Decoding Dedalus: Full Fathom Five

I haven’t let this young man off very lightly, have I? Many writers have written about themselves. I wonder if any one of them has been as candid as I have? – James Joyce to Frank Budgen

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 page p. 50 in my copy (1990 Vintage International). We’ll be looking at the passage that begins “Five fathoms…” and ends “We enjoyed ourselves immensely.”


Before we leave the shores of Sandymount at the end of “Proteus,” we should dive into one last motif just a bit deeper. We’ve previously focused on drowning in relation to the death of Stephen’s mother and as a manifestation of Stephen’s hydrophobia, but at the end of the episode, the image of a drowned man in Dublin Bay resurfaces once more. As we’ll see, Stephen fear of drowning extends beyond his memories of his mother coughing up bowls of green phlegm.

Moving his focus from the sand, stones and seaweed on Sandymount Strand, Stephen begins to contemplate the waters of Dublin Bay. He has attempted to categorize and order the scattered people, creatures and detritus of the shore through Berkeleyan idealism and the fixed language of heraldry, but the sea is still a wild place, shifting and protean. The sea contains mysteries yet untamed, the ninth wave out from land a portal to the otherworld. It is not confined to the restrictions of solid forms like those found on the shore. It is a place of possibility, and ultimately, change.

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Ep. 32 – James Joyce Tower & Museum

Sandycove tower
A press photo of the Sandycove tower in the 60’s or 70’s. You can see a staircase on the right side.

Dermot and Kelly get an insider’s view of the Sandycove Martello Tower – the Omphalos of Dublin itself! Maggie Fitzgerald, James Holohan and Andrew Basquille give Blooms & Barnacles a tour of all the museum’s nooks and crannies. Discussions include the Joycean historical items on display in the museum, the history of the tower, what really went down the night Joyce stormed out of the museum, how to get a milk can up a ladder, the work of maintaining a Joycean landmark, an original song by Andrew, and why exactly a museum in Dublin is flying the Munster flag.

A special thanks to Michael Steen.

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James Joyce, Proteus, Ulysses

The Word Known to All Men

Touch me. Soft eyes. Soft soft soft hand. I am lonely here. O, touch me soon, now. What is that word known to all men? I am quiet here alone. Sad too. Touch, touch me.

The lines above appear towards the end of “Proteus,” page 49 in my copy (1990 Vintage International), as Stephen pens the first draft of his poem while reclining on a rock on Sandymount Strand. Our key line today is Stephen’s unanswered question: “What is that word known to all men?” James Joyce seemingly never met an obscure allusion or rambly list that he didn’t love. Naturally, posing a question and not giving a concrete answer is solidly in line with his style. 

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Tatters, Proteus, Stephen Dedalus, Ulysses, James Joyce, Dublin

Dogsbody

This certainly wasn’t done by a dog-lover,” said Joyce. “I don’t like them. I am afraid of them. – Frank Budgen, James Joyce and the Making of Ulysses

James Joyce was a cat person. His brother Stanislaus recalled a family trip to the seaside town of Bray, south of Dublin, when James was attacked and badly bitten on the leg by “an excited Irish terrier.”  The wound was bad enough that he had to be taken to a doctor for care. Though he recovered, the memory lasted a lifetime, and Joyce took a liking to cats instead. Joyce transferred his fear of dogs to his literary avatar Stephen Dedalus. In “Proteus,” our young Artist encounters two dogs along the strand at Sandymount – one dead, ensablé:

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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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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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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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