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Ships and Boats in James Joyce: Representing Arrested Development in the Modernist Bildungsroman

Sara Spanghero

Résumés

Two major literary changes coincide between the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century : on the one hand the traditional Bildungsroman is replaced by its modernist counterpart, which features adolescent protagonists whose development into mature adults in never achieved ; on the other hand, the traditional genre of sea adventure tales is replaced by more introspective narrations, anticipating many of the aspects that will become characterising features of Modernism – in particular, the overall dystopic representation of the sea and of the aquatic element in general. In the work of James Joyce, the concurrence of these two literary transformations distinctly stands out ; from those short stories in Dubliners (1914) centred on childhood and adolescence, to the anti-developmental novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916) and Ulysses (1922), the marine/aquatic dimension both symbolises and determines the condition of arrested development of the young protagonists. In this article, I particularly focus on the maritime element of the ship and put in evidence how, in modernist fiction but especially for the Joycean characters, it loses its traditional rite-of-passage function.

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  • 1 An early contribution on this theme is Sydney Feshbach's essay “Literal/Littoral/Littorananima: The (...)
  • 2 Esty, Jed. Unseasonable Youth. Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development. New York: Ox (...)
  • 3 Joyce is if course not the only writer ascribable to this category; another name that must be menti (...)

1The significance of the maritime and aquatic dimension in James Joyce’s work is undoubtedly a central element from a symbolic and a narrative point of view. This subject has been investigated1 extensively, yet little attention has been paid to the specific function that the maritime dimension fulfils in determining the particular condition of arrested development exhibited by Joyce’s young and adolescent characters, namely, as Jed Esty efficaciously puts it, their condition of “youthful protagonists who conspicuously do not grow up2.The work of the great modernist stands at the crossroads of two major literary transformations, both of which took place between the end of the 19th century and the opening decades of the 20th century. On the one hand, during this period, the traditional Bildungsroman is gradually replaced by its modernist counterpart, which features adolescent protagonists who never fully develop into mature adults (or, at least, into what is socially defined as such). On the other hand, the great 19th-century tradition of sea adventure tales, centred on long and dangerous journeys at sea (that for the main characters, represented the occasion on which they could prove their valour), is abandoned in favour of much more introspective narrations, mainly focussed on the inner development of the central figures (e.g. the sea-set novels by Joseph Conrad, such as Lord Jim and The Shadow-Line). The works of James Joyce that feature young characters are an excellent example of the coincidence of these two literary changes and can be ascribed to a particular category of modernist Bildungsroman, for which I propose the definition of fluid anti-developmental narratives. Indeed, in these works the impossibility for the “youthful protagonists” to become adults, and therefore the natural fluidity of their identities as adolescents, is effectively symbolised in, and determined by, their relationship with the dimension of the sea and/or with the element of water in general. As shall be demonstrated, such relationship is mostly one of aversion and incompatibility3.

  • 4 As Joyce famously stated in a letter to his editor Grant Richards, Dubliners should represent “a ch (...)

2In fact, even though waterways and the sea are of great importance in Joyce’s works, in his novels there is hardly any reference to the reality of life on board a ship; sea journeys are either longed-for, but not undertaken, or referred to in a negative way, and mariners are not among the main characters of his narrations. Actually, when they do appear, they are presented as rather ambiguous and even sinister figures. Notwithstanding, there is an inherently constitutive element of the maritime dimension that does play a decisive role in defining and describing the particular condition of the modernist “anti-Bildungsheld” in Joyce’s works: the ship. It is my contention that ships and boats are signifiers of the arrested development of young Joycean characters. In my analysis of this maritime elements, I will draw attention to both their symbolic force and their material aspects. I will build my study on the ship’s chronotopic function by using Margaret Cohen’s famous essay “The Chronotopes of the Sea” (2006) as a point of reference, and by following John Brannigan’s argument in his recent volume Archipelagic Modernism (2015) in favour of a material reading of the maritime geography, of which the ship is undoubtedly a relevant element. This peculiar function of ships and boats is present in Joyce’s work as early as in Dubliners, the author’s first and only collection of short stories, and it stands out particularly in “An Encounter” and “Eveline,” respectively a “childhood” and an “adolescence” story4. Yet, it is with reference to the figure of Stephen Dedalus, the protagonist of Joyce’s definitive anti-developmental novel A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (as well as one of the main characters of Ulysses), that the ship’s role is most effectively put in evidence. In this article, I will emphasize this function through a comparative analysis of selected scenes from Dubliners (1914), A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man (1916; hereafter Portrait) and Ulysses (1922).

