Belinda McKeon | James Joyce

#APStogether December 21, 2021

Read James Joyce's Stephen Hero with Belinda McKeon in the January edition of #APStogether, our series of virtual book clubs, free and open to all. Starting January 12, you can read Belinda's daily posts, and comments from our fellow readers, on our Twitter and Instagram accounts. And join us for a virtual discussion at the end of the book club, on February 3—register here.

Belinda McKeon is the author of two novels, Solace (Scribner) and Tender (Lee Boudreaux); and the editor of A Kind of Compass: Stories on Distance (Tramp).

James Joyce (1882–1941) was an Irish novelist, poet, and short story writer. His major works include the story collection Dubliners and the novels Ulysses and Finnegans Wake; as well as the posthumously published autobiographical novel Stephen Hero.

Reading Schedule:
New Directions edition

January 12 | Day 1. Opening, pp. 23-31
January 13 | Day 2. XVI, pp. 32-47
January 14 | Day 3. XVII, pp. 48-68
January 15 | Day 4. XVIII, pp. 69-75
January 16 | Day 5. XIX, pp. 76-98
January 17 | Day 6. XX, pp. 99-121
January 18 | Day 7. XXI, pp. 122-143
January 19 | Day 8. XXII, pp. 144-163
January 20 | Day 9. XXIII, pp. 164-180
January 21 | Day 10. XXIV, pp. 181-199
January 22 | Day 11. XXV, pp. 200-218
January 23 | Day 12. XXVI, pp. 219-234
January 24 | Day 13. Additional manuscript pp. 237-253

February 3: A virtual discussion of Stephen Hero with Belinda McKeon.

Day 13 | January 24
Additional Manuscript Pages

When Joyce moved to Paris in June, 1920, he left his literary manuscripts with his brother Stanislaus in Trieste; soon afterward, at Joyce’s request, Stanislaus sent the bulk of those manuscripts to him in Paris. Sylvia Beach eventually offered these pages for sale, and they were published in 1944. But in 1950, John Slocum purchased from Stanislaus an additional twenty-five pages, and they were printed as we find them here, by New Directions, in 1963.

This chapter is known as the Mullingar episode, a term which is indescribably hilarious to those of us who were born (a Mullingar episode?) in that small town in the Irish midlands. It’s just…not the kind of place you expect to meet with in a Joyce novel. But here it is. The bulk of these pages tell of a visit that Stephen makes to his godfather, Fulham, in Mullingar, shortly before Stephen begins his studies at UCD. His godfather, you will remember, pays his university tuition.<

The pages begin, though, with eight lines of manuscript which would eventually become the closing flourish of the diary entry with which Portrait concludes. On the manuscript, the words Departure for Paris, inscribed by Joyce in blue crayon, mark the end of this eight-line passage, and would of course become the words which mark the end of Portrait. The opening passage, like a number of the passages which make up the Mullingar pages, was woven by Joyce into the pages of Stephen Hero from the collection of epiphanies which he had recorded between 1898 and 1904; encountered scenes or moments, richly perceived by the eye of the fledgling writer, and written down as scenes, either because they could not be wasted – because they had to be captured – or because he fully intended to use them in a novel, or both. This opening epiphany was eventually used in the last pages of Portrait, where it was tied to Stephen’s abandonment of Ireland and its paralysis for the greater openness of the Continent, but when it was written as an epiphany, it seemed to have to do with the changes wrought by puberty, with that transition from boyhood to adolescence, and seen in this way, its appearance at this point in the Stephen Hero manuscript makes more sense.

Once the opening vision has been dispensed with, we are off to Mullingar with Stephen. Note at the beginning of this scene a narrative voice so different to the voice used elsewhere in the manuscript that it sticks out quite awkwardly; you are therefore to conceive Stephen Daedalus packed in the corner of a third-class carriage and contributing the thin fumes of his cigarettes to the already reeking atmosphere. This moment of Victoriana, an instruction to the reader which places them at a distance from Stephen, peering at him as a character rather than as the vivid presence in whose company we have spent the rest of the novel, is of a type not repeated by Joyce anywhere in his work again. It may have been something he was trying out to immerse himself in the scene at hand, which in any case quickly takes on that vividness and sensuality which animate the rest of the manuscript, as Stephen observes the “peasants” in the train carriage and endures the “debasing humanity” of their odor. At Mullingar, he is met by a driver There’s something striking, too, and something which seems different to the rest of the manuscript, in the squeamishness or snobbishness displayed by Stephen in these Mullingar scenes toward the dirt and squalor of the rural or peasant-class people and environments he encounters here. He notes several times that places are dirty, or not clean, or that people smell or look somehow primitive. It’s not as though, in the Dublin scenes, Stephen is living in splendor, or in any kind of polished cityscape; it may be, rather, that the younger Stephen has not yet experienced his family’s financial downfall, or that, as a boy still within sniffing distance of his own flirtation with the idea of the priesthood, he still regards many of his fellow citizens with a moral distaste, rather than with the artist’s interest into which he will grow while at university. Still, the chapter closes with an unforgettable scene in which his watchful interest in the indignities of life and death is on full display; a woman, escaped from the local asylum, has drowned in the canal, and her body has been fished out by some local men and laid out on the canal bank. Until the doctor arrives to pronounce on her, Stephen watches with the others gathered, and what catches his eye in the end of all is not the unfortunate woman’s body, or her nightdress which rode up over her body and was fixed by a bystander, but the fragment of a magazine, The Lamp, floating on the surface of the canal. Just the title page remains clear; “the rest was torn away and several other pieces of paper were floating about in the water.”

