Archive for the ‘james joyce’ 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.

Schema for Ulysses

To mark Bloomsday 2020 (or Zoomsday as it has widely become known due to Corona Lockdown circumstances this year) I’ve decided to publish Joyce’s 1921 schema for the novel (largely for my own convenient reference).

Title Scene Hour Organ Colour Symbol Art Techniq-ue
1

Telemac-hus

The Tower (Sandycove) 8am White & gold Heir Theology Narrative (young)
2

Nestor

The School 10am Brown Horse History Catechism (personal)
3

Proteus

The Strand

(Sandymount strand)

11am Green Tide Philology Monologue (male)
4

Calypso

The House

(Eccles St)

8am Kidney Orange Nymph Economics Narrative (mature)
5

Lotus Eaters

The Bath 10am Genitals Eucharist Botany & chemistry Narcissism
6

Hades

The Graveyard

(Glasnevin)

11am Heart White & black Caretaker Religion Incubism
7

Aeolus

The Newspaper 12 noon Lungs Red Editor Rhetoric Enthymemic
8

Lestrygo-nians

The Lunch 1pm Oesophagus Constables Architecture Peristaltic
9

Scylla & Chary-bdis

The Library

(National Library)

2pm Brain Stratford & London Literature Dialectic
10

Wanderi-ng Rocks

The Streets 3pm Blood Citizens Mechanics Labyrinth
11

Sirens

The Concert Room

(Ormond Hotel)

4pm Ear (Gold & Bronze) Barmaids Music Fuga per canonem
12

Cyclops

The Tavern 5pm Muscle Fenian Politics Gigantism
13

Nausica-a

The Rocks

(Sandymount strand)

8pm Eye, nose Grey & blue Virgin Painting Tumescence / detumescence
14

Oxen of the Sun

The Hospital (Holles St) 10pm Womb White Mothers Medicine Embryonic development
15

Circe

The Brothel 12am Locomotor apparatus Whore Magic Hallucination
16

Eumaeu-s

The Shelter 1am Nerves Sailors Navigation Narrative (old)
17

Ithaca

The House

(Eccles St)

2am Skeleton Comets Science Catechism (impersonal)
18

Penelop-e

The Bed

(Eccles St)

Flesh Earth Monologue (female)

We had a three hour reading session on Zoom at sundown with a reading from each chapter, we being the Charles Peake Ulysses Seminar of the University of London/Senate House. I read a section from Ithaca in which our protagonists, Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom, have a piss out back of the latter’s house after a night on the town.

Screenshot 2020-06-16 18.09.59

I re-started my third reading of the book today to mark the occasion. My plan is to keep reading it on an endless cycle until I drop into the black hole myself.

Then they follow: dropping into a hole one after the other.

[Hades]

My Ulysses library copies editions book james joyce

A big chunk of my Ulysses library

Pictures and words for another Finn & Finnegansfolk

In the part of Finnegans Wake we are currently studying in our seminar group at University of London/Senate House (online at present in the era of the new spunnish grippe) there is a reference (p.548) to the Isle of Eigg in the Inner Hebrides.

With Impress of Asias and Queen Colombia for her pairanymphs and the singing sands for herbrides’ music

When I first arrived at Channel 4 I was tasked with establishing IDEASFACTORY, a talent and creative enterprise development initiative. The person hired to run the Highlands & Islands region of the network lives on Eigg (Population: 110). I am in the habit of sending her literary references to the island when I come across them.

The first I stumbled across was in Evelyn Waugh’s Officers & Gentlemen. [Oct 2018]

The second was in Muriel Spark’s The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. [Oct 2018, Rome]

James Joyce’s Finnegans Wake is the third so far. [May 2020, Lockdown London]

Lucy, my old colleague, has kindly sent some information from Eigg (where her emails are @eiggbox.com and @isleofeigg.net) about these “singing sands”:

The Singing Sands are on the far north west coast of Eigg, looking out towards the Isle of Rum. They are named the Singing Sands because they squeak when scuffed underfoot; although only on dry sand. The sand is quartz, eroded from the Valtos Jurassic sandstone the north end of the island is made up of. Apparently, the grains are very even shaped, making them more squeaky!

The long straight formation in the pictures I sent [see below] is a basalt dyke. The basalt is harder than the sandstone which was eroded by the sea to create the dykes. There are a lot of these dykes stretching out from the shore between Singing Sands and Laig Bay to the south.

