Ulysses James Joyce Kevin Egan

Decoding Dedalus: Wild Geese

In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me.

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a passage of Ulysses and  break it down line by line.

The passage below comes from “Proteus,” the third episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 42 44 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Noon slumbers.” and ends “Remembering thee, O Sion.”

To listen to a discussion of this topic, check out the podcast episodes here and here.


The “Proteus” episode of Ulysses (chapter 3 for those of you keeping track at home) is organized around the themes and characters of the fourth book of Homer’s Odyssey, which deals with King Menelaus’ fraught return home following the Trojan War. Since Menelaus is the central figure in that story, it would be tempting to think that since Stephen Dedalus is the central figure in “Proteus,” he must also be our Joycean Menelaus. However, Menelaus’ role is filled by Kevin Egan, the Irish-revolutionary-turned-exile Stephen met during his brief sojourn in Paris, a character that never appears “on screen” in Ulysses, only in Stephen’s memories as he walks along Sandymount Strand, south of Dublin.

Kevin Egan is based on a real man named Joseph Casey that Joyce met while studying medicine in Paris in 1902. Egan is described as a “wild goose,” a term used for voluntary Irish exiles living in Paris that generally fell into two categories. The first group was the descendents of wealthy Stuart-supporters who fled Ireland following the victory of William of Orange at the Battle of the Boyne in 1690. The second was Irish nationalists who had fled Ireland after The Fenian Rising went sideways in the 1860’s. The Irish Republican Brotherhood (or IRB, a forerunner to the Irish Republican Army), lead by James Stephens, had planned to use support from Irish-American backers to support their rebellion in Ireland. Known informally as Fenians, Stephens’ group used tactics like political assassination and bombings to advance their aims, mainly Irish independence.

The term “Fenian” was popularly adopted by the Protestant ascendency to refer to any Irish person who held nationalist beliefs. For instance, Mr. Deasy refers to Stephen as a “Fenian” in “Nestor,” though our Young Artist is far from being a political radical. In any case Egan/Casey was a member of this group, and his past as a Fenian rebel defines his present identity as an exile in Paris, as we shall see.

Fenian rebels lying low in Paris was an open phenomenon.Though the wild geese were exiles, they weren’t exactly living in hiding.  Contemporary news reports made reference to them regularly living openly, despite English detectives sniffing around for any evidence connecting them to bombings back home.  A New York Times story from the 1880’s tells of a duel between Joseph Casey and an American Civil War veteran named Scully. Casey is identified as “a Fenian” on the report. The two men duelled with swords, and as the Times put it, “Scully was wounded slightly in the neck. His sword was broken. The combatants were afterward reconciled.” I guess what I’m saying is, times have changed. No longer can two men sword fight in a park at will and not be harassed by police. Millenials ruin everything.

Let’s look at Joyce’s take on Casey’s exile line by line, through the character of Kevin Egan.

Noon slumbers.

First, a homeric correspondence. To escape from the god Proteus’ island, Menelaus had to engage him in physical combat. Proteus’ daughter advised Menelaus to ambush him at noon, when he slept amongst his pet seals.

Kevin Egan rolls gunpowder cigarettes through fingers smeared with printer’s ink, sipping his green fairy as Patrice his white.

Édouard Manet, The Absinthe Drinker, 1859

Kevin Egan rolls a cigarette, which reminds Stephen of a bomb fuse, as dynamite was the Fenians’ weapon of choice. Once in Paris, Casey/Egan worked as a typesetter for the New York Herald of Paris, thus the printer’s ink. Casey/Egan had a taste for the powerful green-tinted liquor absinthe, nicknamed the “green fairy,”  in part because its high alcohol content caused hallucinations in some. We’ve already met Egan’s son Patrice (Casey also had a son called Patrice), a soldier in the French army. Patrice was introduced as rabbit-like, a “lapin” (French for rabbit) lapping his milk. I’m not sure if Patrice was actually particularly rabbit-like. Joyce may have gone for the pun over clarity. In any case, Patrice is introduced as a milk-drinker, which I’ve always found to be an odd characteristic for a grown man. It’s possible that Patrice is also drinking absinthe here, but has chosen to water it down.

