Decoding Dedalus: Galleys of the Lochlanns

We don’t want any of your medieval abstrusiosities. – Stephen Dedalus

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 page 45 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Galleys of the Lochlanns…” and ends “…none to me.”

I’m really excited for this edition of our ‘Decoding Dedalus’ series because it combines my love of history and apocalyptic horror. I have some theories about why Stephen stopped to ponder waves of ravening Norse invaders raging ashore along Sandymount Strand, but, after reading about the endless procession of invaders, famine and pestilence that marched through Dublin in the Middle Ages, the one question I can’t shake is, “How are there any people left?” I can’t help but wonder if Stephen is just in awe that he exists at all. 

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Ep. 20 – Big Words Which Make Us So Unhappy

History is the art of Nestor, so let’s immerse ourselves in the nightmare of history, at least the bits covered on  p. 31 of Ulysses. Learn about Stephen’s hippopotomonstrosesquippedaliophobia.  Mr. Deasy tries to teach Stephen a bit of history, but (spoiler alert) he doesn’t know much about history. Topics covered include Daniel O’Connell, the Orange lodges, the Famine and the Fenians.  This episode covers some heavy stuff, but learning new things will make you feel like the woman in this picture.

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James Joyce Ulysses Mr Deasy Nestor The Odyssey Homer

Ep. 19 – Fogey and Tory

C2aVdIPWQAEjHrT.jpgA character study of the infamous Mr. Deasy, the headmaster of Stephen’s school in “Nestor,” the second episode of Ulysses. We discuss how Mr. Deasy is a stereotypical Dubliner of his day, as well as his defining characteristics (including his impressive mustache!) Mr. Deasy has a lot to teach us, though he is an old wise man archetype with no wisdom. We talk lots of history and politics in this one! Also, Kelly reveals the worst Scooby Doo character.

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Maud Gonne

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

Maud Gonne’s name appears in Ulysses’ third episode, Proteus,  as Stephen rummages through his recollections of his brief sojourn in Paris. Though Gonne did reside in Paris in the early 1900’s, she never met James Joyce (or Stephen Dedalus), but their non-meeting had long lasting effects on James Joyce, though he may have never realized it.

The life of Maud Gonne is often told in close proximity to the men she knew, and since my blog is about James Joyce, her story will be framed by its brief overlap with Joyce’s. However, before we dive into that, I’d like to give space to her biography, warts and all.

Joyce and Maud Gonne never met, though Yeats provided her contact information to Joyce before he left for Paris in 1902. She was living in the city at the time and could be a helpful contact there. Joyce called on her, but was turned away by the concierge. Gonne was nursing her niece who was sick with diphtheria and was under a quarantine as a result. She wrote him a gracious apology letter and offered to meet him post-quarantine. Joyce, ever prickly, took this as a slight and never followed up, though it may have been due to embarrassment about his shabby appearance due to the extreme poverty he experienced during those months. It seems like an episode barely worth mentioning, but as we’ll see, it may have had some long-term consequences.

So, who exactly was Maud Gonne and why are we talking about her?

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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 second 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.”

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.

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Ep. 16 – Dick Feeney

Charlotte_Schreiber_-_The_Croppy_Boy
Charlotte Schreiber, The Croppy Boy (The Confession of an Irish Patriot), 1879

A super-sized Blooms and Barnacles! Dick is a friend of Kelly’s and Dermot’s who is a lover of Ulysses and the music found throughout the novel. Dick talks about some of his favorite songs that play a role in Ulysses and the history behind them. We also chat about the use of music in “The Dead,” the final story in The Dubliners. And because we’ve never  met a tangent we didn’t like, we also talk (briefly) about Dick’s time in Turkey, Stephen’s lost faith, Dick’s love of the opera, and  grieving over tragedies that happened many generations ago.

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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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Pyrrhus, Pyrrhic victory, James Joyce, Ulysses

Ep. 12 – Wings of Excess

Pyrrhus_and_his_Elephants
Pyrrhus and his Elephants

“One more victory like that and we’re done for.” Kelly and Dermot discuss the ancient Greek warrior king Pyrrhus and his relation to the excesses of the 20th century. In addition to ancient Greeks, Vico and figroll-munching children, the impact of the Easter Rising of 1916 and World War I on James Joyce and Ulysses are also discussed.

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Ulysse, James Joyce, Mr. Deasy, anti-semitism

Never Let Them In

—They sinned against the light, Mr Deasy said gravely. And you can see the darkness in their eyes. And that is why they are wanderers on the earth to this day.

We’ve already discussed Mr. Deasy’s retrograde and inaccurate views on the trustworthiness of women and his misinformed defense of the anti-Catholic Orange Order, so today we’ll complete the Mr. Deasy bigotry hattrick by taking a look at his anti-semitism. His disgust for the Jews stands out not only because it is his most impassioned prejudicial proclamation, but also because it’s the only one openly refuted by Stephen Dedalus. It’s also worth digging into because it sets the stage for the arrival of Mr. Leopold Bloom in the episode after next.

Mr. Deasy doesn’t waste words on subtleties; his hatred of the Jews is on display in this passage. Naturally, the anglophilic headmaster focuses on the corruption of England rather than Ireland :

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