  • 5 Casarino, Cesare. Modernity at Sea: Melville, Marx, Conrad in Crisis. Minneapolis [et al.]: Univers (...)
  • 6 Ibid.

3To this end, however, it is first necessary to outline a frame of reference in which to situate my investigation, and I find that Cesare Casarino’s study Modernism at Sea (2002) constitutes a useful starting point to understand the relationship between the modernist Bildungsroman and the modernist sea narrative. The latter, according to the scholar, has been instrumental in the “conceptualization of a world system that was increasingly arduous to visualize, the more multiple, interconnected, and global it became5.” The perplexity and confusion caused by the inexorable advent of such a new and heterogeneous state of things is reflected in unconventional and somehow revolutionary formal choices, anticipating many of the aspects that would become characteristic of literary Modernism itself6, such as the non-linearity of the narration or the use of the free indirect speech and of the stream of consciousness, to mention but a few examples.

The (Water)Ways of the World: Unbound Empires and Arrested Developments

4In a context of great imperial expansion, the administration and control of ports and waterways is of primary import. Nevertheless, as Nels Pearson pertinently points out:

  • 7 Pearson, Nels C. “'May I trespass on your valuable space?': Ulysses on the Coast.” Modern Fiction S (...)

when we consider development from a global perspective, it is also true that shipping ports and coastal infrastructures are often microcosms of the gross imbalances that exist between one locus of socioeconomic emergence and others, or between the subject populations of imperialism and the broader commercial system that it aggressively introduces7.

  • 8 Casarino, op. cit., p. 4.
  • 9 Ibid., p. 10.

5 The rapid growth of colonial empires, especially the British one, and the subsequent consolidation of a global industrial capitalism are undoubtedly among the socio-political and cultural events that most heavily influenced both the developments of sea narratives and of the novel of formation. On the one hand, the revolution in the “political economy of the sea8,” leading to the almost complete disappearance of sail and sail-assisted vessels and their replacement with steam-powered vessels, has an important effect on the great 19th-century sea adventure tale, a transformation that is driven “by the contradictory desires to register the rapidly disappearing past of preindustrial and mercantile practices and to produce the most advanced forms of representation of the emergent future and its new social relations9.” On the other hand, as both Jed Esty in his study Unseasonable Youth (2013) and Gregory Castle in Reading the Modernist Bildungsroman (2006) demonstrate, the huge imperial expansion shaped the destiny of the novel of formation too.

  • 10 Esty, op. cit., p. 22.
  • 11 Ibid., p. 5.

6As particularly Esty points out, while in the traditional Bildungsroman the formation of the individual and of the nation progressively grow together, in its modernist version, this linearity is abandoned in favour of spatial, temporal and narrative boundlessness. The logic of bourgeois social mobility, the driving force of the traditional novel of formation, is replaced by plots of arrested development that revolve around alienated and disillusioned protagonists. Moreover, during the age of empire, the boundaries of the leading European countries were open to an international capitalism at the expense of the respective national economies, so much so that by the end of this period “[w]ith no other territory to annex, the European powers faced new pressure to cast the extant colonies as eternally adolescent, always developing but never developed enough10.” Therefore, the failure of individual progress experienced by equally “eternally adolescent” protagonists mirrors the failure of a discourse of global expansion: in anti-developmental novels, the tension between the open-ended temporality of global capitalism and the physically and politically delimited temporality of the nation is symbolically translated in the confrontation between youth and adulthood11.

  • 12 Castle, Gregory. Reading the Modernist Bildungsroman. Gainesville [et al.]: UP of Florida, 2006, p.(...)
  • 13 Ibid., p. 57.
  • 14 Ibid., p. 71.
  • 15 Ibid.

