Stephen Dedalus Among Schoolchildren:
The Schoolroom and the Riddle of Authority in Ulysses
Published in Studies in the Literary Imagination
Volume XXX, No. 2,  Fall 1997, pages 17-36
John Rickard
Bucknell University

James Joyce tried his hand at teaching a number of times in order to support himself and his family. Although he taught for a short time at the Clifton School in Dalkey and in language schools in Trieste and Pola, he seems to have preferred private lessons, for which his "classroom" was often likely to be his own parlor or a room in his clients' homes. His style as a teacher, as reported by those who studied or taught with him, was notably playful and anti-authoritarian. On one occasion, in fact, he was dismissed by a Triestine mother who discovered him "sliding down the balustrade, his pupils close behind him" (Ellmann 341). Perhaps in a conscious reaction against the priests who had taught him as a boy, he emphasized his equality with his students and displayed an open attitude to the materials of learning, allowing discussions of almost any subject material or manner of writing. Joyce's friend Alessandro Francini Bruni, the deputy director of the Pola Berlitz School, recalled a number of Joyce's pedagogical tricks in his memoir Joyce intimo spogliato in Piazza (translated as "Joyce Stripped Naked in the Piazza"), where he described Joyce's word-play and humor as he led beginning English speakers through lessons that undercut his own authority even as they mocked "Signor Berlitz," the Catholic Church, as well as the Irish, Italians and English. For example, Francini recalls Joyce teaching his students English using practice passages that undercut the authority of his many "bosses":

Mr. B. [Berlitz] is an insatiable sponge. His teachers have had their brains soaked up. And their flesh? These crucified ones are hung on the pole, reduced to skin and bones. I offer myself to my students as an example of the giraffe species, thus teaching zoology objectively, according to the methods of my boss. (26-27)

 In another of Francini's anecdotes, he remembers Joyce belittling governmental authorities:

The tax collector is an idiot who is always annoying me. He has filled my desk with little sheets marked "Warning," "Warning," "Warning." I told him that if he didn't stop it I would send him to be f . . . ound out by that swindler, his master. Today, the swindler is the government in Vienna. Tomorrow it could be the one in Rome. But whether in Vienna or Rome or London, to me governments are all the same, pirates.

Regarding those little pieces of paper, I told him to go ahead and send them to me anyway. I can use them to scribble these and future caricatures on. Even my wife can use them for that little business that all mothers do for their children. (27)

The schoolroom reappears frequently as an important setting in Joyce's prose--a place where the authority and power of the master exerts itself over the often rebellious, sometimes cowed, student. Schoolrooms often function for Joyce as sites of repression, indoctrination, punishment, and resistance. In "An Encounter," for example, the protagonist and his friend Mahony escape "the restraining influence" (D 20)[1] of their school by playing hooky, attempting to live out the adventures they have dreamt of after reading dime novels derided as "rubbish" and "wretched stuff" (D 20) by Father Butler, their teacher. The first paragraph of "Araby" tells us that "North Richmond Street . . . was a quiet street except at the hour when the Christian Brothers' School set the boys free" (D 29), and Gabriel Conroy, the repressed, ineffectual protagonist of "The Dead," is a teacher. In A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, schoolrooms abound, since the novel depicts the childhood and adolescence of an Irish boy who spends much of his time from a very early age amongst schoolchildren and the often severe priests who instruct and discipline them.

Stephen Dedalus's experiences in A Portrait indicate how thoroughly teachers shape children's minds and, simultaneously, often provoke them to rebellion. As teachers, religious figures, and "fathers," the priests that instruct Stephen possess a great and complex authority that both frightens and angers him. The religion they teach buries itself like a virus in Stephen's mind, one that he can never quite shake off or rid himself of, no matter how he tries, and yet he comes to believe as he grows up that he must distance himself from his teachers if he is ever to be "free." The great emotional tensions provoked by these teacher-priests in A Portrait are most evident in the pandybatting scene at the end of the first chapter. Here Stephen--already confused by his observation that Father Arnall, his usually kindly teacher, is "in a wax" ("Was that a sin for Father Arnall to be in a wax," he wonders on p. 48)--encounters his first abuse of authority by an adult when he is unjustly flogged by Father Dolan. Joyce's prose itself reflects the trauma that this beating inflicts on Stephen, as it peaks in imagistic intensity during and after the pandybatting, repeating sounds and images of fire and burning over and over in a fever of punishment and pain:

A hot burning stinging tingling blow like the loud crack of a broken stick made his trembling hand crumple together like a leaf in the fire: and at the sound and the pain scalding tears were driven into his eyes. His whole body was shaking with fright, his arm was shaking and his crumpled burning livid hand shook like a loose leaf in the air. A cry sprang to his lips, a prayer to be let off. But though the tears scalded his eyes and his limbs quivered with pain and fright he held back the hot tears and the cry that scalded his throat. (P 50)

As Stephen receives the second blow, the text repeats the same images:

a fierce maddening tingling burning pain made his hand shrink together with the palms and fingers in a livid quivering mass. The scalding water burst forth from his eyes and, burning with shame and agony and fear, he drew back his shaking arm in terror and burst out into a whine of pain. His body shook with a palsy of fright and in shame and rage he felt the scalding cry come from his throat and the scalding tears falling out of his eyes and down his flaming cheeks. (P 51)

Stephen's angry thoughts about Father Dolan's character following the pandybatting evince none of the confusion about the apparent contradictions of priestly sinfulness that his earlier, more innocent questions about Father Arnall displayed, and again the text itself emphasizes his newfound certainty through chiastic repetitions, weaving his own thoughts and determination together even as he undoes the authority of the priest in his mind:

