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London, Language and Empire in “Oxen of the Sun” of James Joyce’s Ulysses

Eleni Loukopoulou

Joyce’s reception history divides into two main tendencies: either to read Joyce as the cosmopolitan modernist, as first done by Ezra Pound, or as an Irish author, as recent postcolonial studies on Joyce have done. Nevertheless, this paper is not going to focus on Europe or on Ireland. I intend to examine the significance of London as the metropolis of the British Empire for James Joyce’s aesthetics and politics. I am going to discuss the fourteenth episode of Ulysses (1922), “Oxen of the Sun”, as a displaced text set in Dublin, “the second city” (Joyce, 1975:78), but overshadowed by London, the capital of the British Empire. In “Oxen” London, the political and financial metropolis serves as a synecdoche for the empire: London seems to be hovering over the episode.

Particularly, the politics of the final part of the Oxen has not been researched before although in that there is a lot of material regarding 1) the interrelation between the imperial politics of the anthologies of English literature in the period 1880-1920 and the cultural politics of “Oxen” as “anti-anthology” (Gibson, 2002:1182); 2) Joyce’s perception of London; 3) the music hall culture; 4) the proliferation of dialects and London Cockney; 5) Irish Nationalism and the British radical movement.

Ulysses famously depicts the literal and imaginary perambulations of the main three characters: Stephen Dedalus, Mr Leopold Bloom and his wife, Molly. The book constitutes an encyclopaedia, an inventory of Dublin life and social institutions as experienced on a single day, Thursday 16th June 1904. The fourteenth episode of the book, “Oxen of the Sun,” begins at the National Maternity Hospital in Holles Street and ends at Burke’s pub in Dublin, between 10 pm and midnight on 16th June 1904. Mr Leopold Bloom visits the Maternity Hospital because he is worried about the three-day long labour of his friend Mrs Mina Purefoy, wife of Theodore. At the entrance, Dr Dixon invites Mr Bloom to join his merry company, which consists of some medical students, Stephen Dedalus and other eminent Ulyssean figures. In the jolly atmosphere — due to alcohol consumption — various topics are touched upon. When the baby is eventually born, the company eulogises Mr Purefoy’s virility, which has just led to the birth of his twelfth child. In order to celebrate fecundity and prosperity, the company is led by Stephen to Burke’s pub.

According to Virginia Woolf, T.S. Eliot said that Ulysses is the book that “showed up the futility of all the English styles” and “destroyed the whole of the 19th century” (Brooker, 2004: 44). Ulysses is composed of 18 episodes, each of them defined by its own monumental style. The “Oxen of the Sun” episode is built up of thirty-one segments that Joyce wrote by employing and simultaneously distorting the strategies of significant writers in English prose. In order to achieve such a tour de force, Joyce mainly drew on two anthologies: The English Prose: From Mandeville to Ruskin by William Peacock, Home Office, first published in 1903 and The Anthology of English Prose Rhythm by George Saintsbury, first published in 1912.

The scheme of work is elucidated by Joyce’s letter of 20th March 1920 to Frank Budgen:

Technique: a nine-parted episode without divisions introduced by a Sallustian-Tacitean prelude … then by way of earliest English alliterative and monosyllabic and Anglo-Saxon … then by way of Mandeville … then Malory’s Morte d’Arthur … then the Elizabethan chronicle style … then a passage solemn, as of Milton, Taylor, Hooker, followed by a choppy Latin-gossipy bit, style of Burton-Browne, then a passage Bunyanesque .. after a diarystyle bit Pepys-Evelyn … and so on through Defoe-Swift and Steele-Addison-Sterne and Landor-Pater-Newman until it ends in a frightful jumble of Pidgin English, nigger English, Cockney, Irish, Bowery slang and broken doggerel.