7 To narrow down the focus to the work of James Joyce, it is useful to consider Gregory Castle’s position. In his study of the modernist Bildungsroman, a project that originates from the “attempt to understand James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man in terms of its peculiar failure to conform to the strict generic demands of the Bildungsroman form12,” the author describes the development of this genre through a comparative analysis of the English and the Irish novel of formation. These represent two different reactions to the traditional Bildungsroman which, in turn, reflects different socio-political realities as well as different experiences of modernity. As Castle maintains, “in ‘semi-colonial’ Ireland […] modernization had been at best an uneven process, in large part because colonial rule tended to retard development in some sectors of society and to encourage it in others13.” These conditions, according to Castle, led to a revival of the 18th-century aesthetico-spiritual concept of Bildung, which “is not a return to origins,” but rather “an original performance under new conditions14.” So, he welcomes this “revival” as positive insofar as, precisely through its originality, it denounces the dysfunctions of a narrative form and of the social structure it represents. While it is true that the “[g]eneric (and genetic) failure” represented by the modernist Bildungsroman turns it into “the sign of a critical triumph15,” I think that it is necessary to consider the attitude that the characters of fluid anti-developmental narrations have toward their condition. In this sense, it must be noted that, in Joyce’s work and throughout the evolution of his utterly original style, the maritime dimension always maintains its determinant role in defining the impossibility of a development for the adolescent protagonists; in the author’s works, the function of the chronotopes of the sea, and of the ship in particular, contribute to the depiction of them as melancholic, alienated and isolated individuals.

From “heterotopia par excellence” to “cultural marginalia”: The Ship and its Chronotopic Function

  • 16 Namely the exotic picaresque and the Bildungsroman of the sea. (cf. Casarino, op. cit., p. 7).
  • 17 Casarino, Cesare, op. cit, p. 9.
  • 18 Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces.” Trans. Jay Miskowiec. Diacritics. 16:1 (Spring 1986). 22 – 27; (...)
  • 19 Ibid., p. 27.
  • 20 Casarino, op. cit., p. 13.
  • 21 Ibid.
  • 22 Ibid.

8Unlike the other major “narrative forms of representation that coalesced in the nineteenth century around the problematic of the sea16,” for the modernist sea narrative, the voyage at sea and the shipboard dimension are not merely “convenient backdrops and colourful literary devices,” but are “instead constructed as autarchic and self-enclosed narrative units and detailed as multifaceted and tension-ridden universes17.” Nevertheless, the ship as a “narrative unit” undergoes a significant development in the passage from the 19th to the 20th century, which Casarino describes by drawing upon Michel Foucault’s definition of heterotopia. In his famous lecture “Of Other Spaces” (1967), the French philosopher identifies heterotopias as real places that act as “counter-sites” insofar as, in them, “all the other real sites that can be found within the culture, are simultaneously represented, contested, and inverted18”; he famously concludes that “[t]he ship is the heterotopia par excellence19.” Sustaining this assumption, Casarino observes that the identification of the ship as the quintessential heterotopia is “a claim that the modernist sea narrative understood well and made into its representational credo20.” Yet, while the ship is obviously necessary to the very existence of the sea narrative, in the modernist period, this form calls itself into question, and “the end of the history of the ship” can be defined “as the heterotopia par excellence of Western civilization21.” Furthermore, as the scholar concludes, “[w]hile recording possibly the most glorious moment in the history of the ship, the modernist sea narrative is also thoroughly imbued with premonitions of a future in which this heterotopia would be inevitably relegated to the quaint and dusty shelves of cultural marginalia22.”

  • 23 Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination: Fou (...)
  • 24 Ibid., p. 85.
  • 25 Cohen, Margaret. “The Chronotopes of the Sea.” The Novel. Volume 2: Forms and Themes. Ed. Franco Mo (...)

9As mentioned above, in her analysis, Margaret Cohen implements a well-known concept first coined by Mikhail Bakhtin in his essay “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel” (1937) with regards to the ship. Namely it counts six chronotopes of the sea she identifies as the following: blue water (the open sea), brown water (the water of rivers), white water (dangerous waters), the island, the shore, and the ship. As the very term suggests, the chronotope refers to the close interrelatedness of time and space in literature, “fused into one carefully thought-out, concrete whole23.” Moreover, “as a formally constitutive category [it] determines to a significant degree the image of man in literature24.” Cohen applies this concept to the maritime/aquatic dimension, intending to describe its most relevant variations; as she rightly points out, waterways are well suited as literary chronotopes “because of the multiple aspects of seafaring where space is experienced as movement, as a vector conjoining spatial and temporal coordinates25,” and as such they are also efficacious in determining “the image of man in literature.”

