Vivian Mercier, ‘John Eglinton as Socrates: A Study of “Scylla and Charybdis”’ (1982)

Source: in James Joyce: An International Perspective, ed. Suheil Bushrui & Bernard Benstock, Gerrards Cross: Colin Smythe 1982), pp. 65-81. Note: In the printed version there is no heading for Sect. II - only I, III, IV & V- and I have reordered the sections I-IV here. [BS]

Note: The endnotes have been reproduced both in an abbreviated form in the text at the points to which they refer and separately at the end though without links.

No doubt every devoted Joycean has a particular preference among the episodes of Ulysses ; I certainly have. Non-Joyceans, on the other hand, presumably are left without a choice: all they know of Ulysses is “Penelope”, and they assume that the rest of the book closely resembles Molly Bloom’s odorous monologue. My own particular favourite, for a great variety of reasons, is “Scylla and Charybdis”. This essay will put forward a number of those reasons, but 1 suppose the overriding one has to do with Irish cultural chauvinism. I resent those critics who perform a kind of Caesarean section with Joyce, ripping him from the womb of Irish tradition generally and the Irish Literary Revival in particular. No passage in Joyce’s work refutes them more effectively than “Scylla and Charybdis”. The scene of this episode, according to Joyce’s own schema, is ‘The Library’, but it is not just any library: we find ourselves in the Assistant Librarian’s office in the National Library of Ireland. The art with which the episode is concerned is Literature. A number of the great figures in world literature are mentioned, and Shakespeare, of course, is examined in detail throughout: nevertheless, by far the largest national group of living authors referred to is Irish.

Let me call the roll briefly, beginning with those who in 1904 - the Abbey Theatre was to open in December of that year - were already making the English-speaking world aware of the resurgence of Irish literature. W.B. Yeats, J. M. Synge, Lady Gregory, George Moore (and his cousin and collaborator Edward Martyn), Douglas Hyde and Padraic Colum, besides being freely alluded to, are sometimes quoted and/or parodied as well. Lesser figures belonging to their movement are also named: James Sullivan Starkey (‘Seumas O’Sullivian’ [sic]), poet and bibliophile; A.E.’s co-worker Susan Mitchell; Fred Ryan, a journalist who wrote one play; George Roberts, better [65] known as a publisher than as a poet; and the mysterious ‘Piper’ [presum. W. J. Stanton Pyper, a friend of John Eglinton]. Participants in the informal symposium on Shakespeare, besides Joyce himself as Stephen and the poet Oliver Gogarty as Buck Mulligan, include the N.L.I. Librarian, T. W. Lyster; his Assistant Librarian, W. K. Magee; and the Keeper of Irish Manuscripts, R. I. Best. Magee was known as an essayist and poet under the pseudonym of ‘John Eglinton’; his equally pseudonymous friend George Russell (‘A.E.’) - poet, playwright, editor, theosophist and organiser of agricultural co-operatives - also takes part. Among those engaged in the revival of the Irish language along with Hyde or in the preservation of its early texts along with Best, the following are mentioned: T. O’Neill Russell; Dr. George Sigerson, translator as well as eminent physician; and Father Patrick Dinneen (misspelt ‘Dineen’), editor and lexicographer. Oscar Wilde was already dead in 1904, but Bernard Shaw, Frank Harris, and Professor Edward Dowden of Trinity College, Dublin, earn mention as Irishmen who, like Moore and Wilde, had already won fame in the international literary world before the new Irish movement began to draw attention. Thomas Caulfield Irwin, an Irish imitator of Tennyson, had died in 1892, and therefore seems too old to have been a chela or disciple of A.E. James Stephens, later to become an important figure in the Literary Revival, had not yet begun writing his ‘clever sketches’ ( Ulysses, Random House 1961, p.192), let alone works of more weight. His earliest publications, in Sinn Féin, date from 1907. [Page note: The attribution of “The Greatest Miracle”, signed “S” in the United Irishman, 16 Sept. 1905, to Stephens is a canard: Seumas O’Sullivan wrote it and republished it in Essays and Recollections (Dublin: Talbot Press, 1944), pp. 141-43.] Louis H. Victory, whose name is as authentic as that of his fellow poet Lizzie Twigg in an earlier episode (U165), seems to have been included only as an example of the poetasters who haunt the fringes of every new movement. Finally, Stephen MacKenna, at this time a foreign correspondent, would eventually win a different kind of fame as author of the modern translation of Plotinus’ Enneads so much admired by Yeats. This list of Irish men and women of letters, nominated by a grudging contemporary, seems from the vantage point of 1982 entirely worthy of comparison with a team of two dozen writers similarly picked from any other country in the world circa 1904.

