More Joyce … old England is dying

[Again, something I posted on MyT before.]

Anastasia’s post on anti-Semitism reminded me of this extract from James Joyce’s Ulysses (published in 1922, set in 1904), which I posted here before. Ulysses, with its Jewish everyman hero or antihero Leopold Bloom, is a great work in many ways. The extract gives a flavour of the brilliant writing, sustained in many different styles in the course of the book … which is often very funny too.

Mr Deasy, a school headmaster, is holding forth to Stephen Dedalus, a young teacher and poet. It strikes me that if Mr Deasy were a real-life character and living now, he would be a very busy blogger. But Stephen is the clever one.

— Mark my words, Mr Dedalus, he said. England is in the hands of the jews. In all the highest places: her finance, her press. And they are the signs of a nation’s decay. Wherever they gather they eat up the nation’s vital strength. I have seen it Coming these years. As sure as we are standing here the jew merchants are already at their work of destruction. Old England is dying.

He stepped swiftly off, his eyes coming to blue life as they passed a broad sunbeam. He faced about and back again.

— Dying, he said, if not dead by now.

The harlot’s cry from street to street
Shall weave old England’s winding sheet.

His eyes open wide in vision stared sternly across the sunbeam in which he halted.

— A merchant, Stephen said, is one who buys cheap and sells dear, jew or gentile, is he not?

— They sinned against the light, Mr Deasy said gravely. And you can see the darkness in their eyes. And that is why they are wanderers on the earth to this day.

On the steps of the Paris Stock Exchange the goldskinned men quoting prices on their gemmed fingers. Gabbles of geese. They swarmed loud, uncouth about the temple, their heads thickplotting under maladroit silk hats. Not theirs: these clothes, this speech, these gestures. Their full slow eyes belied the words, the gestures eager and unoffending, but knew the rancours massed about them and knew their zeal was vain. Vain patience to heap and hoard. Time surely would scatter all. A hoard heaped by the roadside: plundered and passing on. Their eyes knew the years of wandering and, patient, knew the dishonours of their flesh.

— Who has not? Stephen said.

— What do you mean? Mr Deasy asked.

He came forward a pace and stood by the table. His underjaw fell sideways open uncertainly. Is this old wisdom? He waits to hear from me.

— History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

From the playfield the boys raised a shout. A whirring whistle: goal. What if that nightmare gave you a back kick?

— The ways of the Creator are not our ways, Mr Deasy said. All history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God.

Stephen jerked his thumb towards the window, saying:

— That is God.

Hooray! Ay! Whrrwhee!

— What? Mr Deasy asked.

— A shout in the street, Stephen answered, shrugging his shoulders.



Filed under Literature, Philosophy of life

5 responses to “More Joyce … old England is dying

  1. jaimeatdnmyt

    Nice selection. Such a brilliant writer. “A shout in the street.”

  2. Hi, Jaime. Yes, brilliant. ‘A shout in the street’ is the best description I’ve seen, I think. It certainly beats the white-bearded patriarch as far as I’m concerned. 🙂

  3. claire2

    Hey Brendano…nice post.
    Lovely extract; like the quote about history being a nightmare from which I am trying to awake…
    I’m really enjoying these literary posts of yours; why don’t you put em up on Dark Side?
    Are you a journalist Brendano, by the way…? 😉

  4. Thanks very much, Claire. Not a journalist … just a lowly freelance editor. You’re the journalist. 🙂

  5. One must go with the flow, Cymbeline. The shout in the street is the flow. Dogma and definite ideas about the social world, religion, etc. are a freezing of energy … a blockage.

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