  • 26 Apart from the ship, another maritime chronotope that undergoes an equally significant transformati (...)
  • 27 Casarino, op. cit., p. 28.
  • 28 Cohen, op. cit., p. 664.
  • 29 Conrad, Joseph. “Youth.” The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' and Other Stories. London: Penguin, 2007, p. (...)
  • 30 Conrad, Joseph. The Shadow-Line. Ed. Jeremy Hawthorn. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997, p. 49.

10The function of the maritime chronotope of the ship undergoes significant evolution in modernist fiction26, as becomes clear from the argument put forward by Casarino. Cohen sustains Casarino’s view of the ship as a “self-sufficient narrative ecosystem27” and adds that even though “[t]he narratives set on shipboard dwell on the in-between space of passage, rather than the goal,” they are still centred on “a character’s passage in personality, a rite de passage, quite often from youth (Conrad’s “Youth,” “Kharein,” and “The Secret Sharer”) to maturity through the acquisition of cunning and know-how28.” On board a ship, time and space are strictly intertwined thereby constituting an apt terrain for the completion of such a rite. As the narrator in Joseph Conrad’s short story “Youth” clearly puts it: “To me [the ship] was not an old rattle-trap carting about the world a lot of coal for a freight – to me she was the endeavour, the test, the trial of life29.” For the young unnamed protagonist and narrator of The Shadow-Line (1915), a work that already in its title suggests the strong connotation of the sea voyage as a rite of passage, this centrality of the ship turns it almost into an object of devotion: a “high-class vessel, […] a creature of high breed. […] one of those creatures whose mere existence is enough to awaken an unselfish delight30.” Yet, whereas doubt is often already cast upon the actual conclusion of these rites in Conrad’s fiction, in fluid anti-developmental narratives, the ship loses its rite-of-passage function altogether.

  • 31 Brannigan, John. Archipelagic Modernism. Literature in the Irish and British Isles, 1890 – 1970. Ed (...)
  • 32 Joyce, James. Dubliners. Ed. Seamus Deane. London: Penguin Books, 2000, p. 31.
  • 33 Ibid.
  • 34 Ibid., p. 33.
  • 35 Brannigan, John. Archipelagic Modernism. Literature in the Irish and British Isles, 1890-1970. Edin (...)

11This is particularly true for the protagonists of Joyce’s novels and short stories, who never go to sea but rather, as Brannigan comments, “whenever any of [them] approach the Irish Sea, or consider its shores and crossings, they turn back31.” The story of Eveline (in the collection Dubliners) is undoubtedly a fitting example. For the nineteen-year-old girl, the prospect of abandoning a difficult living situation and “explor[ing] another life”32 with her boyfriend Frank manifests itself in their plan to leave the country and sail to Buenos Aires “by the night-boat33.” Yet, on the evening of the departure, the “black mass of the boat” at the dock and the “long mournful whistle [she blew] into the mist34” stop Eveline from taking that “passage.” Brannigan maintains that “Eveline’s sudden turn from the prospectus of a new life seems to be a revulsion from the worldliness of the seas, not just from the passage across the Irish Sea, or the credibility or otherwise of the sea-stories of her lover, but from her queasy proximity to the global web of ports and crossings which the ‘night-boat’ signifies35.” Brannigan’s conclusion sets the story of Eveline within the particular framework of “semi-colonial Ireland” and, in line with Esty’s and Pearson’s argumentations, shows how the country’s condition of paralysis reflects upon the protagonists of Joyce’s narrations.

  • 36 Casarino, op. cit., p. 16.
  • 37 Joyce, Dubliners, op. cit., p. 12.
  • 38 Ibid., p. 13. Originally a military dock situated on a peninsula in Ringsend, a suburb on the south (...)
  • 39 Ibid., p. 15.
  • 40 Ibid., p. 12.
  • 41 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 71.
  • 42 Joyce, Dubliners, op. cit., p. 15.
  • 43 Ibid.
  • 44 Ibid., p. 18. This detail eloquently contributes to the already mentioned negative representation o (...)
  • 45 Ibid., p. 20.
  • 46 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 72.
  • 47 Ibid.