Though they may appear rambling enough at first, the thirty-five pages of “Scylla and Charybdis” prove on closer examination to be among the most tightly packed with meaning in the whole of prose literature. They present several of the most persistent themes in [66] Ulysses almost simultaneously, so closely woven together that the reader is not allowed to lose sight of any for more than a few moments at a time. The most important theme -so important that it might be called the key to Ulysses - is the relationship between art and life, more specifically between Shakespeare’s art and Shakespeare’s life. Stephen Dedalus argues that these were very intimately related indeed. What gives his exposition an intensity rarely to be found in academic discourse is his creator’s secret purpose: Joyce is giving himself away. This man who was so reserved that he wished all his men friends to address him as ‘Joyce’ rather than ‘Jim’ or ‘James’, and who so rarely showed his feelings in private life except in those extraordinary love letters to Nora Barnacle, is pressing upon the readers of Ulysses clues to his own mystery. Those who accuse Richard Ellmann of the ‘biographical fallacy’ because he interprets Joyce’s works in terms of his life deliberately ignore the obvious fact that Joyce makes Stephen joyfully embrace the alleged fallacy in his account of Shakespeare. It is true that when John Eglinton asks, ‘Do you believe your own theory?’ Stephen ‘promptly’ (too promptly, perhaps?) answers ‘No’ (U213-14). But in my case Eglinton is referring specifically to what he calls ‘a French triangle’ (U213), the theory that Shakespeare was cuckolded by one of his brothers. Nobody who takes part in the discussion, not even A.E. (‘But this prying into the family life of a great man, Russell began impatiently’ [1891), seriously questions the existence of a relationship between a writer’s life and his work. The novelty of Stephen’s analysis of Hamlet lies in his identification of Shakespeare not with Prince Hamlet but with Hamlet’s father, the ghost.

Is it possible that the player Shakespeare, a ghost by absence, and in the vesture of buried Denmark, a ghost by death, speaking his own words to his own son’s name (had Hamnet Shakespeare lived he would have been prince Hamlet’s twin), is it possible, I want to know, or probable that he did not draw or foresee the logical conclusion of those premises: you are the dispossessed son: I am the murdered father: your mother is the guilty queen, Ann Shakespeare, born Hathaway? (U189)

My reading of this passage is that Joyce is pressing us to give up the facile identification of himself with Stephen Dedalus that he must have known most readers of A Portrait would make; instead, we are to see Bloom as a truer projection of the mature Joyce. [67]

This awareness of Bloom’s similarities to Joyce has become a commonplace of criticism since the publication of Ellmann’s James Joyce in 1959 and subsequently of the second and third volumes of the Letters, which included most of the Joyce-Nora correspondence. What I am concerned to stress is that Joyce, using the Shakespeare analogy, had himself urged this view upon his readers, some of whom at least must have been able to take a hint. The earliest publication to link Joyce with Bloom that I know of is a 1948 article in French by Michel Butor [Petit croisière prérliminaire á une reconnaissance de l’archipel Joyce’, in Répertoire: Etudes et conférences 1948-59, Editions de Minuit 1960, p.205], but I remember startling a successor of Edward Dowden, the late Professor H. O. White, by expressing such a view as a graduate student in the early 1940s. I also remember expounding “Scylla and Charybdis” along these lines in a City College of New York classroom before 1959. I don’t claim any special clairvoyance: I was simply discovering what Joyce had put there for his readers to find.

I have run ahead of myself, skipping over a number of necessary steps in the argument: before identifying Joyce with Bloom, one ought first to present the reasons for identifying Joyce with Shakespeare. An untutored but intuitive reader might in fact snatch up the very first hint. On the second page of the episode Joyce makes John Eglinton say, ‘Our young Irish bards ... have yet to create a figure which the world will set beside Saxon Shakespeare’s Hamlet’ (U185). It was the kind of remark Eglinton was likely to make, yet I think the words are entirely Joyce’s own. Whereas his fellow Irishman Bernard Shaw constantly and openly invited comparison with Shakespeare, Joyce in his own secretive way is here issuing a similar challenge: eighteen years after 1904, he feels confident that he has created such a character - not Stephen Dedalus in his ‘Hamlet hat’ but Leopold Bloom. Once he has claimed equality with Shakespeare, it is but a short step to claiming identity.

Having repeated in A Portrait of the Artist As a Young Man, with Stephen as mouthpiece, Flaubert’s axiom that the artist must not appear in his work any more than God does in his Creation, Joyce had come to realise that in the last analysis he had no subject matter other than his own consciousness. One may suspect also that his reticence was the obverse side of an unconscious or even conscious impulse toward exhibitionism. In a letter to his brother Stanislaus, he had reproached Oscar Wilde for revealing so little of himself in The Picture of Dorian Gray [Letters, ed. Ellmann, 1966, II, p.205]; almost certainly he did not then know Wilde’s The Portrait of Mr. W. H., mentioned with such approval by Mr. Best in “Scylla and Charybdis” (198). There, Wilde did reveal [68] his homosexuality by attributing it to Shakespeare, just as Joyce reveals his own fear/desire of being made a cuckold by attributing it to Shakespeare and to Bloom.

