The Production of Style in ‘Eumaeus

‘Eumaeus’ is Ulysses‘ (1922) third last episode and is written in a style manifestly distinct from the rest of the novel. This is due to its functioning, I contend, as a parody of nineteenth century realism, of which someone like Charles Dickens might be said to be a standard-bearer, an author whose works Eumaeus both references and satirises. This would not in itself render Eumaeus an episode all that distinct from the rest of the novel; by the time we’re in the novel’s second half the stylistic ‘norm’ established in the Telemachiad has been left behind, in favour of a style which more often than not parodies more traditional or popular literary forms. However, Eumaeus is distinct among these for its representation of the state, society and Dublin at the turn of the century from a more overtly political perspective and this post aims to flesh out some of these issues to a greater extent.

Tony Farmar and Terry Eagleton identify the Famine and subsequent acts of land reform imposed by the British parliament as Ireland’s answer to the bourgeois revolutions of England and France, historical moments which loom so large within the history of dialectical materialism. These legislative reforms, so the argument goes, further codified in law what the land seizures and clearances which came in the wake of Famine had brought about; the emergence of Ireland as an economy of large-scale pastoral production, requiring the construction of one of the world’s densest railway systems in order to facilitate extraction and distribution of its exports.

David Convery argues that the predominantly rural nature of the Irish economy is often posited as a means of questioning the existence of an Irish class system in any form. This proposition has some unfortunate correspondences to the representation of the working class in Ulysses, a novel more broadly typified by representations of Dublin’s indigenous service industry and petit-bourgeoisie; representations of the working class in Ulysses function primarily as a means of providing local detail (7.21 – 24) or a threatening atmosphere (16.327 – 330). This is despite the extent of the poverty which would have been visible in Dublin at the time in which Ulysses is set in 1904; Conor McCabe notes that Dublin had the highest mortality rate in the British empire around the turn of the century and in a 1937 review of the novel Alick West criticised Ulysses on the basis of this oversight: ‘Joyce shows…little of the relations of production. There are no disputes between employers and labour, no struggle for wages, no strikes’.

Ulysses does manifest a significantly greater degree of attention to the domestic consumption of advertising canvassers, clerks and journalists who are all present in the novel to a significantly greater extent than labourers, industrial workers or peasant farmers despite the fact that clerks and more commercial workers were resident in the city’s suburbs to avoid paying the city rates; the labouring population formed almost half the working population and were concentrated in the inner city. It is worth noting, as Farmar does, that Dublin’s high street stores were, at the time in which Ulysses is set, beginning to stock goods promoting the lifestyle choices of a growing middle class, who were also beginning to enjoy the benefits of a more widespread selection of imports such as stout, biscuits, clothes, sugar and tea. However, this disproportionate amount of attention to the end-point of the productive process, passing over production itself or the labourers on whom these global supply chains depended, is indicative of the novel’s blindness to class antagonisms which were soon to lead to crises such as the first world war, the 1913 Lockout and the 1916 Rising. Ulysses might therefore be described as a case study of what György Lukács referred to as a modernist naturalism incapable of dealing with capitalist society as a broader totality. To provide further context to the relative conservatism of Irish modernism, we might add Joe Cleary’s reference to the dissolution of Irish popular culture after the Famine and the relative lack of a mass print culture, two extenuating factors which might plausibly have stymied the development of a more robust and indigenous literary tradition more overtly engaged in social critique.

What is crucial to recall in this is that by the end of the nineteenth century, Irish agriculture has taken on a global character. It was not an indigenous industry in any sense, but one that had been developed for export, and Ireland’s location within the British empire made Ireland effectively dependent on Britain as an export market which allowed for no protectionist tariffs. The overwhelming majority of these exports took the form of alcohol and live cattle, the latter being transported from big farms in the island’s midlands, to the Dublin docks, to slaughterhouses in the north of England where demand for Irish produce remained constant in order to meet the demands of the growing centres of manufacturing. This relationship between England and Ireland functioned extremely well in delivering capital surpluses to those who owned large farms in Ireland as well as industrialists and landed farmers in England, Irish small farmers being left as poorly off as they were in the mid-nineteenth century.