It was cruel and unfair to make him kneel in the middle of the class then . . . . He listened to Father Arnall's low and gentle voice as he corrected the themes. Perhaps he was sorry now and wanted to be decent. But it was unfair and cruel. The prefect of studies was a priest but that was cruel and unfair. (P 52)

Priests continue to wield authority as teachers throughout A Portrait, but it is a gradually diminishing authority, despite the reappearance of Stephen's "old master" (P 108) Father Arnall in the third chapter, whose sermon on punishment powerfully but temporarily seizes Stephen's psyche. By the final chapter, the schoolroom at the university has become a place of crude humor and disregard for authority, while Stephen is able to view the dean of studies with condescension and "pity" (P 190). If we allow A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man to serve as a gloss on the opening of Ulysses, we will remember Stephen's many struggles with authority in that earlier text; we will recall his search for a suitable father figure and his rejection of his own father and the priestly fathers who exercised various forms of authority over him in the schoolrooms of Clongowes, Belvedere College, and the University as well as his final decision to authorize himself at the end of the novel by imagining himself the son of his "old father," the fabulous artificer Dedalus. Such is his own perceived authority at the end of A Portrait that he considers himself ready to become the author, not only of himself, but of his country, to "forge in the smithy of [his] soul the uncreated conscience of [his] race" (P 253).

And yet in Ulysses, we see that despite Stephen's sense that he has grown beyond his teachers, the priests who instructed him throughout his youth have left deep and lasting marks, if not on his hands, then on his mind. At the beginning of Ulysses, we find Stephen--his wings now clipped--deeply shaken by his mother's death and frightened by the guilt and pain he feels about his refusal to pray by her deathbed. Forced to cope with various usurpations of what he had perceived as his authority at the end of A Portrait--an authority now diminished by the shock of his mother's death and by his return in failure to Ireland--Stephen's thoughts in the opening chapters of Ulysses obsessively return to issues of authority: the possession of the key to the tower, the authority of the Church, of history, of the British Empire, and so on. Stephen's own authority as a subject has been usurped, he fears, from every direction, so that he himself is subjected by the powerful forces that surround him, the very nets he believed he would be able to "fly by" at the end of A Portrait (P 203). Stephen fears that his position as author and potential authority in Ireland has been usurped by Buck Mulligan, who has managed to upstage him as an author (we find out later that Mulligan has been invited to a literary gathering at George Moore's house, while Stephen has not), as a hero (Mulligan saved men from drowning), and as an authority on Ireland with the Englishman Haines--who is himself a usurper. This usurpation manifests itself as well when Stephen notices how the old milkwoman defers to Mulligan in the tower--"me she slights," Stephen thinks, even as he imagines her as Ireland itself: "silk of the kine and poor old woman" (U 12). And of course, at the end of the episode, Stephen gives Mulligan the key to the tower.

We find another, more subtle and insidious, form of usurpation occurring as well in "Telemachus," as we see how Stephen's memory of his mother has been usurped by a ghoulish, revengeful figure compounded of his guilt over his refusal to pray at her bedside and his lingering fear of the vengeful God he thinks he has rejected. In his mind, Stephen has fused his continuing fear of God and punishment with his remorse concerning his apostasy and the effects it may have had on his mother to the point where he dreams of her coming to him, reproachful, "her eyes on me to strike me down." When Stephen thinks, "Ghoul! Chewer of corpses!" we cannot be sure whether he means to refer to God or to his mother, and in his plea "No, mother! Let me be and let me live" (U 9) we sense that he is unable to free himself, not only from his guilt concerning his mother, but also from the authority that the Church still exercises over him. In his confused reaction to his mother's death we see represented many of his problems with parental, national, and religious authority. Thus we can understand how Stephen sees himself at the end of "Telemachus" as "a servant of two masters . . . an English and an Italian." "And a third," he adds, thinking of Ireland, "who wants me for odd jobs" (U 17).

The second episode of Ulysses--the "Nestor" episode--brings Stephen's crisis of authority to the fore by making a "master" of him, by putting him--immediately following the word "Usurper," which ends the first chapter--into a position of authority in a schoolroom in Dalkey. This episode is, in some fundamental ways, "about" authority. In The Odyssey, Telemachus seeks out old Nestor for authoritative information and advice concerning the fate of Odysseus, as Athena has advised him to: "We'll make him yield the secrets of his heart. / Press him yourself to tell the whole truth: / He'll never lie--the man is far too wise" (108). Joyce's "Nestor" episode foregrounds and complicates questions of authority, truthfulness, and history while it also works through the question of how Stephen is to proceed with his life.

In this episode, authority is embodied in the figure of Mr. Deasy, the pompous schoolmaster who worships power and money, and we wonder how Stephen can square his distaste for authority with his position as a teacher in a school run by such a man. A reader familiar with Joyce's first novel may well recall the pandybatting scene in the first chapter of A Portrait upon encountering Stephen in a classroom in the second chapter of Ulysses. The Clongowes schoolroom was the site of the initial breakdown in authority in Stephen Dedalus' life, and thus in "Nestor" we do not expect Stephen to take upon himself the authority he so detested in past teachers such as Father Dolan, the cruel and unfair representative of authority in A Portrait. Yet, as a teacher, Stephen is expected to enforce all the forms of authority we might expect him to reject--the authority of the text, of the master, of history, and of language itself--and indeed the chapter seems to begin with an authoritative voice as Stephen calls out, "You, Cochrane, what city sent for him?" and is answered by the seemingly submissive "Tarentum, sir." However, as Cochrane's "blank face" appeals mutely to the "blank window" for the answer to Stephen's next question--"Very good. Where?"--Stephen's mind wanders into a meditation on the authority of history:

Fabled by the daughters of memory. And yet it was in some way if not as memory fabled it. A phrase, then, of impatience, thud of Blake's wings of excess. I hear the ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry, and time one livid, final flame. What's left us then? (U 20)

Here Stephen alludes to Blake ("fabled by the daughters of memory") to emphasize the role of imagination and story in memory, as opposed to what Robert Spoo has called "the rote memorization of history" practiced in Mr. Deasy's school, "a humiliating routine that shrinks the ethical dimension of the past to a muster of punctual events, a slim garner of unintegrated and uninterpreted actualizations" (93). While what is traditionally taught as "history" purports to be an authoritative version of past events, memory is notoriously subjective and questionable, allowing more room, in Stephen's mind, for escape from the suffocating version of the past contained in the boys' textbook. As Don Gifford and Robert J. Seidman have noted (30), the phrase "Blake's wings of excess" conflates two of Blake's "Proverbs of Hell" ("No bird soars too high, if he soars with his own wings" and "The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom"), perhaps reflecting an attempt by Stephen to break away from the traditional view of the past as a collection of dead, unalterable moments and a characteristically Dedalian (or Icarian?) desire to escape confinement and gain wisdom through the authority of one's own experience. Buried within Stephen's rumination, however, is an intertextual memory of A Portrait, in the use of the words "livid" and "flame"--which recall Stephen's "crumpled burning livid hand" trembling in "a livid quivering mass" (P 50-51) after he is beaten by Father Dolan in the earlier text. Thus, the apocalyptic imagery here suggests immediately at the beginning of the "Nestor" episode that the stakes are high for Stephen in the arguments he conducts within himself and, later, with Mr. Deasy, concerning the authority of the past and the ability of imagination or sheer will to rewrite or escape the past. As we will see, in this episode Stephen moves from a questioning of the veracity and solidity of world history to similar questions about his own personal history, oscillating between a realization that the past is real and inescapable ("And yet it was in some way") and a desire to escape the past his memory has fabled, a past which follows him as insistently as a Fury, no matter how he struggles to escape.

In fact, as we quickly see, Stephen's mind is not on the lesson in "Nestor," and he indeed has no taste for the role he is expected to play. Stephen's "lack of rule" is apparent as order breaks down and he expects the schoolboys to "laugh more loudly, aware of my lack of rule and of the fees their papas pay" (U 20). Just as Mr. Deasy and Stephen hold sharply opposed views on history, they contrast sharply--even comically--with each other in their attitudes towards authority. When the boys argue on the playground, for example, Mr. Deasy immediately takes charge, telling Stephen, "Will you wait in my study for a moment . . . till I restore order here" (U 24), and when Mr. Deasy says, "You were not born to be a teacher, I think," Stephen answers, "A learner rather" (U 29). As Robert Spoo has noted, "Nestor" is "neatly balanced in terms of structure" (90), with Stephen serving as a "master" without much authority in the first half and then as an ostensible subordinate listening to his "superior" Mr. Deasy--a master unworthy of much respect--in the second half.

In the "Nestor" episode Stephen repeatedly seeks to deny or evade mastery and authority. Yet virtually everything that happens in the schoolroom works against this desire. The lesson's focus on history recalls to Stephen the various nightmares he is trying to awake from. The mention of Phyrrus, a word one of the boys mistakes for "pier," elicits Stephen's cynical description of Kingstown pier as a "disappointed bridge," recalling his own failed attempt to fly by the nets Irish culture has thrown at him (and perhaps recalling Hamlet as well, where the players' enactment of a scene involving Phyrrus' slaughter of Priam stimulates Hamlet's guilt over his own inaction in dealing with the death of a parent). Joyce destabilizes and undercuts authority all through this schoolroom chapter of Ulysses, from his portrait of Mr. Deasy to Stephen's unwillingness to wield authority to the seemingly pointless jokes and riddles that Stephen tells his puzzled students. Stephen refuses to set boundaries or to endorse or reaffirm the versions of authority his position imposes upon him. He rejects his authority as a master just as he rejects the tyranny of the past, both in his quick abandonment of the history lesson and in his later conversation with Mr. Deasy. And, as we will see, he implicitly rejects the authority of memory as well in the riddle he tells his students about the fox burying his grandmother.

In the fourteenth ("Oxen of the Sun") episode of Ulysses, the narrator describes Stephen as "the young poet who found a refuge from his labours of pedagogy and metaphysical inquisition in the convivial atmosphere of Socratic discussion" (U 341). The word "pedagogy" neatly encodes the tension Stephen feels throughout the "Nestor" episode and Ulysses itself between his sense of his own mastery or leadership at the end of A Portrait and his sense of himself in Ulysses as a servant or slave--of Ireland, of England, of the Church, of the past. Joyce, a pedagogue himself, must have been aware of the derivation of this tricky term, and in Stephen as pedagogue he presents us with a neat example of the equivocal core of this word, which now has connotations of mastery but originally--in its Greek form, paidagvgÒs --referred to "the slave who went with a boy from home to school and back again" (Liddell and Scott, 584). Pedagogue literally means a "leader of boys," which recalls Stephen's thoughts about himself in A Portrait, where "He recalled his own equivocal position in Belvedere, a free boy, a leader afraid of his own authority, proud and sensitive and suspicious, battling against the squalor of his life and against the riot of his mind" (P 91; my emphasis). In "Nestor" we again see Stephen in the schoolroom, afraid of his own authority, battling against the riot of his mind, a master enslaved.

