24th February 2017

On Friday 24th February, we read ten lines – slightly higher than our monthly average – from 535.26 (‘Old Whitehowth he is speaking again’) to 535.35 (‘with Mudder!’).

 

‘Old Whitehowth he is speaking again’

Who is speaking, exactly? We assume HCE, but it seems odd that he’d refer to himself in the third person (and not even refer to himself using his own name). But, this is HCE. The name immediately introduces Oscar Wilde, who will be an important presence throughout the passage. In ‘speaking again’ we detected a hint of rebirth, as well as a suggestion of psychic activity or séances, picking up the theme that’s permeated the previous few pgaes.

 

‘Ope Eustace Tube!’

The Eustacean tube links the ear to the mouth; we also noted that Yeats lived in Euston (to suggest a Yeatsian presence here might be pushing things a little, though of course he had an interest in all things psychic too).

 

‘Pity poor whiteoath!’

A constant theme of this speech – indeed of the book – is the way Joyce uses language to suggest simultaneously a thing and its opposite. Is a whiteoath an oath that has been made good – suggesting it wasn’t in the first place – or is Joyce suggesting something closer to swearing ‘black is white’? The passage returns to the theme of ‘pity’ at its end, which seems significant, but we didn’t really get time to discuss this in detail.

 

‘Dear gone mummeries, goby!’

This line generated much discussion. We thought about real mothers – Wilde’s died while he was in jail, Joyce’s when away in Paris – and their literary representation – Joyce working through issues of sentimentality and attachment through Stephen Dedalus. It’s Mulligan – obviously, a Wildean figure – who brings up the mummery issue in ‘Telemachus’. ‘Goby’ seems to be an address to the mother, here, and not to the audience (whether real or projected) and might be glossed as ‘go by’ – a sense of the melancholic in passing or going by into another world is here.

We also thought at length about the mummeries as a dramatic tradition that Joyce alludes to throughout his work: how does the genre change over time, and how do Joyce’s mentions of it alter across the works? How is an Irish mummeries tradition different to a nineteenth century English one?

 

‘Tell the woyld I have lived true thousand hells’

We noted the accents in this line – woyld has an American touch, true an Irish one. If the American reading is correct it might allude to his 1882 tour of the States as the Professor of Aesthetics, and gesture broadly towards the importance of publicity in Wilde’s life. ‘True’ adds quite a mournful note to this line, a sense that the cruelty inflicted on Wilde was real.

 

‘Pity, please, lady, for poor O.W. in this profoundest snobbing I have caught’

The pity Joyce felt for Wilde comes through strongest in this line: in catching a snobbing, there’s a sense that Wilde was unfairly attacked. It’s a bid for sympathy. The line is unusual as, according to the fair copy, it was originally longer: it marks a rare instance of Joyce deleting things. Making the link between ‘snub’ and ‘snob’, and thinking about how Wilde experienced both, was another productive point of discussion here. We also thought about Joyce’s thoughts on De Profundis – he points out in his critical essay on him that a very different Wilde emerges in this text.

O.W. especially caught our attention: it suggests ‘The Portrait of Mr. W. H.’, and again we thought of the possibility of a séance, where people might be referred to by just their initials. There’s a sense too that Joyce is ‘hiding’ Wilde’s identity here, while at the same time revealing it so very obviously: the use of initials gestures to the sense of an ‘open secret’ surrounding the reasons for Wilde’s downfall.

We also wondered who the ‘lady’ might be. We recalled the Lady Boyle snub in Portrait, but also expanded ‘lady’ to mother, and understood this line as a son asking his mother forgiveness (in this instance, for his sexuality).

This line also invites a reading of how, exactly, Joyce might feel about Wilde. We compared extracts from Joyce’s essay on Wilde to his depiction here, also thinking about the interest both had in socialism.

 

‘Nine dirty years mine age, hairs hoar, mummery failend, snowdrift to my ellpow, deff as Adder’

We noted that the word order of ‘nine thirty’ would be correct in Gaelic, but we still weren’t sure why HCE would say this of himself, when it patently isn’t true. What is he trying to evoke? Who for? 39 crops up a lot in the Wake, but usually related to the 39 articles of the Church of England. Anyway, 39 is surely a bit too young to be getting silver hair (‘hairs hoar’)? Or has he dandruff (‘snowdrift’) down to his elbows?

We paused at ‘mummery failend’ to reflect on how Beckettian a turn of phrase it is, and to think about the Beckettian aspects of the Wake. ‘failend’ was a generative word for us: it suggests you’ve already forgotten what you’ve said. We wondered if etymologically it had any link with Fianna Fáil. Rather than failing the word suggests the end point of failure. And so on.

The reference to the adder made us think about Psalms 58 and the significance of the adder – a thing that won’t hear the voice of god. Adder helpfully introduces the idea of Adam, for the next sentence, but we wondered why Joyce spelt ‘deff’ as he did.

 

‘I askt you, dear lady, to judge on my tree by our fruits’

Note the return of ‘lady’ – is this ALP? And what exactly is HCE asking ‘her’ to judge, and isn’t this a strange request in a courtroom? We noted that ‘judge on’ seems on a first read like an archaism (does this give a King James Bible feeling to things?); ‘askt’ also works as an anagram for ‘task’, suggesting both ‘asking’ and ‘commanding’ simultaneously.

The range of vocabulary in this sentence is straightforward enough, but Joyce uses simple words to evoke a complicated symbolism. Is HCE talking about children as fruits of labour? Or the fruits of the tree (‘the apple falls near the tree’ meaning ‘children are like their parents)? Or of the womb – the womb being mentioned explicitly in the Psalm, above? Gender becomes increasingly important over the course of the passage, accelerating in this sentence.

 

‘I gave two smells, three eats’

We were flummoxed, for a time, by this line. Is it deeply scatological? Does it refer to the children of ALP and HCE? Does it refer to W T Stead, who gave sweets to young girls as part of his investigations into child prostitution — and if so, are we meant to compress ‘three eats’ into ‘treats’?

 

‘My freeandies, my celeberrimates; my happy bossoms, my all-failing fruits of my boom

The fourth word suggests ‘cell mates’, and ‘celibate’. Most importantly, though, ‘celebrity’. We noted that Wildean celebrity was of a very particular kind; that it was perhaps not as pejorative a term as it is now, or, at least, not pejorative in the same ways.

‘bossoms’ is another similarly dense word, containing ‘boss’, ‘bosom’, and, maybe, Bosie. If HCE is referring to his children – specifically, sons – there’s also a sense of fruitless reproduction here, in ‘failing’, which might nod to nineteenth century concerns about degeneration and masturbation (sperm ‘falling’) and so on that overlap with Wilde perfectly.

 

‘Pity poor Haveth Childers Everywhere with Mudder!

We only had a very short amount of time to discuss this line, noting that for the suggestion of fatherhood in the previous line, we return here to the mother – picking up mummeries, mothers, etc. from earlier in the passage – as well as ‘udder’, which contrasts with the ‘adder’ of the Psalms, as well as murder.

Why does ‘pity poor’ come back? Simply to indicate the confluence between HCE and Wilde? We may well return to this line next time.

 

 

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