We’ve talked some over the last few pages about why Joyce’s milkwoman doesn’t speak Irish–click back to see (and maybe even to participate in!) this discussion.
In reading this page, I was struck by the oddness of Haines telling Mulligan to pay the milkwoman. If we read between the lines, we might infer that Haines has been there for three days, because they’ve had more milk for the last three days. Perhaps Haines is scandalized that they keep getting this milk and not paying for it. It’s been a while since she’s last been paid.
We’ve made up a quiz about money that we’ll post in the next day or so. Ulysses has a lot of money in it, as it should, given that it’s a record of a day in the life in the twentieth century. Joyce tells us how much meals and tram fares are, not to mention daily milk delivery. The milkwoman’s tally of what the men owe is conspicuously long and complicated. I’ve made a bookmark for my copy of Ulysses that has the old British money system on it: 12 pence to the shilling, 20 shillings to the pound, etc. It gives you a very important dimension to the book. Here’s an important benchmark (and an answer on the quiz)–a pint of beer costs 2 pence. This is the same amount the milkwoman was charging for a pint of milk. The accumulated cost of cost of the milk is 2 shillings, 2 pence, or enough money for a good drunk for two. Mulligan is clearly not happy about having to pay up.
But what difference does it make to Haines? In the next chapter we’ll hear that an Englishman’s proudest boast is “I paid my way,” a completely alien thought to Stephen and Mulligan. Keep an eye on debts and payments in Ulysses, financial and otherwise, and you’ll learn a great deal.
Haines tries out his Irish on the old milkwoman, but she has no idea what he’s saying. She asks if he’s from the west of Ireland (where Irish is more commonly spoken), but as we know, he’s English. Stephen thinks about how impressed the woman is with the Englishman and the Doctor, while he goes unnoticed.
The irony of the Englishman being the only one who knows Irish is pretty straightforward. Historically, there’s a basis for it–the use of Irish dropped during the 19th century thanks to the Great Famine and the ban on teaching Irish in the National Schools. It survived in the West and in more remote parts of the island, but in “The Pale,” the area around Dublin that had the strongest British influence, Irish was largely unknown at this time. It was revived by the writers and scholars of the Celtic Revival, which was just gaining momentum in 1904. Because language nearly became extinct, the new Irish republic made it a required subject in schools–for a while it was a requirement to pass an Irish exam in order to get a government job. Every Irish student now learns it, but they don’t tend to use it, and the language is again gravely threatened. Joyce famously tried to learn Irish, but gave up after a few lessons.
Perhaps for this reason, whatever it is that Haines says in Irish is not in the text of Ulysses. Rob has come up with a clever solution–if you roll over the Irish text, you’ll get a translation. (This is true wherever you see foreign words in Ulysses Seen.)
You might be confused by the milkwoman’s question to Haines, “Are you from West, sir?” This is how the question appears in the first edition, the 1922 edition, of Ulysses, so that’s what we’re using. In later editions it would be corrected to “Are you from *the* West, Sir?,” but you get the idea either way.
Extra Credit: Whom do you think Rob has Haines is modeled after? Who does he look like?
Mulligan and Stephen are having some fun at Haines’ expense. Haines has come to Ireland, (as we will shortly learn) on some sort of research trip having to do with Irish culture. He’s the foreigner, the colonizer, who has come to make his name collecting and publishing the sayings of the natives. We’ll also learn in a moment that he’s the only person in the tower who can speak Irish. But more on that later.
Mulligan’s and Stephen’s joke, such as it is, turns upon the idea that the Irish culture they know consists of dirty and profane songs, snippets, nothing worthy of the title of a national epic. Just the “cracked lookingglass of a servant,” written in the master’s language.
Given Joyce’s disregard for the distinctions between high and low culture, and given his love of the real songs and phrases and practices of a city’s streets, it’s not hard to imagine that he would say a real collection of Irish culture would be the Mother Grogans and Mary Annes (and Molly Malones, while we’re at it). And if you wanted to be extra cheeky about it, you could call that work Ulysses.
PS: according to Gifford, who cites Mabel Worthington, the last line of Mulligan’s verse should be “She pisses like a man.” For a less interesting version of the song, click here…
[Photo by Informatique, courtesy of Flickr, by creative commons license]
Mother Grogan is a mildly rude joke, characteristically brought up by Mulligan and quickly used to skewer Haines’ attitude toward Ireland and things Irish. Haines is collecting “exotic” Irish sayings and other folk esoterica, in the same way Bartok, Dvorak and Smetana collected ethnic folk tunes from the backwaters of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as modernity began to overtake these regions. The implied condescension is obvious, especially to Stephen. It is alright for he and Mulligan to run down Irish culture; it is quite another thing for an Englishman, citizen of the reigning colonial power, to do so, and Mulligan quickly satirizes Haines’ study, asking Stephen if he thinks Mother Grogan is mentioned in the Mabinogion or the Upanishads. Since these are, respectively, the national epics of Wales, another Celtic nation incorporated into Great Britain, and India, Britain’s leading colony, Haines is being ragged quite pointedly.