Although in “Oxen” the characters are Irish, Dubliners, their voices are distorted through the stylistic channels of established writers in English. This is a textual event that shows how Dublin is overshadowed by the imperial capital and how Joyce constructs the “Oxen” narrative upon the literary London scaffold. The majority of the authors of the anthologies themselves lived in London, the imperial cultural centre, and were distinguished specifically as London authors: for example, Defoe, Pepys and Evelyn, Bunyan, Dickens. Even though some of the chosen authors are Irish, they became associated with London because they worked and published there, as in the case of Swift, Burke or Goldsmith. Furthermore, it is noteworthy that a great number of the extracts that comprise Peacock’s anthology are about London. Characteristically, Pepys’ diary entries are about the Great Plague and the Great Fire, and Evelyn’s diary entries refer to the Great Fire and the Great Frost; Defoe’s refers to the Plague, too; Steele (a Dubliner) and Addison’s articles for The Spectator are London chronicles; Walpole’s extract is entitled “On Living in London” and eulogises the imperial metropolis; Goldsmith’s “National Prejudice” is a report on Englishness “supposed to have been written in London by a Chinese” (Peacock, 1911: 229); De Quincey’s extract refers to a dream set in Oxford Street “by lamplight” (Peacock, 1911: 312); the “Great Cockney” (Joyce, 2000: 183-4), Dickens, is present through a textual sample from David Copperfield.

The majority of the authors of the Anthologies themselves have lived in London, the imperial cultural centre and have been distinguished as London authors: Defoe, Pepys and Evelyn, Bunyan, Dickens. Even though some of the chosen authors are Irish, they became associated with London because they worked and published there, as in the case of Swift, Burke or Goldsmith. Furthermore, it is significant that a great number of the extracts that comprise Peacock’s Anthology are about London. Characteristically, Pepys’ diary entries are about the Great Plague and the Great Fire and Evelyn’s diary entries refer to the Great Fire and the Great Frost; Defoe’s refers to the Plague, too; Steele and Addison’s articles for The Spectator are London chronicles; Walpole’s extract is entitled “On Living in London” and eulogises the imperial metropolis; Goldsmith’s “National Prejudice” is a report on Englishness “supposed to have been written in London by a Chinese (Peacock, 1911: 229); De Quincey’s extract refers to a dream set in Oxford Street “by lamplight” (Peacock, 1911: 312); even the “Great Cockney” (Joyce, 2000: 183-4), Dickens, is present through a textual sample from David Copperfield.

At this point, I would like to discuss the genre of anthology that Joyce used as scaffold in order to define the style of the fourteenth episode of Ulysses. Why did Joyce decide to become an editor of an anthology of English Literature? This appears to contradict his famous statement that the main source of his talent was his “revolt against the English conventions, literary and otherwise.” “I don’t write in English,” his Irish compatriot Arthur Power reports (O’Connor, 1967: 107). Andrew Gibson remarks that: “the tradition of English literature is less important for understanding ‘Oxen’ than a knowledge of the politics of the anthology itself in the period 1880-1920” (Gibson, 2002:173). Most interestingly, Gibson draws on Esther Quantrill’s argument in her Anthological Politics 1860-1914 (1995) that “the anthology was ‘one of the principal instruments’ by which national identity was increasingly invested in the literary tradition” (Gibson, 2002:174). Both at home and in the colonies educational programmes promoted a global cultural homogeneity that intended to sustain the Pax Brittanica. As cultural historians explain, English cultural nationalism of the 1880-1920 period propagated “a softening of political and religious divisions that had marked the first half of the [nineteenth] century” (Collini, 1991: 347) and that “had appeared to marginalize particular ethnic and social groups” (Dodd, 1986: 1). Characteristically, Saintsbury in his anthology directly relates the development of English writing with the empowerment of the English throne (Saintsbury, 1912: 56). Taking the above historical conjunctures into consideration, it would be more elucidating for the reader of the “Oxen” episode to read the text as an “anti-anthology” (Gibson, 2002: 182), “a sly corruption of the tradition as promoted by the anthology and its supposed historical shape” (Gibson, 2002: 180).

I am going to focus on the final mongrelised passage at the end of “Oxen”, because its linguistic jumble reacts to and problematises the spatial dimensions of a colony. In this way, I intend to demonstrate how London and Dublin become interconnected through colonised voices: on the one hand, Pidgin, nigger, Irish and Scots, which point to colonised spaces and, on the other, Cockney, which points to the “other within”, the “colonised” lowest classes of the imperial capital, the synecdoche for the empire.

