Old Mother Grogan

Ulysses-Grogan-1Mother Grogan is a mildly rude joke, characteristically brought up by Mulligan and quickly used to skewer Haines’ attitude toward Ireland and things Irish. Haines is collecting “exotic” Irish sayings and other folk esoterica, in the same way Bartok, Dvorak and Smetana collected ethnic folk tunes from the backwaters of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, as modernity began to overtake these regions. The implied condescension is obvious, especially to Stephen. It is alright for he and Mulligan to run down Irish culture; it is quite another thing for an Englishman, citizen of the reigning colonial power, to do so, and Mulligan quickly satirizes Haines’ study, asking Stephen if he thinks Mother Grogan is mentioned in the Mabinogion or the Upanishads. Since these are, respectively, the national epics of Wales, another Celtic nation incorporated into Great Britain, and India, Britain’s leading colony, Haines is being ragged quite pointedly.

On another level, Joyce is preparing the reader, sending up the epic tradition, and announcing his project of uniting high and low in  “Ulysses”. He is using The Odyssey, part of what is in a sense the national epic of Europe, as the backbone of his project. His entire book is a questioning and sendup of the epic tradition by involving his protagonists in the most mundane incidents and actions, including rude jokes, the stuff of a Modern Epic. Mother Grogan may not be in the Mabinogion or the Upanishads, but she is in “Ulysses”.

– Andrew Levitas

One thought on “Old Mother Grogan

  1. Andrew brings up a really great point here that’s terrific to see happen at the site.

    Very few moments in reading the comic adaptation I’m building can compare with joy of solving a Joycean puzzle found when reading the text. I try to use cartoons to evidence a certain light-heartedness in dialogue for first time readers, but nothing compares with that moment you get in reading the novel, that keen enjoyment of saying, “oh, hey, get this! And it’s a fart joke!”

    There are so many, many layers in these moments that make Joyce’s book such an astonishing work of art. Moments in which the discovery, and in this case it’s “folksy” tone, serve to establish or echo bigger, broader themes through regular, sometimes mundane, and common jokes. Here, in the first chapter, a reader who’s gotten this far knows that the Bohemian world of the boys in the tower is still not above “taking the piss out” of others by using the folk tales they find so clever.

    Cartoons, you know, will never reward patient readers in the same way here that a Joyce’s novel does. This is because, in the art of the novel, you make these discoveries for yourself and are paid off by moments like Mother Grogan. In comix the way things are given to you makes you, or so we hope, look deeper for the pay-off. When Mulligan and Stephen joke at Haines’ expense all I can do as a cartoonist is show the expressive nature of how they intend their comments. I can’t possibly explain the source material within the comic itself or why the joke is funny.

    My goal is to to create a chance wherein first time readers might get a chance to see how wonderfully deep and expressively potent this novel is while still maintaining a unique charm of coming across as funny, sad, sympathetic and poetic. The goal as an illustrator of any novel is to make people read the text deeper. The goal of someone using the webcomix as a format for bringing first time readers to something like ULYSSES is to give them things like this, a way to look deeper into why everybody’s smiling when Mother Grogan’s name is mentioned.

    “Charming. Quite charming.” as Mulligan says.
    -R

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