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Dim Starlight on "A Little Cloud"

From: James Joyce Quarterly
Volume 47, Number 3, Spring 2010
p. 462 | 10.1353/jjq.2011.0021

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With no great certainties, I proffer another burnable offering to the debate about the title of "A Little Cloud." Anthologists and editors continue to cite 1 Kings 18:44 without much conviction, though other sources, both possible and implausible, have been suggested. Looking into an unclouded sky, we may see

M44 "praesepe" or the "Beehive" star cluster, sometimes called the Manger, one of the largest, nearest, and brightest of the galactic star clusters. It is clearly visible to the naked eye, and appears as a nebula, but even an opera-glass will reveal its stellar nature. . . . Praesepe was one of the few clusters mentioned in antiquity, though of course its true nature was not recognized. Hipparchus (130 B.C.) called it a "Little Cloud" and Aratus (about 260 B.C.) refers to it as a "Little Mist." According to R. H. Allen, it appeared on [Johann] Bayer's charts of about 1600 under the designation "Nubilum" or "Cloudy One."

Though his name does not appear in any of Joyce's works, Hipparchus is nevertheless of interest to Joyceans: the Athenian is recognized as the father of trigonometry and among the first users of a crude form of "parallax." He managed to make a rough but respectable calculation of the distance between the Earth and the moon. This and similar operations can also require the use of a gnomon, another Joyce keyword.

While I remain admittedly unconvinced that he had any astronomical or even astrological meanings in mind for his story at the time of its composition, Joyce's enjoyment of the way meanings proliferate a posteriori is most evident in Finnegans Wake, where he is often found revisiting and, as it were, revising his previous words and works. It is thus perhaps more credible to detect the astronomical implication in the following phrase from near the end of II.1: "That little cloud, a nibulissa, still hangs isky" (FW 256.33). Indeed, the mystery of Little Chandler's cloud still hangs over us.

Tim Conley  

Tim Conley is Associate Professor of English and Comparative Literature at Brock University. He is the editor of Joyce's Disciples Disciplined and co-editor of the forthcoming anthology from Action Books entitled Burning City: Poems of Metropolitan Modernity.


1.  See Robert Burnham Jr., Burnham's Celestial Handbook: An Observer's Guide to the Universe Beyond the Solar System, rev. ed. (New York: Dover Press, 1978), 1:345.

Copyright © 2010 University of Tulsa
Project MUSE® - View Citation
Tim Conley. "Dim Starlight on "A Little Cloud"." James Joyce Quarterly 47.3 (2011): 462-462. Project MUSE. Web. 26 Jan. 2013. <http://muse.jhu.edu/>.
Conley, T.(2011). Dim Starlight on "A Little Cloud". James Joyce Quarterly 47(3), 462. The University of Tulsa. Retrieved January 26, 2013, from Project MUSE database.
Tim Conley. "Dim Starlight on "A Little Cloud"." James Joyce Quarterly 47, no. 3 (2011): 462-462. http://muse.jhu.edu/ (accessed January 26, 2013).
T1 - Dim Starlight on "A Little Cloud"
A1 - Tim Conley
JF - James Joyce Quarterly
VL - 47
IS - 3
SP - 462
EP - 462
PY - 2011
PB - The University of Tulsa
SN - 1938-6036
UR - http://muse.jhu.edu/journals/james_joyce_quarterly/v047/47.3.conley.html
N1 - Volume 47, Number 3, Spring 2010
ER -


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