James Joyce, Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses

Decoding Dedalus: Latin Quarter Hat

He dressed in black, a Hamlet without a wicked uncle…. – Richard Ellmann

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 second episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 41-42 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “My Latin quarter hat.” and ends “…curled conquistadores.”

In December 1901, a young, determined James Joyce showed up in Paris to study medicine. There were other, more sensible courses of study he could have taken. Most obviously, he could have carried on at University College Dublin where he had done his undergraduate work. However, he couldn’t afford the fees, and the university had denied him work doing grinds (tutoring), which would have helped him earn money to pay his fees. There was no particularly compelling reason for Joyce to study medicine in Paris. In fact, he had some powerful connections (W.B. Yeats, Lady Gregory) who were more than happy to call in favors and get him a position in Dublin or London as a writer. But no, Paris was the only option. He wrote to Lady Gregory that he would travel to Paris “alone and friendless,” that he must “try [himself] against the powers of the world.”

Richard Ellmann wrote that Joyce was provisionally allowed entrance into the École de Médecine at La Sorbonne, despite the fact that the term was mere weeks from ending. Joyce’s younger brother Stanislaus, on the other hand, said that when his brother arrived in Paris, the university didn’t recognize his undergrad degree from Ireland and that he would have had to pay all of his student fees in advance of study, still an issue for the Young Artist. Apparently, this information could have been ascertained while Joyce was still in Dublin. It was also not clear if a French medical degree would be valid in Ireland or if Joyce intended to practice medicine in France. Such setbacks would not turn our intrepid hero aside, however. He remained in Paris, as Stanislaus tells it, “with some undefined purpose, vaguely literary.”

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La Vie de Léo Taxil

—Qui vous a mis dans cette fichue position?

—c’est le pigeon, Joseph.

Midway though “Proteus,” Stephen reminisces on his time as a medical student in Paris. Amongst those reminiscences, two names are nestled. First, on page 41 (Vintage International Edition):

But he must send me La Vie de Jesus by M. Leo Taxil. Lent it to his friend.

And later (pgs. 43, 50):

And Monsieur Drumont, gentleman journalist.

There’s not indication in the text of the link connecting these two men – Léo Taxil and Édouard Drumont. Though they have become obscure in the 21st century, their public personas likely shaped the worldview of a young Stephen Dedalus (and James Joyce).

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Houses of Decay

The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.  – H.P. Lovecraft

James Joyce had a penchant for nesting obscure references in his writing that are indecipherable to nearly anyone who isn’t James Joyce (have you noticed?). There’s something appealingly stubborn about this style of writing – the writer communicating to their reader, “Look, I’m not going to throw you a branch. Either learn how to swim or enjoy drowning.” If you do learn to swim, though, there are rewards. Tucked into Stephen’s inner monologue in “Proteus” is a passage, obscure at first (naturally), that reveals the story of a Christian mystic, a W. B. Yeats short story and an obstinate young Artist:

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Agenbite of Inwit, Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses, James Joyce

Ep. 9 – Remorse of Conscience

James Joyce, Ulysses, literature, Stephen Dedalus, riddle, Ireland, DublinKelly and Dermot discuss the recurring phrase “Agenbite of Inwit” and why Stephen repeats it over and over on June the sixteenth. Other topics included in the discussion are Buck Mulligan as nagging conscience, the gothic horror of growing up Irish, Catholic guilt and whether or not Stephen would have been better off praying at his mother’s bedside.

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Jesuits, Ignatius Loyola, James Joyce, Ulysses

Ulysses CCD: Who was this Chuck Loyola fellow, anyway?

—Look at the sea. What does it care about offences? Chuck Loyola, Kinch, and come on down. The Sassenach wants his morning rashers.

Part of an occasional series on Catholicism in Ulysses.