In “Oxen” the social conflict both in Ireland and in Britain is understood through textual conflict: the imperial version of culture is juxtaposed with working class culture. Joyce’s simulation of Carlyle’s style signifies the epilogue of such a tour de force in explorations of the stylistics of English prose masters. Hence, in the parody of Carlyle, the whole episode is defined as a “chaffering allincluding most farraginous chronicle” (U 554). Moreover, it marks a gulf, between the rational Englishness and the cultural and linguistic melange that follows in the “frightful jumble of Pidgin English, nigger English, Cockney, Irish, Bowery slang and broken doggerel” (Joyce, 1966: 138-49). Carlyle’s moral writings are interconnected with the farraginous final extract that voices London’s popular culture. In Peacock’s anthology (Peacock, 1911: 330-9) one of the three extracts representing Carlyle is from Past and Present (1843). In this, Carlyle addressed the huge socio-economic gulf that defined the Victorian society, despairing of the harsh British reality that “in the midst of plethoric plenty, the people perish” (Keating, 1976: 11).

Five years later, in 1848, in the Manifesto of the Communist Party (produced in London) Marx and Engels, having both witnessed as London residents the development of the British labour movement, distinguished “the two great hostile camps, two great classes directly facing each other: Bourgeoisie and Proletariat” (Keating, 1976: 11-2). Although for Marxism class conflict was a prerequisite for social revolution, for social moralists, such as Carlyle, the dispossessed “mutinous” denizens of the London Abyss required interventional and functional treatment through education and charity. The strategy employed to fulfil the culturalisation and inevitable political assimilation of London’s other was “colonisation” (Doyle, 1989: 30). During the 1880s and 1890s the colonisers entered Unknown England, the Terra Incognita of the East End. The social explorers organised ‘settlements’ (Doyle, 1989:19) such as Toynbee Hall (1884) and the Oxford House (1884). The philanthropic programme of the latter regarded “colonisation by the well-to-do … the true solution to the East End question” in order “to make the masses realise their spiritual and social solidarity with the rest of the capital and the kingdom” (Doyle, 1989: 30). Moreover, Toynbee’s declaration to the inhabitants of Bethnal Green, “You have to forgive us for we have wronged you,” (Ackroyd, 2001: 679) recalls the Anglo-Irish Oxonian Haines’ apology to the Irish Stephen in the first episode of Ulysses: “We feel in England that we have treated you rather unfairly. It seems history is to blame” (U 24). These two statements epitomise the rhetoric of the British colonisers of the time, regardless of whether their audience was in London or Dublin.

Joyce’s first visit to London was initiated through literature and the publishing market. The London Fortnightly Review printed Joyce’s article on Ibsen, in April 1900, and Joyce, remunerated, travelled with his father John Stanislaus to London, staying in a boarding house in Kennington, a cheap part of the conurbation. But Joyce perhaps chose the particular London quarter for its literary significance, because Kennington for Joyce meant William Blake. Joyce wished to walk Blake’s ‘charter’d streets,’ in order to experience the imperial capital (Jackson, Costello, 1997: 224).

The collection of Joyce’s Occasional, Critical, and Political Writings (2000) demonstrates not only his pungency as critic and political commentator, but also how thoroughly he examined the historico-political contexts of literature and how he perceived Irish history and culture in contradistinction to British. For instance, in his 1912 Trieste lecture on Blake, Joyce elucidates the political and cultural network in which Blake was enmeshed: Blake wore the Phrygian red cap in the streets of London, “the emblem of the new age” and was a “member of the literary-revolutionary coterie that included Miss Wollstonecraft and the … author of the Rights of Man, Thomas Paine” (Joyce, 2000: 175). Furthermore, Joyce admired Blake’s works because they constituted visionary engravings of “an entire sociological system”. He cites as example Blake’s poem “London” (1794), in which the sigh of the unhappy soldier runs down the wall of “Buckingham Palace … as a drop of blood” (Joyce, 2000: 175). Blake, thus, represented for Joyce a model of an artist as cartographer of a city’s stratifications and history.

