Archive for the ‘faber and faber’ Tag

Coincidences No. 114 & 115

WordPress is telling me I registered with it 14 years ago – digital time flies. To mark the occasion here’s one of those word coincidences we all have. The word is ‘helpmeet’ – “A helpful partner, particularly a spouse.” It comes from the Bible, in the King James’ version: “an helpe meet” for Adam i.e. Eve (Genesis 2:18). So this also marks the occasion of my Silver Wedding Anniversary this week. I always associate “helpmeet” with Eve in the Old Testament.

Now I haven’t thought about the word ‘helpmeet’, or even the more common ‘helpmate’, in many a year. But it cropped up twice today before 8.00am.

I am writing in my Faber & Faber Poetry Diary 2020. Opposite today’s date is a poem by Julia Copus, ‘Lacan Appeals to the Patient’. It has the line:

Beyond the clayey dark your helpmeet is waiting. 

It is clear this particular helpmeet is masculine and I think it refers to the sculptor in the poem which I understand to be the Creator, perhaps God, perhaps some other kind of artist or higher being. The name Adam means ‘red earth’ or perhaps ‘red clay’. It is the substance God moulded the First Man from in the Bible and this poem is about the shaping of “one’s selfhood”.

Started during lockdown, I am now up to page 242 of James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake. Today’s page contains this line:

Helpmeat too, contrasta toga, his fiery goosemother, laotsey taotsey, woman who did, he tell princes of the age about.

To be honest I’m a bit lost in this chapter – it’s about the three children in the story, two brothers (a bit like Cain and Abel from Genesis) and a sister. It has a lot of references to fairy tales and nursery rhymes, hence “fiery goosemother” = fairy godmother meets goosey goosey gander. “laotsey taotsey” may echo ‘goosey goosey’. “Fiery” may relate to the fact that one of the brothers (the one this sentence is about, I think) is associated with the devil. “Helpmeat” will be a deliberate pun/misspelling as that is the nature of the novel. I’m fairly sure it is referencing biblical Eve. Joyce had a strong Eve character in his own life – his wife Nora Barnacle from Galway. What the woman “did” I’m not sure, but it might include eating the forbidden fruit. The man might well find that something to tell princes and others about. 

“laotsey” is a reference to Lao-tse, the ancient Chinese philosopher and central figure in Taoism. The Woman Who Did is a Victorian novel (1895) by Grant Allen. “taotsey” may be related to ‘tutti’ type words i.e. ‘all’. Finnegans Wake is constructed from such layers of meaning and reference. The trick with both Finnegans Wake and Ulysses is not to get too hung up on understanding every word. 

1st (trade) edition, Faber & Faber, London, 1939

My edition of Finnegans Wake is a Penguin Modern Classic. But of course the original publication was by the bold, Modernist Faber & Faber. So that is Coincidence No. 115.

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