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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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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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 Mr Deasy Nestor The Odyssey Homer

Ulysses & The Odyssey: Nestor

   Mulligan will dub me a new name: the bullockbefriending bard.

Part of an occasional series on the Homeric parallels in James Joyce’s Ulysses.

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

The Odyssey, Book 3:

Telemachus and Mentor (Athena in disguise) find themselves in Pylos to meet Nestor, a wise king who fought with Odysseus in Troy. Unfortunately, Nestor doesn’t know what became of Odysseus on his journey home. Athena reveals herself by transforming into an osprey. Nestor is so impressed with Telemachus’ divine companionship that he sacrifices a heifer in Athena’s honor. There is much feasting upon the sacrificial heifer before Telemachus sets off to meet Menelaus, still in search of Odysseus.


Nestor’s biography is fairly exciting. He was the grandson of Poseidon and an Argonaut who fought centaurs and went to war with Odysseus and friends in Troy. When we meet him in The Odyssey, though, his salad days have gone and he is the wise old king of Pylos. His parallel in Ulysses is Mr. Deasy, who oversees his school from a dusty office stuffed with relics from the past, such as his collection of Stuart coins and seashells. Mr. Deasy’s CV is less impressive than Nestor’s (the only thing we know about him is that he is the headmaster of the school where Stephen works), but he is happy to rest on the laurels of his lofty ancestors, particularly Sir John Blackwood who died in an attempt to vote for Ireland to join the United Kingdom. This sort of parallel will arise again and again as we look at Nestor and Deasy. Mr. Deasy believes he is a vaunted wiseman like Nestor, but in truth he is all talk.

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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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James Joyce, Ulysses, literature, Stephen Dedalus, riddle, Ireland, Dublin

Stephen’s Riddle

I’ve put in so many enigmas and puzzles that it will keep the professors busy for centuries arguing over what I meant, and that’s the only way of insuring one’s immortality. – James Joyce

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

At the close of his lesson in “Nestor,” Stephen’s students ask for a ghost story, so naturally he provides them an unsolvable riddle. Classic Dedalus. The riddle, however, is not only unsolvable for the students of Mr. Deasy’s school, but also for most adult readers of Ulysses. It goes as follows:

The cock crew
The sky was blue:
The bells in heaven
Were striking eleven.
Tis time for this poor soul
to go to heaven.

Answer: The fox burying his grandmother under a holly bush.

Yep.

So, what does it mean?

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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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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).

……….

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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