In one of his references to Shakespeare’s supposed obsession with wifely infidelity, Stephen casts a novel light on the difficulty of finding an author in his work: ‘He [Shakespeare] goes back, weary the creation he has piled up to hide him from himself, an old dog king an old sore’ (U197). In other words, if the author does not appear in his work, if God is not found in his Creation, that does not mean that he is not there: he is not absent from but hidden by his work. Joyce is inviting his readers to an odd game of hide-and-seek, where we will search for him until he catches us.

Once we have accepted the analogy between Joyce and Shakespeare, we can hardly refuse to accept the analogy between Shakespeare and God; from this there follows logically the analogy between Joyce and God. John Eglingon reminds his hearers of Alexandre Dumas père’s remark: ‘After God Shakespeare has created most’ (U212). Later, Stephen stands this idea on its head by comparing God unfavourably with Shakespeare, calling Him [‘]the playwright who wrote the folio of this world and wrote it badly (He gave light first and the sun two days later)’ (U213). This witticism is a picturesque way of recapturing our attention for another major theme of “Scylla and Charybdis” - the analogy between divine creation and artistic creation. The words ‘create’ and ‘creation’ figure frequently in the episode, though Joyce in his letters seems very sceptical about applying them to literary work and denies that he himself has any inventive powers at all. In the words of the Apostles’ Creed, ‘God the Father Almighty’ is identified as ‘Maker of Heaven and Earth’: similarly, in “Scylla and Charybdis” the creation theme is intertwined with that of the relationship between father and son - not merely God the Father and God the Son but all human fathers and sons.

We should pause here to consider why the nature of Jesus’ relationship to God the Father is so frequently discussed throughout Ulysses. Is it because Joyce saw himself as a betrayed and suffering Christ figure? Stephen is certainly prone to identify himself with Christ, both in Ulysses and A Portrait, but I think the chief reason lies elsewhere: after all, the primary model for Ulysses is the Odyssey, not the Gospels. Now, Telemachus is unequivocally presented as Ulysses’ son: to suggest any other paternity would have desecrated the image of the ever-faithful Penelope. But Stephen, [69] the Telemachus figure in Ulysses, is most emphatically not Bloom’s physical son: an entire novel, already several years in print, stands there to prove it. Joyce could of course have abandoned the Stephen Dedalus of A Portrait and invented a new character - perhaps only Stephen under another name - to be Bloom’s long-lost son in Ulysses. But his temperament, his need to reveal himself, did not allow this. Instead, he must look for a way to suggest that Stephen both was and was not Bloom’s son: one must admit that, given his Catholic upbringing, he did not have to look very far. Jesus both was and was not Joseph’s son, as in a sense he both was and was not the son of God. For Joseph, read Simon Dedalus, and for God the Father, read Bloom.

It is perhaps out of character that Stephen, who professes to have rejected the Church, should talk and meditate at such lengths in Ulysses about the Sonship of Jesus, but this habit of his helps the reader to keep in mind that there are sons and Sons:

Fatherhood, in the sense of conscious begetting, is unknown to man. It is a mystical estate, an apostolic succession, from only begetter to only begotten. On that mystery ... the church is founded and founded irremovably because founded, like the world ... upon the void. Upon incertitude, upon unlikelihood. (U207)

Stephen’s obsession with the nature of Christ’s Sonship has led him to examine the views of heretics on the subject. One of these, mentioned in “Scylla and Charybdis”, is ‘Sabellius, the African, subtlest heresiarch of all the beasts of the field, [who] held that the Father was Himself His Own Son’ (U208). We must not ignore Sabellius - although Stephen tells us that Thomas Aquinas refuted him (U208) - since his doctrine suggests the possibility that Bloom and Stephen are one and the same person. As indeed they are, for they are both aspects of Joyce.

Bloom resembles Stephen’s portrait of Shakespeare much more closely than Stephen himself does, for he has a dead son, a beloved daughter, and an unfaithful wife. (Of these, Joyce in 1922 was only sure that he had a beloved daughter.) Also, Bloom is a Jew by race though not by religion; Stephen at one point tries to prove that Shakespeare was a Jew. Finally, Bloom is a ghost: at least, he haunts the episode like one, appearing first as a visiting card offered by an attendant, then as ‘A patient silhouette ... listening’ to the ‘voluble’ [70] Lyster (U200). A moment later, Buck Mulligan remembers having just seen him ‘over in the museum when I went to hail the foamborn Aphrodite. … His pale Galilean eyes were upon her mesial groove. Venus Kallipyge. O, the thunder of those loins!’ (201). He makes another silent appearance at the end of the episode.

