Saturday, 6 October 2018

At Trinity Church I Met My Doom



Here's a glimpse of the lost world of Victorian Music Hall. Tom Costello, in 1934, performs 'At Trinity Church I Met My Doom', a song he made famous in 1894. 

Joyce gives us his own version of this on p 102 of Finnegans Wake.  

Sold him her lease of ninenineninetee,
Tresses undresses so dyedyedaintee,
Goo, the groot gudgeon, gulped it all.
Hoo was the C. O. D.?
Bum!

At Island Bridge she met her tide.
Attabom, attabom, attabombomboom!
The Fin had a flux and his Ebba a ride.
Attabom, attabom, attabombomboom!
We’re all up to the years in hues and cribies.
That’s what she’s done for wee!
Woe!


it's only when you hear the music that you can understand the line 'Attabom, attabom, attabombomboom!' It's the orchestra's sinister accompaniment to the line 'At Trinity church I met my doom'. Listen to it at 1.13 above. 'Bum!' is another note in the song.

The song was written by Fred Gilbert, better known for 'The Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo', which makes four appearances in the Wake.  Constantine Curran remembered Joyce singing the Monte Carlo song on Sunday evenings in 1903-4 at the Sheehys.

'His acquaintance with the Dublin music-hall and with the repertoire of the entertainers who ran one-man shows was prodigious. I find in letters passing between us in 1937 that his interest in Ashcroft, Wheatley, Val Vousden the elder, Percy French, and their peers was still unquenched, and that I could ransack the music shops for them and the libretti of old Dublin pantomimes without satiating it. This appetite was independent of their special value to him as raw material. His father had a quite exceptional familiarity with all this vernacular undergrowth of song...'

Costantine Curran, James Joyce Remembered, 1968, p42  

Joyce might have seen Costello perform his song at Dublin's main music hall, Dan Lowrey's Empire Theatre of Varieties in Sycamore Street. It's now the beautiful Olympia Theatre.

'They passed Dan Lowry's musichall where Marie Kendall, charming soubrette, smiled on them from a poster a dauby smile. 
Going down the path of Sycamore street beside the Empire musichall Lenehan showed M'Coy how the whole thing was.' 
'Wandering Rocks'

Tom Costello had an outlandish stage costume, seeming to comprise one enormous right buttock, though in the film he says 'No wonder I've got the hump'. You can see it in this print from the V&A.

Copyright of the V&A
Looking at him you feel tempted to respond on behalf of his wife: 'You're not much of a catch yourself!'

Copyright of the V&A
I found another version of the song in the libretto of the 1894 pantomime of Cinderella at the Theatre Royal Brighton.  Here it's been turned into a duet between Baron and Baroness Hardup. I love the description of the ugly sisters at the end.

In the Wake, the song marks a shift of subject in the middle of Book One. The opening chapters deal with the fall and disgrace of HCE. On p102, Joyce brings on his wife and defender, Anna Livia Plurabelle, who is also the River Liffey. Hers is the second part of Book One.

Just before the song, we say goodbye to HCE, who is now entombed:

'let him rest, thou wayfarre, and take no gravespoil from him! Neither mar his mound!...But there’s a little lady waiting and her name is A.L.P. And you’ll agree. She must be she. For her holden heirheaps hanging down her back....Then who but Crippled-with-Children would speak up for Dropping-with-Sweat?' 102.20
 

This is followed by the song, which introduces Anna Livia.

SOLD HIM HER LEASE OF NINININENITEE


Sold him her lease of ninenineninetee,
Tresses undresses so dyedyedaintee,
Goo, the groot gudgeon, gulped it all.
Hoo was the C. O. D.?
Bum!


She sold him her lease of 9-9-90 - 999 years?  There's also HCE's guilty stammer in 'ninenineninetee' and 'dyedyedainty'.

Her hair, let down, dyed and dainty.  This is Anna Livia's famous 'saffron strumans of hair...that was deepdark and ample like this red bog at sundown.' 203.24. 

'First she let her hair fal and down it flussed to her feet its teviots winding coils.' 206.29

Anna's hair was modelled on that of Livia Schmidt (Svevo), which you can see a photograph of in the Museo Sveviano in Trieste.


Livia Svevo, courtesy of Museo Sveviano, Trieste

Joyce told an Italian journalist that Livia Svevo had given both her name and her hair to the heroine of his book

'They say I have immortalized Svevo, but I've also immortalized the tresses of Signora Svevo. These were long and reddish-blond. My sister who used to see them let down told me about them. The river at Dublin passes dye-houses and so has reddish water. So I have playfully compared these two things in the book I'm writing. A lady in it will have the tresses which are really Signora Svevo's.'

This is quoted by Ellmann, who gives the source as 'a clipping in Signora Livia Svevo's papers'.  So the Dublin dye houses are there in 'dyedyedaintee'.  

Has anyone else found a reference to these dye works staining the Liffey red?

Goo, the groot gudgeon, gulped it all.
Hoo was the C.O.D.

That's Joyce's version of this bit of the song:

I like a lamb believed it all 
I was an M - U - G

'Goo' is Anglo-Irish slang for a fool. Gudgeon are fish easy to catch, and so in slang a gudgeon is someone easily duped. C.O.D. is cash on delivery, but cod is also a fish and slang for playing a trick on someone.  HCE is a male fish swimming up the female river, gulping its water/hair and also a great fool easily duped.

In the original song, the lyric goes 'Like to salmon I was speared'.

This allows me to share one of my favourite quotes about the Wake, from Robert H Boyle:

'Fish and fishing, fly-fishing in particular, constitute the major theme in the ''Wake,'' as Joyceans call it. The evidence that I have discovered is so overwhelming that the ''Wake'' must be considered as belonging in great part, albeit a bizarre part, to angling literature.' 'You Spigotty Anglease?' The New York Times

Island Bridge was orginally Sarah's Bridge, after the Countess of Westmoreland

At Island Bridge she met her tide.

Island Bridge is the point where the Liffey becomes tidal. In her final monologue, as she flows out of Dublin, Anna Livia meets the sea at Island Brdge:

'Sea, sea! Here, weir, reach, island, bridge.' 626.07

 
Attabom, attabom, attabombomboom!
The Fin had a flux and his Ebba a ride.
Attabom, attabom, attabombomboom!


The Fin and his Ebba are HCE (Finn MacCool and a fish) and ALP, and there's the ebb and flow of the river. Maybe also suggestions of HCE having diarrhoea (flux) and ALP having sex (a ride).

Apart from matching the rhythm of the song, Joyce here is paying tribute to Ebba Atterbom, who translated A Portrait into Swedish in 1921.  Her Swedish wikipedia article quotes Joyce's song.

Ebba Atterbom, from wikipedia.

According to Bodils' blog, Joyce and Atterbom exchanged several letters, in which he pretended to misunderstand her first name and called her Edda, after the old Norse poems.

We’re all up to the years in hues and cribies.
That’s what she’s done for wee!
Woe!


We're up to our ears/ the years in hue and cries - the mob chasing HCE and cry babies in cribs - ALP's 111 children.

The internal bulletin of the Royal Irish Constabulary
I'd love to read any other interpretations of this song.

The chapter over, we turn the page and find the Anna Livia section beginning with this lovely invocation:

'In the name of Annah the Allmaziful, the Everliving, the Bringer of Plurabilities, haloed be her eve, her singtime sung, her rill be run, unhemmed as it is uneven!'  104.01


 

 

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