London as new territory should not have been that unfamiliar for Joyce since a great number of Dublin streets and places were named after London, the imperial metropolis. This imposition of London on Dublin cartography is a further indication of London overshadowing Dublin. Characteristically:

Dublin bore the imprint of the English city. There were familiar placenames such as Smithfield, Pimlico, Ely Place, Apothecaries Hall, Mecklenburgh Street, Holles Street, Essex Street, Belgrave Square, Constitution Hill, Mansion House, Sackville Street, Waterloo Road, Fleet Street, and Temple Bar, Grafton Street, Duke Street, Gloucester Road, Mount Street, Ranelagh, Henrietta Street, Little Britain, the Bridewell-and even London Bridge. Joyce knew that Dublin had never been fully an Irish city. (McGinley, 2001: 1)

London cartography was tracked by visits to the Houses of Parliament and the statue of Oliver Cromwell was the site of an argument between John Joyce and an Englishman regarding Cromwell’s value as a ruler (Joyce, 1958: 110-111 and Jackson/ Costello, 1997: 223-226). There were no discriminations for the Joycean flânerie in London and, while based in Kennington, the Joyces visited relatives in the Mile End Road as well as various London music halls, the “indigenous entertainment for Cockneys largely by Cockneys” (Matthews, 1938: 83). It is significant that Cockney was the language of the music hall, which particularly flourished in the second half of the 19th century, and as Ackroyd points out,

the literature of Cockney in the 19th century found one specific focus in the language of the music hall … the routines of the ‘halls’ encouraged much elaboration and ingenuity … so that it can fairly be said that the standard of Cockney was set by the 1880s. (Ackroyd, 2001: 164-5).

The cultural experience of the London music hall left a great impression on Joyce. Back in Dublin, his brother, Stanislaus Joyce, recorded Joyce stating: “the music hall, not poetry, was a criticism of life” (Joyce, 1958: 110).
The product of Joyce’s encounter with Cockney culture is one epiphany that recorded a Cockney allegation of incest in the Leslie family, a family involved in London’s music hall industry with whom the Joyces became acquainted in Kennington.

[London: in a house at Kennington]

Eva Leslie — Yes, Maudie Leslie’s my sister an’
Fred Leslie’s my brother — yev
‘eard of Fred Leslie? … (musing) …
O,’e’s a whoite-arsed bugger … ‘E’s
Awoy at present ….
I told you someun went with me
ten times one noight ….That’s
Fred — my own brother Fred ….
(musing) … ‘E is ‘andsome … O I
do love Fred ….
(Joyce, 1991:195).

For Joyce, epiphanies were the recordings of authentic linguistic moments that constituted the basic material for further use and elaboration in his writings. The particular epiphany about incest demonstrates “an example of plain speaking cockney humour” (Jackson, Costello, 1997: 224).
Now I would like to move from the accumulation of experience during the peregrinations in 1900 London to Joyce’s anti-anthology. In the final mongrelised extract of “Oxen”, everyday London is foregrounded through the local vernacular. An alluring characteristic of Cockney for Joyce was the rhyming slang, which “can be dated to the first decades of the 19th century” (Ackroyd, 2001: 164). Characteristically, in the last extract of “Oxen” Cockney rhyming slang is in abundance.

At this point we should clarify the term “Cockney.” Thomas Carlyle in his reminiscences of his Irish Journey of 1849, just after the famine in Ireland (1846-8), uses a striking phrase when he wants to describe the passengers that travel with him second-class on a train journey to Howth: “Dublin cockneys on a Saturday” (Carlyle, 1882: 64). On a further train journey to Kildare he attributes to the “two Irish gents (if not gentn.) in the next compartment …. a mixed rusticity or cockneyity” (Carlyle, 1882: 68). Most dictionaries define Cockney as the London vernacular. In contradistinction, Carlyle conceives cockneyity not as geographically specific, that is, an adjective attributed to London exclusively, but as class specific: as the opposite of gentility.

The reality of intermingling non-gentile colonised subjects in London contrasts with the constructed version of homogenised Englishness that the anthologies promoted. A survey of the registers of London English from 13th to 15th century reveals a vast range of borrowings: from Old English, Anglo-Norman and medieval Latin to Middle Dutch and Middle Low German (Ackroyd, 2001: 160). Taking into consideration such a history of cumulative adulteration, Joyce depicted the English as “a hybrid race” (Joyce, 2000: 174) in his lecture on Daniel Defoe [1912, Trieste]. The racial hybridity is evident through London’s linguistic hybridity as expressed in the formations of the language of the everydayness. However, despite the fact that the anthologies were mainly published in London, the vernacular of the imperial capital is distinguished through its persistent absence. There is no space for Cockney, because scholars regarded “the disrepute of Cockney as vulgar speech” (Matthews, 1938: x). Characteristically, Matthews begins his book with a citation from the 1909 report of the Conference on the Teaching of English in London elementary schools, which states that, “Cockney … is a modern corruption unworthy of being the speech of any person in the capital city of the Empire” (Matthews, 1938: vii).