To provide an example of the ways in which Eumaeus ultimately shies away from the provision of an accurate picture of the working class in Dublin in 1904, we might consider the episode’s beginning, when the smell emitted from a bakery is described, and the narrative voice interleaves Stephen and Bloom’s subjective responses, in modes such as Shakespearean malapropism, folk wisdom, Catholic ritualising and advertising jingles, all of which will be familiar from earlier parts of the text (16.51 – 59). In contrast to the rich symbolic terrain of the bakery, as well the comparatively vibrant account of the grocers, clothiers and North Star Hotel, the warehouses on Beresford place, junctures at which Dublin’s key position within the supply chain outlined above, are primarily defined by their inanition and emptiness. The more commonsensical explanation that it is a time in which warehouse labour would presumably not be taking place should not be discounted, especially given that night work in bakeries was at the time a point of struggle within labour disputes, but the fact that the bakery is operational while the warehouses are not is nevertheless symptomatic of Eumaeus’ political interventions. These warehouses, and the docking infrastructure within which they were a part, formed one of the most important sites of struggle during the labour disputes of 1913; when Dublin’s employers began to import scab labour from England at the end of October as a means of breaking the strike, the workers succeeded in closing the docks. This attenuation of Eumaeus’ scope to Dublin’s domestic economy at the expense of an account of Ireland’s economic position relative to an imperial power, let alone a world capitalist totality, is of a part with the compression or rationalisation of the episode’s style which hails the reader in the anonymised voice of a contrived ‘common man’. Republicanism, trade unionism, socialism and anarchism are all touched upon in this episode, albeit while maintaining the fundamental scepticism regarding totalising approaches that one sees elsewhere in Ulysses, such as those that we might find in these schools of thought and praxis. Eumaeus instead gestures towards some aspects of these anti-statist formations against which Bloom’s liberal reformism contrasts. 

Due to the experiential ways in which Joyce represents the interiority of his characters and erects totalising propositions only as a prelude to their deconstruction, it can be difficult to obtain a precise notion of Bloom’s politics. Nevertheless, there is a constellation of perspectives outlined by Bloom, via Stephen and Eumaeus’ narrative voice, with a direct bearing on the style in which Eumaeus is written. At the beginning of this episode, Bloom inveighs Stephen with a series of monologues, mediated via the narrative voice, regarding the danger Stephen faces in continuing to spend his time in disreputable areas such as Monto, attempting to encourage him to live his life in a more respectable way. As the episode continues, Bloom considers the ways in which Stephen might utilise the talents he presumably possesses in singing and literature in order to manoeuvre himself into some of the more fashionable upper class salons in Dublin (16.1828 – 1860). Throughout Eumaeus therefore, the theme of working one’s way into a higher class or potentially descend into a lower one predominates.