Joyce again emphasizes this collision/collusion of master and slave immediately following the history lesson in the figure of Cyril Sargent, the pathetic boy who stays after class for coaching from his master, Stephen. As Molly Bloom might say, Cyril Sargent . . . nice name he has. As with the word pedagogue, two warring meanings cohabit uneasily in this boy's name, for the name Cyril is derived from the Greek word for king or lord--kyrios[2]--while Sargent clearly suggests the word "sergeant," which derives from the past participle of the Latin verb servire--to serve--itself derived from servus, or slave; as the Oxford English Dictionary notes, the original meaning of "sergeant" was "A serving-man, attendant, servant" ("Sergeant"). So we see in this boy who reminds Stephen of himself ("Like him was I . . . . My childhood bends beside me") a reflection of his own identity, torn between the desire for mastery and the consciousness of slavery.[3]

In both of these examples of the master-slave dichotomy in "Nestor" the master and slave coexist within one person. Cyril Sargent's name and Stephen's role as pedagogue both stand in for the central master-slave struggle in the novel, which takes place within Stephen himself as he attempts to sort out his own status as a subject, in both senses of that word. Stephen is subjected by Ireland, by the Church, by England, and most of all by his own past, and in his rejection of all authority we can see a frantic attempt to escape the terms of this binary opposition within himself--master vs. slave. While Stephen reluctantly acknowledges his enslavement to the three masters of England, Rome, and Ireland in the "Telemachus" episode, throughout Ulysses he continually seeks to escape the sense that he is enslaved by his historical and personal pasts, and particularly by the haunting memory of his mother's death.

This tension between mastery and slavery manifests itself in the language of the episode, as I've already claimed, and nowhere more crucially than in the strange riddle Stephen tells his class at the end of their rambling lesson. Prompted by them to tell a "ghoststory," he responds with a riddle that goes nowhere:

 The cock crew,

 The sky was blue:

 The bells in heaven

 Were striking eleven.

 'Tis time for this poor soul

 To go to heaven. (U 22; original italics)

The answer traditionally given for this nonsense riddle is, "The fox burying his mother under a holly tree" (Thornton 30), yet when Stephen, "his throat itching," answers it for his puzzled students, he changes it to "The fox burying his grandmother under a hollybush" (U 22), barely deflecting the memory of his mother's death that their request for a "ghoststory" has evoked. The riddle is a fractured lesson which seems to teach us nothing, and it certainly leaves his students baffled.

 Hélène Cixous views Stephen's fox riddle as a perfect example of the ruptured condition of language in Joyce's text. In the riddle, according to Cixous, language loses its authority, destabilizes its own mastery of meaning, and escapes from binary logic, just as Stephen himself seeks to escape the overwhelming memory of his mother's death, the authority of memory which enslaves him in Ulysses. In her essay "Joyce: The (R)use of Writing," Cixous argues that Joyce's writing "discredits" or deauthorizes the human subject. She sees the riddle in "Nestor" as a perfect emblem of Joyce's abandonment or rejection of authority, for

Stephen, as the one who asks, is indeed the master of knowledge: however, his answer reveals not a positive knowledge, but the gap in knowledge, the knowledge of non-knowledge, the author abandoning his rights over language, and thus the desacralization of reading. . . . (20).

The fact that Stephen's fox riddle seems to make little sense when it is first told in "Nestor" leads Cixous to conclude that it is symptomatic of the "proliferation of false signs, of doors crafted without keys" (19) that is the Joycean "(r)use" of writing. That the riddle is unanswerable, however--that it does not provide a meaning easily accessible to the conscious mind--does not make it meaningless, for meaning may develop and function beyond the probing reach of the conscious intellect. Cixous gives up on Stephen's riddle too quickly, hearing in it only textual chaos--"the laughter of the perverse text"--and claiming that "it is at this point that you must stop demanding meaning" (21). While Cixous is correct in arguing that the riddle has no solution, she is wrong to assume that this means the riddle itself is meaningless.

The riddle is in fact a bad example of the destabilization of authority in Ulysses. While Stephen tells Mr. Deasy that "History . . . is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake" (U 28), we see that the history he finds most nightmarish is his own personal history. When Stephen relates the fox riddle to his class, the schoolroom becomes both a locus of authority and the abrogation of authority for Stephen. The riddle demonstrates the way in which the authority of his own personal past inevitably reasserts itself over Stephen, despite his attempts to escape it. Like the events of history Stephen considers with his students, May Dedalus's death "was in some way if not as memory fabled it," and his attempts to avoid or escape the frightening fable his own memory has woven from the historical "fact" of his mother's death are doomed to fail. Stephen must eventually confront the authority of memory, as he realizes when he sits next to Cyril Sargent and thinks, "Secrets, silent, stony sit in the dark palaces of both our hearts: secrets weary of their tyranny: tyrants, willing to be dethroned" (U 24).

Stephen's fox riddle in the "Nestor" episode has a function in the plot of Ulysses that Cixous neglects, due to her focus on language over narrative. There is a narrative logic to the fractures and dead ends of the "Nestor" episode: the crisis of authority reflected everywhere in "Nestor" and in Ulysses may indeed on one level reflect Joyce's views on the instability of language and culture, yet these crises can just as easily be seen as also reflecting--in the form of the novel itself--the narrative situations or problems the novel seeks to represent and work through. The breakdown of authority in "Nestor" first and foremost reflects a crisis and an abdication of authority within Stephen Dedalus, one that is in fact "answered" by the text, as a brief examination of the riddle that emerges from the chaos of the schoolroom will demonstrate.