        

In “Telemachus,” the first episode of Ulysses, Buck Mulligan calls Stephen Dedalus a Jesuit four times – a fearful Jesuit, a jejune Jesuit, who possesses a cursed Jesuit strain and dishes out gloomy Jesuit jibes. A Jesuit is a member of the Society of Jesus, an order of Catholic priests founded by St. Ignatius Loyola and St. Francis Xavier in the 1500’s. The current pope, Pope Francis I, is a Jesuit. Most people’s connection to the Jesuits is educational as they run a number of well-regarded universities, including Georgetown University and Boston College in the United States, and, during the years James Joyce attended, University College Dublin. In fact, for all but a few months, Joyce’s education was conducted entirely in Jesuit institutions, so clearly they were influential during the Artist’s formative years. However, what exactly does it mean to call your flatmate a jejune jesuit, or just a regular old jesuit for that matter?

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St. Ursula, Buck Mulligan, James Joyce, Ulysses

Ulysses CCD: St. Ursula

—I pinched it out of the skivvy’s room, Buck Mulligan said. It does her all right. The aunt always keeps plainlooking servants for Malachi. Lead him not into temptation. And her name is Ursula.

Part of an occasional series on Catholicism in Ulysses.


Stephen Dedalus and Buck Mulligan discuss, as Stephen puts it, a symbol of Irish art – the cracked looking glass of a servant, a literal looking glass that Mulligan stole from a literal servant. “Skivvy” means a menial laborer or a servant. Mulligan laments that his aunt only keeps unattractive servants to keep her nephew out of trouble. “Lead him not into temptation” is a play on a line from the Lord’s Prayer. But it’s her name, Ursula, that we’ll focus on today. There’s no wrong time to learn about the religious allusions found in a Buck Mulligan insult.

Naming the servant “Ursula” connects her to a saint with a distaste for the less fair sex and an interesting legend attached to her. “Ursula” is  Latin for “little female bear” and she is the patron saint of archery, England, and the cities of Cologne, Germany and Binangonan, Philippines. Her feast day was on the 21st of October until it was removed from the liturgical calendar in the late 1960’s. St. Ursula lived in the 3rd or 4th century and, based on several biographies I read, is either a valiant warrior for women’s rights or a total fabrication.

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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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James Joyce Ulysses Buck Mulligan

Ep. 4 – Introibo Ad Altare Dei

492px-Giotto_-_Scrovegni_-_-31-_-_Kiss_of_Judas
Giotto di Bondone, The Arrest of Christ (Kiss of Judas), 14th c.

Kelly and Dermot talk about page #1 of Ulysses, taking a deep dive into the symbolism of the Catholic Mass in the opening scene. There’s lots of talk about blasphemy, transubstantiation, saints and why Kelly was a terrible altar server back in the day. We finish off with wild speculation about why kids don’t learn Latin and Greek these days.

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James Joyce Ulysses Buck Mulligan

Ulysses CCD: Mulligan Mocks Mass

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

Part of an occasional series on Catholic allusions found in Ulysses.


In 2017, I was a founding member of the Ulysses Support Group at T.C. O’Leary’s pub in Portland, Oregon. Our goal was to read the entirety of Ulysses aloud between two Bloomsdays. On the first night, as we started analysing the opening lines of the novel, I pointed out that Mulligan’s actions atop the Martello tower were a blasphemous mockery of the Catholic Mass. One of the other participants blurted, “How do you KNOW it’s about Catholicism??” It caught me off guard, but another member deftly responded, “Joyce was Irish. Of course it’s about Catholicism!”

I was raised Catholic in a small town where most people were Catholic. I went to Sunday school (called CCD) every week. Monty Python and the Meaning of Life was banned in our house because of the “Every Sperm is Sacred” song. One thing I learned through our book club is that a lot of the religious references and imagery don’t necessarily stand out for those of us who didn’t grow up steeped in Catholicism. I also notice a lot of reading guides and annotations for Ulysses assume the reader’s familiarity with Catholicism. In this post and many posts to come, I hope to answer the question of Book Club Dude: “How do you KNOW it’s about Catholicism??”

Today, I’m taking on that very first passage of Ulysses about stately, plump Buck Mulligan.
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