Absinthe is bright green when taken straight, but it’s also bitter with a strong flavor of alcohol, so it’s often taken with water. Traditionally, this involves balancing a sugar cube on an intricately slotted spoon above the glass while water is dropped one drop at a time onto the sugar, dissolving the sugar cube and sweetening the absinthe in the process. If you’re an alcohol drinker, it’s a magnificent process that you should experience at least once. You may end up oh-no-where’s-my-other-shoe drunk, but you’ll start out feeling like a princess. I digress. The addition of water causes absinthe to become cloudy and milky (ouzo has a similar quality), so Patrice might have just been drinking watery, sweetened absinthe. It shows that while the son has patience for the watered down absinthe, the father is content taking it straight, bitter and potent.

About us gobblers fork spiced beans down their gullets. Un demi setier! A jet of coffee steam from the burnished caldron.

The chaos of working class French diners at the tables around the Irishmen. A demi setier is roughly a quarter liter, and most likely refers to wine, not coffee.

She serves me at his beck. Il est irlandais. Hollandais? Non fromage. Deux irlandais, nous, Irlande, vous savez ah, oui! She thought you wanted a cheese hollandais.

The French here means, “He is Irish. Dutch? No cheese. Two Irish, we, Ireland, you know, ah, yes!” The waitress is confused because the French words for Irish and Dutch (Irlandais and Hollandais) sound similar, especially when spoken in a bustling noontime café. Egan translates for Stephen. Joyce experienced this exact misunderstanding while studying in Paris, and found it irritating that his homeland, which he had previous referred to as home to “the most belated race in Europe,” was so unknown on the continent. While Buck Mulligan wanted to hellenise Ireland and bring it in line with the classical Greeks, Stephen wanted to make Ireland more continental. This little misunderstanding was an indicator of how far Ireland had to catch up.

Your postprandial, do you know that word? Postprandial. There was a fellow I knew once in Barcelona, queer fellow, used to call it his postprandial. Well: slainte!

Sláinte! Irish for “health,” similar to the French “santé.” Both are used in their respective languages to mean “Cheers!”

Around the slabbed tables the tangle of wined breaths and grumbling gorges. His breath hangs over our saucestained plates, the green fairy’s fang thrusting between his lips.

Mr. Egan is in his cups. The green fairy takes hold as he regails the young Artist with tales of glory. Tales of what, you ask?

Of Ireland, the Dalcassians, of hopes, conspiracies, of Arthur Griffith, now, A E, pimander, good shepherd of men.

The Dalcassians is the anglicized name of Brian Boru’s tribe, the Dál Cais (pronounced like “doll cash”). Brian Boru is remembered for defeating the O’Neill kings and, later, the Vikings at the Battle of Clontarf in 1014. An obvious historical paragon of Irish manliness and power.

Arthur Griffith was a founder of Sinn Féin, the Irish nationalist political party. He was also quite anti-semitic. That will become relevant in a moment.

AE is George AE Russell, an important figure in the Irish Literary Revival, agrarian reformer, and founder of the Dublin Hermetic Society. Young Joyce was acquainted with him as an expert on spiritual matters, and ultimately, a social connection to Yeats. The Pimander, also spelled “Poimandres,” is the opening tractate of the Corpus Hermeticum, the collection of writings associated with legendary philosopher/magician Hermes Trismegistos. “Pimander” means “shepherd of men.” I’m not sure that Egan would have known AE, but Stephen did (we meet AE in the library scene in “Scylla and Charybdis”). Stephen’s thoughts are starting to wander. The talk of Irish nationalism has started to pull his mind away from heroic historical figures to modern Dubliners.

To yoke me as his yokefellow, our crimes our common cause.

If you’ve ever spoken at length to someone with passionate political views, you know it’s never enough to just hear them out. They want you to join the cause. Stephen, as we’ve seen, is fairly ambivalent about the Irish nationalist cause.

You’re your father’s son. I know the voice.

Stirred by thoughts of Kevin and Patrice, Stephen’s mind wanders to his own relationship with his father and, by extension, consubstantiality. Stephen has already referred to his father as “the man with my voice” once. Much like Stephen and Simon Dedalus, the Egans, once consubstantial, have now grown distant. Additionally, Patrice is comfortable rolling his eyes about his dad when he’s chatting with Stephen but not willing to confront him directly. This echoes Stephen’s own strained relationship with Simon.

His fustian shirt, sanguineflowered, trembles its Spanish tassels at his secrets.