Clearly, the riddle is a site of anguish and conflict for Stephen, a moment in which he raises and indirectly acknowledges the authority of memory in that he responds to the boys' requests for a "ghoststory" by telling them a riddle in which is hidden the death and burial of a mother. The dead mother's authority is heightened rather than weakened by the fact that he changes the wording of the riddle to obscure the word "mother." Stephen tells Mr. Deasy that he fears "those big words . . . which make us so unhappy" (U 26), and yet we see that the little words of the riddle have an authority over him that he does not understand. In attempting to evade the authority of the past--of memory--by burying his consciousness of guilt and death in this deliberately obscure riddle, Stephen distorts the authority of language for the purpose of evading an unpleasant memory. His distaste for authority in Ulysses is clearly to some extent a function of his desire to avoid the memory of his mother and his sense of responsibility for her death.

Despite Stephen's attempt to repress and forget the riddle, however, the words of the riddle reappear often in the text. The words of Stephen's riddle are in fact, among the most powerful, resonant, and subtle symbols in Ulysses, operating as triggers to involuntary, unconscious memory throughout the text, bringing Stephen back to the memory of death he tries so hard to escape. Their "meaning," however, is not to be reconstituted in a sentence, but rather depends upon the psychic charge they carry. Accordingly, this meaning is unavailable to Stephen himself in any conscious way and is not immediately apparent in the textual surface of the novel. And yet, a careful look at Joyce's revisions to Ulysses demonstrates that at every stage of revision he took great care to insert these words--especially cock, fox, and eleven--into the text at crucial moments, stimulating Stephen (and, strangely, Leopold Bloom as well) to confront the problems of the past that he has tried so hard to avoid. Thus, although Stephen as master in the schoolroom rejects his own authority and questions the authority of the past, memory inevitably reasserts its authority over Stephen through the nightmarish return of the repressed memory of his dead mother, a return stimulated by his riddlewords. The seemingly impenetrable riddle Stephen tells his students carries within itself the nightmarish history Stephen struggles to escape.[4] Although the past may seem an unanswerable riddle to Stephen, this seemingly nonsensical puzzle becomes in Ulysses "a riddling sentence to be woven and woven" (U 22) throughout the text, for bits and pieces of it pop into his mind throughout the day, gathering associations of guilt and building up symbolic potency until the words of this riddle become intricately involved in evoking the visions of the "Circe" episode. Thus, while Stephen's riddle at first seems like a dead end that can only be read as a "symptom" of the insolubility of his emotional state regarding his mother's death, it comes to have much more meaning in the text than he can realize consciously.

Stephen's unwillingness to face the guilt he associates with his memory of his mother is answered by the text itself. In Ulysses we discover a textual memory or textual unconscious that continually reasserts the authority of the past and of memory. The textual unconscious of Ulysses operates much like the Akasic memory that Stephen refers to in the "Aeolus" episode of the novel ("Akasic records of all that ever anywhere ever was," U 118), preserving everything, even that which Stephen, in his flight from history and memory, seeks to forget or repress. This textual memory takes the individual words of the riddle and invests them with "talismanic" power and authority over Stephen's memory; they explode through the text of Ulysses, where they reappear as if by chance, always working to move Stephen towards his confrontation with his warped memory of his mother--warped by its conflation with the authority of the Catholic Church. No passage in Ulysses demonstrates the workings of this textual memory better than the imitation of Newman in the "Oxen of the Sun" episode that limns the workings of the "Circe" episode that will follow:

There are sins or (let us call them as the world calls them) evil memories which are hidden away by man in the darkest places of the heart but they abide there and wait. He may suffer their memory to grow dim, let them be as though they had not been and all but persuade himself that they were not or at least were otherwise. Yet a chance word will call them forth suddenly and they will rise up to confront him in the most various circumstances, a vision or a dream, or while timbrel and harp soothe his senses or amid the cool silver tranquility of the evening or at the feast, at midnight, when he is now filled with wine. Not to insult over him will the vision come as over one that lies under her wrath, not for vengeance to cut him off from the living but shrouded in the piteous vesture of the past, silent, remote, reproachful. (U 344)

Joyce emphasized the special significance of this passage when he told Jacques Mercanton that he considered Newman "the greatest of English prose writers" and said that in the "Oxen of the Sun," "where all the authors are parodied, Newman alone is rendered pure, in the grave beauty of his style. Besides," Joyce added, "I needed that fulcrum to hold up the rest" (217).

The words of the riddle carry connotations of death, betrayal, repression, and mourning. For example, "fox" carries overtones of disguise, guilt, and hiding. Ulysses is full of fossorial animals--animals that bury or dig up the dead--and animals that gnaw the dead, again reminding us (and Bloom and Stephen) that the dead will not stay peacefully at rest--"Out of sight, out of mind"--as Bloom hopes in "Hades" (U 91). Stephen's fox emblematizes the dark secret of death, buried or hidden in the past. Noted for slyness and subtlety, the fox, as Ad de Vries points out, is so sly in fables that "he even fools himself sometimes" (202). Alan Dundes claims that Stephen's riddle is "closely related to a subtype of an international tale type" called the "Robber Bridegroom," in which a "villainous suitor," often called Mr. Fox,

plans to do away with his betrothed and often the frightened girl, hidden in a tree, actually watches Mr. Fox digging her grave-to-be. Later at a large gathering the girl recites the riddle describing the villain's actions and thus unmasks the villain and reveals his nefarious plot. (137-8)

Here Stephen casts himself unconsciously in both roles: Mr. Fox, the guilty villain who tries to bury his crime, and the victim, who recites the riddle in an (here unconscious) attempt to "unmask" the secret. Bloom is also referred to as "Mr Fox" in "Circe," merging Stephen's riddle with one of Parnell's aliases: "He's as bad as Parnell was. Mr Fox" (U 402).