One thing I find amazing is that sometimes when you go down there, there’s no sand at all, just rock. All the sand has been swept out to sea. It must sit just off the beach on the seabed to be swept back up on the beach at the next high tide. Laig Bay beach is just half a mile or so to the south of Singing Sands. It’s the most photographed beach on Eigg. At low tide the sea goes right out, making the long beach even more impressive. The sand on Laig beach is a mixture of quartz black basalt and white shell, leaving distinctive fern and swirl patterns as the water recedes. Two beaches, very close together, but completely different sands. I don’t know if the Singing Sands sand falls down into a deep trough and so doesn’t move south, but that’s how I imagine it.

Singing Sands have two other names – Camus Sgiotaig. Camus means Bay, but the meaning of Sgiotaig (prounced Ski-Tig) is unknown, probably an Old Norse word. There are a lot of Norse words used in and around the Small Isles of Eigg, Rum, Muck and Canna. Singing Sands are also known as Tràigh na Bigil which means chirping beach (Tràigh = beach), but most folk here just call it Singing Sands, or (less so) Camus Sgiotaig.

Beach is one of the words in my very limited Irish vocabulary – in Irish Gaelic it’s Trá. Trá – Tràigh clearly close cousins. A lot of Norse words are also used in the Wake because of Dublin’s connection with Viking invaders.

Lucy made a special trek to the Singing Sands for our group and made this video to demonstrate the ‘singing’ Play Video [11 secs]

She also send this video for us to see the beach and hear the wind and birds Play Video [20 secs]

And she kindly took&sent these photos too:

Isle of Eigg inner hebrides scotland island beach singing sands

Camus Sgiotaig

Isle of Eigg inner hebrides scotland island beach singing sands

Isle of Eigg inner hebrides scotland island beach singing sands

Isle of Eigg inner hebrides scotland island beach singing sands

the singing sands for herbrides’ music

Isle of Eigg inner hebrides scotland island beach singing sands

Isle of Eigg inner hebrides scotland island beach singing sands

Isle of Eigg inner hebrides scotland island beach singing sands

Isle of Eigg inner hebrides scotland island beach singing sands

a basalt dyke

Isle of Eigg inner hebrides scotland island beach singing sands

Lucy also sent me some singing sands sand through the post – it hasn’t yet arrived as it’s dependent on the ferry service which is reduced due to the plague.

Lucy is involved with Eigg Box which supports artists and creative entrepreneurs living on or visiting the Isle of Eigg.

Eggs are significant in the Wake as Finnegan died falling off a ladder and is frequently compared to Humpty Dumpty who fell off a wall and was equally fucked.

Humpty Dumpty

Humpty Dumpty had a great fall

The Fall of Lucifer - Gustave Dore

Lucifer had a great fall (The Fall of Lucifer – Gustave Dore)

Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Fresco

Adam & Eve had a great fall (from Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel Fresco)

More people who had big falls.

Wider Wake

I’ve noticed something reading Finnegans Wake for the first time – I call it ‘Wake Hang-over’. During the Corona lockdown I begin every morning by going out in the garden and reading. Latterly I start with a couple of pages of the Wake and then whatever book I’m reading, currently a light whodunnit by Anthony Horowitz entitled Magpie Murders, easy reading for hard times. When I go to read the second book I find that for a while I’m still in a different reading mode, hyperalert for word play, connections, double meanings; somehow floating a bit above the text; inhabiting a strangely comic world – or is it a comically strange one? That unique reading mode gradually fades but the overlap is interesting and enjoyable. As a linguist, it’s a bit like when you come out of a foreign language, back to English, and the shapes and dynamics of that other language are still what’s shaping your consciousness and thinking.

