this chapter Shaun satirises his brother Shem, including (importantly) various
personality traits and events from James Joyce’s life: his blindness and exile
Shem is short for Shemus, like Jim is for James [Joyce]. There are a few who maintain he came from a respectable line (a mixture of Vikings and pirates, and became an in-law [brother] to the respectable de Trop Blogg [Shaun]) but every honest man knows that his life won’t bear close scrutiny. From a mixture of truth and rumour, it is possible to conceive of what this hybrid looked like.
had a close-cropped skull, not ‘four-eyes’ but eight, a whorl for a nose, a
numb arm [from writing], a few hairs only on his head and lip, a goatee of
three barbells hung from a plough-like chin, had one shoulder higher than the
other, huge ears… [i.e. was so ugly and evil] …and
young Master Shem’s first words in the
…to his brothers and sisters there was the first riddle of universe, ‘When is a man not a man?’ and offered a prize of a crab apple [as per the Garden of Eden], as it was for them a time before mints or money. One said ‘when the heavens quake’ [thunder], a second ‘when a Bohemian lisps’ [babbling] , a third said ‘when he is hungry and determined’ [age of heroes/man?], and next said ‘when he dies’ [Viconian cycle], another ‘when he is drunk’, and another said ‘when he is married’, another ‘when papa fathered the nation’, one of wittiest said, ‘when he ate the apple and seemed so shaken’, and another said ‘when he’s old and grey’, and still another ‘when the dead awaken’, and another, ‘when he is under-sized’, another ‘when he has no manners’, and one said ‘when pigs fly’. All were wrong, and Shem took the prize, the correct answer being ‘when he is a Sham’ [i.e. a Shem].
Shem was a sham, which was noticeable in the food he ate. He preferred tinned salmon to fresh salmon or trout, and often would say no jungle pineapple tasted as good as the fruit in a can. No inch-thick steak or leg of mutton or pork, or breast of goose with stuffing in …
..gravy was to be given to that broken-hearted youth [greek-hearted jew = Stephen?]. He
wouldn’t touch roast beef. See what happens when you mate a merman with a swan?
He even ran away to Europe, saying he’d far sooner be poor there than bear
that awful? Talk about low. It oozed out from this black beetle in the photo
the Tullock-Turnbull girl took of this national
apostate [or apostle] , as he tried to escape to
…of a fruit shop, and she knew he was a bad man just from his walk.
(John’s butcher is a different sort of food shop. He fattens kills, flays, hangs, draws, quarter and pieces. [Vegetarians? ] should be excommunicated.)
At around that time, many expected he would die early from disease, or do himself in, and his many debtors expected to hear of his death, but though heavily in debt even then he couldn’t stay true to type. He wouldn’t burn himself or throw himself into the river Liffey, he wouldn’t explode himself and refused to suffocate himself. With devil’s leave the fraud even diddled death. Instead he cabled his brother from his Neapolitan asylum: ‘Here today, gone tomorrow, we’re broke. Do something’. The answer he got was ‘Inconvenient.’
You see, chaps, but the long and short of it was his bardic memory was low. He treasured every crumb of overhead speech [in the bar], but if, during some mundane conversation, something was said about his evil practices, such as ‘Pray, what is…
…the meaning of that continental expression, the one that sounds like “canaille?”’ or ‘Did you ever happen to stumble upon a young nobleman answering to the name of “Low Swine”’, [i.e. alluding to Shem’s eavesdropping] he was not a bit sorry and would pull a face, put a pencil in his ear, and begin to tell all the intelligentsia (lawyers, merchants, politicians, and members of the Pure River Society [readers of FW?!] his entire life story [e.g. D, P, & U) , abusing his deceased ancestors and ranting about his famed father, and visa versa, jeering the rotten little ghost of his papa [e.g. FW], then giving an unsolicited testimony of behalf of the absent, explaining the various meanings of all the different foreign languages he misused [e.g. in FW], lying about all the…
…other people in his story, and leaving out all the details about himself until there was not a listener who was [not?] undeceived by the whole recital.
He left, because it went without saying that he disliked fighting or rows, and if ever called in to arbitrate on an argument, this washout would slavishly agree with the last speaker, with a lot of appeasing banter, then focus on the next antagonist, the expression in his poor eyesight imploring him to say whether there was anything he could do to please him, and hoping that he would fill Shem’s always empty tumbler once more.