It wasn’t the intended end, but it’s an apt one.

Day 12 | January 23
XXVI, pp. 219-234
And so we come to the final chapter of the manuscript as Joyce left it in 1905, though additional pages which precede this manuscript numerically were acquired separately in 1950 (by John J. Slocum) and will be discussed tomorrow. The history of the manuscript of Stephen Hero is somewhat chaotic, as perhaps befits its central character, or rather the effects he is content to leave in his wake. Because Stephen himself is not chaotic; Stephen, as we see again in this chapter, is focused, determined and “untroubled” by the things that preoccupy others, from his father’s drunkenness to the expectations the Jesuits have of their students to the project of nationalism with which so many of his peers are obsessed. Joyce seems to have abandoned the novel at this point, having perhaps grown tired of working on it, and there is also a theory that, because he has Stephen drop out of university in this chapter, refusing the offer extended by the Jesuits to help him stay on, Joyce ran into a plotting complication which confounded him, or perhaps simply didn’t seem worth the effort; Stephen drops out, but Joyce himself stayed on at UCD and graduated with a degree in modern languages in 1902. Also, Joyce and Nora had a newborn (Giorgio) in the house at this time, though the extent to which that would realistically have interfered with Joyce’s creative practice is debatable. Whatever the reason, this was the end of his work on Stephen Hero, and in 1908, when he returned to the material, it was very much changed as he turned it into Portrait.

It’s a pity to have lost the remainder of the novel in this way—for it not to have been continued—because this last chapter is another illustration of the rich dialogue and the compelling autobiographical scenes that make Stephen Hero such a fascinating manuscript, and which are thinner on the ground in Portrait. The chapter opens with Stephen and Cranly in conversation, Cranly once more preparing to go back to his home in Wicklow, this time with no reason to return to Dublin given that he has flunked out of college; an interesting tension exists between the two friends, with Cranly reluctant to give Stephen his address. “What mysterious purpose is concealed under your impossible prosiness?” an exasperated Stephen asks him, in a very Stephen-Daedalusian take on the question what’s eating you? “Have you anything in your mind’s eye?” It’s hard to tell, but something is bothering Cranly here; I think there’s an argument to be made for his discomfort at the intensity of his own attachment to Stephen, and a bothersome sadness at the prospect of being separated from him for the summer. The two men go to a pub off Grafton Street, where they see an acquaintance, Temple, getting a bunch of medical students drunk; they’re all in the mood to head to “the kips”, the city’s red light district, but Temple doesn’t have the money. Another of the students, though, offers to “stand” (pay) for all of them, as long as Cranly “has” a woman too. He makes this suggestion, we’re told, because he has a grudge against Cranly, and because Cranly’s chastity is “famous.” Cranly does follow the group at the end of the scene, so perhaps he assents; we’re not told.

Stephen spends his summer mostly in the company of his brother Maurice. Maurice suggests that Stephen send his poems to a publisher, but Stephen says he has burned them because “they were romantic.” Joyce’s own early poems do not survive either, and may well have met the flames. Stephen’s grades are not good enough for him to receive an “exhibition”—that is, a scholarship—for the coming year, and the money to pay for his tuition is not to be found, so his mother intervenes, asking the Jesuits for their help, and an arrangement is proposed; that Stephen take an “appointment,” perhaps a teaching post or some other work-study arrangement, to tide him over. But Stephen refuses (as Joyce refused a similar post), not wanting to be bought. His summer now is spent down by the sea at Howth Head, watching the swimmers and thinking of “Lucy” (the “bird girl” watched by Stephen in Portrait, but who does not appear in an earlier scene in Stephen Hero). He also has keeps a Danish grammar in his pocket, because he has a purpose in mind for studying that language now (likely reading Ibsen in the original). He sees Emma, and comments to an acquaintance that she will probably be married soon. “She is nothing to me now, you know,” he tells the acquaintance. “I don’t believe that, let me tell you,” the acquaintance responds, and here Stephen Hero was abandoned.

Day 11 | January 22
XXV, pp. 200-218
It’s not so much that Stephen regrets his conduct towards Emma, but that he is cast into doubt whenever he thinks about it, and he does not like being cast into doubt. Has he behaved like a lunatic? Well, no, no, says his friend Lynch, but he has certainly gone about things “strangely.” Would there have been something less lunatic about proposing marriage, Stephen demands to know? Hardly anything sane about the promises that the Solemnization of Marriage obliges a man to make, he says. Joyce himself, by the way, did not much believe in marriage. Already when he was writing Stephen Hero, he had met and was living with Nora Barnacle, but it would be 1931 before they were formally wed, and only then to ensure inheritance for their children.

In fact it’s not just a distaste for the perceived dishonesty of the marriage vow (‘For my part I do not believe that there was ever a moment of passion so fierce and energetic that it warranted a man in saying “I could love you for ever” to the adored object’) which repulses Stephen; the transactional element of the arrangement seems, to him, to amount to simony, or the trafficking of that which should be sacred. Don’t be under any illusion that the name of Stephen’s father, Simon Daedalus, is a coincidence in this context; Joyce was very interested in the idea and the moral failing of simony, considering spiritual objects to be above (to borrow from another writer of the era) “the greasy till.” He clearly didn’t have any predictive powers when it came to the electric power industry, though—see Stephen’s outburst, ‘Can the State buy and sell electricity? It is not possible.’ (Or perhaps he was just an early believer in privatization?)

