Agenbite of Inwit, Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses, James Joyce

Agenbite of Inwit

—He can’t wear them, Buck Mulligan told his face in the mirror. Etiquette is etiquette. He kills his mother but he can’t wear grey trousers.

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

The text of Ulysses is populated by certain repeated phrases that shine light on the inner world of the characters. One of the first we encounter is “Agenbite of Inwit” in “Telemachus.”  Literally meaning “again-biting of inner wit,” it translates roughly to “remorse of conscience” and is derived from a medieval manual on morality called Ayenbite of Inwyt, which was translated, sometimes poorly, from French to English in the 1300’s. It’s remembered in modern times more as a fine example of the written form of the Kentish dialect of Middle English rather than as a work of literature or theology, and in fact, it seems that Ulysses revived its memory outside of academic circles.

Why does the title of an obscure medieval text clang through Stephen’s internal monologue again and again throughout the day? In 1903, both Stephen Dedalus and James Joyce had been medical students in Paris, striking out on their own away from the constricting culture of Edwardian Ireland. Both would receive a telegram urging them to come home due to their mother’s impending death. Both would deny their mother’s final wish – to kneel and pray at her bedside. Stephen, for his part, is haunted by guilt surrounding his mother’s death.

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Orange Order, Diamond Dan, Ulysses, James Joyce

Decoding Dedalus: Glorious, Pious and Immortal Memory

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

The passage below comes from “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. It appears on page 31 in my copy (1990 Vintage International).

Glorious, pious and immortal memory. The lodge of Diamond in Armagh the splendid behung with corpses of papishes. Hoarse, masked and armed, the planters’ covenant. The black north and true blue bible. Croppies lie down.

Having listened to Mr. Deasy’s imprecise recitation of history, Stephen Dedalus returns a silent retort. With great efficiency, Stephen rebuts the headmaster’s assertion that the orange lodges had actually supported the repeal of the Union, even before Catholic political hero Daniel O’Connell had. (You can find a discussion of Mr. Deasy’s comments here). While the old headmaster is eager to lessen the sectarian nature of Ireland’s historical strife, Stephen can’t look away.

Glorious, pious and immortal memory.

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A banner from an Orange Lodge in Ontario

These words are included in the opening of the Orange Toast. Though it sounds like a delicious brunch menu item, the Orange Toast is actually a proclamation recited in memory of King William III, also known as William of Orange, by the Orange Order (previously the Orange Society). A protestant fraternal organization, not unlike the freemasons, chapters of the Orange Order meet in the orange lodges cited by Mr. Deasy. Though they have rebranded in recent years, the Orange Order have historically been a strictly pro-Union, pro-monarchy and anti-Catholic organization, at times violently so. Continue reading “Decoding Dedalus: Glorious, Pious and Immortal Memory”

joyce ulysses haines black panther

Ep. 7 – In Defense of Dorkiness

BZwOMBNCQAAJ6ZI.jpg-largeKelly and Dermot discuss Stephen’s tower-mate, the Englishman Haines. Haines was based on a real-life roommate of James Joyce’s – Dermot Chenevix Trench. Did Joyce’s personal dislike of Trench color his characterization in the novel? What’s up with that black panther mentioned in ‘Telemachus?’ Why does Dermot (our host) have bad memories of learning Irish in school? These questions and more will be answered. Other topics include: Irish identity in 1904 and now, Joyce’s bad attitude, and Gogarty, the unreliable narrator of his own autobiography.

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James Joyce Ulysses Mr Deasy Nestor The Odyssey Homer

Deasy of West Britain

Horn of a bull, hoof of a horse, smile of a Saxon.

For all posts on Mr. Deasy, click here.

The conversation between Stephen and Mr. Deasy in ‘Nestor’ rings familiar to anyone who’s ever had to sit across from, let’s say, a conservative uncle at a holiday dinner. This chapter deftly captures the experience of listening to an elder’s bloviating nonsense, but the bloviating nonsense of an elder that you can’t tell to get stuffed. Mr. Deasy is Stephen’s boss, though Stephen calculates how he could get out from under Deasy’s thumb:

The same room and hour, the same wisdom: and I the same. Three times now. Three nooses round me here. Well? I can break them in this instant if I will.

For now, he’s stuck in this office collecting his salary. Money is what brings these two together on the morning of the 16th of June. A wealthy man like Deasy hopes to enlighten the young Artist, who is more likely to rack up debt than meticulously save:

—Because you don’t save, Mr Deasy said, pointing his finger. You don’t know yet what money is. Money is power. When you have lived as long as I have. I know, I know. If youth but knew. But what does Shakespeare say? Put but money in thy purse.

Which is, of course, a quote from Iago, one of Shakespeare’s most odious villains. Stephen catches the blunder, but Mr. Deasy is not to be derailed:

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St. Columbanus, Ulysses, James Joyce

Ulysses CCD: St. Columbanus

His mother’s prostrate body the fiery Columbanus in holy zeal bestrode.

Part of an occasional series on Catholicism in Ulysses.

The line above appears on page 27 of ‘Nestor’ in the midst of Stephen’s musings on young Sargent, the student receiving the young Artist’s tutelage in algebra. It’s a random line in the midst of Stephen’s musing on amor matris – a mother’s love. Columbanus is the name of Irish saint who did exactly what this line states – stepped over the body of his own mother in order to follow a holy calling. This is a reference you could easily step over and get on your way, but let’s take a moment to learn about who this Columbanus fellow was.

St. Columbanus, pronounced like Call ‘em, Bannus, lived in the late 6th and early 7th centuries. His name is the Latinised form of Columbán, which means “white dove” in Irish (modern spelling is colm bán). There’s also an Irish saint who’s called both Columba and Colmcille, but he’s an entirely different person, so set him aside for now. St. Columbanus’ feast day is November 23, and he is patron saint of motorcycles, though they didn’t have motorcycles back in the 6th century.

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