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The turd swiftsure Flew down the sewer & the sleuce-hounds Flushfleshed after (Buffalo VI. B.3, 67–69) Readers first meet Stephen Dedalus as a child who has wet the bed. His mother puts oilcloth, with its distinctive aroma, under the sheet, and it’s fair to surmise that the boy thinks no more of it. Soon, however, he becomes keenly aware of the anthropological danger zones threatening his physical purity. At Clongowes, Stephen’s fall into the square ditch makes him ill. When his family moves to Blackrock and he visits Carrickmines with the milkman, he reacts strongly against ‘the filthy cowyard at Stradbrook with its foul green puddles and clots of liquid dung’; his ‘heart’ is ‘sickened’ (P 66) by seeing these things. Soon his ‘boyish conception of the world’ as eternally the same is shattered, and the stage is set for Stephen’s long-term anger and disillusion. He resents his family’s ‘change of fortune’ and the ‘squalor’ – a previously unseen portion of a larger and much less predictable world (P 69) – that he is forced to acknowledge. When the family’s disastrous move from Blackrock to the city occurs, Stephen finds his way to the Liffey, where he encounters a ‘multitude of corks that lay bobbing on the surface of the water in a thick yellow scum’ (P 69). Why doesn’t the text register the stench that was at that time associated with the river? Stephen’s fresh sensory experience (‘new and complex’ [P 69]) surely provides an opportunity for the narrative to notice the Liffey’s famous stench and to make something of it. That is, unless Stephen has already become aware that bodies of water around Dublin tended to smell of sewage, that waterways and sewers were sometimes synonymous. Joyce was Joyce and the Everynight CHERYL TEMPLE HERR 38 writing about the Liffey at the same time that a series of parliamentary discussions were ongoing about sanitation and acceptable levels of pollution in Ireland. To some extent Joyce screens out of Portrait and Ulysses the more dire evidence of water pollution and of Ireland’s struggle with waste disposal. In the context of his entire oeuvre, Joyce relocates these topics from everyday life to what we might call the ‘everynight’ of Finnegans Wake. In the everynight, riverine waste disposal becomes an issue that infiltrates every aspect of the narrative, and Joyce’s many connections between the Liffey and all the other rivers of the world speak to the impossibility of disentangling purity from pollution, humanity from excrement, post-colony from empire, and past from present. The Odour of Ashpits The view that in Joyce’s era waterways and sewers could not be disentangled finds ample confirmation in the twenty-seven volumes of testimony and reports obtained in 1902 by the ‘Royal Commission on Sewage Disposal’, a body then newly convened to discuss conditions in Great Britain’s major cities from Birmingham to Belfast, from London to Dublin. The Engineer to the Dublin Corporation provided a description of the main drainage project (over forty years in the making), designed so that a northern and a southern main would intercept both existing and new connections. The discourse lays out contemporary arrangements in cold detail. Some of the oldest piping leading out of homes had cracking cement and thus leaked effluent.1 Incoming tides drove sewage back up the channels down which it had flowed: ‘All the old sewers, which at present discharge into the Liffey . . . are connected by short lengths of pipe sewer large enough to take the sewage proper and rainfall equal to one-quarter of an inch in twenty-four hours. If the flow in the sewers exceeds this rate the storm water will pass over a weir into the river . . .’2 Diameters and lengths, gallons and cubic feet, cast-iron and blue brick, pumping and dredging, ‘filth hoists’ and inner flaps form the vocabulary of sewage design and punctuate the rhetoric of this lengthy report. At one point, the Royal Commission’s interrogator states, ‘I see that you are making arrangements to remove the sludge out to sea?’ Yes, says the Engineer, ‘at present we are proposing to take the sludge six miles out to sea’. What about the ocean currents near the outfall, asks the Commission, to which the Engineer JOYCE AND THE EVERYNIGHT 39 responds, ‘Yes, there is no question at all but that some of the effluent will absolutely go out to sea and at other times some may...

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Additional Information

ISBN
9781782050735
Related ISBN
9781782050728
MARC Record
OCLC
882713144
Launched on MUSE
2014-07-04
Language
English
Open Access
No
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