From 203 to 206, we see Stephen admit—more than admit, extol—the attractions of the Catholic church. On an intellectual level, he just can’t quit it, even if its rules and the liberties taken by its officers disgust him. An embassy of imaginary “ambassadors” whisper the advantages of the Church into his ears, try as he might to dismiss them. Meanwhile, his father, enraged by his mediocre university exam results, relishes the opportunity to roar threats and insults at him—and his mother’s confessor priest, having heard of Stephen’s irreligious nature, has gone so far as to warn her to make sure he is not in the same house as any younger children (in the Daedalus family, which was much smaller than the Joyce scatter of children, only Maurice is younger, Isabel having been buried earlier that year.) Safer perhaps to be in the billard room of the Adelphi Hotel off Grafton Street, surrounded by hot-faced young men in fashionably cuffed trousers and shirt-sleeves, billiard balls hopping onto the floor every minute or so, watched over by a stout barmaid in “badly-made stays.” A stay is a bodice; Stephen’s attention to detail is, as ever, meticulous—and misanthropic.

Day 10 | January 21
XXIV, pp. 181-199
Stephen Daedalus, #payartists advocate. You won’t catch him contributing to anything “for the exposure.” His friend McCann is editing a new journal—created by the Jesuits to distract from a bout of bad press—and he’s hoping for an essay from Stephen. But not something incomprehensible, “something we can understand,” he says. “Condescend a little.”

A little? Has he forgotten who he’s talking to? Anyway, Stephen has no intention of contributing, given that, firstly, the journal is overseen by a priest and, secondly, that he won’t be paid. “I thought you were an idealist,” McCann says on this score. “Good luck to the paper,” says Stephen, waving a condescending little wave.

In a nice dab of irony, St. Stephen’s was the name of the journal on which McCann’s endeavor is based; it ran from 1901 to 1906, and was indeed overseen by a Jesuit. Stephen’s expectation of remuneration for his work as a writer, meanwhile, only grows stronger as he develops as a character for Joyce; it appears also in Portrait and in Ulysses, where he is chided for being the only contributor to a journal “who asks for pieces of silver.” In Stephen Hero, it makes for a comic scene which nonetheless underlines Stephen’s fierce belief in his own worth as a writer. The comedy continues, though, when Issue 1 of McCann’s journal is published, and Stephen almost blinds himself, so hard is he rolling his eyes. Around him, there’s the kind of excitement and chatter typical of publication day for any fledgling journal, and among those drawn into the excitement is Emma Clery, talking across from the library steps with her friends. Stephen regards them with—what else—condescension, feeling “charity” for their “modish and timid ways”, their “babble,” their “prattle.”

I’m not sure what to make of the “art of gesture” that Stephen goes on about in the middle part of Chapter XXIV; it sounds mostly like he wants to justify making a lot of rhythmic noise in the middle of Grafton Street, though there was a sort of philosophical movement around gesture at this time, as elaborated in books like A Manual of Gesture: Embracing a Complete System of Notation, and it’s an interest which Stephen carries forward, as a character, into Portrait and Ulysses. The bulk of his gestures and indeed his rhythms in this chapter, however, are of the cruder sort, as shown in two short scenes with Emma Clery, scenes representing the end of their short association, such as it was. In the first scene, Stephen walks her home; they flirt quite intensely, but, Emma makes clear her physical attraction to him, he puts his hand into his trousers pocket and begins “to finger out his coins.” It’s not a euphemism, but that it does seem to be a gesture of rejection, even an insult, becomes apparent as he (a) walks away from Emma and (b) shortly afterwards hands the coins over to a sex worker he meets along the canal. As for the final scene with Emma, well, tell me what you think of it. What I have to say about Stephen after this scene is probably best not published anywhere, not even in a journal that has nothing to do with the Jesuits.

Day 9 | January 20
XXIII, pp. 164-180
This chapter opens with the wrenching description of Isabel’s death. What’s striking about the structure of the scene is the bluntness, the plainness with which it begins—“Stephen was present in the room when his sister died”—before it sweeps back, almost in spite of itself, to a much fuller, more emotionally charged account of the child’s last hours and of the effect on the family members who were with her. As it turns out, Stephen was not just “present in the room,” but intensely present, holding his sister’s hand, watching her face change to that of an older woman, watching the death rattles shake her bosom. What Stephen sinks into after Isabel’s death is an angry kind of grief, briskly rational but striking for how much denial and dismissal are woven into it, for how utterly he refuses to consider that his sister was anything like her own person, that she existed. Is it pain which pushes him to diminish Isabel’s personhood in this way? Or arrogance? Or is it kin with the misogyny we see him express later in the chapter, when he refers to women as “marsupials”? It’s a description which manages to be both ridiculous (women as kangaroos, bounding around the streets of Dublin?) and savage (marsupials are born incompletely developed, which seems close to how he sees his sister, who had “not been anything herself”), and Stanislaus Joyce’s diary shows us that Joyce himself had some similar takes on the women he watched in the streets at this time in his life (“dirty animals,” “warm, soft-skinned animals”). Does he mourn his sister, or does he mourn the closeness to the “bitter clay of the graveyard” which her death has forced upon him?ı

Late in the chapter, Stephen (walking the “sluttish streets” of autumnal Dublin) discovers Marsh’s Library, the time capsule of a 1707 reading room which is still to be found in the shadow of St Patrick’s Cathedral, just as Stephen found it. He reads Franciscan texts here, which eventually leads him to attend the Capuchin (Franciscan) church nearby, and he reads, too, “an unpublished book containing two stories by W.B. Yeats,” one of which (“The Tables of the Law”) becomes something of an obsession for Stephen. What does he see in it—or rather, what does he see in the figure of the “monk-errant,” in the characters of Owen Aherne and Michael Robartes, that he wants to take for his own? A bonum arduum (arduous good), he tells Cranly, as distinct from the bonum simpliciter (simple or simple-minded good) sought by ordinary men, men like publicans and judges and librarians. Perhaps it’s simple-minded in itself to come back again to Isabel’s death, but it’s hard not to suspect the experience of watching her waste, die and be buried inspired this determination towards “extravagance” just as much as has any of his reading in Dante, Yeats or Aquinas. That death scene etches itself deep into the reader’s mind.