After Stephen has presented his view of Hamlet at some length, and after the traditional view that Shakespeare is Prince Hamlet has been maintained against him, John Eglinton offers to resolve the conflict with a synthesis:

Judge Eglinton summed up.
- The truth is midway, he affirmed. He is the ghost and the prince. He is all in all.
- He is, Stephen said. The boy of act one is the mature man of act five. All in all. In Cymbeline, in Othello, he is bawd and cuckold. (U212)

Having pursued the analogical method thus far, I seem obliged to accept Stephen’s change of front, which implies that Joyce is not only Bloom and Stephen, but everybody else in Ulysses as well, not excluding Pisser Burke. This position I find untenable, however, and in fact no one in his right mind would claim that Joyce’s life experience or his personality exactly parallels that of Leopold Bloom. What we now know, from the letters and from Ellmann’s biography, is that Joyce’s paternal and conjugal feelings, not to mention his sexual temperament, were in many ways similar to Bloom’s. In the later episodes of Ulysses he vicariously reveals that temperament, having given his readers, in “Scylla and Charybdis”, a strong hint about how to interpret them.

John Eglinton’s affirmation that ‘The Truth is midway’ reminds us of the episode’s original form in the Odyssey. Ulysses passed between Scylla and Charybdis, but he did not steer through the exact mid-point of the channel: instead, he went a little closer to Scylla’s rock than to the whirlpool of Charybdis, preferring to lose six comrades rather than his entire ship and crew. Joyce offers three different correspondences for this episode in his schema: the rock is Stratford, Aristotle, Dogma, whereas the whirlpool is London, Plato, Mysticism. The respective equivalents for Ulysses are [71] Shakespeare, Socrates and Jesus. There is much about Jesus in the episode, and plenty of dogma as well as heresy, but specifically Christian mysticism is hard to find: perhaps theosophy, which is ridiculed in more than one passage, stands for mysticism in general. The idea that Christ represents a middle way between mysticism and dogma seems not to occur elsewhere in Joyce: its place in the history of ideas and in his work deserves to be investigated. Shakespeare’s dilemma - having to choose between far-from-tranquil domesticity in Stratford and the expense of spirit in London’s waste of shame - is made abundantly clear in the episode.

The Aristotle-Socrates-Plato analogy seems baffling, however, until the key to it is found in Francis Bacon’s The Wisdom of the Ancients . Joyce actually owned two copies of a cheap reprint of this English translation of a Latin work. [Richard Ellmann, The Consciousness of Joyce, OUP, 1977, p.99]. Bacon, like Joyce, sought and found modern applications for classical myths: in his chapter on Scylla and Charybdis, he interpreted them as ‘the Rocks of Distinctions and the Gulfs of Universalities; which two are famous for the Wrack both of Wits and Arts’. [The Essays … with the Wisdom of the Ancients, ed. S. W. Singer, Bell & Daldy 1857, p.340.] ‘Distinctions’ or definitions suggest Aristotle at once, while ‘Universalities’ or universals suggest Plato. Stephen mentally outlines his own Aristotelianism, in opposition to the Neo-Platonism of A.E. and the theosophists, as follows:

Unsheathe your [Stephen’s] dagger definitions. Horseness is the whatness of allhorse. Streams of tendency and eons they worship. God: noise in the street: very peripatetic. Space: what you damn well have to see. (U186)

A.E. and his disciples are associated with images of the sea at flood-tide and of whirling. At one point, while A.E. is speaking of King Lear, Stephen mentally quotes, or rather misquotes [Weldon Thornton, Allusions in Ulysses, N. Carolina UP 1968, p.164.] from A.E.’s Deirdre :

Flow over them with your waves and with your waters, Mananaan, Mananaan MacLir. (U189)

A little later, he thinks again of A.E.:

Gulfer of souls, engulfer. Hesouls, shesouls, shoals of souls. Engulfed with wailing creecries, whirled, whirling, they bewail. (U192) [72]

If Stephen represents Aristotle, and A.E. Plato, who then stands for Socrates? 1 think we must conclude that John Eglinton does, although at one point he speaks up on Plato’s behalf, scornfully calling Aristotle ‘a model schoolboy’. It is Eglinton who consistently uses the Socratic method, addressing his most searching questions to Stephen, and it is he who best fits Joyce’s conception of Socrates’ position by proclaiming that the truth is midway.

