Monday, November 12, 2012

Something Old

“THE LAKE” by George Moore (first published 1905; revised 1921)

Comments by guest reviewer PROFESSOR BRIAN BOYD

If you are a regular reader of Reid’s Reader, you might have given a double-take to see George Moore’s The Lake once again featured as “Something Old”. After all, my comments on the novel appeared only two weeks back [see index at right]. In response to that earlier posting, however, Distinguished Professor Brian Boyd of the University of Auckland sent me the following missive, as well as the article which follows it. With his permission, I reproduce both here. They are both as much about James Joyce’s Ulysses as about George Moore’s The Lake.

Hi Nicholas,
            I was fascinated to see your generous response to George Moore’s The Lake, which I haven’t read for almost forty years. You note that Moore knew “the famous Irish wit and author Oliver St. John Gogarty, and chose the name of the hero of The Lake in mockery of his friend, who otherwise had nothing in common with the hero of the novel in either temperament or outlook.” That’s an understatement: Gogarty was famous for his obsessive blasphemy, or at least is so through the portrait James Joyce draws of him in the character of Buck Mulligan, as close as Ulysses comes to having a villain. If not a villain, then the antagonist of Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s alter-ego in the novel.

            My first publication, in 1978, was on the relationship between Father Oliver Gogarty in the ending of The Lake and Buck Mulligan at the start of Ulysses. One other fact about the real Gogarty was drawn on by both Moore and Joyce: he was an excellent swimmer.

            The article that follows is a little over-compacted, and written for a specialist audience who know their Joyce very well, but perhaps I can stir the soil to let in a little air for curious bookworms. Joyce constructed each chapter of Ulysses with a parallel to a different phase of Homer’s Odyssey for, and in the first chapter, Stephen Dedalus, the hero of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man and an ironic portrait of the young Joyce, is designated “Telemachus” (the son of Odysseus-Ulysses) and Buck Mulligan “Antinous” (the chief of the suitors of his mother, Penelope, freeloading outrageously off the Ithacan court while Odysseus’s absence stretches toward its twentieth year, at the start of the Odyssey). In real life, Gogarty and Joyce had rented a Martello tower at Sandymount near Dublin, as Mulligan and Dedalus do in Ulysses. In the opening chapter of Ulysses, Dedalus feels Mulligan is ejecting him from the tower, and mutters to himself, in the last word of the chapter, as he heads away from Mulligan swimming at the swimming-hole near the foot of the tower: “Usurper.”

            The article that follows suggests that the more important usurpation in the first chapter of Ulysses is not the tower, but the role of hero. The exuberant and self-admiring Mulligan tries to hog centre stage, but he can never be a hero. Dedalus, who in A Portrait saw himself becoming, as an artist, a priest of the eternal imagination, in effect sees (through the eyes of Joyce, at least) Mulligan as an anti-hero, an anti-priest of the imagination or the anti-imagination. I argue that Joyce picked the idea up from Moore, and quietly acknowledges his debt to the older writer.

            The Stanislaus I mention is Joyce’s brother, who later wrote a memoir My Brother’s Keeper.


[Professor Boyd’s article follows]

"A Plain Clothes Priest”
Brian Boyd
James Joyce Quarterly, 15:2 (Winter 1978), 176-79:

            Silent and unnamed, a priest clambers up from the water into which Buck Mulligan will plump. Why? Joyce's subtle attention places in counterpoint the discreet priest emerging to dress and the ostentatious mock-priest disrobing to immerge: "Buck Mulligan sat down to unlace his boots. An elderly man shot up. . . ." (U 23) Blatant, bleating Buck "nodded to him self as he drew off his trousers and stood up, saying tritely: —Redheaded women buck like goats." By word and gesture he commands attention as he unveils himself:

            He broke off in alarm, feeling his side under his flapping shirt.

—My twelfth rib is gone, he cried. I'm the Uebermensch, Toothless Kinch and I, the supermen. He struggled of his shirt and flung it behind him to where his clothes lay.

            Meanwhile, the silent priest has withdrawn into a niche to dress. Mutely Stephen observes the contrast: "Dressing, undressing" (U 24). It is this image of the priest, indeed, that finally hardens his disinclination to return to the tower into a resolve: "The priest's grey nimbus in a niche where he dressed discreetly. I will not sleep here tonight." Stephen has had his own situation mummed before him by the priest whom mock-priest Mulligan has relegated to a bit part. Stripping with the brazen confidence of the star, stripping all down to mere body, Buck upstages the real priest donning the robes of conscience and eternal imagination with the pudency of a supernumerary. As he takes note of the priest, Stephen sees he has let his own nimbus be confined to a niche, and seeing this, he knows he must resist such demotion.

            But the careful counter-pointing of Mulligan and swimming priest is also a parody of the ending of George Moore's The Lake (1905). [1] In the climatic closing section, the only scene in Moore's novel Joyce found piquant, "Father Oliver Gogarty" abandons the priesthood but conceals his apostasy by allowing his parish to think him drowned. He sheds his sacerdotal attire on one side of the lake, swims across, puts on the civilian clothes he has stowed on the other (Joycetown) side, and rounds off the novel with an aphorism on attaining emancipation. Joyce reported the passage to Stanislaus: "Father Oliver Gogarty goes out to the lake to plunge in by moonlight, before which the moon shines opportunely on 'firm erect frame and grey buttocks': and on the steamer he reflects that every man has a lake in his heart and must ungird his loins for the crossing" (Letters II 154). What particularly titillated Joyce was Gogarty's undressing, symbolically elevated by Moore but lending itself equally to concrete visualization (the real Oliver St. John Gogarty's moonlit buttocks) or merry deflation: "I wish some-one would send me a pair of Father Oliver's small-clothes that he hid among the bulrushes" (Letters II 155). Instead of a priest, "Gogarty," sloughing off his clerical investiture, entering the water and at the other side emerging to assume civilian clothes, Joyce in Ulysses has a priest emerge from the water to resume the garb of his office as the mock-priest (Gogarty) disrobes before plunging in. In Moore a priest enters the water and a layman emerges; in Ulysses a priest emerges, then a layman enters.