Cockney’s rhyming slang and puns originate from the seventeenth century London underworld cants, the secret language of thieves as cited in Richard Head’s The Canting Academy published in London in 1673 (Gifford, 1989: 61/ Matthews, 1938: xii). From this collection in “Oxen” we encounter the following phrases from cants: “every cove to his gentry mort” (U 557-8) which comes from the song “The Rogue’s Delight in Praise of His strolling Mort” (Gifford, 1989: 61). By practising a peripatetic reading of Ulysses we trace some further lines from this song in “Proteus”, the third episode of the book. Stephen recalls a night he spent in the Liberties in south-central Dublin and the language used in this textual space is mainly derived from this song. Characteristically, in the seventh stanza the rogue invites his mort to go away to London: ” Bing awast to Romeville …. O my dimber wapping Dell” (U 59) meaning “Go away to London … my pretty loving wench” (Gifford, 1989: 61). From the seventeenth century cant and its push towards London in “Proteus”, the narrative is also on the road in the final extract of “Oxen”, this time to Malahide. London and Dublin cartography is thus interrelated through a technique of “criss-crossing, reversing or overcoming of opposites” (Barry, 2000: xxi).

In “Oxen” the text similarly engages with sensual pleasures, particularly the relationship between Bannon, a friend of Mulligan, and Milly Bloom, daughter of Leopold. In this textual space the fragmented phrase “On the road to Malahide” (U 558) also suggests an allusion to Kipling’s poem “Mandalay” (1892) where the speaker of Kipling’s poem dreams of being with a certain “Burma girl …. On the road to Mandalay” (Gifford, 1989: 444). The allusion to Kipling is significant here because Joyce considered that Kipling’s Plain Tales from the Hills showed “more promise … than any other contemporary writer’s youthful work. But he did not fulfil that promise” due to “semi-fanatic ideas … about patriotism” (Joyce’s letter to David Fleischman dated Feb.14, 1930) (Ellmann, 1982: 661). Kipling is the writer who most eulogised the British Empire and glorified the British soldier and used Cockney as a symbol of the Empire contributing thus to the imposed cultural imperialism of the time. Several times in Ulysses (Gifford, 1989: 201/ 659) Joyce alludes to Kipling’s “The Absent Minded Beggar”, a propaganda poem intended to raise funds for the troops in the Boer War, yet Joyce indicates an Irish pro-Boer stance. In “Oxen” Joyce’s Kipling pun is situated in a textual environment that is built up linguistically with bowery; eighteenth century slang; Dublin slang; seventeenth century underworld cant; French; lines from a Robert Burns poem written in Scots dialect; an anonymous American song; a Thomas Moore song; an Irish folksong and bawdy parodies of the “Eton Boat Song” (Gifford, 1989: 444-5). Consequently, such proliferation of linguistic tropes in such an irreverent and boisterous context subverts Kipling’s imperial poetics and the imperial ceremonies in London during the Boer War.

In the finale of “Oxen”, a further instance of seventeenth century cant is the phrase “the ruffin cly the nub of” (U 558) meaning, “the devil take the head of” (Gifford, 1989: 445). Originating from the first line of “The Beggar’s Curse,” (Gifford, 1989: 445) the following story abundant in London vernacular demonstrates how Joyce foregrounds the subversive inventiveness and cynicism of Cockney in contrast with the author of the “Absent Minded Beggar.”

