven to live by his wits. He had been a clerk in the Midland Railway, a canvasser for advertisements for The Irish Times and for The Freeman's Journal, a town traveller for a coal firm on commission, a private inquiry agent, a clerk in the office of the Sub-Sheriff, and he had recently become secretary to the City Coroner. Grace

So listening to Lenehan's story, M'Coy puts himself in the position of Bloom.

Lenehan realises his mistake, which is why he scratches his head and glances sideways at M'Coy. He then tries to repair the damage by speaking seriously of Bloom as a cultured all-round man.

All this is done with immense subtlety by Joyce, showing not telling, leaving it to the reader to work out the underlying interplay of emotions.  

There's wonderful irony in the next section, where we find that Bloom, this cultured all-round man, is browsing pornography!

He read where his finger opened.
-- All the dollarbills her husband gave her were spent in the stores on wondrous gowns and costliest frillies. For him! For Raoul!
Yes. This. Here. Try.
-- Her mouth glued on his in a luscious voluptuous kiss while his hands felt for the opulent curves inside her déshabillé.
Yes. Take this. The end.
-- You are late, he spoke hoarsely, eyeing her with a suspicious glare. The beautiful woman threw off her sabletrimmed wrap, displaying her queenly shoulders and heaving embonpoint. An imperceptible smile played round her perfect lips as she turned to him calmly.
Mr Bloom read again: The beautiful woman.
Warmth showered gently over him, cowing his flesh. Flesh yielded amid rumpled clothes. Whites of eyes swooning up. His nostrils arched themselves for prey. Melting breast ointments (For him! For Raoul!). Armpits' oniony sweat. Fishgluey slime (her heaving embonpoint!). Feel! Press! Crushed! Sulphur dung of lions!
Young! Young!

Sweets of Sin is one book you won't be able to track down, because Joyce is believed to have invented it.



Robert Ball explains Parallax

'Timeball on the ballast office is down. Dunsink time. Fascinating little book that is of sir Robert Ball's. Parallax. I never exactly understood. There's a priest. Could ask him. Par it's Greek: parallel, parallax.'
Lotus Eaters

'Agendath is a waste land, a home of screechowls and the sandblind upupa. Netaim, the golden, is no more. And on the highway of the clouds they come, muttering thunder of rebellion, the ghosts of beasts. Huuh! Hark! Huuh! Parallax stalks behind and goads them, the lancinating lightnings of whose brow are scorpions.' 
Oxen of the Sun 

'our system plunging towards the constellation of Hercules: of the parallax or parallactic drift of socalled fixed stars.'  

My old tutor, Charles Peake, in his brilliant book James Joyce: The Citizen and the Artist has a good discussion of parallax:

'The word 'parallax' (which Bloom failed to understand) recurs as a pointer to the nature of the book's vision and method; figuratively it means the apparent change in the nature, position or size of an object as a consequence in the nature, position and concerns of the observer or point of observation. The sense of the relativity of experience dominates Joyce's vision in Ulysses, and its representation made necessary the sudden and emphatic changes of manner and convention.'

This is why Joyce used so many different styles in the book, and why he shows the same events from multiple perspectives. So the shift of perspective from Lenehan describing Bloom as 'a cultured allround man' to Bloom reading a pornographic novel is a parallactic one.

The Glencree dinner, which Lenehan associates with Molly Bloom's breasts, is also remembered differently by both Bloom and Molly. Bloom recalls it as a happy time in his marriage:

'The Glencree dinner. Alderman Robert O'Reilly emptying the port into his soup before the flag fell, Bobbob lapping it for the inner alderman. Couldn't hear what the band played. For what we have already received may the Lord make us. Milly was a kiddy then. Molly had that elephantgrey dress with the braided frogs. Mantailored with self-covered buttons. She didn't like it because I sprained my ankle first day she wore choir picnic at the Sugarloaf. As if that. Old Goodwin's tall hat done up with some sticky stuff. Flies' picnic too. Never put a dress on her back like it. Fitted her like a glove, shoulder and hips. Just beginning to plump it out well. Rabbit pie we had that day. People looking after her.'  

And Molly Bloom in her final monologue thinks of Lenehan 'making free' with her after the Glencree dinner (reminded by Boylan's anger at his loss of money on the horse Lenehan tipped). She also recalls the tasty chicken, the lecherous glances of the Lord Mayor, Val Dillon, and she regrets not stealing the silver cutlery:

'swearing blazes because he lost 20 quid he said he lost over that outsider that won and half he put on for me on account of Lenehans tip cursing him to the lowest pits that sponger he was making free with me after the Glencree dinner coming back that long joult over the featherbed mountain after the lord Mayor looking at me with his dirty eyes Val Dillon that big heathen I first noticed him at dessert when I was cracking the nuts with my teeth I wished I could have picked every morsel of that chicken out of my fingers it was so tasty and browned and as tender as anything only for I didnt want to eat everything on my plate those forks and fishslicers were hallmarked silver too I wish I had some I could easily have slipped a couple into my muff when I was playing with them then always hanging out of them for money in a restaurant for the bit you put down your throat we have to be thankful for our mangy cup of tea itself as a great compliment ' 

The National Portrait Gallery has this photograph of Molly's dirty-eyed big heathen, Valentine Blake Dillon. He was Lord Mayor of Dublin in 1894-5, when the Glencree dinner took place. He had died just three months before Bloomsday 1904.




  1. There wasn't really a bookstore under the Arch, so we should allow that Bloom's section might take place elsewhere.

  2. Good point - he's browsing books on a cart under the arch, and in a shop in his section, but it's probably nearby

  3. I imagine Lenehan and M'Coy closer to Bloom's age than Stephen's (contra Strick), but I don't remember just why.

    1. Yes, that's how they're described in Dubliners. Lenehan dresses like a young man but he has grey scant hair and a ravaged face. M'Coy, a former tenor, has tried many different jobs.