Day 8 | January 19
XXII, pp. 144-163
There’s great energy in the language with which Maurice Daedalus criticizes Cranly, who has gone to be with his family in Wicklow for the summer; we’re told his opinion of his brother’s friend stems “not from jealousy but from an over-estimate of Cranly’s rusticity,” which leaves one to shudder at what kind of insults Maurice might cook up if he really were jealous. Cranly is rustic, firstly, which for Maurice means that he is “a mass of cunning and stupid and cowardly habits,” he never thinks until someone speaks to him “and then he [gives] birth to some commonplace which he would have liked to have been able to disbelieve.” And my favorite: “he could talk like a pint.” All of this came directly from the diary of Stanislaus Joyce, who recorded his opinion of James’s friend JF Byrne; having read the diary, James then recorded the phrases in his own Pola notebooks.

Stephen’s summer is spent wandering the city, being regarded with suspicion by police officers, whose “great cow-like trunks…swing slowly around after him,” and looking with disgust at the priests who walk the same streets, checking on their “swarming and cringing believers.” It’s here that Stephen articulates the concept which will preoccupy Joyce in his earliest fiction: he sees around him a city of inhabitants who have entrusted their wills and minds to others “that they may ensure for themselves a life of spiritual paralysis.”

This chapter also offers a further encounter with Emma Clery, with whom Stephen parted on ambivalent terms in Chapter XVII. They’re both leaving the National Library at the same time—when Stephen is not walking the streets, he’s hanging around the library, talking to the other young men who are passing the time in there, or leafing through such random volumes as—here, Joyce couldn’t quite decide—“[a dictionary of music] a medical treatise on singing.” Emma, who definitely firms up in this chapter as an early prototype of Miss Ivors from “The Dead,” has been studying old Irish, and as Stephen walks her home, she chides him for having tired so quickly of the Gaelic League. Their conversation, as they skirt St Stephen’s Green, within which couples claim their privacy against the “chains” (fences), is flirtatious and lively, and Stephen is urged afterward by his acquaintance Moynihan to return to the Sunday afternoon gathering at the house of the Daniels family, where Emma persuades him to sing “an Irish song.” His choice, “My love she was born in the North Countree,” is one of the songs sung in “fine tenor” (Freeman’s Journal) by Joyce at the Antient Concert Rooms in August 1904 when he was one of the performers in a concert staged as part of an “Exhibition of Irish Industries” taking place during Dublin Horse Show week. Joyce was trying to make money by singing at this time; he in fact told the writer Oliver St John Gogarty of a plan to go on tour in the south of England, singing Elizabethan songs and playing the lute. The lute he hoped to commission from the instrument-maker Arnold Dolmetsch, who had recently made Yeats a harp-like Ancient Greece-inspired instrument called a psaltery, and Joyce wrote to Dolmetsch on June 16, 1904, asking for his lute, but Dolmetsch could not provide, at least not for the sum Joyce could afford to pay. All of this is ABSOLUTELY BONKERS, I am aware, but I had to mention it.

Meanwhile, Stephen’s father is so behind on the rent that the family is facing homelessness. Under dubious circumstances, and under cover of darkness, they move to a nearby building, a once-grand mansion which is now in mostly abandoned apartments and falling into decay. A piano survives in the former drawing-room. It’s here Stephen is sitting, lost in his thoughts, “his soul comiming[ling] with the assailing, inarticulate dusk” when his mother appears, pleading for his help with Isabel, whose illness has shadowed the chapter and has now entered its final stages. It’s a stunning moment, visceral and heartbreaking, with Stephen’s mother coming to her son, the university man, the scholar, in the hopes that he might know something about the terrible new symptom (likely a perforated intestine) which has appeared: “some matter coming away from the hole in Isabel’s…stomach…The hole…the hole we all have…here.” Does Stephen know anything about the body, his mother pleads? Did he ever hear of that? “What hole?” is all Stephen can say as reply.

Day 7 | January 18
XXI, pp. 122-143
Stephen’s bond with Cranly (based on Joyce’s own college friend JF Byrne) is growing; the friendship as it develops in this chapter, set in late spring at the time of the college exams, has the air almost of a romance. Night after night, the two young men talk for hours in the library and walk arm-in-arm through the streets of Dublin, deep in conversation. Cranly even has a skill for dismantling Stephen’s monologues: he interjects with so many questions, of such a purposely basic nature, that Stephen sometimes just gives up.