The ruffin cly the nab of Stephen Hand as give me the jady coppalee. He strike a telegramboy paddock wire big bug Bass to the depot. Shove him a joey and grahamise. Mare on form hot order. Guinea to a goosegog. Tell a cram, that. Gospeltrue. Criminal diversion? I think that yes. Sure thing. Land him in chokeechokee if the Harman beck copped the game. (U 558)

Joyce had explained to his German translator:

Stephen Hand met a telegramboy who was bringing a private racing telegram from the stable of the celebrated English brewer Bass to the police depot in Dublin to a friend there to back Bass’ horse Sceptre for the Cup. Stephen Hand gives boy 4 pence, opens the telegram over steam (grahamising), recloses it and sends the boy on with it, backs the Sceptre to win and loses. (This really happened and his name was Stephen Hand though it was not the Gold Cup) (Cohn, 1969: 194)

In the above extract, for instance, we encounter the verb to grahamise (U 558) meaning ‘to open letters that are en route to their destination’ (Gifford, 1989: 446). It originates from the British statesman Graham, who in 1844 as Home Secretary “procured a warrant to open the letters of the Italian political theorist and revolutionary Giuseppe Mazzini,” who had found political asylum in London (1837-1844). “Graham communicated the contents to the Austrian minister, which resulted in a public outcry against Graham’s betrayal, in the course of which his name became a verb” (Gifford, 1989: 446). This particular verb indicates the political fermentations that characterised nineteenth century London, to which many political exiles or radicals resorted. Mazzini had discussed and compared Irish and Italian nationalisms and had denied the Irish a “distinctive civilisation” that would justify their “separatist claim” (Kiberd, 1996: 336). As Kiberd stresses, Joyce’s reply to Mazzini was “a discovery of the real Ireland of the present. After the famine and the decline of the Irish language” (Kiberd, 1996: 336). Ireland of that present was not the Revivalist movement “a projection of imperial fantasy … an invention of the colonisers” (Kiberd, 1996: 335). Particularly, in “Oxen” Joyce interrogates such imposed notions of Englishness and Irishness whose symbolic value is mediated even through literature by writing Dublin through the London vernacular and not Gaelic.

For instance, the part of the text that refers to Paddy Dignam’s funeral earlier in the day is written in pidgin English and cockney:

See him today at a runefal? Chum o yourn passed in his checks? Ludamassy! Pore picanninnies! Thou’ll no be telling me thot, Pold veg! Did ums blubble bigsplash crytears cos frien Padney was took off in a black bag? Of all de darkies Massa Pat was verra best. I never see the like since I was born. (U 560)

First of all the topic of the conversation is hidden due to the use of an anagram: the word funeral is rendered as “runefal.” Hence, Gifford mistakenly considers the name Padney as an allusion to “Milly Bloom” (Gifford, 1989: 448). In such a short extract we encounter a great number of slang and pidgin: ‘Chum means an intimate friend but since 18th c also a mate in crime’ (Partridge, 1938: 154).Passed in his checks meaning to die unexpectedly (Partridge, 608) describes Dignam’s sudden death (apoplexy) after a drinking bout (U 324). Ludamassy is a corrupt form of Lord-a-mercy (Partridge, 495). Picanninny means child originally “applied in the West Indies and America to Negro and other coloured children” (Partridge, p. 624). Lord show mercy for the poor children recalls the thoughts of Bloom and of other characters when thinking of Dignam’s family throughout the book (U 129, 405). Partridge (p.58) refers to the term “black bagging” meaning “dynamitarding: a journalistic colloquialism 1884-ca.1910 from the black bags in which the explosive so often was carried.” According to Partridge (p.208) Darkies is “generic for the Coal-Hole, the Cider Cellar, the Shades: ca 1850-80 (These were places of midnight entertainment in or near the Strand).” A second definition of darky is “a Negro (US) anglicised no later than 1840” (Partridge, 208). Here, then Dignam is understood as one of the best Negroes or of the best drinkers that the narrator has known. “Massa Pat” as Joyce explained to Goyert should be translated in “child’s and nigger English” (Cohn, 1967: 199) since massa stands for “master in Negro English” (Partridge, p.512).
Finally, in the end of “Oxen” we encounter instances of Bowery that recall Casey’s Americanisms (repetitive use of ma’am) in his part in the Portrait (Joyce, 2000: 25-39). They also relate to the “Edinburgh-born fanatical evangelist” (Thornton, 1968: 130) Dowie (U 561) and the temperance movement that was flourishing in London at the time. Characteristically, Dowie was not in Dublin in 1904 but in London as The Times report: “Dowie arrived in London on Saturday, June 11; had trouble finding accommodations there because of some statements he had reportedly made about the King; left London for Boulogne on Monday, June 14; arrived back in London … on June 17; and sailed from Liverpool for New York … on June 18” (Thornton, 1968: 130). Moreover, the temperance movement is intertwined with the radical politics of most leading figures of black anti-imperialist activists in London culminating in the Pan-African Conference in London in 1900. Particularly, “the temperance crusade remained a lifelong adjunct” of the activists (Schneer, 2001: 206). But these topics are part of a wider project on London and Joyce.