The first mention of bells in Ulysses occurs in response to Haines's suggestion that "It seems history is to blame." Immediately, we learn that "The proud potent titles clanged over Stephen's memory the triumph of their brazen bells: et unam sanctam catholicam et apostolicam ecclesiam"; the church bells Stephen imagines lead into a revery on the power of the church to combat heretics and "mockers" (U 17). Even before the "bells in heaven" ring in his riddle, an association is formed between bells, the Church, and Stephen's mixed fascination, resentment, and guilt.

"Cock" again suggests betrayal and guilt. The phrase "the cock crew" suggests Peter's betrayal of Christ, and also functions as an allusion to Hamlet, where Horatio links the disappearance of King Hamlet's ghost to the crowing of the cock, at which "it started like a guilty thing / Upon a fearful summons" (1.1.148-49). Readers may also hear an echo of Ophelia's accusing song--"Young men will do't, if they come to't; / By Cock, they are to blame" (4.5.61-2)--in which "Cock" is usually interpreted as a corruption or "perversion" of the name of God (Shakespeare 1108). Bloom's allusion to "Who Killed Cock Robin?" in the "Hades" episode ("Who'll read the book? I, said the rook";U 85) and links between cocks, cuckoos and cuckolds throughout the text continue to mix sex, death and guilt into the suggestive power of this riddleword. "Cock" has a special place in Stephen's childhood memories as well, for in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man Stephen as a young boy slips deeper into feverish delirium thinking of the cold and hot water cocks in the lavatory at Clongowes (P 11).

In terms of symbolic associations, however, the richest of the riddlewords is "eleven." In a discussion of the importance of number and symmetry for St. Augustine, W. B. Yeats, and Joyce, Hugh Kenner has argued that eleven is "Joyce's most magical of numbers" ("Lisping" 311). A complex and highly evocative symbol for both Bloom and Stephen, the number eleven draws its power from personal associations in each character's mind, from shared associations that link Stephen and Bloom, and from associations in numerological tradition.

Kenner claims that eleven is Joyce's "number of hope, of potentiality: and yet also of death, since new potential can only dislodge potential unfulfilled." He notes that the names Marion Bloom and Hugh E. Boylan are both 11 letters long, that the two meet, "offstage," in the 11th episode of Ulysses, and that "Stephen's age is 22: two times 11" ("Lisping" 311). Bloom associates eleven with death, mourning and guilt, for Rudy died when he was eleven days old, and Bloom attributes his son's death at least partly to the failure of his own sexuality. Joyce further links Rudy and the number eleven by causing both Leopold and Molly Bloom to make the same mistake in calculating the age the child would have been on June 16, 1904 had he lived. Though Rudy was born ten-and-a-half years previous to "Bloomsday," Bloom thinks, "He would be eleven now if he had lived" (U 54), and Molly recalls, "I was in mourning thats 11 years ago now yes hed be 11" (U 637). Bloom and Stephen are, of course, both dressed in mourning on June 16, 1904, and Bloom attends Paddy Dignam's funeral at 11 A.M. Also significant, perhaps, is the fact that the Dublin pubs close at eleven p.m., as Stephen reminds us when he thinks, "Swill till eleven. Irish nights entertainment" (U 176). At the end of "Oxen of the Sun" and close to the portals of "Circe," we hear in the chaotic, drunken words "Time all. There's eleven of them. Get ye gone. Forward, woozy wobblers" (U 348-49) a repetition of this restriction. Furthermore, Shakespeare's son Hamnet died at eleven years of age, while Bloom's son Rudy died after eleven days of life. Stephen was (presumably) born on February 2--the same day that Hamnet Shakespeare and Joyce were born--under Aquarius, the eleventh sign of the zodiac--and Stephen was eleven years old when Rudy Bloom was born. Eleven thus takes on a suggestive power for both Stephen and Bloom that exceeds their own awareness of the connections between them, bringing them together unconsciously through shared, but buried, associations and memories. This complex, subliminal connection of Bloom, Stephen, Hamnet and Rudy gives the number eleven a deep symbolic resonance and makes it a highly charged "memory trigger" in "Circe," where it occurs eleven times.

Eleven, as one of Stephen's riddle-words, is associated in his mind with his mother's death. The number eleven was associated with death and mourning in many classical texts. In the last book of the Iliad, for example, Achilles grants Priam's request that the Trojans be allowed eleven days for Hector's funeral rites before the battle must begin again, and it is in Book XI of the Odyssey that Odysseus undertakes his nekia--his journey to the underworld to question the dead.[5] Finally, Alastair Fowler, tying the classical and Renaissance numerological traditions together, has noted that Milton's "Lycidas"--the poem Stephen briefly attempts to discuss with his class just before he tells his riddle--is constructed in eleven stanzas, which

seems to have been considered appropriate for funeral odes: another famous instance is Henry King's 'The Exequy.' The basis of this convention lay in the ancient association of 11 with mourning and specifically with its termination. (171)

Joyce's revisions to the text of the climactic "Circe" episode (where these "riddlewords" occur much more frequently than elsewhere in Ulysses) demonstrate a deliberate insertion of these particular words--cock, fox, eleven, bells--at every stage of revision to evoke the religious spook Stephen has made out of his mother's memory. Stephen's horrifying vision of his mother is evoked or provoked in part by the appearance of Stephen's riddlewords. For example, when Bloom argues with the prostitutes about the bill, someone exclaims, "drink . . . it's long after eleven," and Stephen answers, "What, eleven? A riddle!" (U 454). He then restates the riddle, but with an important change that indicates a turn from repression to evocation:

The fox crew, the cocks flew,
The bells in heaven
Were striking eleven.
'Tis time for her poor soul
To get out of heaven. (U 455; my emphasis)

Here Stephen unconsciously acknowledges the authority his memory of his mother has over him by changing "this poor soul" to "her poor soul." The text has not only preserved this strange, seemingly meaningless riddle, but as the fragments of the riddle reappear throughout the text, from the second to the fifteenth episodes, they gain a mnemic charge that enables them to serve as powerful stimulants or "triggers" to the hallucinations of the "Circe" episode, most notably Stephen's terrifying vision of the decayed corpse of his mother. Thus the memory of death, repressed in the schoolroom riddle, reasserts its own authority in the text despite Stephen's attempts to deny it.

