[cf. 1922 5.18, Gabler 1.85]
A moment ago, Mulligan was quoting Swinburne when he referred to the sea as our “great sweet mother.” He’s modulated into George William Russell a/k/a AE, who often referred to nature as the Mighty Mother. Russell was a preeminent literary figure in turn of the century Dublin, and in 1904 he became the first person to publish a short story by Joyce–in a newspaper he edited called The Irish Homestead. Russell has a prominent part in Episode 9–”Scylla and Charybdis”–and we’ll certainly talk more about him then.
Back here in “Telemachus”, Mulligan’s comment will lead, a moment from now, into a discussion of Stephen’s mother’s death. There’s a lot to be said about the different roles of mothers and fathers in Joyce’s world–especially in Episode 9. Very briefly–mothers are associated with ultimate, undeniable truth–truth beyond language. They may be the one true thing in life (a paraphrase). Paternity, however–especially in the days before genetic testing–was uncertain. This uncertainty creates an intolerable vacuum, that has to be cemented over with legal, verbal certainties. In “Scylla,” Stephen talks about paternity as a “legal fiction,” (and you should put as much emphasis on the fiction as on the legal here). You should also be thinking about Hamlet again, and always!