Eglinton, in discussing Shakespeare’s relationship with Ann Hathaway, draws a parallel between Shakespeare and Socrates:

- A shrew, John Eglinton said shrewdly, is not a useful portal of discovery, one should imagine. What useful discovery did Socrates learn from Xanthippe?
- Dialectic, Stephen answered. (U190)

Joyce himself used the word ‘dialectic’ in his schema to describe the technique of the episode. If we omit those passages of “Scylla and Charybdis” that take place in Stephen’s mind, the rest becomes a recognisable twentieth-century imitation of a Platonic dialogue. Just in case we haven’t noticed this fact for ourselves, Joyce gives our defective intelligences a pretty firm nudge:

- Are you going to write it? Mr Best asked. You ought to make it a dialogue, don’t you know, like the Platonic dialogues Wilde wrote. (U214)

Best is speaking to Stephen about his theory, but Joyce is telling us what he himself has been up to, and at the same time, perhaps, issuing a challenge to Wilde, whose brilliant dialogues in TheCritic as Artist and The Decay of Lying are hard to rival. I think we have to acknowledge that Joyce surpasses Wilde, if only because he introduces so many speakers, where Wilde limits himself to only two. Joyce refers, as far as I can see, to only one dialogue of Plato’s, the Phaedo, which he mentions twice. First, disparagingly:

- That model schoolboy [Aristotle], Stephen said, would find Hamlet’s musings about the afterlife of his princely soul, the improbable, insignificant and undramatic monologue, as shallow as Plato’s. (U186)

Later, Stephen thinks of ‘Phedo’s toyable fair hair’ (U215), alluding [73] to a passage in which Phaedo describes how Socrates ‘laid his hand on my head and gathered up the curls on my neck.’ [Last Days of Socrates, trans. Hugh Tredennick, Penguin 1969, p.143].

References to homosexuality occur frequently in the episode. Is Joyce suggesting that he himself, like Shakespeare and Socrates, has homosexual leanings? Perhaps, but when one is writing about Shakespeare and the Sonnets and using a format borrowed from Plato, mention of homosexuality hardly seems gratuitous. More arbitrary is Buck Mulligan’s insistence that Bloom has a homosexual desire for Stephen:

Did you see his eye? He looked upon you to lust after you. I fear thee, ancient mariner. O, Kinch, thou art in peril. Get thee a breechpad. (217)

Bloom, we may suppose, is looking at Stephen with a concern that, far from being lustful, is quasi-paternal.

If Joyce is consciously imitating a particular dialogue of Plato’s, I think we can rule out the Phaedo at once. The conversation in the library office has little or nothing to do with survival after death. Mulligan’s uproarious arrival and subsequent bawdy interruptions give us the correct clue, I believe: Joyce’s model is the Symposium. Mulligan plays the role of Alcibiades, and to some extent that of Aristophanes as well. It cannot be denied that the nature of love, which is the overriding theme of Plato’s dialogue, also has great importance in “Scylla and Charybdis”. Almost every conceivable variety of love is mentioned in the episode, usually in connection with Shakespeare, beginning with his dilemma ‘between conjugal love and its chaste delights and scortatory love and its foul pleasures’ (U201). Stephen mentally recalls some of his own foul pleasures with whores in Paris: ‘Encore vingt sous. Nous ferons de petites cochonneries. Minette? Tu veux?’ (U201) Shakespeare’s supposed homosexuality is dealt with at length: ‘As an Englishman, you mean, John sturdy Eglinton put in, he loved a lord’ (U202). Incest is described, in the words of St. Thomas Aquinas, as ‘an avarice of the emotions’ (U205). This leads on quite logically to a more careful examination of the nature of love between parent and child:

Amor matris, subjective and objective genitive. may be the only true thing in life. Paternity may be a legal fiction. Who is the father of any son that any son should love him or he any son? (U207) [74]

Amor matris means both the love of the child for the mother and that of the mother for the child. The one impossible perversion, according to Stephen, is incest between father and son:

- They are sundered by a bodily shame so steadfast that the criminal annals of the world, stained with all other incests and bestialities, hardly record its breach. Sons with mothers, sires with daughters, lesbic sisters, loves that dare not speak their name, nephews with grandmothers, jailbirds with keyholes, queens with prize bulls. (U207)

What a catalogue that is of the diversity of sexual self-expression! Despite all Shakespeare’s amatory vicissitudes and his supposed fear of being cuckolded by his brothers, Stephen imagines a reconciliation between him and Ann Hathaway that is comfortingly normal and domestic: it takes place at the birth of ‘his daughter’s child’ (195). Joyce’s dialogue on love does not make as deep a philosophical penetration into the subject as Plato’s, being more concerned with citing diverse examples of the passion than with analysing its nature. Nevertheless, both discussions end inconclusively, because of the disruptive influence of Mulligan in “Scylla and Charybdis” and of Alcibiades in the Symposium.