Fustian refers to a rough fabric that was often used for padding or stuffing due to its rough nature. As a result, “fustian” can also be applied to literature, meaning overstuffed or padded out, pompous, bombastic, even pretentious. It’s easy to imagine that Egan’s speech is just as fustian as his shirt, with its tassels and red flowers. “Fustian” also refers to an archaic beverage involving various alcohols, egg yolk, lemon and spices. No, thanks. I’ll stick with my absinthe.

Drumont, famous journalist, Drumont, know what he called queen Victoria? Old hag with the yellow teeth. Vieille ogresse with the dents jaunes.

Drumont is Édouard Drumont, a famed French journalist, yes, but also a virulent anti-semite. Amongst his claims to fame is fanning the flames of the Dreyfus Affair in the late 19th century, though apparently he had got some sick burns in on Queen Victoria (the broken French means the same as the English). What a cut-up. Joyce leaves subtle clues that not only fustian old tories like Mr. Deasy are suspicious of the Jews. He frequently ties Irish nationalists to anti-semitism as well, culminating in Bloom’s altercation with the Citizen in “Cyclops.”

Here Egan is happy to chuckle at this awesome burn against the dead queen, but Drumont’s main contributions as a journalist and as a French citizen (he helped found the Anti-Semitic League of France) were against the Jews. One would have to either overlook a colossal elephant in the room to reference that joke or agree with Drumont’s worldview. Of course, Egan might be interested to know that Drumont denounced absinthe as “the tool of the Jew,” since the Pernod family, one of the main absinthe producers in France, were Jewish.

Maud Gonne, beautiful woman, La Patrie, M. Millevoye, Felix Faure, know how he died?

Gossip time. Maud Gonne was much more than a beautiful woman, as she was a revolutionary in her own right. There’s much more to be said about her and her life, so she has her own Blooms & Barnacles post. M. Lucien Millevoye was the editor of the political periodical La Patrie, and fathered two children with Gonne. They never married. Quite scandalous for the time period. Félix Faure was the French president in the 1890’s. He died quite dramatically of a cerebral hemorrhage in the arms of his mistress, which was still hot goss in 1902.

Licentious men. The froeken, bonne à tout faire, who rubs male nakedness in the bath at Upsala. Moi faire, she said, Tous les messieurs. Not this Monsieur, I said. Most licentious custom. Bath a most private thing. I wouldn’t let my brother, not even my own brother, most lascivious thing. Green eyes, I see you. Fang, I feel. Lascivious people.

Kevin Egan is not down for that sort of thing. He’s a straight shooter, not taking up the offer of the young Swedish woman (froeken) in the public bath. She tells him she does all the gentlemen, but Egan refuses. Egan’s exile is not always comfortable, as he navigates culture shock in a culture where a bath is less private. The way he trails off saying, “I wouldn’t let my brother…” really raises some questions for me. What were you doing with your brother, Kevin?

The blue fuse burns deadly between hands and burns clear. Loose tobaccoshreds catch fire: a flame and acrid smoke light our corner.

Egan lights another cigarette, or is it a bomb fuse? The two images fuse in Stephen’s mind.

Raw facebones under his peep of day boy’s hat.

The Peep O’Day Boys were a forerunner to the modern-day Orange Order, the anti-Catholic, pro-Union organization in Northern Ireland. The name “Peep O’Day” was taken from their habit of ransacking Catholic homes just before dawn in the late 1700’s. I’m not sure what style hat they would have worn, though modern day Orangemen favor the bowler hat. It’s unlikely that Kevin Egan would wear such a hat. I think of this as a brief moment seen through Egan’s eyes as he readies himself to tell Stephen about past betrayals, the green fairy’s fang taking hold of his mind. He sees those raw facebones there in the café, but no one else can.

How the head centre got away, authentic version. Got up as a young bride, man, veil, orangeblossoms, drove out the road to Malahide. Did, faith. Of lost leaders, the betrayed, wild escapes. Disguises, clutched at, gone, not here.

Kevin Egan spins another tale for young Stephen, this time of the end of the Fenians’ botched rebellion in the 1860’s. The Fenians’ leader (or “head centre”), James Stephens, was arrested by police after he was ratted out by an informant hidden amongst the Fenians’ ranks. Stephens was imprisoned in Richmond Jail, where, luckily, there were several guards who were secret Fenians who helped Stephens escape. There’s an apocryphal version of the story where Stephens escaped dressed as a bride. Egan is a believer in the bridal version of the story. This story also highlights the betrayal of an informant, a particularly odious figure in the eyes of the Irish at that time.