12As mentioned, “Eveline” is a story dedicated to adolescence; yet, it is in “An Encounter,” a childhood story featuring two young schoolboys, that we can witness an interesting evolution of the function of the ship within the text itself. Therefore, I think that this episode can serve as exemplary demonstration of Casarino’s thesis on “the end of the history of the ship36.” With a “hunger […] for wild sensations37,” the two main characters decide to skip the school lessons and plan to spend the morning at the docks, “cross in the ferryboat and walk out to see the Pigeon House38.” Before the “encounter,” the maritime dimension and the environment of the port in particular, are still a source of wonder and excitement for the two young protagonists. “We pleased ourselves with the spectacle of Dublin’s commerce […]. Mahony said it would be right skit to run away to sea on one of those big ships and even I, looking at the high masts, saw, or imagined, the geography which had been scantily dosed to me at school gradually taking substance under my eyes39.” Fantasising about the stories of the Wild West, extremely popular among his schoolmates, the protagonist is aware that adventures “do not happen to people who remain at home: they must be sought abroad40,” and it is with this spirit that he undertakes his own adventure in the port of Dublin. The crossing of the river Liffey on board the ferryboat could admittedly be inferred as a rite-of-passage moment, which would find its successful conclusion when the two boys land on the opposite river bank. Yet, once on the other side, the enchanted atmosphere that surrounded the port before “the passage” is gradually dismantled, and the reality around the young boys slowly becomes incomprehensible and eventually threatening, contributing to the “realization of the shoreline as a dangerously transitional space41.” Intrigued by “the discharging of the graceful threemaster which we had observed from the other quay,” the narrator tries to “decipher the legend upon it but, failing to do so, I came back and examined the foreign sailors to see had any of them green eyes for I had some confused notion42.” The young boy is literally unable to read the ‘signs’ that surround him and even the scant and “confused” knowledge he has turns out to be insufficient: “The sailor’s eyes were blue and grey and even black43.” Significantly, the only man with green eyes he meets is precisely the “queer old josser44” who talks to the boys about books and “sweethearts,” but who would also love, “better than anything in this world45,” to whip rough and unruly boys. This unsettling encounter “alerts the narrator that he has entered a perilous and liminal space46,” and as soon as they can, “[t]he boys retreat from the coast, chastened from their adventure, and their dreams of running away to sea,47” thereby confirming the ineffectiveness of their “rite of passage.”

  • 48 As it is defined by Esty in his eponymous study.

13The evolution of the ship’s chronotopic function and significance that takes place in “An Encounter” marks a turn in Joyce’s work. In the following short stories and novels, the ship will always stand as a signifier of the condition of “unseasonable youth48” for the young and adolescent characters. The figure of Stephen Dedalus is undoubtedly the quintessential Joycean expression of this condition.

The Docks, the Shore and “the black arms of tall ships:” Stephen’s arrested development

  • 49 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 76.
  • 50 Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Vintage Books, 1986, p. 550.
  • 51 cf. Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, op. cit., p. 264.
  • 52 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 78.
  • 53 Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, op. cit., p. 69.
  • 54 Ibid.
  • 55 Ibid.
  • 56 Ibid.
  • 57 Castle, op. cit., p. 23.
  • 58 Ibid., p. 24.
  • 59 Ibid.
  • 60 Joyce, A Portrait, op. cit., p. xiii.