Rhyming slang and linguistic inventiveness constitute Cockney’s quality of being a subversive code in the interactions of underprivileged Londoners. The use of code languages should be a very familiar linguistic and simultaneously political practice for Joyce. It relates to Joyce’s father’s Fenian background. As we are informed by his biographers, during the years 1870-72 “John Stanislaus became most closely involved with the Fenian movement” (Jackson, Costello, 1997:60) and (Joyce, 1958: 46). The Fenian Society, organised in 1858 by James Stephens was one of the historical formations of the Irish independence movement. It successfully enhanced the Irish in Ireland, Britain and America because as Joyce in his article “Fenianism” (1907) informs us, the Fenians were “organised into cells of twenty-five men each … which formed a vast intricate network whose strands were brought together in Stephens’ hands” (Joyce, 2001: 138).

I am now going to examine how the first thirty one extracts are in contrast with the final extract transcribing thus the gulf between the official version of culture and history with everyday London. The linguistic politics of the final extract of “Oxen” has not been examined before neither how this relates to the 19th century political strategies of the Irish independence movements. In particular, a common argument suggested that the success of the Irish independence movement would require the positioning of the movement among the radical political movements that swept through Europe during the 19th century. Moreover, “although the alliance was never free from tensions” as EP Thompson remarks, there was “a clear consecutive alliance between Irish nationalism and English Radicalism between 1790 and 1850” (Thompson, 1991: 482). This is demonstrated by the interrelations between Irish and British Radicals in London that led to Chartism:

In 1828 the Radical and anti-O’Connellite London Irish formed an Association for Civil and Political Liberty, which had Hunt’s and Cobbett’s support, which cooperated closely with advanced English Radicals, and which was one of the precursors of the National Union of the Working Classes (1830)-itself the forerunner of the Chartist London Working Men’s Association (1836) (Thompson, 1991: 481-2).

Moreover, in the finale of “Oxen” we find scattered imitations of Pilgrim’s Progress which with Rights of Man are “the two foundation texts of the English working-class movement” since “Bunyan and Paine … contributed most to the stock of ideas and attitudes which make up the raw material of the movement from 1790-1850” (Thompson, 1991: 34). As Hobsbawm and Thompson observe, London is the synecdoche for labour history from “the London Jacobins and Place … to the London Fabians” (Thompson, 1991: 58).

In 1848 John Mitchel, leading figure of the Irish Confederation (established in 1847), promoted an alliance with the British Chartists (1838-48) whose founder Feargus O’Connor was a representative of those Irishmen that Joyce considered to be Ireland’s contributions “to English art and thought” (Joyce, 2000: 123). The London Chartists had many Irish members due to the large Irish community, which alongside the Jews was one of the most dispossessed social groups in London throughout the 19th century (Thompson, 1991: 469-485/ Ackroyd, 2001: 709). Characteristically, when John Mitchel was sentenced in 1848, “over 50,000 British Chartists and Irish Confederates massively demonstrated in London” (Newsinger, 1994: 13). In the 1860s James Stephens, head of the Fenians, also promoted an alliance with the British radical movement. Moreover, Stephens joined the International Working Men’s Association in New York in 1866 (Newsinger, 1994: 51).

In Westminster in 1881, during the Land war (8/1880-2/1881: the non-payment of rent to the landlords due to three preceding years of losses for the Irish tenant farmers), Michael Davitt and Charles Stewart Parnell promoted the organisation of the National Land League of Britain with “the special aim of informing the working classes of Britain about the Irish land question and their community of interests with those of the Irish tenant farmers” (Moody, 1981: 461, 481). It is significant that the philosemitic Davitt was the Irish Brotherhood agent for Britain and his most famous book The Fall of Feudalism in Ireland (1904) was in Joyce’s library in Trieste (Gibson, 2002: 160).