One of Stephen’s monologues is about his sister, Isabel, who returned to live at home in the previous chapter and who is unwell. Stephen shows little concern for her; they are so different, with Isabel having “acquiessced in the religion of her mother,” that her life, if it continues, will be “a trembling walk before God,” in contrast to Stephen’s pompous march in the other direction. We see here the ruthlessness of Stephen’s project as he seeks to shape himself in line with his own ideal; he has no room for pity or compassion for others, not even his “wasting” younger sister: “he [has] first of all to save himself and…no business trying to save others unless his experiment with himself justifie[s] him.” Cranly takes him to task on this coldness, but Stephen resists. And in truth, despite their ease with each other, Stephen is fundamentally conscious of the difference between himself and Cranly. Stephen despises “the rabblement” (as did the Joyce of this era, the Joyce who wrote the polemic “The Day of the Rabblement,” scorning the Irish Literary Theatre). Cranly is part of the rabblement, or at least has a great number of companions who are of its number, and clearly enjoys this (from Stephen’s point of view) idiotic atmosphere, seeming to “please himself in the spectacle of this caricature of his own unreadiness.” In other words, he’s a messer, and if it weren’t for his enduring obedience to Catholicism, Stephen might believe him to be acceptably “corrupt.” Cranly is an invaluable presence in this chapter for the way in which he draws Stephen out in conversation, challenges him to elaborate on his own loss of faith, and provokes him into justifications of his rebellion against the church. “The Church is made by me and my like,” Stephen ultimately proclaims, “her services, legends, practices, paintings, music, traditions. These her artists gave her. They made her what she is.”

Day 6 | January 17
XX, pp. 99-121
Stephen’s notoriety has been considerably enhanced by news of his encounter with the Very Reverend Dr Dillon; exaggerated accounts of the conversation are doing the rounds, and Stephen makes sure to exaggerate them further. His brother, Maurce, is unmoved, however; as Stephen tells the story yet again, Maurice is thinking about how different it makes him feel to walk on the ball of his left rather than his right foot. It’s curious to see Joyce presenting Maurice, who has up to this point been a devoted and intellectually curious listener for Stephen, as something of a comic foil here; is this a way of confirming just how unbearable Stephen, as he CONTINUES to prepare for the debut of his paper, has become? This is a chapter, indeed, containing a number young men presented as laughable, unsophisticated presences in Stephen’s world; such presences are certainly credible, especially given the muted response with which Stephen’s paper meets when it is finally delivered at the L&H, but it’s worth thinking about what narrative purpose they serve at this point of the novel. Stephen considers himself above yokels like Temple and O’Neill, but perhaps he also worries, at a less conscious level, that he will achieve nothing more in life than they do, or even achieve much less. It’s significant that this is also the chapter in which we learn more about his father’s fall from grace, or at least from comfortable, middle-class prosperity; his bitterness, his continuing delusions of grandeur, the unreasonable expectations he places on Stephen’s shoulder and—most strikingly—the unjustified contempt and cruelty he directs towards his wife and his daughter. As he sits by the fire, brooding over his losses, blaming his wife’s family origins, it’s impossible not to see him as the direct ancestor of another angry father who would come later in this century of Irish novels; John McGahern’s Michael Moran, muttering and fuming in his fireside spot. This long passage in which Stephen at once reveals and tries to process the extremities of his father’s downfall and his character is marked in the manuscript by several planned corrections, as well as elisions; it may be that for the young Joyce, too, it was painful material, not yet ready to be completely transformed into fiction.

The chapter closes with Stephen finding himself drawn towards Good Friday service at a church on Gardiner Street, a service over which he knows The Very Rev, etc, Dillon to be presiding. The apprentice orator recognizes, in the oratory of the professional, the vanity and theatricality of delivery, and the relish in the power which it bestows; the approval and admiration with which the Jesuit priest is bathed in the wake of the ceremony—even by gossiping old women in the porch who comment on how he uses words they “can’t intarpit”—is in sharp contrast to the awkward resentment Stephen experienced after his own sermon.

Day 5 | January 16
XIX, pp. 76-98
Stephen is working obsessively on his paper for the Literary & Historical Society. His labors are fueled by a conviction of the importance of his voice (“a voice of my generation,” he might say); he wants nothing to do with “the programme of the patriots” which is gathering force around him, and puts his energy instead into building his own aesthetic theory. If there is a reader who could get through Stephen’s disquisition on a free art without having their eyes glaze over, roll into the back of their head or dart towards the decidedly non-Aquinian space of their phone, they deserve a medal, or perhaps a subscription to The Thomist, but suffice to say here that Stephen’s theory draws heavily on Joyce’s 1902 essay “James Clarence Mangan”, as well as on his 1903-04 notebooks from his Paris years, named Jim in Paris (not really, but are you reading, Netflix?), when he was thinking more deeply about some of the texts on scholasticism and metaphysics which he had read at University College, Dublin and coming up with what Stephen here calls a “cone-shaped” theory of art. Which…I’ll explain next time. Honest.

When Stephen has finally finished his essay, he finds it necessary to change the title (originally intended to be called “Drama and Life,” it is now “Art and Life”) because he has “occupied himself so much with securating the foundations that he (has) not left himself space enough to raise the complete structure.” Which is certainly a situation with which any essay-writer can sympathize, though it is a little discouraging to hear that it can happen even to someone who has spent three months carefully crafting each sentence, rather than dragging themselves to the desk a couple of hours before the deadline. Stephen seeks out some test readers to see how the paper, when delivered at the college society, might land; his brother Maurice, his friend Madden, and his mother. Maurice pronounces it “flawless”, Madden thinks it will be above the heads of most of those who hear it, and shows Stephen some terrible poetry by their Irish teacher, and Mrs Daedalus is minding her own business ironing clothes at the kitchen table when her older son shows up and begins to move restlessly, Goldilocks-style, from one chair to another, and eventually to the table itself, dangling his legs “unsuccessfully from all free corners” until he can contain his “agitation” no longer and asks his unsuspecting mother whether she would like him to read his essay aloud.

