Reader's Guide: Nestor 003


[cf. Gabler 20: 1-5; 1922 24:1-5]


The “Nestor” chapter is undergirded by ideas of history and memory, allusions to A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, Joyce’s novel published prior to Ulysses;and evocations of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, whose titular character provides constant comparison and self-identification for Stephen.  If there is one idea that links these motifs, it would probably be disappointment–as we shall see.

“What city sent for him?” Stephen asks his class, the opening words of the chapter.  It is part of the lesson on Pyrrhus of Epirus, the 3rd Century BC Greek general, whose military triumph at Asculum came at the expense of so many casualties that to this day we call a hollow victory “pyrrhic.”  The question immediately reflects on Stephen himself, however.

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine yourself as one of Joyce’s readers at the time that Ulysses was first appearing, either in serial form in the little review or as a bound volume.  You would likely have read A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, the kunstlerroman easily and widely thought to be a thinly disguised autobiographical work.  Portrait‘s protagonist, Stephen Dedalus, dreams of escaping drab Dublin, and ultimately flees–gloriously, it is to be assumed–to Paris. You would therefore be wondering what has transpired in the narrative time between the two novels, and recognize that the question of “What city sent for him?” as applied to its speaker, could be answered with the word Dublin.  (This is Joyce’s version of “Just when I thought I was out, they pull me back in…”)

And of course, readers can guess that Stephen has returned to Ireland to visit his mother’s deathbed, but might wonder why he has stayed on.  Is it because of this job?  Surely not.  Rob has drawn Stephen’s classroom to suggest an oppressive space, its walls closing in.

At its center Stephen, standing upright, posed awkwardly.  Does anyone else think that his stance and his costume recall Bela Lugosi’s Frankenstein monster?

Note that the textbook on his desk is encased in a blue that looks quite similar to the aqua (?) blue of the original 1922 edition of Ulysses–a color on which Joyce insisted.  Has Stephen been reading the book of himself, his own history? Or is Rob suggesting that Joyce’s choice of color was based on a memory (conscious or otherwise) of the book cover from his 1904 classroom?  In any case, we should not judge a book by its color.