Spurned lover. I was a strapping young gossoon at that time, I tell you. I’ll show you my likeness one day. I was, faith. Lover, for her love he prowled with colonel Richard Burke, tanist of his sept, under the walls of Clerkenwell and, crouching, saw a flame of vengeance hurl them upward in the fog. Shattered glass and toppling masonry.

This passage illustrates the rapid transitions between Stephen’s internal monologue and Kevin Egan’s recollections in the café, or more realistically, Stephen’s recollection of his recollections, since the entire passage takes place in Stephen’s memory.

“Spurned lover,” is Stephen’s description of Egan. The next few lines, beginning with “I was a strapping young gossoon…” are Egan’s words, as Stephen remembers them spoken. “Lover, for her love…” and the rest are Stephen’s narration again. Joyce weaves them seamlessly together, mimicking the natural flow of memory. It can be hard to follow as a reader since it isn’t laid out clearly for an audience, but this also adds a naturalism to the flow, since we don’t usually arrange our thoughts to be intelligible by anyone but ourselves.

Egan is the lover in the lines. He loved Ireland above all things, but ultimately found himself in Paris, so far from the land he loved. Egan’s Parisian exile stems from his Fenian activities, culminating in the Clerkenwell Explosion. Casey/Egan would have been around 21 years old at the time, just a strapping young gossoon (from the Irish garsún, meaning “boy.” Similar to the French for boy, garçon).

An artist’s rendering of the Clerkenwell Explosion, 1867.

In 1867, two Fenian leaders had fallen into custody of the Manchester police. Their cohorts attempted to rescue them, and two policemen were killed in the process. Joseph Casey and Colonel Richard Burke were arrested and sentenced to time in Clerkenwell Prison in London for the murders. Another rescue attempt was undertaken by the Fenians. This time, they dynamited one of the walls of the prison, though the barrel of explosives they used was so powerful that it not only took out the stone wall, but several nearby tenement houses and killed 12 people in the process. Burke and Casey had been moved to another part of the prison, but certainly would have died in the blast if the Fenians had chosen the correct wall. Casey was later acquitted of his charges, moved to Paris and shared some lunches in 1902 with an inquisitive young medical student.

In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me. Making his day’s stations, the dingy printingcase, his three taverns, the Montmartre lair he sleeps short night in, rue de la Goutte-d’Or, damascened with flyblown faces of the gone.

Kevin Egan has been forgotten in Paris by those he knew in Ireland. Now, he keeps to a routine, traveling from work to tavern to his home in Montmartre to the north of Paris, at the time home to various bohemian artists living on the cheap, as if he were traversing the Stations of the Cross. “Damascening” is an artistic process of inlaying various metals to create decorative pattern. “The flyblown faces of the gone” is thought to refer to characters from Émile Zola’s novels, who lived in this part of Paris and generally met miserable ends. It gives the impression of a hard, impoverished quarter, where the face of the suffering are hardened into the walls.

Loveless, landless, wifeless. She is quite nicey comfy without her outcast man, madame in rue Git-le-Coeur, canary and two buck lodgers. Peachy cheeks, a zebra skirt, frisky as a young thing’s. Spurned and undespairing.

Egan/Casey had a wife who also lived in Paris with their son Patrice in rue Git-le-Coeur. Kevin imagines her living a life “nicey comfy” and ‘undespairing,” unlike Egan who is “loveless, landless, wifeless.”

Tell Pat you saw me, won’t you? I wanted to get poor Pat a job one time. Mon fils, soldier of France.

We learn here that Kevin doesn’t spend as much time with Patrice as he’d like. Perhaps Stephen sees him more often than Kevin.

Kevin Egan is not only physically separated from Patrice, but spiritually and culturally as well. We can assume Kevin wishes “mon fils” (“my son”) was a soldier fighting for independence of Ireland rather than for France. Notice also that Stephen remembers his conversations with Patrice in French rather than English like his father. Prior to Stephen’s recollection of Kevin, we have a recounted conversation between Stephen and Patrice, where Patrice reveals he is a bit of radical like his old man. He’s a socialist and eagerly turning Stephen on to blasphemous, anti-clerical literature. Though Patrice is an atheist, he tells Stephen of his father, “il croit.” He believes. At least in Patrice’s mind, Kevin has lost his rebellious edge.