Well. The scene in which Mrs Daedalus continues to iron the family underthings whilst Stephen presents “Art and Life” is now one of my favorite in all of literature, possibly because the last time I read it I was at Stephen’s corner of the table, and now I am at the stage of life where I am the mother who is (metaphorically, I confess) trying to iron while having to listen to a lot of convoluted theory (from a four-year-old, but ignore that part). This is another marvelous set-piece, one which shows us the open, interested and astute mind of Stephen’s mother in a really memorable and touching manner, and which manages even to be kind in its portrayal of Stephen; he’s self-involved and pretentious but also, we see in this scene, immensely anxious and in many ways still just a boy. That moment where Mrs D. pushes her iron “smoothly over a white petticoat in time to the current of her memory”: outstanding, and almost lost, because the words here italicized are surrounded, in the manuscript, by the marks which are believed by many scholars to indicate that these marked sections were intended for deletion. Hearing of her son’s admiration for Ibsen, Mrs D reads A Doll’s House, An Enemy of the People and The Wild Duck over the next few days; she is charmed by Nora Helmer (who, remember, leaves her husband and children to pursue her own needs), and moved deeply by Hedvig Ekdal’s fate. Watching Stephen squirm at his mother’s eloquent and generous responses is one of the pleasures of the chapter, richer even than the closing scene in which the young essayist pounces on yet another priest, this time the President of UCD, The Very Reverend Dr Dillon, who has read Stephen’s essay and decided that it is not at all suitable, with its survey of the “atheistic” Ibsen and others, for an audience of impressionable college students. Dr Dillon, it should be noted, has not read Ibsen, but feels free to hold forth on his dangers anyway. Doubtless he can’t iron a shirt either. Team Mrs D!

Day 4 | January 15 XVIII, pp. 69-75
This short chapter is in effect a vivid set-piece in which Stephen encounters an old classmate from Clongowes, the private boarding school run by the Jesuits at which Stephen was a student until his father could no longer avoid the bills. The old classmate, Wells, is now in training for the priesthood, something Stephen fails to notice at first when they meet in the street; “are you in mourning?” he asks the other man, quite seriously, of his black clothing. Wells laughs and tells him that he clearly doesn’t know his church when he sees it.

It’s not quite accurate, though, to say that Stephen and Wells “meet” in the street in this scene; rather, as Stephen is taking one of his evening strolls around the city, composing his forthcoming debate paper in his head (as he is doing, we might say, religiously during this period), he is grabbed from behind by someone on North Richmond Street and jolted out of his reverie. “Hello, Daedalus, old man, is that you?” Wells says “blatantly,” as Stephen gazes at this person, “a tall young man with many eruptions on his face” and tries to place him. Readers who recall the Clongowes scenes in Portrait may recognize him before Stephen does here; he is Wells, the Clongowes classmate who pushed Stephen into the “square ditch” in the schoolyard because Stephen would not swop his snuffbox for Wells’s “seasoned hacking chestnut.” Because “square ditch” sounds almost bucolic, I feel driven to clarify here that what Wells, the little fucker, pushed Stephen into in that scene was in fact a cesspool, a portion of the school sewer, and that Stephen became very ill as a consequence, ending up with a fever in the infirmary. Wells then, no doubt sensing a threat to his own reputation, apologized cravenly, and here he is, lording it around Holy Cross College in Clonliffe, preparing for all the luxuries and perks of life as a parish priest. The Clongowes sections didn’t survive in Stephen Hero, but we can relish this scene, in which Stephen watches the slimy seminarian try to appear learned, and attempt to downplay the strictures which the walls of the seminary place on his young life, and generally behave like an early twentieth century version of the priest character eventually created by the great Irish comedian Dermot Morgan. Stephen walks away from Father Cesspool newly aware of his own freedoms, and enjoying his “impulse of pity,” and having given us this wonderful vignette of dusk in a courtyard in Dublin where the self-important figures in soutanes look “criminal, almost fugitive” as they skirt along the narrow paths. What did you enjoy about this short chapter?

Day 3 | January 14
XVII, pp. 48-68

An unstable home-life, threatening ever more towards violence; that’s the backdrop of Chapter XVII, both in Stephen’s own life and in the life of Ireland itself, as the appetite for revolution against British rule grows. Stephen’s father fears that his son is “falling into bad company” (nobody tell him that Stephen is the bad company), and that his evening walks with his younger brother risk corrupting the latter to “idle habits,” so they must stop; he’s also to pull himself together at university and succeed “brilliantly” at his looming exams, or forfeit his education altogether. Maurice, the younger brother is the one most affected by all of this, losing as he does his access to the rebellious territories carved out by Stephen; Stephen himself (to anticipate one of his gleefully irreverent pronouncements from later in the chapter) frankly doesn’t give a toss. He has no intention of ascending to “remunerative respectability” and thereby solving his family’s financial problems; he’s only grateful that this expectation, and its accompanying suggestion of his potential power, has furnished him with the “egoism” and talent for self-centredness which is now serving him so well as he applies it to his ambitions as an artist. Poor young Maurice may miss his nightly passegiata, but Stephen has his “solitude” and his “human channels” to fulfill him—see again that talent for claiming isolation whilst simultaneously enjoying a social life.