The urban proletariat is increasingly visible in Eumaeus in the guise of three characters who are provided with something approximating an extensive treatment. The first of these is John Corley, a character immediately ironised by being referred to as Lord John Corley. It becomes clear that this is a sardonic reference to a genealogy which links him both with the Talbot family of Malahide as well as Jesus Christ (16.128 – 140). These genealogies not only parody Dickens’ representations of the poor as temporarily embarrassed aristocrats, but represent Corley as an unreliable witness, as when Corley’s account of his unemployment and general lack of funds is glossed by the narrative voice as a ‘doleful ditty’ (16.144), as though Corley were playing up his hard luck solely in order to extract sympathy and money from Stephen. Corley’s vector over the course of the previous day, and indeed number of years, forms an intriguing parallel with that of Stephen. Corley firstly seems to have had some kind of a drunken falling out with Lenehan, just as Stephen has with Mulligan. Stephen is coming from Clifton School in Dalkey just as Corley may be heading there later in the day in order to request a job. Finally, they both spent time in the Christian Brothers. This would not have been unusual for Catholic men in Ireland at the time, but the emphasised difference between Corley’s experience of the school system when compared to Stephen’s is nonetheless illustrative. Based on how closely their experiences of the previous day correspond and their educational experiences diverge, the episode suggests how easy it would be for Stephen to be in the position of needing to beg from people in the near future, given that neither of them at this particular point have a job or a home to go to. When Bloom and Stephen enter the cabman’s shelter, Stephen is reflecting on a memory of the front room in his former home, presumably as a result of some residual anxiety at seeing the state in which Corley is in (16.270 – 275). All these discourses surrounding Corley’s character, as well Bloom’s disinterested reflection on class relations being the product of disproportionately distributed amounts of luck (16.240) or a failure on the behalf of the underprivileged to maximise their own individual capacities, suggest that Corley, like Stephen, is in his current situation due to poor judgement and a lack of initiative. This is emphasised further when Bloom reflects on Corley, as ‘the other parasite’ (16.231), a formulation which would presumably render Stephen the first.

The next representative of the working class in Eumaeus comes in the figure of the sex worker who Bloom sees passing by the cabman’s shelter. References are made to the Lock hospital, an institution associated with the treatment of venereal disease. Bloom’s attitude towards the woman, and the voice of the episode with which Bloom’s perspective is suffused, seems at first to be slightly more liberal than one would expect. At the time, the predominating notion of a prostitute amounted to that of a sinful, fallen woman and little consideration would have been given to the material conditions which might lead to people becoming sex workers. In much nineteenth century medical literature for instance, prostitutes were considered a source of contamination, corruption and disease. The Italian criminologist Cesara Lombroso and French physician Louis Fiaux, studied working class women in the late nineteenth century via phrenological methods, arguing that prostitutes had distorted body parts, primitive and childlike attention spans and limited cognitive capacities. The reactionary tendencies at play in Eumaeus’ representation of sex workers return us to the matter of Ireland’s colonial dependency, there being a correlation between the location of military barracks and areas in which the selling of sex is more widespread than elsewhere, as it was for the famous wrens of the Curragh as well as Tipperary town where there the construction of a garrison led to the residents complaining of a marked increase in sex workers in 1877. The district of Monto has its origins here too; extra troops were garrisoned along Mecklenberg street in the early nineteenth century due to rising anxieties regarding a potential French invasion. The publication of an account written by James Greenwood on the wrens in 1867 in the Pall Mall Gazzette embarrassed the authorities into taking action and passing both the Curragh of Kildare and Contagious Diseases Acts in 1868, laws which permitted state authorities to intervene more directly in the camp and its residents. It is via Eumaeus’ representation of the sex worker then, that a biopolitical framework becomes more clearly foregrounded and the notion of becoming or being working class takes on a pathological valency in its association with venereal disease and the contemporary discourses composing the broader prostitute imaginary. We might recall here Corley being referred to as a parasite as well as the alcoholism of the man who may or may not be the town clerk Henry Campbel. 

