In a list of “most difficult chapters to read” this one would rank thankfully low – so low that it was even enjoyable. I certainly appreciated the break. This chapter consists of many smaller episodes all interlinked with each other and with the other events in the book, but most easy enough to understand the basics of what and where. That’s not to say the meaning is easy to get at but still the relief from all that stream of consciousness from one point of view is genuine.
Oddly, even though this seems once more all about structure, here I got a real sense of what Joyce’s writing may be like if he did just write straight-forward prose. Y’know, like anyone else! Without the constant drone of allusion and the layers of puzzle it might at least have been a quarter of the length. I know though, that that is not the point. I just couldn’t help saying it anyway.
To the modern reader I guess the thing that most springs to mind in terms of a comparison (and I can’t think of the product names for the life of me off the top of my head) are some recent television adverts. There was recently a style (on British Television at any rate) for some complex arrangements of movement and meaning within a small space. Hard to describe, but you almost have it here in Wandering Rocks. There are lots of things going on in a sequence, then some things are repeated, some events cause other events and the whole thing continues with some new bits added to change the sequence. At any rate a kind of complex dance. Something else brought to mind is one of those long crane shots that they now do with steady-cams – the camera swoops around a scene, chasing bits of the action in an unfamiliar order that comes to make sense only the end.
Well, something like that. I never said I knew what I was talking about.
First off in the detail of the actual chapter I’d never even heard of the General Slocum tragedy! Which is unusual for me being of a rather morbid turn of mind. My own favourite (if I dare call it that) is the Fireman’s Wedding (1929). Anyway, that gives me another snippet for my collection and an excuse to get the step ladder out to consult my well worn copy of Fifty Great Disasters That Shook The World (dated 1939) at the very top of my book shelf! General Slocum is not in it, though what precisely constituted a tragedy in 1939 leaves me scratching my head as I’ve not yet read the episode entitled ‘The Tragedy of Parnell’. I’ve not got a copy of Sweets of Sin either, but that’s by the by!
So, what was it I enjoyed about this chapter? The screwed-up leaflet from way back that seems to be making its way out to sea! Spotting the different characters at different moments in somebody else’s scene. The rather rude story Lenehan has to tell about feeling up Molly in the cab, while Bloom engages in a spot of astronomy. The milky way indeed! The Dedalus children, Maggie, Katey, Boody, especially Dilly. The H, the E, the L and all the other letters making an appearance every now and then on and around the streets of Dublin on that day 16th June 1904.
Once again there are a few passages that don’t quite fit into my understanding. Ned Lambert shows a priest around some building. Long John Fanning and a few others seem set about some purpose – not sure what! And somebody else – I forget who – seems to be demonstrating some kind of contraption. Of course, me being me, and finding this novel rather on the difficult side, sometimes my mind begins to wander and I find myself reading in an outrageously bad (bad if it were out loud – brilliantly funny since it is in my head) Irish accent. I was doing that towards the end when we get to the description of the parade, which is, of course, to be read in a completely different style. I think I get the gag there, but it makes me wonder how many other japes I’ve missed out on by not appreciating the way in which something is supposed to be read. I have no idea how you tell one literary style from another, or even if it is style and not technique. Who knows? Perhaps I’ll learn something.
All that aside the enduring memory of this chapter will be Stephen’s young sisters and there interaction with each other, their father Simon and Stephen himself, who I believe is learning Italian while Dilly takes up French!? There is an absolute ton of other information and a load more characters, though whether they’ll make any further appearance I do not know: the blind boy; Mr Artifoni; Mulligan and Haines too; Ben Dollard; Tom Rochford. At least I care enough to find out! Onwards. Onwards!