In this chapter, Stephen is writing a paper which he intends to deliver at one of the college debating society events; the Literary and Historical Society, or L&H, still endures as a central aspect of student life at University College Dublin—central like central heating, that is, lots of humid talk and sweaty efflorescence—and like many an undergrad before him, Stephen is convinced that the paper he is preparing to deliver will blow the doors off the debating chamber: “It seemed to him that the students might need only the word to enkindle them towards liberty or that, at least, his trumpet-call might bring to his side a certain minority of the elect.” By liberty, he doesn’t mean the liberty of nationalism, which is running hot everywhere around him in Dublin, as the rest of the chapter shows, but the liberty of something more like Stephenism. If, in Chapter XVI, we saw Stephen insist upon a classical rather than a romantic view of art—in the view that real poetry is brought into being painstakingly, by means of hard graft and deliberate strategy—and declare that “every moment of inspiration must be paid for in advance”, then here we see that this conscientiousness does not apply to what he considers the only way to actually live one’s life. Stephen is monkish in his art (or sees himself as being so), but his friend McCann is monkish in his daily practices, abstaining from drink and sex and blasphemy and all the things that, for Stephen, make life worthwhile. Stephen gives him a merciless but affectionate ribbing over this piety, but it bothers him, too, because he truly does not understand “what right the future [has] to hinder him from any passionate exertions in the present.”

Speaking of passionate exertions, in this chapter we see Stephen on the prowl, trying to find out the whereabouts of the young woman we saw him meet in Chapter XVI. Emma Clery, who back at the salon in Donnybrook, took charge of the situation by standing in front of the “musing” Stephen and saying “I think we know each other already” (we stan a swiping-right queen!), has not left his mind, and nor has the awareness that she is as nationalistic and as passionate about the Irish language as he himself is ideologically squeamish of these things. For Stephen, the Catholic church, not the British State, is the villain in Irish culture—“The Roman, not the Sassenach, was for him the tyrant of the islanders''— but still, if he wants to get in with Emma Clery, he’s going to need to pretend to be interested in speaking Irish. He says so “lyingly” (can we get some love for this Joycean adverb, by the way) to another of his nationalism-mad college acquaintances, Madden. Madden is delighted at the prospect of a “convert,” and tries to corner Stephen into a sort of Profession of Faith in all things Sinn Féin but Stephen claims the artist’s prerogative not to “settle everything all at once.” Give me time, he snaps at Madden, and slowly his “new freak,” that is, his education in the Irish language, gets underway. Pretty quickly, Stephen attains from this study that which he has hoped for; the information about which section Miss Clery attends. It’s not the beginners’ class, needless to say, and convincing though he may be in many other regards, Stephen is unable to sweet-talk himself into a more advanced session, and finds himself stuck in a classroom with a number of idiots who laugh and blush over the Irish word for “love.” After a few weeks of this, his disdain for the language, for those who believe in it, and for everything they represent, infects even his lust for Miss Clery. What he fantasizes about now is less her “warm ample body” than the thrill he would get from shoving Emma and her young priest friend, Father Moran, into each other’s arms in front of the entire ardent classroom of Irish scholars. By the end of the chapter, walking Emma a final time to her evening tram stop at Nelson’s Pillar, Stephen is regarding her (in anticipation of Gabriel Conroy’s secret thoughts about his wife Gretta in “The Dead”) with a snobbish contempt. And dare we ask how much Irish he has to show for himself after the whole campaign?

Day 2 | January 13
XVI, pp. 32-47

Chapter XVI: Stephen Daedalus is self-isolating. Don’t come within six feet of him. He’s pursuing his art, writing poems, and taking it very seriously indeed. When the College of Cardinals gather to elect a new pope, they’re walled into a chamber of the Vatican for however long the voting takes; it’s with a comparison to this kind of separation from the rest of society that this chapter opens. Except, of course, that Stephen considers himself even more separate than the cardinals, because at least they have each other as they quarrel over when to send up the white smoke; Stephen considers himself utterly apart. “Isolation,” he says solemnly to his brother Maurice, “is the first principle of artistic economy.” Not for him the “burgher notion,” meaning bohemian fancy, of the poet as someone like Byron, with verse pouring out of him “just as a city fountain pours out water”—he’s a classicist, is Stephen, not a romantic. Poems have to be worked for. They are made, not born. And they are made through hard work and intense dedication; “he put his lines together not word by word but letter by letter.” He’s a piece of work in himself, haughty and self-certain, full of contempt for his “idea-proof” classmates (I’m stealing that insult, by the way), but they certainly invite contempt, don’t they. Art? Art brings with it studios, and they don’t want studios in their country! Nudity! Decadence! Pleasure! “Talk about beauty, talk about rhythms, talk about aesthetics—they knew what all the fine talk covered.” There’s an echo here of Pegeen Mike in Synge’s The Playboy of the Western World, who falls for Christy Mahon’s “fine words” and “mighty talk” but is unable to ward off the moral panic that comes with going with them. But Stephen only looks with scorn on these parochial drones in his classes. He’s skipping class more often than not now, anyway, walking the city more fervently, more frequently, and taking other pleasures, too: chastity, “having been found greatly inconvenient," has been “quietly abandoned.” He feels “the morning in his blood." He’s young and the very opposite of idea-proof, and despite his contempt for his classmates, he’s becoming something of a personality around campus and around the city, so much so that on his way home from a party a journalist approaches him for a thought on the plays of Maeterlinck (as you do), and he’s going to a weekly salon at the home of a family of Dublin bohemians, and he’s taking long philosophical walks-and-talks with his brother Maurice and he’s… actually… not isolating at all, when you think about it. All talk, no quarantine. Well, that sounds familiar.

