This is an absolute bugger of a chapter, I don’t mind telling you. We are faced with the usual soundscape of narrative that we have come to expect, but it is further complicated by equally baffling margin and footnotes by three different narrators and also some fairly complicated-sounding mathematics. The maths might be straightforward, to be fair, but the combination of Joyce’s style and my abject failure to grasp anything numerate prevents me from being anything other than baffled. Nevertheless, I shall do my best.
The narrative appears to be laid out like an exercise or study book, with the main body of text supported by notes:
I believe the margin notes to be made by Shem and Shaun, who are here known predominantly as Kev and Dolph. I can’t tell whose notes are whose but the righthand ones seem to be taking things much more seriously than the lefthand. The footnotes appearing at the bottom of the page are written by a girl, possibly called Isa, who is a sister or close relative of the two boys. If any of these notes actually relate to the main text, I’m buggered if I can see how.
It seems to follow on from the last chapter and the children have come in from playing and are soon to have tea. In the meantime they are studying a range of subjects including history, science, astronomy, grammar, geography and geometry (more about that later). At the same time they are discussing their father – Here Comes Everybody – running the pub and the drunks he serves. There is some feeling that his regulars are turning against him following the rumours of what happened in the park. There are references to Alice In Wonderland, and dreams and sleep are also talked about, particularly relating to Anna Livia Plurabelle:
‘For as Anna was at the beginning lives again yet and will return after great deap sleap rerising…’
Eggs and the now-legendary Biddy the hen are a popular topic also.
The boys are focused on the importance of finding truth and answers (both in their studies here and life in general) whilst Isa muses about love and young men. There is an epic footnote (which could almost be a chapter in itself) which begins with her proclaiming a love of words and literature, but quickly becomes a surprisingly frank account of her sexual fantasies and an angry, graphic demand for her virginity to be taken in quite a specific way. I find this disturbing not only because the age of Isa is ambiguous, but towards the end of the rant, we are very much given the impression that the man to which she is making the demand is none other than her father, HCE.
At various points, pub worker Kate Strong (Tip!) pops up to defend HCE and also castigate the twelve customers who seem to be perpetually drinking in the bar. Ships and sailors are once again touched upon (at one point we seem to be simultaneously on both a ship and a pub crawl) and there are references to the earlier parts of the story involving the park and ALP’s letter.
Eventually, Shaun and Isa take to berating Shem over his lack of intellectual prowess. Shaun decides to teach him something, urging him to get out his compasses. I think then Shaun begins the lesson, which goes on for ages and is written in derivatives of English, French and Latin. I recognise mathematical terms but really I have no idea what is going on here at all. The upshot of all this is that Shem finally draws a diagram, which Shaun and Isa deem to be a picture of ALP’s lady parts.
I get their point, but one would have to have a particular type of mind to arrive at that as a conclusion. Anyway. There follows much talk about the qualities of the feminine intimates and the diagram is admired enthusiastically. It is suggested that it represents ALP herself; her character and history – and maybe women in general. The boys conclude that in the end, sex and love come to nothing and that the sin is worse than the sinner.
Shem gets angry that he has been tricked into drawing a vagina and strikes Shaun, who responds by taking nearly two pages to compliment him on his punch. They then all drink a pint of Jamesons and praise Biddy’s hair. All three return to their homework where they have to write an inordinate amount of essays, which have the kind of outlandish titles you might expect. The chapter ends with them writing a ‘Night Letter’ to their parents and the patrons of the pub. What they are trying to say, I wouldn’t like to presume but it comes across as a sort of threat.
This is a horrific delight of Joycean contradiction, with some of the most beautiful and humorous prose in the book so far. There are numerous sections of Wonderland-esque imagery which are truly stunning. However, the darker side of this chapter cannot be ignored and Isa’s epic footnote in particular is somewhat disturbing. Let’s give Joyce the benefit of the doubt and assume that the youngsters are in their mid to late teens, in which case discussions about sex would be expected (although not quite so graphically among siblings, in my experience. But that’s just me). Isa’s carnal desires are incredibly violent for a young woman and her intention for her father to take her virginity in such a manner is uncomfortable reading.
The placing of these salacious revelations I believe is significant; the footnote is of epic proportions and in very small writing, which may put off many readers from investigating it properly. It is almost as if Joyce is indulging in a kind of confessional that he is partially trying to hide. The religious figures in the book are often portrayed as being deviants and some of the previous references to the possible rape are a little unpalatable to a modern reader. I am no psychologist but this chapter left me with the impression that Joyce harboured some very dark desires that for some reason he felt compelled to share.
‘Neither a soul to be saved nor a body to be kicked.’
‘… who wants to cheat the chocker’s got to learn to chew the cud.’
Conversation is to be encouraged.
‘There is comfortism in the knowledge that often hate on first hearing comes of love by second sight.’
For those who don’t believe in love at first sight, perhaps.