14The aquatic element has a strong symbolic significance for Stephen and is particularly relevant in central episodes of his childhood and adolescence. From the very first pages of Portrait, “Stephen’s emotions […] are charted as tides and waves49,” and the marine dimension, including all its chronotopic variations, is often linked to strong feelings of isolation, guilt, and melancholy. As a matter of fact, Stephen is a “hydrophobe50,” and he clearly states that the sea is among the things he fears51. At the same time, in Portrait, “Stephen’s dreams” are repeatedly linked “to the materialities of place52”; in Dublin, in fact, he experiences the manifold sides of a city whose identity inevitably depends on its port, which constitutes a crucial element of that “new and complex sensation53” that the urban dimension represents for the young protagonist. Even though streets and neighbourhoods slowly become familiar to Stephen, when he enters the area of the port he is overwhelmed by the intrinsically material identity of a place that is the connecting point in a potentially global network of trades and exchanges. While, at first, he passes “unchallenged among the docks and along the quays54,” the swarm of “quay porters,” “rambling carts,” the “illdressed bearded policemen,” and the “bales of merchandise” soon awaken in him a sense of “unrest” that leads him to wander obsessively in search of an object of devotion, notwithstanding the “vague dissatisfaction [that] grew up within him as he looked on the quays55.” At first Stephen projects his desires on an idealised woman, constructed upon the fictional character of Mercedes from The Count of Montecristo56, but he will soon find “his” Mercedes in Emma, for whom he nevertheless has contradictory feelings. Yet, finally, he identifies in art the object of his devotion and resolves that his mission is to pursue his own artistic ideal. As Gregory Castle points out, the artist becomes the “normative Bildungsheld of the modernist Bildungsroman57” as a consequence of the late-19th-century turn of the novel of formation towards a substantially aesthetic ideal of Bildung; a tendency that the scholar identifies particularly in the Irish novel of formation, which “goes back to […] the ideal of self-sufficiency achieved through aesthetic education58.” Nevertheless, notwithstanding his “aesthetic education,” Stephen does not seem to achieve such an “ideal of self-sufficiency”; with his mediocre and scarce poetic production, he is unable to deliver a message that is coherent with his aesthetic theory. “If Stephen Dedalus must flee his native land in order to try to achieve his goals,” continues Castle, “the failure is not that of Bildung, which remains an ideal […], but that of the specific social conditions of [his] development59.” As shall be seen, though, his failure as a poet becomes more evident from Portrait to Ulysses, thereby further confirming Stephen as an “anti-Bildung-hero” who is not even able to be true to his ideals outside the stiff “social conditions” of Ireland. As Seamus Deane effectively observes, Stephen “forsakes everyone, he goes off armed with a half-baked aesthetic theory that, after mountainous labour, has only produced a little mouse of a poem; he dedicates himself solemnly and humourlessly to an absurdly overstated ambition60.”

  • 61 Ibid., p. 268 – 269.
  • 62 Ibid., p. 25.
  • 63 Ibid., p. 275.
  • 64 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 5.
  • 65 Ibid.
  • 66 As it is known, the action in Ulysses takes place during one single day, 16th June 1904.
  • 67 Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, op. cit., p. 220.
  • 68 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 16.
  • 69 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 85.
  • 70 Ibid., p. 86.

15 The centripetal movement that describes Stephen’s experience is evidently at odds with his personal resolutions61 and finds a powerful confirmation in the symbolic and material presence of maritime elements. In particular, the appearance of ships and boats is often linked to images of immobility and, ultimately, of death. In an episode that goes back to Stephen’s early years at Clongowes Wood College, the young boy, recovering from an illness, has a vision of the ship carrying the dead body of Charles Stuart Parnell from England approaching from a sea of “long dark waves rising and falling62.” The gloomy atmosphere surrounding the chronotope of the ship runs throughout the whole novel. Significantly, in its closing passages, Stephen answers to the call of “the black arms of tall ships that stand against the moon” and resolves to leave Ireland in order to discover the “tales of distant nations63” that this sight suggests to him. Yet, as we find out at the beginning of Ulysses, he soon also comes back to his native land. And it is precisely in the first episode of Ulysses, “Telemachus,” that the strong connection of ships with imageries of death as well as with immobility is evidenced in significant ways. Exhorted by his housemate Buck Mulligan to admire the sea from the top of the Martello Tower where they live, Stephen “went over to the parapet. Leaning on it he looked down on the water and on the mailboat clearing the harbourmouth of Kingstown. – Our mighty mother! Buck Mulligan said64.” This is Stephen’s first contact with the sea in Ulysses and – here as well as in the rest of the novel – it is clearly marked by a separation, in this case determined by the parapet. The sense of estrangement from the aquatic element, which already puts Stephen in sharp contrast to Mulligan, is enhanced by the latter, who, after invoking the maternal, life-giving force of the sea, unexpectedly refers to the death of Stephen’s mother: “He turned abruptly his grey searching eyes from the sea to Stephen’s face. – The aunt thinks you killed your mother, he said. That’s why she won’t let me have anything to do with you65.” It is certainly meaningful that this episode is recalled at the beginning of the novel, as it will recur in Stephen’s mind during the course of the day66, but it is all the more important because the death of his mother is precisely the reason why he returned to Ireland from his ‘voluntary exile’ in Paris, thereby frustrating his ideals. Stephen is guilty of refusing to fulfil his mother’s last desire, namely to have him kneel down in prayer beside her deathbed. This refusal, while surely in line with his decision to “fly by [the] nets” of “nationality, language, religion67,” haunts him throughout the day, and the passage of the mailboat is strictly connected to this memory. Furthermore, it is worth noticing that, later in the same chapter, the mailboat reappears, but seen from the point of view of Haines, Stephen’s English housemate: “The sea’s ruler, he gazed southward over the bay, empty save for the smokeplume of the mailboat vague on the bright skyline and a sail tacking by the Muglins68.” These lines undoubtedly confirm Brannigan’s observation that there is a “general tendency in Ulysses [...] to yoke the diverse elements of Britishness together with the imperial and monarchical state69”; moreover, “the maritime references in the case of Haines indicate [that] the sea is recurrently associated with political power, and with the material and symbolic forms of imperial domination70.” The passage of the mailboat is therefore connected both to the memory of Stephen’s mother’s death, one of the main causes of his paralysis, and to the British supremacy over the seas, one of the main reasons for Ireland’s paralysis.