Having insisted that Joyce had the temerity to match himself against Shakespeare, I must assume that he was also measuring himself against his Irish contemporaries. The fact that neither Yeats, Synge nor Moore is a participant in the discussion in the National Library does not prove that they are above challenge, but only that they were not likely to have been present. The participants other than Stephen and Mulligan could be found in the Library most days of the week, three of them being employed there; the fourth, A.E., was a close friend of John Eglinton and apparently had a habit of dropping into his office. Lyster and Best, being scholars, are not regarded as rivals by Joyce, whereas he sets out to demolish A.E. by ridiculing and parodying what he knows of his work. He owned and had read at least part of The Candle of Vision, first published in 1918, because he draws on it in the paragraphs early in “Scylla and Charybdis” which make fun of theosophy. A.E. had written, ‘at the calling of the Ineffable Name the Holy Breath rises as a flame’. [The Candle of Vision, 1918, rep. Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House 1974, p.133.] [75]

Joyce uses the phrases ‘Holy Breath’ and ‘Name Ineffable’ (U185). In the ‘Circe’ episode A.E. appears as Mananaan Mac Lir, the Celtic sea god, uttering the mysterious syllables ‘Hek! Wal! Ak! Lub! Mor! Ma!’ (U510). Joyce found these in the chapter ‘Ancient Intuitions’ of The Candle of Vision : A.E. claimed to have discovered intuitively that they were part of the universal primeval language of mankind. [‘Hek’ is an error for ‘Hel’] When Stephen quotes A.E.’s poetry, one wonders if Joyce has deliberately chosen two very inept lines:

What of all the will to do?
It has vanished long ago. (U206)

Weak as they are, they have more rhythm than those quoted from A.E.’s fellow theosophist, Louis H. Victory:

In quintessential triviality
For years in this fleshcase a shesoul dwelt. (U192)
         [See Thornton, Allusions in Ulysses, p.200, 170.]

When Lyster remarks that ‘Mr Russell, rumour has it, is gathering together a sheaf of our younger poets’ verses’ (U192), he - or rather Joyce - is guilty of an anachronism. New Songs: A Lyric Selection Made by A.E. from Poems by Padraic Colum, Eva Gore-Booth, Thomas Keohler, Susan Mitchell, Seumas O’Sullivan, George Roberts, and Ella Young, had been published in March 1904, three months before Bloomsday. Stephen listens with rapt attention to the chatter about this book, which mentions ‘Young Colum and Starkey. George Roberts’, and ‘Miss Mitchell’s joke about Moore and Martyn’ (U192). Was Joyce piqued at not being included in New Songs, although A.E. had accepted three of his short stories for the Irish Homestead ? If so, why was he not equally hostile to John Eglinton, who had accepted a poem of his for Dana but rejected an essay entitled “A Portrait of the Artist” as ‘incomprehensible’. [Richard M. Kain & Robert E. Scholes, ‘The First Version of Joyce’s “Portrait”, in Yale Review, 49, Spring 1960, p.143.] Joyce’s essay was in fact no more cryptic than Eglinton’s maiden venture, Two Essays on the Remnant, and may have been modelled on it.

In order to understand the respect with which Stephen treats John Eglinton throughout the episode - a respect that Joyce appears to share, despite Mulligan’s innuendoes - one has to look beyond 1904 to a book Eglinton published in 1917, Anglo-Irish Essays. Among the essays and reviews he then reprinted was ‘Irish Books’, first published in the Irish Review, 1911. Its chief burden [76] was that there were no Irish books, that the Revival or Renaissance or whatever one liked to call it was all shadow and no substance. In 1917 he added an apologetic postscript to this outburst of spleen:

This was of course a sorry account of the ‘Irish Literary Renascence’; the collected poems of Mr. Yeats, AE, and others, Synge’s plays, etc., will doubtless be called ‘books’ by generations of Irish readers. Mr. James Stephen’s lively and delectable vein had in 1911 only begun to flow, and Mr. James Joyce had not yet published his highly instructive studies in the life of those young men who have chiefly to be reckoned with nowadays in arranging or forecasting the future of Ireland. The anticipation in the final paragraph might seem to have had a partial fulfilment in Mr. George Moore’s Hail and Farewell. [Anglo-Irish Essays, Dublin: Talbot Press 1917, p.89.]

The shadows of the dead young men who had fought in the Easter Rising of 1916 fall across this paragraph, but it must have given great pleasure to Joyce, who was not accustomed to such praise from his countrymen, very few of whom had yet bothered to read Dubliners or A Portrait; Eglinton seems to have read both.