This one night there was a hailstorm after his departure, and he was set upon, kicked and hit all through the deserted village of Dublin on the Liffey by the two arguing groups, who finally decided that they had been detained out rather late and had better be getting home, and were all reconciled [the arguers] in a friendship, which had merely arisen from Shem’s lowness. Again there was hope that people…
…when looking at him with contempt, after rolling him first in the dirt, might pity and forgive him if he was deloused, but he was so low that he soon sank out of sight.
The saints had beaten the devil! Mick had beaten Nick!
Oh fortunate casual events! Lefty – Shem – takes the angel cake [emigrates with Nora?] while Righty – Shaun – ‘cloves his hoof’ [destroys Shem’s reputation]. The Darkies didn’t take Shem out to play nice games, the sort that were composed by Nick [i.e. Shem], the ones that piccaninnies play all day, games for fun such as when Old Joe kicked Dina behind, and the yellow girl kicked old Joe’s behind…
…games like Tom, Tom the Thunderman, [a long list follows of children’s street games altered to relate to stories and themes in FW] …and when his team was like a rainbow [of multi-coloured children?] around him.
Now it is well known how on a Unity Sunday, just when the German and French war was raging and the Irish were fighting the Black and Tans, Shem still in his pyjamas fled for his life to Winterland [Switzerland], pursued by the curses of all the village women, and corked himself up in his inkbottle house, the worse for wear for booze, where he hid under his bed with his face hidden in a dead soldiers overcoat and a hot water…
…bottle at his feet, moaning feebly in a monk-like monotone about how his purgatory was more than a ‘nigger bloke could bear’; paralysed by the reports of war, his face and trousers changing colour with every gun shot.
is that for low, ladies and gentlemen? Whole continents were offended by this
lowness! [U. banned in many countries…] Harems of houris
on divans (with Issy and her image among them) would
Would anyone outside a madhouse believe it? Neither Nero nor Nebuchadnezzar ever had such a spoiled opinion of himself as did Shem, the mental and moral defective who was known to drink spirits in a café with that private secretary, Davy Brown-Nowlan [Bruno of Nola], his twin with the pseudonym Bethgelert [a dog], and once in the porch of a gypsy’s bar (where Shem was swearing that he would repay someone four sous when his imaginary ballad was published) Shem said he was aware of no other Shakespeare, either as the opposite of his antithesis or precisely the same as he was himself [!], and though he was like a camp bunny-boy face-to-face with all the teashop…
…lions of London up against him, [i.e. he’s in a café] in a bout of short temper he announced that as long as he lived he would wipe all English speakers, multi-phonetically speaking, off the face of the earth.
After the fright he got that day [after he took a beating], though every doorpost was smeared with first-born blood and every cobbleway slippery with the blood of Irish heroes who were crying to the skies for other [war volunteers], our low waster Shem didn’t have the courage to step out amongst the throng, who were chanting from the Monster Book of Patriotic Poetry [Bible?] about religious wars, with the fairer sex crossing the rainbow bridge built to commemorate the ‘war-to-end war’, only then did he peep through a telescope out through his keyhole, with an ‘eachway’ hope that conciliation may be taking place, and looking through it…
…he found himself staring at point blank range down the barrel of a revolver, held by an unknown quarreller who had probably been told to shadow, then shoot Shem, should he decide to step out and see what was happening, prior to being beaten up [or raped?] by a dozen louts.
What in the name of the ancients and their gods was this low human type really up to, for he seems a very bad case?
