Decoding Dedalus: A Dedalus Never Pays His Debts

—I will tell you, he said solemnly, what is his proudest boast. I paid my way. … I never borrowed a shilling in my life. Can you feel that? I owe nothing. Can you?

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 pages 30-31 in my copy (1990 Vintage International).


A guide to pre-decimal currency can be found here.

Mr. Deasy’s quote above is meant to be the pride of the English – being so sensible (or just wealthy, let’s be real) that you live your whole life without debts. It’s worth recalling that in “Telemachus,”  Haines the Englishman said to Buck Mulligan, “Have you your bill? We had better pay her, Mulligan, hadn’t we?” just moments before Mulligan underpays the milkwoman for her milk, an underpayment on owed money. Stephen, most unEnglishly, also has his fair share of debts, of which he takes mental stock after Mr. Deasy extolls the virtues of lacking debt. Stephen’s debt mirrors the financial realities of James Joyce himself at a similar age.

Much like Stephen, Joyce had returned from medical school in Paris, his family in disarray following his mother’s death. His father, John Joyce, was selling off their household items to patch holes in the family’s dire financial situation while coping with the strain through alcohol. Though James could have hypothetically worked to support his family, he was dead set on making his mark as an Artist. This sometimes took the form of all-day writing sessions and other times sleeping until four in the afternoon following an all-night drinking session. In Joyce’s mind, one justified the other.

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ulysses joyce heretics blasphemy

Decoding Dedalus: Heresies in “Telemachus”

This is a post in a series called Decoding Dedalus where I take a paragraph of Ulysses and give it the ol’ Frank Delaney treatment – that is, break it down line by line. As an aside, if you haven’t listened to Frank Delaney’s excellent podcast, Re:Joyce, go treat yourself. His page by page analysis of Ulysses is informative and charming. I’m not going to analyse every line, (sorry!) but some passages require a more in-depth treatment than others.

The passage below comes from “Telemachus,” the first episode of Ulysses. It appears on pages 20-21 in my copy (1990 Vintage International).

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

The proud potent titles clanged over Stephen’s memory the triumph of their brazen bells: et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam: the slow growth and change of rite and dogma like his own rare thoughts, a chemistry of stars.

Let’s start with the most intimidating bit here, the Latin. This phrase translates to “and one holy catholic and apostolic church.” Stephen quotes this phrase in English a few lines before as an explanation for his Italian master – the Catholic church headquartered in Rome. These lines are the “proud potent titles clanging over Stephen’s memory” as they are words every Catholic memorizes as a child. They come from a prayer called the Nicene Creed that lays out the basic tenets of Roman Catholicism and is recited during the Mass.

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joyce ulysses buck mulligan

Who Was the Real Buck Mulligan?

—He’s in with a lowdown crowd, Mr Dedalus snarled. That Mulligan is a contaminated bloody doubledyed ruffian by all accounts. His name stinks all over Dublin.

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

Most of the links that come up in a Google search for “Oliver St John Gogarty” are for pubs, hostels, apartments etc. instead of the man himself. At 8 a pint, The Oliver St John Gogarty pub in Temple Bar allegedly serves the most expensive pint in Ireland, according the Irish Sun. However, I don’t think it is a fitting legacy for the man fictionalized by Joyce as Buck Mulligan.

Oliver St John Gogarty (pronounced like Sinjin Gogurt-y), was a notable figure in his own right – a surgeon, a poet and a politician. In Ulysses, he appears as Malachi “Buck” Mulligan – a joshing blasphemer and Stephen Dedalus’ main antagonist. Mulligan has a habit of showing up and making Stephen look foolish and injecting crass commentary into otherwise serious discussions, as in “Scylla and Charybdis” when Mulligan shows up at the National Library to add his two cents to Stephen’s Shakespeare theory. Joyce said of Mulligan, “He should begin to pull on the reader as the day goes on… to the extent that Buck Mulligan’s wit wears threadbare….” Personally, Mulligan didn’t wear on my nerves, but he does come off as a bully and tormentor. The dynamic between Mulligan and Dedalus has its roots in Joyce’s complex, real-life relationship with Gogarty.

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joyce ulysses haines black panther

Who Was the Real Haines?

God, isn’t he dreadful? he said frankly. A ponderous Saxon. He thinks you’re not a gentleman. God, these bloody English! Bursting with money and indigestion. Because he comes from Oxford. You know, Dedalus, you have the real Oxford manner. He can’t make you out.”

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


*A note about terminology: The native language of Ireland is referred to in this post as both “Gaelic” and “Irish.” I only use Gaelic in quotes or names. The language is referred to as Irish by those who speak it.


Many of the characters that populate the Dublin of Ulysses were based on people that Joyce knew, although sometimes briefly. One such character is simply known as Haines – the over-eager Oxford student who irritates Stephen Dedalus with his delighted passion for Irish culture. Haines was a real person – a friend of Oliver St. John Gogarty’s (a.k.a. Buck Mulligan) from Oxford called Dermot Chenevix Trench. I became determined to learn more about Trench upon discovering that he has no Wikipedia page. Who was he? Why did Joyce include him in Ulysses? Was he really as dorky as the fictional Haines?

In the text of Ulysses, Haines appears only a few times, most notably in “Telemachus,” where we learn he has been keeping Stephen awake at night with his night terrors of a black panther. He speaks Irish to the milk woman and seems very keen to learn about Irish customs and culture generally, much to the amusement of Mulligan. Later, in “Scylla and Charybdis,” we learn he was supposed to join the other young men in the National Library, but he has scampered off to buy a book called Love Songs of Connacht. He just couldn’t wait to get his hands on it. He appears finally in the “Circe” episode, assisting Mulligan in performing a Black Mass. He’s characterized as an innocuous source of curiosity for Stephen’s friends but is mostly just a background character.

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