Many readers of Ulysses may feel that even though Eglinton is paid the compliment of being equated with Socrates and treated as a foeman worthy of Stephen’s ‘dagger definitions’, he still receives pretty severe handling: the constant harping on his bachelorhood and Protestantism becomes especially tiresome. Nevertheless, Joyce has paid him a silent compliment that carries more weight than the overt ones: he has borrowed from him, as he did from A.E., but without making his creditor look ridiculous. Part of what Stephen overhears when the younger poets are being discussed can be traced back to the last paragraph of the ‘Irish Books’ essay and to the last sentence of its postscript:

Did you hear Miss Mitchell’s joke about Moore and Martyn? That Moore is Martyn’s wild oats? Awfully clever, isn’t it? They remind one of don Quixote and Sancho Panza. Our national epic has yet to be written, Dr Sigerson says. Moore is the man for it. A knight of the rueful countenance here in Dublin. With a saffron kilt? O’Neill Russell? O, yes, he must speak the grand old tongue. And his Dulcinea? (192)

John Eglinton had written: [77]

we have a fancy that appearances in modern Ireland point to a writer of the type of Cervantes rather than to an idealising poet or romance writer. A hero as loveable as the great Knight of the Rueful Countenance might be conceived, who in some back street of Dublin had addled his brains with brooding over Ireland’s wrongs. … We can conceive him issuing forth, fresh-hearted as a child at the age of fifty, with glib and saffron-coloured kilt, to realise and incidentally to expose the ideals of present-day Ireland. What scenes might not be devised at village inns arising out of his refusal to parley with landlords in any but his own few words of Gaelic speech. … His Dulcinea would be who but Kathleen ni Houlilian herself, who really is no more like what she is taken for than the maiden of Toboso. [Anglo-Irish Essays, pp.87-88.]

It was only after the fact that Eglinton drew the parallel between Moore’s Hail and Farewell (1911-14) and Don Quixote, but Joyce has him anticipate it in 1904.

Eglinton’s mention of Moore draws our attention to an important sub-text of “Scylla and Charybdis”, and indeed of Ulysses as a whole. With judicious excisions the scene in the Library might be made to resemble rnany dialogue passages in Hail and Farewell, especially those where Moore has A.E. and/or John Eglinton as interlocutors. Does anybody imagine that Ulysses would have taken exactly the form it did had Moore never published Hail and Farewell or had he been hampered in doing so by libel actions? Joyce would at the very least have been much more circumspect in using the names of living people if Moore had not brought off his tour de force.

It is tempting to view Ulysses as an Irish version of Don Quixote, with Stephen as the Don and Bloom as Sancho, but one is left asking ‘And his Dulcinea?’ Besides, Bloom is really a mixture of Quixote and Panza - without any illusions about his Dulcinea. When Joyce wrote ‘Our national epic has yet to be written’, he undoubtedly added mentally ‘and I am now writing it’. Eglinton’s idea for a comic romance was a good one, but Joyce’s for a comic epic was even better.

Every discussion of Ulysses must eventually come back to Bloom, and that is what “Scylla and Charybdis” itself does. In the excited and eloquent peroration of his argument, Stephen says of Shakespeare: [78]

He found in the world without as actual what was in his world within as possible. Maeterlinck says: If Socrates leaves his house today he will find the sage seated on his doorstep. ffludas go forth tonight it is to Judas his steps will tend. Every life is many days, day after day. We walk through ourselves, meeting robbers, ghosts, giants, old men, young men, wives, widows, brothers-inlove. But always meeting ourselves. (U213)

Here, then, is what Ulysses in the last analysis is about: a man meeting himself. When Stephen and Bloom well and truly meet in the ‘Eumaeus’ and ‘Ithaca’ episodes, nothing very much happens. There is no great recognition scene like that in the Odyssey where Ulysses and Telemachus throw themselves into each other’s arms and weep floods of tears. Nor is there any great change in Stephen or Bloom as a result of their hours together: they talk, but mostly at cross purposes; they part without any certainty that they will meet again. In the symbolism of ‘Ithaca’ they are comets whose paths cross at the bidding of forces beyond their control. Yet Stephen, unaware, has ‘found in the world without as actual what was in his world within as possible’. He has had a glimpse of what he may be like at Bloom’s age, but this means, as yet, nothing to him, because he has not so far found a woman in whose love he can trust as he could in his mother’s. In “Scylla and Charybdis”, Stephen explicates Venus and Adonis in his own unique way:

The greyeyed goddess who bends over the boy Adonis, stooping to conquer, as prologue to the swelling act, is a boldfaced Stratford wench who tumbles in a cornfield a lover younger than herself. (U191)

Thus far he has been speaking aloud, but the next two lines record his private thoughts:

And my turn? When? Come! (191)

We now know that on 16 June 1904 Joyce’s own turn had come: that evening he ‘went walking’ for the first time with Nora Barnacle. In Ellmann’s words,

On June 16 he entered into relation with the world around him [79] and left behind him the loneliness he had felt since his mother’s death. ... June 16 was the sacred day that divided Stephen Dedalus, the insurgent youth, from Leopold Bloom, the complaisant husband. [Ellmann, James Joyce, 1969, p.163.]