The answer to this puzzle would be: while he had garnered some social reputation on the basis of his family, he had fallen into alcoholism and drug addition, becoming fixated on both his debauched past [i.e. P and U] and his historical origins [U and FW]. This explains the honorific letters he would inscribe after his name. It would have been entertaining to see Shem pretending to read his uselessly unreadable Blue Book of Eccles [i.e. U] (even though the censor has forbidden it) telling himself in the mirror that every mistake on the manuscript was a vision more gorgeous than the one before, and getting with it a free cottage by the sea, lots of ladies hosiery , a sewerful of wine and expensive oysters, a whole operahouse…
… of noblewomen throwing their clothes off before his obscene nose, when suddenly, according to those listening to him reading [he fantasizes], he squealed the top note in Dear Little Shamrock of Ireland (…) for a full five minutes, better than a baritone [Joyce not a bad tenor], while wearing three plumes, green, white and orange, on his head, a coat and dagger, a kerchief in his coat pocket, and a cross he won from three Cardinals at a horse race; but in the murky light and with the blotchy print and fumbling fingers etc it took Shem a month to start the book, given he could only think of or steal one word a week [10 years to write U, 17 for FW]. Can you beat it? Who ever heard of such a blackguard?
Yet he used to boast that his father was a masterbuilder [i.e. HCE] and he himself was a law student, in exile, and used a blackboard…
…to teach English to some of the rich families in Germany [or Switzerland?] and several schools, after he had settled in the capital city, but had been ordered off their glorious premises due to his smell, which was not unlike that of an outdoor toilet. Instead of tutoring those households to write properly, this vulgar Shem copied all their signatures so that one day he could forge a cheque, up until the servants turned him out, holding each other’s noses (for no-one dared get a whiff of that polecat at close range), and informed the police that ‘he stunk’.
[Joyce or Shem] wishes to hear from wearers of female costumes and
undergarments to start a city life together. He is not employed but sits and
writes. He has a wife, but she will assist.
One cannot even begin to imagine how low this excommunicated hypochondriac ham really was. Who can say how many…
…shams, or how many forged manuscripts, were perpetrated by his plagiarist pen?
Be that as it may, if not for the phantasm light of his glowing nose as it moved within an inch of the page [Joyce was at times nearly blind] (and Shem pointed at it from time to time to try teach the colours to his female pupils, but they all cried ‘ginger’ or ‘gin’), but for its light he could never have written a word. By its burning light and a flash of inspiration, or a flush of the toilet, he scratched and scribbled shamelessness about everyone he ever met even sharing a story about [a girl] urinating beside a wall with some Irish soldiers [Circe in U], but Shem (who was devoted to his father) would on the contrary write inaccurate portraits of himself, describing himself as reciting old Machiavelli’s monologue, about a handsome young man who writes love lyrics for the girls and has tenor voice and income from Australian gold mines, well dressed and with a vaselined and perfumed moustache.
aforementioned house he lived in, known as the Haunted
Inkbottle, was in Brimstone Walk,
day becoming more violent in his abuse of himself and others, and this place
was filthy. You might pose instances of the
…war loans, yesses [of U], added to which, if we added all the breakages, inverted chamber pots [Chamber Music], one had a fair chance of seeing Shem, that son of Thunder, self-exiled, shaking all night with the horrors, and by day terrorised by an ineluctable phantom [the black panther of U or ghost of this mother in Circe, or ghost of his father in FW?], writing the mystery of himself [Joyce’s works are autobiographical].
Of course, of necessity Shem cooked for himself, and had a fowl house for eggs (fortunately these apples did not fall far from the tree) in contravention of the Games and Poultry Act, which he poached, the whites whiter than his white sister and the yolk a gold coin, which he ate with cinnamon, locusts, beeswax, liquorice and moss [etc], all the while chatting about the legs of the twins Litty and Letty [Issy], his own novels, his recipes [?] (…[a number of egg dishes are mentioned…]) all the while holed up in the Inkbottle House that was the size of a small closet (ah, if only he’d paid attention to the teachings of the Jesuits! [or the Four Historians and the ass]. His stingy, corrosive…
… nature meant that he didn’t even need this closet, and when his publishers [of D] nudged by their legal advisers, and with the benediction of pastor Father Falconer, boycotted him and refused him ruled stationary, he flew off across the ocean [Joyce went to Trieste] and there made synthetic ink and paper from his own waste. How? Let me tell you in Latin so that no-one will be embarrassed:
[Latin paragraph describes how Shem shat into his own hands and in an urn mixed it with urine, then exposed to the cold, after which it became an indelible ink]
Then, after this, conforming to the earthly edict that when the calls come one must produce from one’s own body a certain amount of obscene matter, Shem mixed this with gallic acid and iron ore, and with this ink wrote over every square inch of his body, and its…
…continuous present tense became a marvellous cycle of history [i.e. FW] (which, he said, by reflecting on his own life, he created a vision for all human life, full of chaos, perilous, potent, and mortal) and with each word he wrote an everlasting [cyclic] world like a Dorian Grey painting was created, but [Irish] green. So on Ivy Day, the day of Shem’s last public appearance, seen circling around a square full of a fickle crowd brandishing his pen [or bottle?], the blond policeman who thought it contained ink was out of his depth, but right in the main.