While Stephen re-members the riddle, Bloom steps in to settle the debt with Bella, preventing her from cheating him and the others. She addresses him "admiringly": "You're such a slyboots, old cocky" (U 455). Bloom then suggests that Stephen "hand over that cash to me to take care of," and as he counts Stephen's money, he twice utters a magic word: "One, seven, eleven, and five. Six. Eleven. I don't answer for what you may have lost" (U 456). The passages in which the riddlewords occur in "Circe" are often heavily edited, suggesting that Joyce took special care, in the process of composition and revision, to embed and emphasize these charged words. A careful look at Joyce's composition of the passage above, for example, suggests that he struggled to give the correct emphasis to the first "eleven." In typescript, Joyce isolated it in parentheses: "One. Seven (eleven) and five" (JJA 15: 119). Joyce further emphasized "eleven" in placard form by leaving it in parentheses and italicizing it (JJA 20: 183) and then revised it once more to its present form, in which eleven appears to be just another number in a sequence. The care Joyce took in deciding whether to distinguish eleven clearly from the other numbers on the page suggests, however, that it is not just another number, but an important element in the text.

Bloom's phrase strikes a predictable note in Stephen's memory, and he reacts with another direct reference to the riddle: "Why striking eleven? . . . Thirsty fox. (he laughs loudly) Burying his grandmother. Probably he killed her." Bloom repeats the number once more: "That is one pound six and eleven. One pound seven, say" (U 456). Soon after, as Zoe reads Stephen's palm, she tells him that she reads "courage" in his palm, insisting, "I see it in your face. The eye, like that" (U 457). Lynch then "slaps Kitty behind twice," exclaiming, "Like that. Pandybat" (U 458). The combination of Stephen's outstretched hand, Zoe's unknowing repetition of words similar to Father Dolan's in A Portrait (before he pandies Stephen, Father Dolan says, "Lazy little schemer. I see schemer in your face" [P 50]), the two slaps and Lynch's "Pandybat" work their magic by recreating the mental coordinates of the earlier experience and stimulating Stephen's memory to create an apparition of Father Dolan: "Twice loudly a pandybat cracks, the coffin of the pianola flies open, the bald little round jack-in-the-box head of Father Dolan springs up," asking "Any boy want flogging? Broke his glasses? Lazy idle little schemer. See it in your eye" (U 458). Father Dolan is now appropriately on hand for the staging of Stephen's confrontation with his dead mother, or rather with the religious ghoul that has taken the place of his mother in his memory, for his memory of her death has become suffused with and distorted by the fear of God and distrust of authority instilled in him by Father Dolan.

Father Dolan's appearance, provoked by the riddlewords and a series of "chance" occurrences, leads eventually to a dizzying cascade of images and hallucinations, in which the wallpaper finally betrays "A stout fox, drawn from covert, brush pointed, having buried his grandmother" and Mr. Deasy, the "Nestor" who presided over the birth of Stephen's riddle, appears "on a brokenwinded isabelle nag, Cock of the North" (U 467). This eruption of the riddlewords into the text of "Circe" sets the stage for the appearance of "The Mother," physically decayed, rambling and mad, a twisted and painful representation of the extent to which Stephen's guilty reaction to the authority of Catholicism has "fabled" and perverted his memory of his mother. Here the daughters of memory have gained the upper hand, turning Stephen's mother into a ghoulish nightmare from which he must awake. Stephen is at first "horrorstruck," choked "with fright, remorse and horror," and he tries to avoid blame for his sin: "They say I killed you, mother. He offended your memory. Cancer did it, not I. Destiny" (U 473-74). He seeks a revelation from her--"The word known to all men" (U 474)--but soon senses the voice of those elements of the Church he most hates wound around this memory of his mother. Her words are trivial and nagging, rather than powerful or revealing, and Stephen's anger builds as she becomes more and more a representative of the dio boia or "the lord of things as they are" (U 175), the authoritarian God Stephen has tried repeatedly to reject. When she threatens him with "the fire of hell" and the green crab of cancer--"Beware God's hand!"--he replies, "Non serviam!" (U 474-75), echoing his adoption of Lucifer's cry of rebellion in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, a motto he first learned from Father Arnall, who warns his schoolboy listeners against "the sinful thought conceived in an instant: non serviam: I will not serve. That instant was his ruin. He offended the majesty of God by the sinful thought of one instant and God cast him out of heaven into hell for ever" (P 117). "I will not serve" becomes Stephen's own motto by the end of A Portrait (P 239 and 246, e.g.), where he uses it in his attempts to sever himself from the vengeful God he encountered through Father Dolan and his other priestly teachers.

As Stephen confronts the religious guilt entangled with his memory of his mother's death, "The Mother" begins to metamorphose into the Virgin Mary ("Inexpressible was my anguish when expiring with love, grief and agony on Mount Calvary"), and Stephen breaks the lamp: "Time's livid final flame leaps and, in the following darkness, ruin of all space, shattered glass and toppling masonry" (U 475). Once again, the image suggests not only the Apocalypse, but also the "livid," "flaming" pain of Stephen's hands after his beating by Father Dolan (P 50-1).

