The opening part of a seminar paper written by Philip Harvey for the ‘Wilde
about Joyce’ Bloomsday in Melbourne, 16th June 2009, and read in the
Brian Boru Room of the old Celtic Club, corner La Trobe and Queen Street,
Melbourne. The numbered quotes were read by Bill Johnston.
1. Vae autem homini illi per quem Filius hominis tradetur … Et manducantibus illis, acceptit Iesus panem: et benedicens fregit, et dedit eis
These lines from the Latin version of Mark’s Gospel were universally heard during the lives of Oscar Wilde and James Joyce. They were heard in their English form in the prayer of consecration in the Anglican Book of Common Prayer.
2. Who on the same night that he was betrayed, took bread: and when he had given thanks, he brake it
For centuries the gospel and the prayer at the communion remind those in attendance of the reality of betrayal. Indeed, at the very moment when the act of sharing is taking place, ultimate giving, we are made to remember also an act of betrayal. The possibility for each individual to betray or be betrayed lives with us. The tendency to betray may start without us being aware, it may be a mistake, it may be wilful. For the faithful it stays as a reminder that they too can betray Christ, and if you are asked to see Christ in every person, then you are capable of betraying anyone.
During his morning walk to the Turkish Baths in Leinster Street, Leopold Bloom chances to enter All Hallows Church via Cumberland Street.
3. Something going on: some sodality. Pity so empty. Nice discreet place to be next some girl. Who is my neighbour? Jammed by the hour to slow music. That woman at midnight mass. Seventh heaven. Women knelt in the benches with crimson halters round their necks, heads bowed. A batch knelt at the altar rails. The priest went along by them, murmuring, holding the thing in his hands. He stopped at each, took out a communion, shook a drop or two (are they in water?) off it and put it neatly into her mouth. Latin. The next one. Shut your eyes and open your mouth. What? Corpus. Body. Corpse. Good idea the Latin. Stupefies them first. Hospice for the dying. They don’t seem to chew it; only swallow it down. Rum idea: eating bits of a corpse why the cannibals cotton to it.
Bloom’s comical misreadings presuppose a practised knowledge of the Mass on the part of readers. The innocence and experience of Bloom come face-to-face with the innocence and experience of the reader, with resulting levels of amusement or offence.
4. Bloom saw the priest stow the communion cup away, well in, and kneel an instant before it, showing a large grey bootsole from under the lace affair he had on. Suppose he lost the pin of his. He wouldn’t know what to do. Bald spot behind. Letters on his back I. N. R. I.? No: I. H. S. Molly told me one time I asked her. I have sinned: or no: I have suffered, it is. And the other one: Iron nails ran in.
More interesting if you understood what it was all about. Wonderful organisation certainly, goes like clockwork. Confession. Everyone wants to. Then I will tell you all. Penance. Punish me, please. Great weapon in their hands. More than doctor or solicitor. Woman dying to. And I schschschschschsch. And did you chachachachacha? And why did you? Look down at her ring to find an excuse. Whispering gallery walls have ears. Husband learn to his surprise. God’s little joke. Then out she comes. Repentance skindeep. Lovely shame.
Oliver St. John Gogarty is conventionally the person first identified as a model for Buck Mulligan. Joyce met Gogarty in the National Library. Richard Ellmann escribes him as “handsome, lithe though inclined to fat, prosperous, and merry,” “inclined to fat” being a less flattering way of saying “stately, plump”. As well as sharing literary interests, Gogarty was a medical student. Almost from the start the two sensed rivalry as well as friendship in their relationship. They would push each other on with more outrageous creations and ideas, many of which are acquired by Joyce later, in the book. Songs like Mulligan’s ‘The Ballad of Joking Jesus’:
I’m the queerest young fellow that ever you heard.
My mother’s a jew, my father’s a bird.
With Joseph the joiner I cannot agree,
So here’s to disciples and Calvary.
If anyone thinks that I amn’t divine
He’ll get no free drinks when I making the wine
But have to drink water and wish it were plain
That I make when the wine becomes water again.
Goodbye, now, goodbye. Write down all I said
And tell Tom, Dick, and Harry I rose from the dead.
What’s bred in the bone cannot fail me to fly
And Olivet’s breezy … Goodbye, now, goodbye.
In life Joyce needed to make an assertive break with the current attitudes towards writings of his friends, to which end he published a broadside against his contemporaries called The Holy Office’. Yeats was easily led by women, Synge wrote about drink but never drank, Colum was a chameleon, George Russell was a mystical ass. Gogarty was attacked for being that unacceptable pretender, a snob. After this, things weren’t ever going to get much better.
Ellman says also of Gogarty that “he would one day be a famous surgeon and poet to his patients; that is, he would be famous as a surgeon to his readers and as a poet to his patients.” Gogarty called Joyce “the Dante of Dublin”, but was a towering inferno later in life when he recognised himself in Buck Mulligan. He considered legal action and wrote nasty reviews of Joyce’s work. He felt betrayed.