It is here that we come to a fulcrum of Bloom’s political beliefs, accounts of which often emphasise his liberal open-mindedness, tolerance and the rational nature of his proposals for the improvement of society. In many ways, these appraisals fail to interrogate these reforms’ dependence on the adjustment of individual behaviour or seeming belief in the capacity of a capitalist market to function according to moral tenets. Some of Bloom’s reflections on improving the lot of the working classes for instance, include the promotion of the Pioneer Total Abstinence Association as a means of treating alcoholism and the use of community venues in order to stage educational plays or informative lectures (16.793 – 795). It is interesting to note that in comparison to some actually existing reform movements these policy proposals were not as progressive as they might seem; figures such as James Larkin were making practical efforts to construct a working-class counter-culture within the trade union movement based on collective values such as sharing and solidarity in opposition to a bourgeois individualism. Larkin’s plans depended on the development of spaces within which rank-and-file members of the Irish Transport and General Worker’s Union and their families could receive education, social welfare supports and participate in sporting activities. These efforts, which would have been roughly contemporaneous with the events of the novel, in fact contrast with Bloom’s far more conservative vision of social reform. The extent of Bloom’s social vision therefore amounts to the pithy injunction to more ‘do good and net a profit’ (16.800 – 801), which would locate Bloom’s plans for social improvement and welfare very much within the post-Fordist social contract, whereby increased amounts of private consumption, especially international travel, would be made possible by a substantial universal income (16.509 – 510; 16.1133 – 1135; 16.641 – 16.648). These concessions are then leveraged as a means of de-communalising social welfare programmes and public investment, replacing them with philanthropy or a moral economy. It is fitting then, that within much of Bloom’s narration he seems to regard himself as a corporate entity (16.537 – 538); he reflects throughout the episode on the potentially lucrative nature of the concert tours he might establish with both Stephen and Molly’s talents (16.522 – 526). This is not to suggest that Ulysses or Bloom provide an insight into the future of the Atlanticist economies but what the entrepreneurial logics of valuing thrift and propriety elsewhere praised in the discourse terminates in (16.539 – 562). Bloom’s understanding of the role of policing also casts doubt on the notion that he is representative of progressive politics; Bloom notes in the earlier in the episode that only more fashionable parts of Dublin can be depended upon as areas in which a strong police presence can be noted as opposed to more deprived areas such as Monto. This thought evinces a surprising degree of awareness regarding the political nature of policing and even some degree of cynicism regarding the ruling classes (160.80 – 82), but one should note that Bloom’s complaint originates in his thought that the police are not in Dublin’s red light district in sufficient numbers. This would be despite prostitutes being subject to the power of the state on a regular basis, as Maria Luddy argues  ‘authority in the form of police and prison officers governed their lives’. Of course, Bloom is more interested in ensuring Stephen can have safe traffic through more deprived areas than he is in the conditions in said areas. Shortly after Bloom thinks on this issue, Bloom and Stephen are hailed by a sentry man at Amiens Street who turns out to be a friend of Simon Dedalus. The man is named Gumley and towards the end of the episode, he is represented as being sufficiently free from work to do that he is asleep, suggesting not only that police forces are somewhat ineffectual or benign, but dismisses the idea also that they represent an exogenous, occupying or coercive force; their familiarity and essential harmlessness is confirmed by Gumley familiarity to the two men. 

When the conversation in the cabman’s shelter turns to imperialist violence, Bloom sceptically reflects that Irish soldiers were just as prone to violent engagements such as this (16.1042) and that the English are quite restrained in their use of force (16.1033 – 1034). In addition to being contrary to Bloom’s personal experience, given that he was nearly run over by a mounted policeman at a protest against the Boer war, between these two propositions there is not only a form of both-sidesism at play, where both sides make use of violence and therefore both are equally bad, but ultimately, British soldiers are framed as making use of a restrained or judicious, ‘good’ violence in opposition to the violence committed by bad Irish soldiers, which is of course, contrary to his staunch doctrine of non-violence (16.1060). Booker identifies a both-sidesism associated with Bloom’s character and suggests that this may relate to his class interests; Bloom is shown to possess stocks in the Canadian government to a value of £900 to which a British victory in the Boer war would have provided greater security. Lawrence argues that Bloom’s politics are ambiguous in their orientation due to the half-admiration he seemingly expresses via the ambiguity of a key clause which suggests that Bloom has only been half-cured of his youthful radicalism and admiration for those who would use violence in the achievement of their political aims.

It is primarily anarchists, the labour movement and Republicans who are provided with the short end of the argumentative stick by having their positions represented as confused and inchoate throughout the episode, at the end of which Bloom’s liberal utopianism and Stephen’s aesthetic hermeticism appear comparatively engagé

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One response to “The Production of Style in ‘Eumaeus

  1. Pingback: Why ‘Stephen Hero’ is better than ‘A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’ | Chris Beausang

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