Now I am going to demonstrate how in “Oxen” London is interconnected with Irish history through references to Fenianism. In the Carlyle simulation we are informed that when the Purefoy baby is born, the already drunk company leaves the Maternity Hospital and heads towards Burke’s pub in order to celebrate Mr Purefoy’s prosperity. This is phrased as “all bravely legging it, Burke’s of Denzille and Holles their ulterior goal” (U 554). The above information is repeated in the final extract by being rendered into slang as “All off for a buster, Armstrong, hollering down the street” (U 555). Moreover, the corner address of the pub Denzille and Holles from the Carlyle sentence is transmuted into “The Denzille lane boys” (U 556), which is Dublin slang for the ‘Invincibles’ (Gifford, 1989: 44), a Fenian group “many of whose members lived in Denzille Street, adjoining Denzille Lane” (Thornton, 1968: 348). Nowadays this street is called Fenian Street (Gifford, 1989: 439). Joyce in his account of Fenianism refers to them and informs us that “after the disbanding of Stephens’ Fenians [in 1866] the doctrine of physical force sporadically reappears in violent acts. The ‘Invincibles’ blew up Clerkenwell prison” (Joyce, 2001: 139).

Hence, in the same textual space, the address of the pub, Denzille and Holles, and the name of the pub, Burke’s, in Stephen’s mind are associated with the explosion in Clerkenwell prison in London in December 1867. In Ulysses the Dublin of 1904 is constructed through a great number of stories. Their parts build up an intricate network of cross-references, a spatial formation, and the reader of Ulysses has to read backwards and forwards many times in order to trace the structural elements of one particular story. The strands of the stories in Ulysses are brought together initially by Joyce and successively by the peripatetic reader. Hence, earlier in the day, in “Proteus”, the third episode, Stephen recalls the particular historical event:

colonel Richard Burke, tanist of his sept, under the walls of Clerkenwell and, crouching saw a flame of vengeance hurl them upward in the fog. Shattered glass and toppling masonry. In gay Paree he hides, Egan of Paris, unsought by any save by me. (U 54/ 554-5)

As Gifford informs us:

Burke and Casey were held in Clerkenwell prison. The plot to blast the wall of the prison yard and rescue them hinged on their scheduled exercise time. (They were supposed to crouch down against the yard’s outer wall to avoid injury.) But the prison authorities, warned by informers that a rescue was to be attempted, changed Burke and Casey’s exercise time and thus foiled the plot … the Fenians exploded a keg of gunpowder at the base of the prison wall. 12 Londoners were killed and 30 others were wounded by the explosion, sparking widespread public outrage …. (Gifford, 1997: 52/ 56)

Joseph Casey, on whom Kevin Egan is based, was a close friend of Joyce’s father. He was later a Land League executive and treasurer and resorted to Paris in 1881 immediately after the arrest of Michael Davitt. In Paris, Casey worked as typesetter for the New York Herald of Paris (Gifford, 1989: 54). Joyce used to meet him in Paris during his brief residence and studies there (1902-3) (Jackson and Costello, 1997: 50). Hence, Stephen remembers one of their meetings in Paris when “Kevin Egan rolls gunpowder cigarettes through fingers smeared with printer’s ink” (U 53).

The cultural resonance of the explosion in Clerkenwell in the political unconscious is reconfirmed when we note that in October 1922 the outraged Irish-Catholic critic Shane Leslie dismissed Ulysses as “an attempted Clerkenwell explosion in the well-guarded, well-built, classical prison of English literature” (Leslie, 1970: 211) a phrase that accurately summarises the finale of “Oxen.”

London is a conflicting construction for Joyce: it is the first city of the empire and Joyce, as colonised Irish coming from the Empire’s second city, cannot identify with London’s landmarks and topography. In fact, according to Stanislaus “Joyce never liked the city” (Joyce, 1958: 197). However, Joyce perceives London through the indigenous literature (Defoe, Blake, Dickens), the cultural politics of London’s indigenous language (music hall, Cockney), and the history of Irish and British radical movements.

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To Cite This Article:

Eleni Loukopoulou, ‘London, Language and Empire in “Oxen of the Sun” of James Joyce’s Ulysses’. Literary London: Interdisciplinary Studies in the Representation of London, Volume 3 Number 1 (March 2005). Online at Accessed on [date of access].