Picking up from my previous (second) Wake post I’m quickly going to update my lists:

hce food service equipment logo

HCE

  • Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (p30) – see last post
  • Howth Castle and Environs (3) = 1st line of the novel, a key location in both the Wake and Ulysses
  • Haveth Childers Everywhere (a section published in 1930 as part of Work in Progress) = Adam, father of mankind
  • humile, commune and ensectuous (29)
  • Here Comes Everybody (32) = Everyman – “for every busy eerie whig’s a bit of a torytale to tell” (20)
  • habituels conspicuously emergent (33)
  • He’ll Cheat E’erawan (46) = a sinful fella
  • haughty, cacuminal, erubescent (55)
  • Humpheres Cheops Exarchas (62)
  • Haveyou-caught-emerods (63)
  • Hyde and Cheek, Edenberry (66)
  • House, son of Clod, to come out you jew-beggar to be Executed (70)
  • Et Cur Heli! (73)
  • at Howth or at Coolock or even at Enniskerry (73)

finnegans wake plaque mullingar house chapelizod

On Mullingar House pub, Chapelizod, Dublin

Dublin

  • Dabblin (p16)
  • (Brian) d’ of Linn (17)
  • dun blink (17)
  • durblin (19)
  • Devlin (24)
  • Dumbaling (34)
  • Poolblack (35) = Dub/black Lin/Pool : dubh linn (Gaelic) black pool
  • Dablena Tertia (57)
  • Doveland (61)
  • Dulyn (64)
  • Dubblenn (66)
  • deeplinns (76)
  • blackpool (85) Blackpool (88)

And I’m starting a third such list- variations on “Ireland”. There is a linkage between HCE and Ireland: HCE > Earwicker > Earlander > Eire > Ireland

Joyce surname ireland map 1901

Ireland

  • Errorland (62)
  • Aaarlund (69)
  • aleland (88)

(So these are all cumulative lists.)

To round off this post I’d like to start highlighting some of my favourite neologisms and word-collisions. Like the lists above, these highlight the variety and persistence of Joyce’s ludic approach to language. Joyce is “a mixer and wordpainter” as he describes Hyacinth O’Donnell on p.87.

The playfulness and transmutation of language is the essence of the dream state and the act of “sewing a dream together” (28) which is this fluid, complex book. “intermutuomergent” (55) is a wordflow that captures the dynamics of the language of the Wake. This is the “meandertale” (18) to end all meandertales. (The wandering river, the Liffey, runs through that heart of it, personified in ALP. And the neanderthal is just beneath the skin of us hairless apes, we Chimpdens.)

  • tellafun book (86) [telephone]
  • lexinction of life (83) [lexicon/extinction]
  • nekropolitan (80)
  • timesported across the yawning (abyss) (56) [transported across time]
  • to clapplaud (32) [clap]

BTW my favourite Wake website so far is From Swerve of Shore to Bend of Bay, a blog by Peter Chrisp.

Returning to lockdown, on the basis that the Wake touches on everything, this seems like a good Corona sentence: “the obedience of the citizens elp the ealth of the ole” (76).

 

 

In the Wake of Waking Up

I’m writing this after having just finished an online session about the Sirens chapter of Ulysses with the Charles Peake Seminar group – it’s the chapter centred on music. I switched straight from that which finished at 8pm to a live online gig from the National Gallery of Ireland, Dublin by Iarla O Leonaird (singer in Gaelic) & Steve Cooney (guitar player) which started at 8pm. Music is a Big Thing for Joyce – this morning I got to The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly at the end of the second chapter of Finnegans Wake, marking the culmination of the rumours about HCE’s shameful act, fixing that moment for the long term in folksong. It actually opens with musical staves and notes, underlining the collagey, encyclopedic and scrapbooky nature of the Wake.

Have you heard of one Humpty Dumpty
How he fell with a roll and a rumble
And he curled up like Lord Olofa Crumple
At the butt of the Magazine Wall,
The Magazine Wall,
Hump, helmet and all?

He was one time our King of the Castle
Now he’s kicked about like a rotten old parsnip.
And from Green street he’ll be sent by order of His Worship
To the penal jail of Mountjoy
To the jail of Mountjoy!
Jail him and joy.

I noticed this morning after finishing this section and the couple of pages before it that when I went to read another (conventional) novel it took a good few minutes to go back to conventional reading – you get into a different mode of reading and thinking when immersed in the Wake. It was a really interesting reading experience. The way you read the Wake is more engaged, playful and energetic than normal reading.