  4. Hi there
    there was lots of book stalls along the South Quay Side of Merchant's Arch right up to the 80s so perhaps there love the Blog it's wonderful x

    1. Thanks Alfreda - I have memories of them too I think x

  5. Bloom regrets he didn't work M'Coy for a pass, but he also suspects him of scheming to run off with Bloom's valise, and maybe of "pimping after me". Also, ambiguously "Think he's that way inclined a bit. Against my grain somehow." Do you see these as Bloom habitually underestimating M'Coy's respect? Do you find other hints of Lenehan showing delicacy?

    1. Yes, Bloom doesn't respect M'Coy, so he isn't bothered that M'Coy looks up to him. As for Lenehan he's an intelligent man who has to put on an act to survive. In Two Gallants, he puts on a rough working class accent in the cafe, 'to belie his air of gentility '. 'He knew he would have to speak a great deal, to invent and to amuse...'

  6. Just discovered from Gunn and Hart's James Joyce's Dublin that in 1904 there was a bookshop, Francis Fitzgerald's, at 1 Merchants Arch. We also learn in Ithaca that Bloom undertook 'a bookhunt along Bedford Row, Merchants' Arch, Wellington Quay.' If that list is in chronological order, he probably found the Sweets of Sin on Wellington Quay.

    1. That's an important catch-- Bloom might even have been in Clohissey's with Stephen and Dilly:

  7. Yes, that's even hinted at in the book. In Clohissy's on Bedford Row, Stephen reads the magic formula '-- Se et yilo nebrakada femininum! Amor me solo! Sanktus! Amen.'

    The same formula crops up in Bloom's fantasy in Circe.

    MARION Nebrakada! Feminimum.

    Which suggests that Bloom has browsed in the same book in the same bookshop.

    This was suggested by Clive Hart, in James Joyce's Dublin, commenting, 'We take this to be an indication of earlier physical movements and experiences rather than a mixing of consciousness'

    1. There's plenty of other mixed consciousnesses as precedent, aren't there? Does Hart put Bloom and Stephen there simultaneously?

    2. I think they missed the band arriving behind Artifoni (so, pre-3pm) and this cascades for them to an illusory 20min gap between Lenehan passing Bloom and Stephen meeting Dilly

  8. [I just hit the damned 'sign out' button and erased a long comment.] Based on the cavalcade, all 3 could have been in Clohissey's shortly after Simon gave Dilly 2p. She then went south to Fownes street, Bloom went west towards Grattan/Essex bridge, which Lenehan had already reached. Bloom probably stopped shopping once he got the book? And Stephen may have lingered in the bookstore?

    1. I think Bloom visits Clohissy's bookshop well before Stephen does. Hart worked out the timings from the interjections, which happen simultaneously - see his essay on Wandering Rocks in Ulysses (ed Hart and Hayman), in which he gives a chart with all the timings.

      He places Bloom in the Merchants Arch at 3.09 and looking at Sweets of Sin at 3.18 (from the sighting of Maginni on the O'Connell Bridge).

      He's already visited Clohissey's in Bedford Row, based on the intinerary given in Ithaca ''a bookhunt along Bedford Row, Merchants' Arch, Wellington Quay.''

      Stephen doesn't get to Clohissy's until about 3.33. We know this because of the interjection of Conmee in Donnycarney, murmuring vespers - this is the end of Conmee's section, which you can time (Hart did it with a stop watch).

    2. I mean the interjections happen simultaneously with the narrative events they're inserted into

    3. (apologies for using this forum for such messy arguments, but thanks for the opening: we have to do it somewhere eventually)

      to me it's always unfair to say, eg "just spend $8 for a used amazon copy of hart" because that style of argument will quickly bankrupt anyone. and "just defer to the experts" would be way worse, because we've collectively barely scratched the surface. (rose dared to 'correct' joyce's ulysses 'errors'?!?!? what hubris!)

      i'm happy to use online resources to rethink any/everything from scratch (and i'm grateful to anyone who'll post online useful summaries of offline resources).

      here's maginni's timing from googlemaps: it looks to me like he might cross the bridge as late as 3:34 (cavalcade passing grafton around 3:42?).

      i sense a problem rushing from conmee's ankles (3:25?) to boody's soup to dilly's 2p/ then river crossing/ then primer-buying/ then stephen-meeting, and still getting her to fownes for the vc by 3:41.

      also 9 minutes between lenehan's 3:09 bookcart and bloom's-pov 3:18 sweets seems rather long.

      but lenehan would have to race from rochford's disk (3:05?) to the booky's to Boylan's 3:09 insertion "A darkbacked figure under Merchants' arch scanned books on the hawker's cart" quickly followed by the dunne-phonecall (3:10?) with the cavalcade simultaneously exiting "the gates of the drive".

      if conmee's ankles are somehow earlier, and the bookcart somehow later, an sd/lb path-crossing at clohissey's might still be wangled...

  9. "JF Byrne, who grew up nearby on Essex street, identifies [the porn seller] as Josh Strong-- a Jew-- and confirms he displayed a copy of Aristotle's Masterpiece. His shop was 200 yards west of Merchant's Arch."

  10. Slote quotes Byrne "there was no cart in the Arch: the books were on shelves" (would this have been Fitzgerald's then rather than Strong's?)

  11. I've also got a copy of Aristotle's Masterpiece!

  12. i interlibraried the latest topographical guide (gunn and hart) and typed in the spreadsheet it claims is hart's:

    i'm shocked it seems to treat the bookcart as a 'cheat' with bloom seemingly in two places at once: does hart acknowledge the timing problem?

    (i'm slowly adding other trouble-points in red)