This policeman, Petty Constable Sigurdson, who had been detailed from the police station to save Shem from the mob, encountered him instead one evening in Knock, County Mayo, on the latter’s way home from a prostitute (he always had a little pigeon somewhere, his rainbow girl, nicknamed Maggie) as he was coming round the corner drunk after climbing from the brothel window, where the policeman greeted him in Danish: “How are you today, my dark sir?” “Search me” Shem replied with false graciousness, raising his hat, with a [stolen?] Christmas [drink] under his arm for the postmaster [Shaun] and pretty Miss [Issy] and he pranced and…
…danced this way and that [i.e. drunk], and skittled into him. The blond cop, palpably of Baltic origins [i.e. Viking or English], was astonished and puzzled over where Shem had come from and where he was going, and at the enormous capacity of the Christmas wineskin [bottle] of whiskey Shem held, and as he looked on in astonishment, Shem explained how he was only bringing home two gallons for his mother.
The cop swore. ‘What mother? Whose father? Which twins? Why only one girl?’ But enough of this black lowness, too base for printing. Consider that the fishermen [?] are pulling up anchor and the seas are singing for herring their king, and time is passing by. We cannot stay here for the rest of our lives discussing Shem the Penman’s thirst. [What follows is a formal accusation from ‘Justice’ – Shaun, and a response much later by ‘Mercy’ – Shem]
JUSTIUS (to his brother): Shaun is my name and I’ll brain this bird or my musket has gone bendy. I’m the one to bruise and abrasion!
Come forward, no-name or no-land, and amuse me by showing me your true colours, and you’ll be back [from exile] forever after I give you your talking to! Shem, son of Adam, I know all your stupidity. Where have you been, out enjoying yourself…
… after your last deathbed confession? Put your hand in mine and confess. Let me look at your hand: the future is looking black for you, Shem m’lad. You will need an entire river to clean you, a fine of forty and a pope’s bill for attendance in my confessional booth.
us pray. [In confession] In thought, word and deed, why, where, where, when,
how, with whose help and how often? You were raised in this divided country,
and know all about hilarious heaven and the roaring fire of the other place,
and now you’re a nigger amongst the white bastards of this dastard country, because
you have been in two minds about gods, you hid but have been discovered, nay,
condemned, as an anarchist, egoist, heresiarch, and you have spread disunity on
the basis of your intensely doubt-filled soul. Do you hold yourself to be a god
in the manger? [e.g. J.C.] And you will neither serve
nor pray, nor let others pray? And here I must pray for the strength to
scandalise all listeners as we swim together in Shem’s
…the pious wish of your parents – instead contrasted the carnal pleasures of life with the lives of saints on paper [e.g. P] and thereby added to the unhappiness of the world, a writer! – when countless Cathleens might have surrounded you, such that the space all around you would have been thick with accomplished women struggling to possess you, mutely saying ‘yes’ for that most natural connection in exchange for just a lilt of that oldest song in the world accompanied by a gold band [of marriage]. Think of the high-, heaving- bosomed heroine, what a sweetheart bride you might have had!
Sniffer of carion and a gravedigger, you put evil into the good words you write with, your dislocated reason foretold through your poring over burns and blisters and through the auspices of your shadow, that raven-coloured cloud, and by the auspices of rooks holding a parliament of fowls, foretold death and disaster, and destruction of public records and the levelling of cultures in a fire [WWII?], and the return of a lot…
…the sweet-tempered back to dust, but it never occurred to you that in making such a stew, the more vegetables you chop and slice and peel and pound, and the fiercer the fire, the merrier it will be.