I want to finish off this second post by starting a couple of lists. The central character, HCE, has his initials explained in a number of ways in the book and I want to start capturing them:

  • Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker (p30) – see last post
  • Howth Castle and Environs (3) = 1st line of the novel, a key location in both the Wake and Ulysses
  • Haveth Childers Everywhere (a section published in 1930 as part of Work in Progress) = Adam, father of mankind
  • humile, commune and ensectuous (29)
  • Here Comes Everybody (32) = Everyman
  • habituels conspicuously emergent (33)
  • He’ll Cheat E’erawan (46) = a sinful fella

HCE Group-Logo-Landscape-Colour

Another list I want to begin here is one of all the different ways Joyce refers to the city at the heart of the novel (as with Ulysses) – Dublin:

  • Dabblin (p16)
  • (Brian) d’ of Linn (17)
  • dun blink (17)
  • durblin (19)
  • Devlin (24)
  • Dumbaling (34)
  • Poolblack (35) = Dub/black Lin/Pool : dubh linn (Gaelic) black pool

phoenix-park map finnegans wake

The focus of Wake’s Dublin

(I’ll keep building these lists as I read through.)

 

Waking Up

My favourite book is Ulysses by James Joyce. I first read (most of it) at university, completed it six years later. By that time it resonated far more for me – I’d got to know and love Ireland in the interim. It has a reputation for being difficult but once you let go a bit and let it flow over you to some extent it becomes both readable and enjoyable. It feels to me like it’s about everything.

finnegans wake james joyce book novel

Inevitably after a few years the thought occurred to read Joyce’s follow-up, Finnegans Wake. In November 2017 I bought myself a copy of A Shorter Finnegans Wake, edited by Anthony Burgess. The longer original seemed so intimidating that I felt this attractive slimmish Faber volume might be the route in. But on opening to the first page it looked absolutely unreadable. A codebook with no key. Like nothing I’d ever seen, apart from perhaps the most obscure, chaotic parts of Ulysses – reminiscent but far more convoluted.

At the beginning of 2018, on 5th January, I joined the Charles Peake Seminar at the University of London, a monthly gathering at Senate House of mainly academics close-reading Ulysses, which I’d first been told about years before by Fritz Senn, the director of the James Joyce Institute in Zurich. “Good timing”, the person beside me whispered, “we’re just starting a new chapter!” I wasn’t particularly impressed until it came to light that the last one had taken 5 years. We’re talking close reading here.

We’ve got five years, stuck on my eyes
Five years, what a surprise
We’ve got five years, my brain hurts a lot
Five years, that’s all we’ve got

One of the regular attendees at the Charles Peake was Finn Fordham from Royal Holloway who led another sister seminar on Finnegans Wake, also monthly, same place. He persuaded me to try it out, reassuring me that it didn’t matter that I hadn’t read the book. My first session was on 23rd February 2018. we were on page 538. Now we’re on page 547. Two and a bit years to cover 9 pages!

But these two years proved crucial. A few weeks ago, during the Coronavirus lockdown, our seminar having shifted online for now and doubled in frequency through demand and enthusiasm, I realised, after a particularly enjoyable session, looking back to page 1 that I could now read what once seemed unreadable. On 26th April (2020) I embarked on the journey through the Wake. Reading at least a couple of pages every day, usually to get my day under way, I have now read the first couple of chapters, the first 50 pages, in half a month.

riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.

I’m glad to get a name-check in the opening line. The central character is HCE. By my reading so far HCE is Adam (among others). HCE is a man who has a great fall by committing a sin in a garden or park, Phoenix Park in Dublin. It involves sex and breaking the law. He might have been exposing himself to some young ladies or wanking in a hidden place. He may have been frolicking with some soldiers. His crime changes with each telling. Rumours abound. HCE stands, we are told at the start of Chapter 2, for Harold or Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker. Humphrey connects him to another bad egg (or ego) who had a great fall, Humpty Dumpty. Chimpden is a reminder that we are but bald apes. Earwicker renders him/us lower, creepy weird insects (earwigs). But at the same time HCE is also some kind of a king. This is the night book to Ulysses‘ book of a single day around Dublin city. This one takes us to dawn through the obscurity and dream-world of a typically chaotic, but not without pattern, human sleep. Humphrey becomes Humpty becomes Adam becomes Everyman, struggling with identity, guilt and self-justification, interacting with a family equally fluid, in a language playful, funny, obscure, frustrating, innovative and plumbing the depths for things that don’t really want to come to light…

James Joyce portrait Irish writer novelist

To see or not to see, that is the question

 

World of Zoom

Well, that was a weird week. I spent three whole days in online conference calls. I’d used Zoom once before. I’d never used Microsoft Teams.