Gogarty today remains a significant figure within the canon of modern Irish literature. To know all of this is useful in appreciating the conflicts beneath the youthful banter of the clever young things in the Sandy Cove Martello Tower, at the opening of the book. Mulligan (life model, Gogarty) believes in the neo-classical ideal for the future of Ireland. Though Irish, he extols English fashions and manners, and makes light of Catholicism. Stephen Dedalus (a mock hero of Joyce himself as a young man) struggles with the cultural inheritance of his homeland, dressing like Hamlet in mourning for a dead mother, and battling indifferently the desires of the body. Haines is regarded as a dark portrait of Samuel Chenevix Trench, like Gogarty an Oxford man, and descendant of the legendary Anglican Archbishop of Dublin, Richard Chenevix Trench: in other words, an inheritor of the Anglo-Irish ascendancy with all its power, both in church and state. Implied in these men’s arguments are positions about Ireland and with that the uneasy sense that any or all of them have, are, or could be found in an act of betraying Ireland. This tension is increased, by the innocent arrival of a milkwoman on her morning rounds, Joyce’s nicely contrived reminder of the ancient figure of Mother Ireland. Tellingly, none of the young men pay much interest or respect towards her. The opening of Ulysses holds a warning for how we read the rest of the book: is Ireland being let down? Are the characters part of the problem or the solution? Is Sigmund Freud right, and everyone betrays everyone else, even their own nation and tradition? Joyce keeps us on tenterhooks throughout.
Different modes of ‘loyalty’ in literature to the ‘true Ireland’ or the ‘real Ireland’ are an issue for Joyce, and the scenes at Sandy Cove establish arguments about proper representation and betrayal that continue for the entire book. The author is merciless in his satire of the great literary revival of the time, the Celtic Twilight, or “cultic twalette” as Joyce calls it.
6. But Malachias’ tale began to freeze them with horror. He conjured up the scene before them. The secret panel slid back and in the recess appeared … Haines! Which of us did not feel his flesh creep? He had a portfolio full of Celtic literature in one hand and in the other a phial marked Poison. Surprise, horror, loathing were depicted on all faces while he eyed them with a ghastly grin. I anticipated some such reception, he began with an eldritch laugh, for which, it seems, history is to blame. Yes, it is true. I am the murderer of Samuel Childs. And how I am punished! The inferno has no terrors for me. Tare and ages, what way would I be resting at all, he muttered thickly, and I tramping Dublin this while back with my share of songs and himself after me the like of a soulth or a bullawarus? My hell, and Ireland’s, is in this life. It is what I tried to obliterate my crime. Distractions, rookshooting, the Erse language (he recited some), laudanum (he raised the phial to his lips), camping out. In vain! His spectre stalks me. Dope is my only hope.
Translations of the ancient Gaelic Irish into grandiose Victorian English were hardly the best or only way of tapping the literary heritage in order to understand where we are now. While Joyce used the knowledge going on in these restorations, especially in the myth book Finnegans Wakes, he cast into doubt how it could be a faithful or final way of representing Ireland. In fact, it was all a bit of a let-down really. Ulysses contains the many disputes about artistic representation that vied for attention in Joyce’s youth, only instead of getting lost in essays and polemical pamphlets, the whole complex is dramatized through character, dispute, word play and example throughout the novel. Ulysses becomes the platform whereon the different ideals for Irish writing are personified and played out.
And furthermore, the novel itself sends the unspoken message that no one ideal or theory will ever be satisfactory. Confronted by so many choices about how to write about Dublin, he takes everything he can, while searching Europe for models like Flaubert and Ibsen that widened his own desire for ‘realism’. A perfect example of a literary choice is aired by Buck Mulligan early in the morning.
--- What is your idea of Hamlet? Haines asked Stephen.
--- No, no, Buck Mulligan shouted in pain. I’m not equal to Thomas Aquinas and the fiftyfive reasons he made to prop it up. Wait till I have a few pints in me first.
He turned to Stephen, saying as he pulled down neatly the peaks of his primrose waistcoat:
--- You couldn’t manage it under three pints, Kinch, could you?
--- It has waited so long, Stephen said listlessly, it can wait longer.
--- You pique my curiosity, Haines said amiably. Is it some paradox?
--- Pooh! Buck Mulligan said. We have grown out of Wilde and paradoxes. It’s quite simple. He proves by algebra that Hamlet’s grandson is Shakespeare’s grandfather and that he himself is the ghost of his own father.
--- What? Haines said, beginning to point at Stephen. He himself?
Buck Mulligan slung his towel stolewise round his neck and, bending in loose laughter, said to Stephen’s ear:
--- O shade of Kinch the elder! Japhet in search of a father!
--- We’re always tired in the morning, Stephen said to Haines. And it is rather long to tell.
Buck Mulligan, walking forward again, raised his hands.
---The sacred pint alone can unbind the tongue of Dedalus, he said.
Mulligan, who delivers an epigram a minute, mockingly rejects the way of Oscar Wilde, no doubt knowing Oscar’s shattered reputation by 1904. But the real-life Gogarty and Joyce actively utilise the form of Wilde’s brilliant paradoxical witticisms for the rest of their writing lives. As Wilde himself once said, “On an occasion of this kind it becomes more than a moral duty to speak one’s mind. It becomes a pleasure.”