On this day…27 April

On 27 April 1871 Paul de Kock died.

Charles Paul de Kock (1794-1871) was a prolific French novelist who published his first novel at the age of twenty-eight. His novels focus on lower- and middle-class Paris and his characters were often shop girls and clerks. Though his works were considered slightly vulgar, they were very popular.

In the ‘Calypso’ episode of Ulysses, Molly has been reading Ruby – The Pride of the Ring, but is disappointed: “There’s nothing smutty in it,” she tells Bloom. When Bloom asks her if she wants another, she says: “Get another of Paul de Kock’s. Nice name he has.”

Bloom thinks back to this moment while he’s in the Ormond Hotel in the ‘Sirens’ episode, at which point de Kock’s name is associated with the smell of burning kidney. Later in the episode his name is associated with the door-knocker, perhaps as Bloom imagines Blazes Boylan knocking at the door.

In the ‘Circe’ episode, Bloom and Paul de Kock are fused in the name “Poldy Kock,” and Mrs Yelverton Barry calls for Bloom’s arrest for (among other things) offering to post her “a work of fiction by Monsieur Paul de Kock, entitled The Girl with the Three Pairs of Stays.” (La femme aux trois corsets was a novel by de Kock, published in 1878.) In ‘Penelope’ Molly wonders what Sweets of Sin, the book Bloom has brought home for her, will be like and she thinks of the author of Sweets of Sin as being “some other Mr de Kock.”

Joyce had a copy of de Kock’s novel Le Cocu (The Cuckold) in his Trieste library, and the theme of cuckoldry is important in Ulysses. In a Preface to his novel, de Kock wrote: “Le Cocu! What is there so indecent in the word, pray? In the first place, what does it mean? A married man who is deceived by his wife, a husband whose wife is unfaithful. Would you like me to give my book such a title as The Husband whose Wife was False to Her Vows? That would resemble a Pontoise poster. Was it not clearer and simpler to take the one word which, alone, means all that?”

In the notes for his play Exiles, Joyce compares de Kock’s Le Cocu with Molière’s Georges Dandin ou le Mari confondu (Georges Dandin or the Confounded Husband, 1668) and Sganarelle ou le Cocu Imaginaire (Sganarelle, or The Imaginary Cuckold, 1660) and claims that de Kock has produced a long and painful story.


Sources & Further Reading:

Gifford, Don, with Robert J Seidman: Ulysses Annotated – Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses, second edition, Berkeley & Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1989.

Joyce, James: Poems & Exiles, edited with an Introduction and Notes by JCC Mays, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1992.

Books by Charles Paul de Kock can be found at Project Gutenberg