I taught him to sing The boys of Kilkenny are stout roaring blades. Know that old lay? I taught Patrice that. Old Kilkenny: saint Canice, Strongbow’s castle on the Nore. Goes like this. O, O. He takes me, Napper Tandy, by the hand.



Weak wasting hand on mine. They have forgotten Kevin Egan, not he them. Remembering thee, O Sion.

Kevin Egan certainly tried to instill his son with some love for the Old Country, teaching him about his hometown of Kilkenny. He wants his son to know the history and landmarks of the city: the Church of Ireland cathedral in Kilkenny dedicated to St. Canice, Kilkenny Castle, which was built for Strongbow back in the 1100’s. He even taught Patrice a song called “The Boys of Kilkenny,” perhaps wishing Patrice would be amongst though “stout roaring blades.”

Kilkenny Castle, ca. 1890-1900

Strongbow wasn’t the only famous person to make their home along the River Nore in Kilkenny, though. Bishop George Berkeley was also born there. Amongst Berkeley’s contributions to philosophy was the insight that our perception of reality is inherently unreliable because it’s filtered through our senses. We are not perceiving the true forms of the things we see as a result. This entire passage takes place in Stephen’s memory, so it is doubly filtered, through Stephen’s (possibly absinthe-intoxicated) senses and through the remove of memory, both Egan’s and Stephen’s.

This passage teaches us a bit about Kevin Egan, that Irish Menelaus, but more importantly, teaches us about Stephen’s misgivings about the life of an exiled expat. Stephen has committed to leaving the Tower, Mulligan and Ireland behind, and he also fiercely regrets being pulled out of Paris by family tragedy. However, he has seen in Egan the dark side of self-imposed exile. He also sees in Kevin Egan a man who reminds him of his father Simon, a “praiser of the past,” one who wallows in the nostalgia trap of his glory days while his present crumbles around him. If Kevin Egan seems sad and pathetic, it may be Stephen seeing his worst insecurities about striking out so boldly reflected back.

Yes, Stephen made it to Paris, but he didn’t make it in Paris. Will he ever really make it as a poet? Will he struggle his whole life only to toil in obscurity? His promised land (Sion, Zion) only a memory? Perhaps Kevin Egan is a vision of Stephen’s future self, a washed-up (artistic) revolutionary, drowning his sorrows in liquor.

Further Reading:

Anghinetti, P. (1982). Berkeley’s Influence on Joyce. James Joyce Quarterly, 19(3), 315-329. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25476446

Earle, D. (2003). “Green Eyes, I See You. Fang, I Feel”: The Symbol of Absinthe in “Ulysses”. James Joyce Quarterly, 40(4), 691-709. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25477989  

Ellmann, R. (1959). James Joyce. New York: Oxford University Press.

Eugene Davis & the Casey brothers. (n.d.) Retrieved from http://www.irishmeninparis.org/revolutionaries/eugene-davis-the-casey-brothers

Gifford, D., & Seidman, R. J. (1988). Ulysses annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Gilbert, S. (1955). James Joyce’s Ulysses: a study. New York: Vintage Books.

Haine, W.S. (1996). The world of the Paris café: sociability among the French working class 1789-1914. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press. Retrieved from shorturl.at/hkKY2

Heininger, J. (1986). Stephen Dedalus in Paris: Tracing the Fall of Icarus in “Ulysses”. James Joyce Quarterly, 23(4), 435-446. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/stable/25476758

“Irish Agitators in Paris,” (1884, April 22).  The New York Times. Retrieved from https://timesmachine.nytimes.com/timesmachine/1884/04/22/103614112.pdf

“The Irish Colony in Paris,”(1884, June 11).  The Brisbane Courier. Retrieved from https://trove.nla.gov.au/newspaper/article/3430959

Kee, R. (2003). Ireland: a history. London: Abacus.

Zingg, G. (2013). Is there Hiberno-English on them? Hiberno-English in modern literature: the use of dialect in Joyce, O’Brien, Shaw and Friel. Bern: Peter Lang AG.

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