“Ulysses, of course, is a divine work of art and will live on despite the academic nonentities who turn it into a collection of symbols or Greek myths. I once gave a student a C-minus, or perhaps a D-plus, just for applying to its chapters the titles borrowed from Homer while not even noticing the comings and goings of the man in the brown mackintosh. He didn’t even know who the man in the brown mackintosh was.”
— Vladimir Nabokov
The man on the Macintosh (that’s me) will come to the “the man in the brown mackintosh” in a bit but first I’ll risk receiving low marks from Nabokov’s ghost by (briefly) discussing the Homeric source of this year’s chapter of Ulysses.
Homer’s Odyssey, Book XI: seeking advice from the ghost of the prophet Tiresias, Odysseus visits the underworld where he also communes with other ghosts—including his mother, his former comrades in arms (Agamemnon, Achilles, Ajax)—and witnesses the eternal punishments of Sisyphus and Tantalus. In Chapter Six of Ulysses (“Hades” to academic nonentities), Leopold Bloom is one of a funeral party, escorting the body of Paddy Dignam from his home in Dublin to Glasnevin Cemetery. Throughout the chapter, Bloom and the other mourners communicate with the “ghosts” of friends, loved ones, and great leaders through remembrance—both personal and collective.
Joyce’s playful side is also on display as ghosts of a more literary sort riddle the chapter. Later in Ulysses, (Chapter 16, “Eumaeus”) when Bloom reads the obituary, at least four of the names are actually “ghosts.” Bloom is annoyed to find that he has become a ghost due to a typographical error (his name is recorded as “L. Boom.”) but he has also created a ghost by adding Charley McCoy to the list of those at the funeral even though McCoy could not attend. What is a ghost, after all, but someone who is simultaneously present and absent? The name of Ulysses’ other protagonist also appears (as “Stephen Dedalus, B.A.” ) because someone—presumably Stephen’s father, Simon—has added his name.
Then there is “— M’Intosh” which, at last, brings us to Nabokov’s “man in the macintosh” and requires some explanation.
During the funeral, as the gravediggers lower the coffin, Bloom notices an unfamiliar face and thinks “Now who is that lankylooking galoot over there in the macintosh?” Originally a specific brand of raincoat made of rubberised fabric and named for its inventor, a macintosh (now spelled Mackintosh and often shortened to mack) has long been a generic term in Great Britain and Ireland for any waterproof coat. Later, Bloom has this exchange with Joe Hynes, who is collecting names of those in attendance for the newspaper:
—And tell us, Hynes said, do you know that fellow in the, fellow was over there in the…
He looked around
—Macintosh. Yes, I saw him, Mr Bloom said. Where is he now?
—M’Intosh, Hynes said scribbling. I don’t know who he is. Is that his name? He moved away, looking about him.
—No, Mr Bloom began, turning and stopping. I say, Hynes!
Didn’t hear. What. Where has he disappeared to?
What has happened, of course, is this: as Hynes, trying to ask about the same man Bloom noticed earlier, fumbles to describe the coat the man is wearing. Bloom helpfully supplies the word “macintosh” but Hynes mistakes the word he needs to complete his own sentence for the man he is trying to identify. Hynes records the name and disappears before Bloom can correct the misunderstanding. A ghost is born.
Ghostlike, “the man in the macintosh” appears throughout Ulysses—most dramatically in the surreal dream-play of Chapter 15 (“Circe” or “Nighttown”) where he springs up through a trap door and accuses Bloom of being “Leopold M’Intosh, the notorious fireraiser [arsonist].” The man in the macintosh is never described in greater detail (except to reveal that his macintosh is brown in Chapter 10, “Wandering Rocks”) and his identity is never revealed, though many have speculated. Nabokov thought he was Joyce. He remains for Bloom and for readers a “selfinvolved enigma.”
For this year’s excerpt I want to draw attention to Joyce’s pitch-perfect ear for dialogue. The following scene takes place during the carriage ride to the cemetery and foregrounds Bloom’s status as an outsider. We also learn that Bloom’s father committed suicide. In part, Bloom struggles to find acceptance because he is shy, unable to bring the wit and charm of his inner life into conversation. Yet he is also unwelcome: a Jew in a deeply Catholic and (as we have seen) often anti-semitic community. Notice the offhand rudeness with which Bloom is treated, even among acquaintances, as he tries to tell a humorous anecdote. As usual, I have included a vocal performance of the excerpt (from the unabridged full-cast radio production of Ulysses recorded for RTÉ in 1982) so that you can read along or simply listen.
Mr Bloom began to speak with sudden eagerness to his companions’ faces.
— That’s an awfully good one that’s going the rounds about Reuben J. and the son.
— About the boatman? Mr Power asked.
— Yes. Isn’t it awfully good?
— What is that? Mr Dedalus asked. I didn’t hear it.
— There was a girl in the case, Mr Bloom began, and he determined to send him to the Isle of Man out of harm’s way but when they were both…
— What? Mr Dedalus asked. That confirmed bloody hobbledehoy is it?