            Joyce no doubt hoped by this little parody to preserve the memory of the ending of The Lake in all its incongruity: Father Oliver naked, "tall and gray in the moonlight—buttocks hard as a faun's" (p. 331), and the grotesque caudal epigram, "And every man must ungird his loins for the crossing" (p. 334) [2] At the same time Joyce's parodic subscene graciously signals his gratitude to Moore for Father Gogarty, the germ of Mulligan as asperser priest. Moreover in his opening chapter Joyce establishes his relation to the dominant poet and the dominant novelist of Ireland in Bloom time. With the passage "Woodshadows floated silently by" to "Wavewhite wedded words shimmering on the dim tide" (U 9) he pays homage to Yeats but proclaims his own beauty of phrase, fidelity to the actual, and richness of context to be greater. Similarly Joyce's use of Moore is at once a token of respect for the man he was displacing from preeminence ("George Moore, an intellectual oasis in the Sahara of the false spiritualistic, Messianic, and detective writings whose name is legion in England"(CW 171), and a demonstration of superior power in handling the same fictional image, Gogarty as priest.

            Moore was obviously delighted to bestow the irreverent Gogarty's name on his initially pious priest. Even after his faith has ebbed, Father Oliver retains an ethical seriousness alien to proto-Mulligan's frivolity. He wishes neither to abandon the vocation to which he is pledged nor to pursue it emptily: "I can imagine nothing more shameful than the life of a man who continues his administrations after he has ceased to believe in them, especially a Roman Catholic priest, so precise and explicit are the Roman Sacraments" (p. 274). While his intellectual restlessness forces him to leave the priesthood, his probity makes him wish to protect his parish from the potentially demoralizing news of his desertion: hence the expedient of crossing the lake to drown an old identity and assume a new. Joyce knew that Moore, in naming his priest, enjoyed the inappropriateness of Gogarty's irreverence, but in recasting the swimming episode Joyce suggests an even greater inappropriateness: Gogarty's (Mulligan's) contentment. Restless and driven, Father Gogarty must flee the necessity of forever repeating a round of hollow ritual. Buck Mulligan, by contrast, never tires of his ceaseless impiety: he is as smug and con tented in his unbelief as Father Gogarty had been troubled and inquiring in belief. At the end of The Lake Father Gogarty swims away from the shore of the past and exhausts himself to arrive at the shore of the future. At the end of Ulysses' opening chapter Buck Mulligan plunges into the ocean of the present, to remain wallowing there (unmindful of "the incompatibility of aquacity with the erratic originality of genius"?) while a priest of the Church readies himself for the day and a true priest of the imagination readies himself for his future life by resolving on the exilic state of the artist.

            Joyce takes up the one trait Moore had borrowed from the actual Gogarty—his swimming prowess—and with it points to a gap between "O. St. Jesus" and Father Oliver more damning than irreverence: Gogarty is too smug to be a hero. The heroic mantle may in a sense descend from Father Oliver (restless if feeble) to Stephen Dedalus (restless from strength). But since the complacency of denial is in the long run as barren and boring as the complacency of faith, Buck Mulligan should not occupy center stage: he usurps.

[Professor Boyd’s endnotes follow]
 [1] London: Heinemann, 1905.
 [2] As others have shown, both of these phrases from Moore reappear in Ulysses. The "gray buttocks" balloon into Father Malachi O' Flynn's "grey bare hairy but tocks" (U 599): see Robert Adams, James Joyce: Common Sense and Beyond (New York: Random House, 1966), p. 160 and Albert J. Solomon, "A Moore in Ulysses," James Joyce Quarterly 10(1973), p. 219. "Every man must ungird his loins" shrivels, in the second sentence of Ulysses, to the word "ungirdled" (U 3): the suspicion "that Father Buck Mulligan may have derived the adjective 'ungirdled' . . . from that phrase 'must ungird his loins' " was first voiced by Robert Boyle, in "The Priesthoods of Stephen and Buck" (Approaches to "Ulysses," ed. Thomas F. Staley and Bernard Benstock [University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970], p. 59). One can confirm Boyle's suspicion by noting how the first paragraph of Ulysses is recast in the camp mass, the lines from "Introibo ad altare diaboli" to "buttocks" (U 599). That "ungirdled" alludes to one of the two phrases from The Lake which Joyce recalled in his letter to Stanislaus (Letters II 154) as surely as ''grey bare hairy buttocks" alludes to the other is made plain by the close echo of "A yellow dressinggown, ungirdled, was sustained gently behind him" in "Raises high behind the celebrant's petticoats, revealing his grey bare hairy buttocks." Both sentences include: (1) a Gogarty figure (2) in un-sacerdotal robes (dressinggown, petticoat), which (3) are lifted up behind. Given this meticulous parallelism, it would seem safe to add, in both cases: (4) an allusion to the final scene of The Lake. Each of the allusions momentarily refleshes the moonlit rump of Moore's Father Gogarty; through the more oblique but saliently located "ungirdled" Joyce records his debt to Moore for the situation of his opening chapter, the domination of a mock-clerical Gogarty.

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