However the week finished on a high note – our monthly Finnegans Wake research seminar at Senate House, University of London was shifted online this evening. Led by Prof. Finn Fordham of Royal Holloway, University of London, our motley crew wrestled with the clunkiness of MS Team to enjoy two hours together drilling down through the layers of the Wake and its various manuscripts and versions. Spending 20 minutes arguing the toss over the word “be” was a comforting contrast to the macro chaos beyond our virtual room.

Microsoft Team james joyce digital archive finnegans wake

“the massproduct of teamwork” suddenly took on a new dimension given that Teams was the software making this human contact and continuity possible.

The three days leading up to this evening was spent on Zoom (wish I had shares in them – and how did they nick ahead of Skype so effectively?). Zoom is a well designed software but the difference between what the workshop would have been like IRL and how it is in an online video conference is stark. Very intense and relentless in a way that is not the case face to face. I was working as a mentor on Documentary Campus Masterclass  – we were supposed to be in Copenhagen, parallel to CPH:Dox Film Festival (cancelled). I did the same workshop in the same city last year so I have a direct comparison.

The most creative use of the software was by two Czech filmmakers I’m working with – Vit & Tomas. They transported themselves and us, using the software facilities, high into the mountains…

zoom software documentary campus masterclass

[photo: Esther van Messel]

The gap between the experience of these sorts of softwares and the experience of being in a room with fellow humans is an interesting one which tells us much about how we actually communicate and how we create – which is not a flat experience but a rounded and fluid one. Something to keep observing over the next days and weeks…

Marilyn & Ulysses

marilyn monroe reading james joyce ulysses

Marilyn reading the best book ever written

In my last post I included this photo by Eve Arnold, shot in Long Island in 1955. If you’re wondering whether it was just a pose and whether blondes prefer Irish gentlemen as a source of reading matter, this letter from Eve Arnold contains the answer:

eve arnold_letter to Richard Brown about _marilyn monroe_ulysses

Eve Arnold to Richard Brown, 20th July 1993

The letter is a response to Richard Brown, Professor of Modern Literature at the University of Leeds, a Joyce specialist. Brown subsequently wrote an essay entitled Marilyn Monroe Reading Ulysses: Goddess or Postcultural Cyborg? Which is the kind of title that puts people off of academia. But his query to Arnold was an interesting one and I’m glad he asked.

Marilyn Monroe Reads Joyce’s Ulysses eve arnold

The Long Island playground shoot 1955

Marilyn was frequently photographed reading – which in my book is a big plus even when you are a blonde bombshell.

Marilyn Monroe Reads Arthur Miller's Enemy of the People

Close to home: Arthur Miller

Marilyn Monroe Reads walt whitman's leaves-of-grass

Turning over an old leaf: Walt Whitman

Coincidences No.s 288 & 289

No. 288 – Matt A: Locke

I am in half-sleep early this morning thinking about a presentation I am doing next week at the University of Westminster on Public Service Media and about the fact that my old Channel 4 colleague Matt Locke is also speaking that afternoon.

I have the radio on in that half-sleep and I hear the (place)name Matlock (in Derbyshire) just after I think about Matt Locke. And then in the traffic report the fact that the A6 is blocked by floodwater in Matlock comes up. And then in the news a short while after the death of a woman in Matlock, drowned in the flooding river Derwent, gets mentioned.

Matlock Mercury floods 2019-11-09

Today’s edition

 

No. 289 – Matt B: Lenehan

This one is typical of the type of coincidence where you haven’t thought about something or heard a word for ages and then it comes up twice or more in 24 hours. 

I am at a seminar on James Joyce’s Ulysses at Senate House, University of London. We are talking about the Sirens chapter and the character of Matt Lenehan who in his diminutive creepiness reminds me of Peter Lorre’s character in Casablanca (Ugarte).

The next morning (today) I am finishing Patti Smith’s entertaining Year of the Monkey (her new poetic memoir, which revolves around semi-sleep states as in No. 288). It it she mentions that her late brother Todd’s favourite movie was The Beast with Five Fingers starring Peter Lorre.

I could feel the insidious fingers of memory rustling through the underbrush like the dismembered hand of the pianist scrabbling toward Peter Lorre’s throat in The Beast with Five Fingers.

