Chapter 2 (Nestor)
For all the talk about Joyce as stylist, innovator, modernist, etc it is too easily forgotten that he was, at the root of it all, a humanist. Scholars and critics hunt through Ulysses seeking correspondences to Homer’s Odyssey and allusions to everything from Shakespeare to the popular culture of the day. There are richer rewards awaiting those who read Joyce’s work for his treatment of people and daily life. At the center of Ulysses are human connections, the creation of surrogate families from the remnants of shattered lives–themes that give the novel’s final chapters a ringing optimism. In the meantime, however, the two heroes of Ulysses (Stephen Dedalus and Leopold Bloom) separately wander the streets of Dublin, delayed and lured away from humanity (their own and others’) by a multitude of obstacles and temptations.
In the second chapter we find Stephen Dedalus working as a teacher to make ends meet (though, as he says near the end of the chapter, he is at heart “a learner, rather” than a teacher.) In the Odyssey, Telemachus continues to seek word of his father by visiting Nestor, an elderly king and warrior who was too old to fight in the Trojan War but became a valuable, if long-winded, advisor and leader. Nestor lavishes hospitality upon Telemachus and speaks at length about the war but has no real information.
In Ulysses, Nestor is replaced by the figure of Mr Deasy, Stephen’s employer. Deasy calls Stephen into his study to dispense his pay along with some words of wisdom about saving. At first Deasy seems to echo Nestor by way of Polonius, the platitudinous blowhard of Shakespeare’s Hamlet. Yet when the time comes for Deasy to bolster his advice by quoting Shakespeare, he does not supply the expected “neither a borrower nor a lender be” of Polonius. Instead he offers the ill-fitting, and slightly inaccurate, “put but money in thy purse.” Deasy attributes the words to Shakespeare but Stephen more precisely recognizes them as Iago’s, linking Deasy to the calculating treachery of Othello’s villain. Deasy is not merely a windbag, he is a traitor: an Irish-born Unionist and Anglophile (his study is adorned with a portrait of King Edward VII and “a tray of Stuart coins”) who baits Stephen by calling him a fenian and twisting the old proverb “all Irishmen are the sons of kings” to justify loyalty to the British crown. He is also an antisemite who jokes at the end of the chapter that “Ireland . . . has the honour of being the only country which never persecuted the Jews . . . Because she never let them in.” Both parts of this statement are shown to be falsehoods in chapter four with the appearance of the hero of Ulysses, Leopold Bloom—Irishman and Jew.
This year’s excerpt (lines 338 – 386) begins with an earlier anti-semitic rant that emerges from Deasy’s request that Stephen use connections with “some of [his] literary friends” to have a letter Deasy has prepared about foot and mouth disease published in one of Dublin’s newspapers. Feel free to read along with a full-cast vocal performance of the excerpt from the unabridged radio production of Ulysses broadcast on RTÉ in 1982 :
—I want that to be printed and read, Mr Deasy said. You will see at the next outbreak they will put an embargo on Irish cattle. And it can be cured. It is cured. My cousin, Blackwood Price, writes to me it is regularly treated and cured in Austria by cattledoctors there. They offer to come over here. I am trying to work up influence with the department. Now I’m going to try publicity. I am surrounded by difficulties, by …. intrigues by ….. backstairs influence by ….. He raised his forefinger and beat the air oldly before his voice spoke.
—Mark my words, Mr Dedalus, he said. England is in the hands of the jews. In all the highest places: her finance, her press. And they are the signs of a nation’s decay. Wherever they gather they eat up the nation’s vital strength. I have seen it coming these years. As sure as we are standing here the jew merchants are already at their work of destruction. Old England is dying.
He stepped swiftly off, his eyes coming to blue life as they passed a broad sunbeam. He faced about and back again.
—Dying, he said again, if not dead by now.
The harlot’s cry from street to street
Shall weave old England’s windingsheet.
His eyes open wide in vision stared sternly across the sunbeam in which he halted.
—A merchant, Stephen said, is one who buys cheap and sells dear, jew or gentile, is he not?
—They sinned against the light, Mr Deasy said gravely. And you can see the darkness in their eyes. And that is why they are wanderers on the earth to this day.
On the steps of the Paris stock exchange the goldskinned men quoting prices on their gemmed fingers. Gabble of geese. They swarmed loud, uncouth, about the temple, their heads thickplotting under maladroit silk hats. Not theirs: these clothes, this speech, these gestures. Their full slow eyes belied the words, the gestures eager and unoffending, but knew the rancours massed about them and knew their zeal was vain. Vain patience to heap and hoard. Time surely would scatter all. A hoard heaped by the roadside: plundered and passing on. Their eyes knew their years of wandering and, patient, knew the dishonours of the their flesh.
—Who has not? Stephen said.
—What do you mean? Mr Deasy asked.
—He came forward a pace and stood by the table. His underjaw fell sideways open uncertainly. Is this old wisdom? He waits to hear from me.
—History, Stephen said, is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.
From the playfield the boys raised a shout. A whirring whistle: goal. What if that nightmare gave you a back kick?
—The ways of the Creator are not our ways, Mr Deasy said. All human history moves towards one great goal, the manifestation of God.
Stephen jerked his thumb towards the window, saying:
—That is God.
Hooray! Ay! Whrrhee!
—What? Mr Deasy asked.
—A shout in the street, Stephen answered, shrugging his shoulders.