Something interesting about Joyce and the term “epiphany,” which is so often used in discussion of his work, in particular his Dubliners stories: for Joyce, an epiphany was something very specific, a type of prose form, a vignette which caught and recorded an experience or idea which had actually happened or occurred to him, and which he wrote out; between 1898 and 1904, he recorded over seventy of them, and he used these as the skeleton upon which to build Stephen Hero. If you’re interested in reading them all, or those which survive, they were collected by Robert Scholes and Richard M. Kain and published in 1965 as (fascinating title) The Workshop of Daedalus. The scene with the dog on the swampy sands at Fairview, with its “prolonged sorrowful howl," his “strange lamentation," comes directly from one of these epiphanies, as does the game of charades at the home of the Daniels family. That family were modeled on the Sheehy family, who lived near Belvedere College, where Joyce went to secondary school, and where he met Francis Skeffington, on whom McCann (in Portrait he becomes MacCann) is modeled. Skeffington was a fascinating figure, quite a beautiful presence in the culture and history of early 20th century Ireland; a feminist and a pacifist, he was an author and a Dublin eccentric. He took the name Sheehy-Skeffington after he married Hanna Sheehy, one of the Sheehy daughters on whom the “marriageable daughters” of the Daniels household in Stephen Hero are modeled. Sheehy Skeffington, despite his pacifism, was murdered in military custody during the 1916 rising in a manner which aroused public revulsion. It’s touching to see him as the young McCann here, jostling with Stephen, arranging games of charades, going around Dublin with his “Cavalier beard and shooting-suit," the look-at-this-fucking-hipster of his time.

Day 1 | January 12
Opening, pp. 23-31

Though of course it’s the consequence of a large chunk of the manuscript being lost, still there’s something energizing, isn’t there, about being plunged into the narrative mid-sentence; in the middle of a sentence, indeed, which doesn’t entirely make sense, no matter how we build out its full version: anyone spoke to him mingled a too polite disbelief with its expectancy. What are we being told, here, of Stephen Daedalus, whom we meet in this unfinished novel in his earliest form? Even if this is not an opening sentence, but the fragment which has wound up standing as the opening sentence in this New Directions edition of the book, it’s interesting to read it as an opening sentence, with the kind of foreshadowing, tonal hinting, mood-setting that an opening sentence sometimes performs. What do you see in those twelve words? I see youthful self-consciousness, hyper-attunement, a narcissistic state of intense alertness to the possible meanings, the possible subtexts and the laborious efforts of every moment of speech, of encounter, of demeanor. Is it that Stephen’s own expression or tone, when spoken to by anyone, mingles that “too polite disbelief” with expectancy? Or is it that the way in which anyone speaks to him mingles these things? Expectancy of what? Of the disbelief itself? And what is it, anyway, for disbelief to be polite, let alone “too polite”? I’m exhausted just thinking about it. Slow your roll, Stephen, take a breath…but no. Because if Stephen Daedalus had ever slowed his roll we wouldn’t have Stephen Hero, and we wouldn’t have Portrait, and we wouldn’t have Ulysses. Strap in. Here we go, into the Dublin that, on his twenty-second birthday, in 1904, James Joyce got down to the task of imagining in fiction. A hyper-attentive fragment about how to sound, or about how the speech of others appears to sound, is maybe the best possible way to begin.

Look at the skill with which Stephen disarms the lurking bursar, the priest who spends his mornings in the university entrance hall, ready to pounce on any student who shows up more than a few minutes after the start of lectures. On this given morning, even though he arrives behind Moloney, the student who gets a bollocking from the bursar for being eight minutes late, Stephen is in fact early by his own standards; usually, he’s so late that the bursar has given up and left the hall for the morning. It’s a sliver of a scene, but one in which we see something fundamental about Stephen; he knows how to handle these priests. Watch him take his time, hanging up his coat, keeping his back to the bursar’s accusing stare, then turning his head towards him quietly and landing the line which he knows will get him off the hook: “Fine morning, sir.” It’s a challenge, a call to dignity, an invitation to focus on the finer things, and it works: the bursar backs off, agrees about the morning, wanders off onto neutral ground, conversationally, and Stephen goes unchided. And wrapped up in all of this, crucially, is Stephen’s demonstration and reminder—to us, to the bursar, to himself—of what he is not: not, like that apologetic student before him on the stone steps, “fat…hard-working…timorous…with a bread and jam complexion." He doesn’t blush, he doesn’t break a sweat, he doesn’t bow down to the clergy. He’s not fat. There’s a cruelty in this demarcation, in this holding-apart of himself, and we’ll see it again, in a moment, when he meets with another student, Madden, and notes the “brogue” of his pronunciation (Stephen himself, as Irish, would not escape the brogue, but clearly he thinks of himself as doing so) and the “peasant strength of his jaws'' as he fills out a docket for a book at the library. Peasant jaws at the desk of the National Library; lord have mercy! But Stephen doesn’t. And on we go.

I have to say that as a college lecturer, I wouldn’t love to have Stephen Daedalus in one of my English classes; I’d praise to the skies that description of Father Butt, the college dean, as a man whose “vocal ligaments, like his garb, seemed to be coated with chalk." But the Daedalusian Theory of Verse, and those long weekly essays, “remarkable,” in the account of their author, “for a certain crude originality of expression”; I think I’d be hoping for Stephen to keep up the practice of arriving in class three quarters of an hour late. Still, though, what we are seeing here is the emergence of Stephen’s intellect, his eye for detail, the set of rules which will structure and elevate his transformation, as an artist, of the world around him. The final scene in this opening section, in which he recounts his daily walk across the city, from Amiens Street station to the college, is on fire with the ambition, the arrogance, the cruelty, and above all the hyper-attunement of this young man, seeing his city and naming it, striving as he passes every face and every monument “to pierce to the motive centre of its ugliness.” See him, striding with “deliberate, unflagging step” across Dublin, repeating to himself until they become “wonderful vocables” the words and phrases that come to him, fighting “with every energy of body and soul” against the temptation to be “obvious." All the sad young literary men? He’s left them behind on Earlsfort Terrace.


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