Thanks to Ulysses, however, that day does not divide them but unites them forever in the gallery of archetypes that great literature holds in trust for the world.

“Scylla and Charybdis” has a final felicity to offer us on its last page, the first reciprocal acknowledgement of each other’s existence made by Bloom and Stephen on this day of days. They have already been in each other’s vicinity three times - in ‘Hades’, ‘Aeolus’, and the present episode - though Stephen was not aware of Bloom in ‘Hades’. Now, though without exchanging a word, they gesture to each other.

About to pass through the doorway, feeling one behind, he [Stephen] stood aside.
Part. The moment is now. Where then? If Socrates leave his house today, if Judas go forth tonight. Why? That lies in space which I in time must come to, ineluctably.
My will: his [Mulligan’s] will that fronts me. Seas between.
A man passed out between them, bowing, greeting.
- Good day again, Buck Mulligan said. (217)

Thus Stephen and Mulligan momentarily become Scylla and Charybdis, while Ulysses/Bloom passes safely between. The last word is left to Shakespeare, a quotation from Cymberline which may suggest Ulysses’ gratitude - and Joyce’s - at having negotiated a difficult passage:

Laud we the gods
And let our crooked smokes climb to their nostrils
From our bless’d altars. (U218) [15]

  1. Ulysses (New York: Random House, 1961), p. 191. All further references to this work appear in the text. ‘Piper’ is presumably W.J. Stanton Pyper, a friend of John Eglinton, who wrote some articles for Arthur Griffiths’ United Irishman under the pseudonym “Lugh”. See Letters to W.B. Yeats, ed. Richard J. Finneran, George Mills Harper & William M. Murphy (London: Macmillan Press, 1977), 1, 80-81.
  2. Petite croisière préliminaire à une reconnaissance de l’archipel Joyce’ [‘A Little Cruise Preliminary to a Reconnaissance of the Joyce Archipelago’] in Répertoire: Études et confèrences, 1948-1959 (Paris: Les Editions de Minuit, 1960), p.205.
  3. Letters of James Joyce, ed. Richard Ellmann (New York: Viking Press, 1966), II, 150. ‘I can imagine the capital which Wilde’s prosecuting counsel made out of certain parts of it. It is not very difficult to read between the lines. Wilde seems to have had some good intentions in writing it - some wish to put himself before the world - but the book is rather crowded with lies and epigrams. If he had had the courage to develop the allusions in the book it might have been better. I suspect he has done this in some privately-printed books.’
  4. See Richard Ellmann, The Consciousness of Joyce (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1977), p.99.
  5. The Essays ... with the Wisdom of the Ancients, ed. S. W. Singer (London: Bell and Daldy, 1857), p.340.
  6. Weldon Thornton, Allusions in Ulysses Chapel Hill: Univ. of North Carolina Press, 1968), p. 164. This is an indispensable work for readers of Ulysses in general and “Scylla and Charybdis” in particular, though there are errors and omissions. No doubt Professor Thornton is weary of being chided for his scepticism about the existence of O’Neill Russell: seeAllusions, p. 172. There is a delightful sketch of the aging Celtic enthusiast by George Moore in Hail and Farewell: Ave, Salve, Vale, ed. Richard Allen Cave (Gerrards Cross, Bucks.: Colin Smythe, 1976), pp. 319-20.
  7. Plato, The Last Days of Socrates, tr. Hugh Tredennick (Harmondsworth, Mid dlesex: Penguin Books, 1969), p. 143.
  8. The Candle of Vision (1918; rpt. Wheaton, Illinois: Theosophical Publishing House, 1974), p. 133.
  9. The Candle of Vision, pp. 129-30. ‘Hek’ is an error for ‘Hel’.
  10. Thornton identifies these two quotations, pp.200 and 170.
  11. Richard M. Kain & Robert E. Scholes, ‘The First Version of Joyce’s "Portrait"‘, Yale Review, 49 (Spring 1960), 355.
  12. Anglo-Irish Essays (Dublin: Talbot Press, 1917), p. 89.
  13. Anglo-Irish Essays, pp. 87-88.
  14. Richard Ellmann, James Joyce (New York: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959), p. 163.
  15. At this distance in time, it is hard to remember how much I owe to Williarn M. Schutte’s brilliant Joyce and Shakespeare (New Haven: Yale Univ. Press, 1957). Certainly I learned a great deal from it about Bloom’s resemblances to Shakespeare. Even at the time, though, I was disappointed - or perhaps relieved - that Schutte in his final chapter reached a conclusion quite different from mine. When I first read the passage just quoted in Ellmann, I could have said with Hamlet, ‘O my prophetic soul!’ Perhaps I ought to have published this article twenty years ago, but I have been using some of the material in teaching Ulysses for at least 25 years, besides giving three public lectures based on it during the past decade.

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