— Yes, Mr Bloom said. They were both on the way to the boat and he tried to drown…
— Drown Barabbas! Mr Dedalus cried. I wish to Christ he did! Mr Power sent a long laugh down his shaded nostrils.
— No, Mr Bloom said, the son himself…
Martin Cunningham thwarted his speech rudely.
— Reuben J. and the son were piking it down the quay next the river on their way to the isle of Man boat and the young chiseller suddenly got loose and over the wall with him into the Liffey.
— For God’s sake! Mr Dedalus exclaimed in fright. Is he dead?
— Dead! Martin Cunningham cried. Not he! A boatman got a pole and fished him out by the slack of the breeches and he was landed up to the father on the quay. More dead than alive. Half the town was there.
— Yes, Mr Bloom said. But the funny part is…
— And Reuben J., Martin Cunningham said, gave the boatman a florin for saving his son’s life. A stifled sigh came from under Mr Power’s hand.
— O, he did, Martin Cunningham affirmed. Like a hero. A silver florin. — Isn’t it awfully good? Mr Bloom said eagerly.
— One and eightpence too much, Mr Dedalus said drily.
Mr Power’s choked laugh burst quietly in the carriage.
— Eight plums a penny! Eight for a penny! We had better look a little serious, Martin Cunningham said.
Mr Dedalus sighed.
— And then indeed, he said, poor little Paddy wouldn’t grudge us a laugh. Many a good one he told himself.
— The Lord forgive me! Mr Power said, wiping his wet eyes with his fingers. Poor Paddy! I little thought a week ago when I saw him last and he was in his usual health that I’d be driving after him like this. He’s gone from us.
— As decent a little man as ever wore a hat, Mr Dedalus said. He went very suddenly.
— Breakdown, Martin Cunningham said. Heart.
He tapped his chest sadly.
Blazing face: redhot. Too much John Barleycorn. Cure for a red nose. Drink like the devil till it turns adelite. A lot of money he spent colouring it.
Mr Power gazed at the passing houses with rueful apprehension.
— He had a sudden death, poor fellow, he said.
— The best death, Mr Bloom said.
Their wide open eyes looked at him.
— No suffering, he said. A moment and all is over. Like dying in sleep.
Dead side of the street this. Dull business by day, land agents, temperance hotel, Falconer’s railway guide, civil service college, Gill’s, catholic club, the industrious blind. Why? Some reason. Sun or wind. At night too. Chummies and slaveys. Under the patronage of the late Father Mathew. Foundation stone for Parnell. Breakdown. Heart.
White horses with white frontlet plumes came round the Rotunda corner, galloping. A tiny coffin flashed by. In a hurry to bury. A mourning coach. Unmarried. Black for the married. Piebald for bachelors. Dun for a nun.
— Sad, Martin Cunningham said. A child.
A dwarf’s face mauve and wrinkled like little Rudy’s was. Dwarf’s body, weak as putty, in a whitelined deal box. Burial friendly society pays. Penny a week for a sod of turf. Our. Little. Beggar. Baby. Meant nothing. Mistake of nature. If it’s healthy it’s from the mother. If not the man. Better luck next time.
— Poor little thing, Mr Dedalus said. It’s well out of it.
The carriage climbed more slowly the hill of Rutland square. Rattle his bones. Over the stones. Only a pauper. Nobody owns.
— In the midst of life, Martin Cunningham said.
— But the worst of all, Mr Power said, is the man who takes his own life.
Martin Cunningham drew out his watch briskly, coughed and put it back.
— The greatest disgrace to have in the family, Mr Power added.
— Temporary insanity, of course, Martin Cunningham said decisively. We must take a charitable view of it.
— They say a man who does it is a coward, Mr Dedalus said.
— It is not for us to judge, Martin Cunningham said.
Mr Bloom, about to speak, closed his lips again. Martin Cunningham’s large eyes. Looking away now. Sympathetic human man he is. Intelligent. Like Shakespeare’s face. Always a good word to say. They have no mercy on that here or infanticide. Refuse christian burial. They used to drive a stake of wood through his heart in the grave. As if it wasn’t broken already. Yet sometimes they repent too late. Found in the riverbed clutching rushes. He looked at me. And that awful drunkard of a wife of his. Setting up house for her time after time and then pawning the furniture on him every Saturday almost. Leading him the life of the damned. Wear the heart out of a stone, that. Monday morning start afresh. Shoulder to the wheel. Lord, she must have looked a sight that night, Dedalus told me he was in there. Drunk about the place and capering with Martin’s umbrella:
And they call me the jewel of Asia,
He looked away from me. He knows. Rattle his bones.
That afternoon of the inquest. The redlabelled bottle on the table. The room in the hotel with hunting pictures. Stuffy it was. Sunlight through the slats of the Venetian blinds. The coroner’s ears, big and hairy. Boots giving evidence. Thought he was asleep first. Then saw like yellow streaks on his face. Had slipped down to the foot of the bed. Verdict: overdose. Death by misadventure. The letter. For my son Leopold.
No more pain. Wake no more. Nobody owns.
The carriage rattled swiftly along Blessington street. Over the stones.