This page made me smile when I first saw it–there’s not much happening, but it gives a visual dimension to a moment in the novel that I had never really thought about visually, even after reading this chapter many, many times. Rob’s drawing emphasizes how the scene moves from an a bright exterior to a very dark and smoky interior, which isn’t as apparent from the text. Those who have visited the James Joyce Museum in Sandycove can attest to the close, dark quarters inside the tower, but Rob’s drawing saves you the flight. As we move through this scene, you might keep an eye out for the differences in the dialog & the thoughts of the characters when inside the tower as opposed the outside.
The exchange about the key is also revealing–Mulligan tells Haines to open the door, says Stephen has the key, but the key is in the door the whole time. Why is Haines the one to open the door?
I’m sitting back on my first chapter and it’s good to make a start. Legend has it that this novels has many levels and more than a few nooks and crannies to explore – that might be the understatement of the year, but I’ll let you who have been there already be the judge of that. I’m thinking that this first chapter may be lulling me into a false sense of security as in itself it didn’t seem terribly difficult to read. I’m fairly sure I’m not picking up everything but it began and ended and made some familiar narrative sense, so I’m grateful for that at least.
Stephen has complained to Mulligan about their visitor, Haines, and Mulligan has threatened some violence against him if he acts up again. This has led Stephen to a sequence of thoughts about Mulligan’s real or imagined hazing of one Clive Kempthorpe, involving at least the threat of castration.
From here, Stephen’s mind has skipped to Mulligan’s cultural pretensions, of establishing a “new paganism” in the tower, setting a new cultural moment, with the tower as its “omphalos.” Poised on the knife-edge of Stephen’s analysis, Mulligan is revealed as a superficial intellectual with a violent bully not far beneath the surface. Stephen decides he can’t continue the ruse of being Mulligan’s friend.
Omphalos is a Greek word meaning navel or center, and it was used to refer to places like Delphi that were at the center of the world and a point at which the gods communicated with men. More particularly, it was a stone sculpture like this.
Which, of course, bears more than a passing resemblance to our Martello tower.
[Cf. 1922: 5:2-15; Gabler 1:67-80]Stephen has just been complaining about Haines and his nightmare. Mulligan is changing the topic, staying on his tear about “Hellenization.”
Mulligan jokingly suggests that the new art color for Irish poets is “snotgreen.” The color green is not a trivial thing to the Irish, especially not in 1904, when the memory of the Penal Laws (which repressed Catholicism and symbols of Irish identity) would still have been present. At this moment in history, Irish identity, and the future of Irish identity, is up for grabs. There is a newly emerging school of scholars and artists who are turning back to the native culture of Ireland as the source of its future–people are just starting to learn the Irish language again and read ancient Irish poetry. Mulligan is basically making fun of this. Instead, he’s looking to ancient Greece, perhaps thinking about a new Irish classical age. But Stephen isn’t much interested in this either. I’ll suggest that instead of looking backward into history, Stephen is looking towards the new artistic capital of Paris.
In the second panel, Rob has drawn Mulligan and Stephen in an odd pose. Stephen seems to be surprised in mid-phrase, and Mulligan is reaching into his pocket. Specifically he “thrust his hand into Stephen’s upper pocket.” It’s an interesting moment, one that the comic allows us to show the body language for. Mulligan is intruding, being forward, in Stephen’s space. “Thalatta thalatta” means, unsurprisingly, “The sea, the sea!” It’s from Xenophon. You can look it up…
A small textual point–there’s an omission in this early draft–Mulligan says “Lend us a loan of your noserag to wipe my razor” –we left out the “your.” Also, in the Rosenbach manuscript, Mulligan’s first mention of the sea in this moment is “she is our “great” sweet mother.” That’s in Joyce’s handwriting, and it’s quite clear. It’s repeated a few lines later. But in his errata for the first edition, Joyce specified that he wanted this to be “grey” sweet mother. A nice allusion to grey-eyed Athena, Odysseus’ protector, but otherwise obscure.
And as for the Greek– “Epi Oinopa Ponton” means (according to Gifford) “upon the winedark sea,” a common epithet in Homer’s Odyssey. This is another moment when I wonder if Joyce was raising another flag to his readers… “Hey! The Odyssey! It’s important!” We know the Odyssey is important now, eighty years after it was published… but this might have been a more useful to early readers.