We can see, then, how Stephen's final confrontation with the authorities of the parent, the Church, and the past evolve out of Joyce's careful construction of a textual memory in Ulysses that preserves and repeats those elements of Stephen's past he has sought to avoid and deny. Through the action of this textual memory, the text itself makes the process of remembering inevitable for Stephen and emphasizes the authority and inescapability of memory. While the calcified version of history Stephen is required to teach in Mr. Deasy's school does indeed deserve to have its authority questioned and undermined, Stephen himself must learn a lesson about the past, not from Mr. Deasy, but as a result of the uncontrollable conflict in his own mind.

Father Arnall's schoolroom in A Portrait is the site where Stephen first learns to fear and distrust authority; the schoolroom in "Nestor" shows us Stephen as the slave of the past, unable to exercise his own authority or to master himself; the brothel in which "Circe" is set, ironically provides the site where Stephen is finally brought to a potentially liberating confrontation with the various faces of authority he has tried so hard to evade. It would be foolhardy, in my opinion, to assert that Stephen's hallucinatory experiences in "Circe" somehow "cure" him and allow him the self-mastery he seeks; Ulysses is too complex a text to allow for such resolutions, and the ending of the novel is too vexed an issue to settle here. Moreover, the hallucinations of the "Circe" episode appear to occur in a theater of the unconscious that Stephen and Bloom do not revisit in any of the subsequent chapters. Yet, while "Circe" does not provide any simple closure or cure, it does prompt an unconscious working-through of memory in which the text itself provokes the return of the repressed, demonstrating the unavoidable power of the past.

While many features of Joyce's writing may challenge traditional notions of subjectivity and authority, the riddle Stephen tells in the schoolroom in Ulysses is in fact a demonstration of the authority of memory, its power when it operates as a living, active, involuntary force freed from the constraints of Mr. Deasy's textbooks. The schoolroom in "Nestor," then, foregrounds authority in a number of ways, even as authority breaks down in the class Stephen is teaching. While we may certainly endorse Stephen's questioning of Mr. Deasy's rigid notions of authority and history, Joyce demonstrates that Stephen cannot begin to master his own destiny until he ceases being a slave to the past, until he is able to confront his own past with authority.


* * * * * * * * * * * * *
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Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. New and Revised Edition. New York: Oxford University Pres, 1982.

Fowler, Alastair. "'To Shepherd's Ear': The Form of Milton's Lycidas." Silent Poetry: Essays in Numerological Analysis. Ed. Alastair Fowler. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul, 1970. 170-184.

Francini Bruni, Alessandro. "Joyce Stripped Naked in the Piazza." Trans. Camilla Rudolph, et al. Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans. Ed. Willard Potts. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1979. 3-39.

Gifford, Don, with Robert J. Seidman. Joyce Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses. Revised and expanded ed. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1988.

Homer. The Odyssey. Trans. Robert Fagles. New York: Viking Penguin, 1996.

Joyce, James. Dubliners. New York: Viking, 1967.

---. The James Joyce Archive. 63 vols. Ed. Michael Groden, et al. New York and London: Garland, 1978.

---. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: Text, Criticism, and Notes. Ed. Chester G. Anderson. New York: Viking Press, 1968.

---. Ulysses: A Critical and Synoptic Edition. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler, et al. New York: Random House, 1986.

Kenner, Hugh. "Lisping in Numbers." Historical Fictions: Essays. San Francisco: North Point Press, 1990. 305-316.

Liddell, Henry George and Robert Scott. An Intermediate Greek-English Lexicon. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1889.

Mercanton, Jacques. "The Hours of James Joyce." Trans. Lloyd C. Parks. Portraits of the Artist in Exile: Recollections of James Joyce by Europeans. Ed. Willard Potts. Seattle: Univ. of Washington Press, 1979. 206-52.

Rose, Danis, and John O'Hanlon, eds. James Joyce: The Lost Notebook, New Evidence on the Genesis of "Ulysses." Edinburgh: Split Pea Press, 1989.

"Sergeant." The Oxford English Dictionary. Second ed. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1989.

Shakespeare, William. The Complete Works of Shakespeare. Ed. David Bevington. 3rd ed. Glenview, Illinois: Scott, Foresman and Co., 1980.

Spoo, Robert. James Joyce and the Language of History: Dedalus's Nightmare. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994.

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 [1]Subsequent references to Joyce's works will appear using the following abbreviations: Dubliners (D), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (P), Ulysses (U) and The James Joyce Archive (JJA).

 [2]In the "Proteus" episode, immediately following "Nestor," Stephen chooses the alliteratively appropriate Latin word domine when he sarcastically thinks, "Dominie Deasy kens them a'" (U 31). Ironically, later in Ulysses Professor McHugh contemptuously contrasts the Latin domine ("Lord! Where is the spirituality?") with the Greek kyrios ("Kyrios! Shining word!" [U 110]).

 [3]The military rank of sergeant is appropriately ambiguous in terms of its authority, as it is situated in the middle of military rankings. Another Joycean name that subtly suggests the equivocal nature of its bearer's authority is Father Butler (mentioned above) in "An Encounter," again conflating master and servant in one name. I am indebted to my friend Jos Knippen for his suggestions and insights in working through these names and etymologies.

 [4]Robert Spoo agrees that the fox riddle "can be read as a rich, roundabout image, a sort of macabre kenning, for that nightmare of history Stephen complains of to the headmaster Garrett Deasy and would bury if he could, a nightmare associated with the memory of his dying mother" (17).

 [5]Joyce was aware of Homer's use of eleven as a key to the underworld, for he took care to remind himself, in notes he took while reading Victor Bérard's Les Phéniciens et l'Odyssée, that in Homer's epic we find "Nekia XI canto" (Rose 36).