(Good sentence!)

the beast with five fingers movie poster

 

A Steamboat Laddie

james joyce ulysses reading group swenys dublin

inside Sweny’s

I went to Sweny’s where Leopold Bloom bought his lemon soap in ‘Ulysses’ after leaving the National Gallery and ‘The Liffey Swim’. The Volunteer at the old chemist shop confirmed it is pronounced Swen not Sween (as in the Donegal family name Sweeney). A motley crew of Dubs of a certain age shuffled in, grabbed a copy and a cup of tea and biscuit. At 11am, after a brief intro as to what was happening on page 524, we started reading a page each going round the room, surrounded by pharmacy glassware in wooden cases. It was the Cab Shelter section where Bloom has rescued young Stephen late at night and bought him a terrible coffee in the shelter where taximen, sailors and other creatures of the night gas away. I’m the only Englishman there. There’s a fair amount of anti-English sentiment in the pages we read which gives the visit all the more spice. Joyce didn’t have much truck with Blame the English.

At the stroke of midday I ducked out with a wave and crossed the street to the back entrance of Trinity College. I was due to attend a lunch celebrating the 150th anniversary of one of the better English institutions – Girton College, Cambridge, my alma mater. Girton and Trinity (TCD) are connected through the pioneering women dubbed The Steamboat Ladies. Their story I summarised here.

In short, Cambridge University refused to award the degrees the early Girtonians achieved through study and the standard Cambridge examination so they ended up using the fine print of an old tripartite arrangement between Oxford, Cambridge and TCD to have the award made in Dublin. They took the steamboat from Holyhead for a swift one-day visit including a formal lunch and a group photo on the steps I found myself standing on with my brother-in-law Des (my guest) and Professor Susan Parkes of Trinity, surveilling the large, part-lawned quad.

professor susan parkes at trinity college dublin lecturing on the steamboat ladies

Prof. Susan Parkes on the Steamboat Ladies

I am writing this a few miles from Holyhead with a view of Anglesey, in Caernarfon, Wales, where I am doing a keynote speech for TAC, the Welsh indies producers/TV training organisation. I remember one of my sons saying of Holyhead when he was very young: “It’s a bit like Dublin …only shit.”

The Steamboat Ladies, Prof Parkes would explain over lunch, started coming over in 1904. This is the year in which ‘Ulysses’ is set.

img_6383

About two dozen old Girtonians were at the lunch, mostly Irish, plus the Mistress of the College, Susan J Smith, and a current Girton historian, Dr Hazel Mills. Hazel reviewed the various connections between Girton and Ireland including two of the Mistresses (Susan is about No. 19). The key point was that Girton proved something of a training ground for the pioneers of women’s university education in Ireland. Education meant jobs, jobs meant money, influence and independence.

After lunch and the two talks we reconstructed the Steamboat Ladies photo on the steps outside, us just a handful compared to the serried ranks of mobile scholars in the 1906 photo.

the steamboat ladies girton at trinity college dublin

The Steamboat Ladies at Trinity Dublin

recreating the steamboat ladies girton at trinity college dublin

As the photo posing concluded and I took my leave of my fellow Mediaeval & Modern Languages colleague Julia (we were the best represented year at 2 shows) Des and I headed to the pub for the second half of Leinster (blue jerseys) v Munster (red). An American woman at the bar beside me asked me how this game (rugby) works. I did my best, pleased with the concision of my stab at it. As I looked at the red v blue the thought crossed my mind that this was a classic colour opposition. I leaned over to her and said: “…of course the blues are democrats and the reds republicans.” “Oh, like we have in the States?” “Yes, sort of.”

The next day I rounded off the trip with a family Sunday expedition led by Des to the cliffs of Howth Head. I pulled by the place at the end of the huge harbour wall where the Asgard and its skipper Erskine Childers are commemorated in a brass plaque for the running of guns into the country via this harbour for the Easter Rising.

plaque asgard erskine childers howth 1916 easter rising

On the way to the Dart to come out of the city north into Co. Dublin I passed a sadly isolated plaque on a crappy government building marking the HQ of De Valera in 1916 at Bolland Mills.

howth head dublin

Standing on Howth Head I could see the sweep of Dublin Bay down to Sandycove – where ‘Ulysses’ opens – and beyond. Up here is where the novel concludes with Molly recalling a romantic excursion with Bloom in the early days of their love. So this geography, the curve of this bay, is essential to this greatest of books. And the perfect place to conclude this trip.

dublin airport sunset

%d bloggers like this: