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Thanks! -- Arnie Perlstein, now living in "Portlandia"!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Infallible Popes, Shining & Omnipotent Sovereigns, & Sovereign Goods & Wishes

When I posted yesterday about JA making a pun on the coin, the sovereign, in Letter 54, and then also in Ch. 27 of MP, I tried, in vain, to find an example of Shakespeare making that same pun, because I had a strong recollection that he had done so somewhere, famously.

I woke up today realizing that it was not Shakespeare who made that pun that was on the tip of my tongue, it was the author who knew and loved Shakespeare as well as JA did, and who once playfully referred to his children as “Sense” and “Sensibility”—of course, I mean James Joyce! Here is the very famous scene I was remembering, in the opening chapter of _Ulysses_:

—I get paid this morning, Stephen said.
—The school kip? Buck Mulligan said. How much? Four quid? Lend us one.
—If you want it, Stephen said.
—Four shining SOVEREIGNS, Buck Mulligan cried with delight. We'll have a glorious drunk to astonish the druidy druids. Four omnipotent SOVEREIGNS.
He flung up his hands and tramped down the stone stairs, singing out of tune with a Cockney accent:
O, won't we have a merry time,
Drinking whisky, beer and wine!
On coronation,
Coronation day!
O, won't we have a merry time
On coronation day!

I was immediately reminded, not only of JA’s two puns on “sovereign”, but also of what is arguably JA’s most famous pun: "There has been one infallible POPE in the World."

The above Joycean passage suggests to me that Auden was not correct in his judgment of Joyce’s relative innocence, vis a vis JA, about money making the world go ‘round. I think Joyce hated it just as strongly as JA, but whereas it is JA’s _women_ (including herself, a female author) who lack the power that their rich English masters hold, in Joyce it is the Irish (including himself, an Irish author) who must labor as “governesses” to their rich English masters.

As direct evidence of this, not long after the above passage, Stephen gets paid, and we find the following exchange between him and the clueless bigot, Mr. Deasy, during which Stephen meditates on sovereigns (coins _and_ crowns) as symbols of power “soiled by greed and misery”:

“…First, our little financial settlement, [Deasy] said.
And now his strongroom for the gold. …A SOVEREIGN fell, bright and new, on the soft pile of the tablecloth.
—Three, Mr Deasy said, turning his little savingsbox about in his hand. These are handy things to have. See. This is for sovereigns. This is for shillings. Sixpences, halfcrowns. And here crowns. See.
He shot from it two crowns and two shillings.
—Three twelve, he said. I think you'll find that's right.
—Thank you, sir, Stephen said, gathering the money together with shy haste and putting it all in a pocket of his trousers.
—No thanks at all, Mr Deasy said. You have earned it.
Stephen's hand, free again, went back to the hollow shells. Symbols too of beauty and of power. A lump in my pocket: symbols soiled by greed and misery.
—Don't carry it like that, Mr Deasy said. You'll pull it out somewhere and lose it. You just buy one of these machines. You'll find them very handy.
Answer something.
—Mine would be often empty, Stephen said.
The same room and hour, the same wisdom: and I the same. Three times now. Three nooses round me here. Well? I can break them in this instant if I will.
—Because you don't save, Mr Deasy said, pointing his finger. You don't know yet what money is. Money is power. When you have lived as long as I have. I know, I know. If youth but knew. But what does Shakespeare say? Put but money in thy purse.
—Iago, Stephen murmured.
He lifted his gaze from the idle shells to the old man's stare.
—He knew what money was, Mr Deasy said. He made money. A poet, yes, but an Englishman too. Do you know what is the pride of the English? Do you know what is the proudest word you will ever hear from an Englishman's mouth?
The seas' ruler. His seacold eyes looked on the empty bay: it seems history is to blame: on me and on my words, unhating.
—That on his empire, Stephen said, the sun never sets.
—Ba! Mr Deasy cried. That's not English. A French Celt said that. He tapped his savingsbox against his thumbnail.
—I will tell you, he said solemnly, what is his proudest boast. I paid my way.
Good man, good man.
—I paid my way. I never borrowed a shilling in my life. Can you feel that? I owe nothing. Can you?
….I have rebel blood in me too, Mr Deasy said. On the spindle side. But I am descended from sir John Blackwood who voted for the union. We are all Irish, all KINGS' sons. “ END QUOTE

There is, again, wonderfully subtle personification of the coin, and punning on money as “king” of the world. Mr. Deasy would have had a grand time hanging out with Sir Thomas Bertram. And later when he hands Stephen a diatribe against the Jews, he shows that he would have enjoyed the company of John Thorpe as well. A real charmer.

And Joyce personifies the “sovereign” coin yet again in two later passages in _Ulysses_:

So anyhow Terry brought the three pints Joe was standing and begob the sight nearly left my eyes when I saw him land out a quid O, as true as I'm telling you. A goodlooking SOVEREIGN.
—And there's more where that came from, says he.

[speaking to Bloom] VIRAG: (Arches his eyebrows) Contact with a goldring, they say. Argumentum ad feminam, as we said in old Rome and ancient Greece in the consulship of Diplodocus and Ichthyosauros. For the rest EVE’S SOVEREIGN remedy. Not for sale. Hire only. Huguenot.

Now, was Joyce intentionally alluding to JA in all these puns on “sovereign”? I see no clear “wink” to that effect in the text of _Ulysses_, and it is easy to imagine Joyce independently rediscovering the pun without having (consciously) registered JA making it---but my guess is that he _did_ notice it in JA’s writing, and he flattered JA by imitating her in his own original way. There is an eerie resonance between the Mr. Deasy-Stephen dyad, on the one hand, and the Godmersham/Mansfield Park-JA/Fanny Price dyad, on the other. Stephen Dedalus as a latter day Jane Fairfax—a sovereign allusion to start your day!

Cheers, ARNIE

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