One more thing occurs to me. You were designed to fall in with a Plan, as all Irish nationalists must, perform certain duties that I cannot tell you about to earn your threepenny bit and earn from the nation its true thanks, here in Ireland where you took your first gasp of air the same as the rest of us, and be as popular as a menial with the rest of the faithful, but you slackly shirked earning your bullet and billet, and ran away from Galway to sing your song of an alibi, a nomad amongst everyone’s laughter, by writing masculine monosyllables of the same numerical length [?] as an Irish emigrant…
…and unfrocked quack of a friar, you semi-semitic, you Europeanised African-American!
Shall we follow this line a little longer, while our new king (Heil Hitler! One mouth, and gorger of all!) is taking his meal?
There grew up beside you, an out-of-work oaf one remove from the unwashed savage, who was in your keeping, named Immaculatus, pure from head to foot, who was well known in the highest circles, before he went even higher, to be a spiritual physician, who in his youth was so desired that other children asked his mother to let him come to kindergarten and to bring his scooter along and would squeeze him like a teddy bear, and so good-looking that he was the talk of half the town, this one you laid low one May morning because he messed up your spelling book, or it was because he cut a pretty figure under the gaze of your spectacles and you wanted to find out how his insides worked!
Have you ever read about that great grandfather of our nation, Baboo, who wanted to touch the sky with his staff, and how …
…the flood sank his ambition? Ever thought of that heretic Mark and the two schismatic sisters, and how Buckley who shot the Russian General? Ever hear of the Fox, the Wolf and the Monkey , or [other lessons of FW history], you blithering ape?
in luxury, what has Your Lowness done with all the food and funds, you schemer,
that you coaxed out of charities by bawling about your poverty, so that you
didn’t have to pledge your crown of thorns for a coat; you were so bad with
your gapeworm mouth and end-of-century malaise, which by the way is French for
syphilis [s. Some Die of Drinking Water,
‘the drip drip drip of the
syphilitic prick of the British Grenadier’]. All just to let you have your fun,
and your money, and songs, to let you have your Saturday night spree and Sunday
sleep, and holiday the day after, and grant you leave to lie about as you wish.
The simian before us has no ability to weep, but weep from your cataracts for
me, Shem the Penman! Often in the night, those prostitutes you hired hoped you
would clutch their famished hands, while on your sodden mattress you snored,
dreaming of your biblical bed companion, Ruth [Nora?], and the fleshpot wealth
… you squandered amongst the servants the bulk of your earnings, and made them sick with the crumbs from your table? Am I not right? Look up and take your medicine.
Let me finish! Just a little Judas tonic to make your face go green, Jim of the jokes [i.e. JJ]. Remember that your silence indicates consent. Come here Mr Studious and I’ll tell you something. Do you see your face in the looking-glass? Let me whisper something to you, otherwise the women would call it out from the rooftops. This message has come to me through various people. May a cross crush me if it’s not true. Shem, you are mad!
He points the tribal deathbone and the living are still. Asleep. [Stone]
MERCIUS (replying to Justius’s accusations) Lord brother! Pariah and cannibal Cain I am, and yes, I foreswore our mother [in Circe, U] and her paps I once sucked, but you have ever since been haunted by a sense of not being able to be what I have become…
…bewailing your loss of innocence, which I could not defend, and for the combination of us both [i.e. Cathmon–Carbery, the hindoo etc] I am thankful from the bottom of my heart. While the days of our youth were mixed together, and now at the last hour, we are alone at the time when we must yield our spirits to the wind (even though in the cycle of history it must all be done again, until that one day, la, when you dominate once more) it has been your role to be like some wind-blasted tree of knowledge, and mine to be a branded sheep and wastrel; you are the one who has worn clothing as bright as the meteor and shimmering like the horizon, while I am one who lives hidden in a coal hole, the voice of our secret sighs, a down-and-out to whom the voices of the dead may come, ‘because you [Shem] left me and you [Shaun] laughed at me and are forgetting me [this seems to be ALP speaking through Shem]’; our turf-brown mummy is a-coming [r. Liffey, running with all the news, all the gossip, little old-fashioned mummy, [as a river] ducking under bridges, rapid-shooting round the bends…
…as happy and babbling, Anna Livia.
He lifts the lifewand and the dumb speak. [Tree]
[Noise of a river - ALP]