  • 71 Cf. Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 42.
  • 72 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 86.
  • 73 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 511.
  • 74 Cohen, “The Chronotopes of the Sea.” The Novel. Volume 2: Forms and Themes, op. cit., p. 665.
  • 75 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 509.
  • 76 Ibid., p. 519. Incidentally, Bloom's remark can easily be read as a testimony of the decline that t (...)
  • 77 Cohen, “The Chronotopes of the Sea.” The Novel. Volume 2: Forms and Themes, op. cit., p. 665.
  • 78 Ibid.
  • 79 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 516.
  • 80 Ibid., p. 538. Curiously enough, the “confused notion” (D 15) that the young protagonist of “An Enc (...)

16It is particularly to the “Proteus” episode, though, that I would like to turn in this concluding part of my analysis. Almost entirely centred around Stephen’s stream of consciousness, in this episode the maritime elements are recurrently used to express a sense of immobility. The “threemaster” that Stephen sees at the end of “Proteus71” is undoubtedly an important example. The ship appears in a chapter that is imbued with the sounds and smells of the sea and of the littoral, but that is at the same time entirely set on Sandymount Strand, and therefore on the threshold between the land and the open sea. It is not a case that, whenever Stephen or another character in the novel sees a ship or a boat, these always appear at a distance; as Brannigan points out, “it is a routine facet of the novel that looking out at the bay invokes the notion of the sea as a border72,” and also, I would add, enhances the function of the shore as a liminal space. The threemaster in “Proteus” tellingly links Stephen to the sailor D.G. Murphy, whom he encounters in the “Eumaeus” episode and who reaches the port of Dublin precisely on board that ship: “– We come up this morning eleven o’clock. The threemaster Rosevean from Bridgewater with bricks73.” As mentioned, in Joyce’s work mariners are generally represented in a degrading manner, and, far from evidencing “the ship’s importance as at once an economic, political, and social microcosm74,” in “Eumaeus” the presence of the sailor contributes to an altogether dire image of shipboard life as well as of the particularly critical condition of Irish shipping. D.G. Murphy is, to begin with, an old seafarer, who has grown weary of life at sea, who moves in a “clumsy” way and whose speech is “slightly hampered by an occasional stammer75.” Even though this “stammer” does not impede him from boasting about his sea adventures, his yarns do not always achieve the expected success: “– Our mutual friend’s stories are like himself, Mr. Bloom a propos of knives remarked to his confidante sotto voce [i.e. Stephen]. Do you think they are genuine? He could spin those yarns for hours on end all night long and lie like old boots. Look at him76.” Interestingly, Bloom links the dubious credibility of Murphy’s tales to his physical appearance, indirectly calling the body of the mariner into question; closely connected to the spatial and cultural dimension of the ship, the body of mariners “provide,” according to Cohen, “one of the most extended opportunities for the narrative dramatization of human labor77.” Yet, in “Eumaeus,” instead of the body’s “power” or its “beauty78,” it is its exposure to the effects of time and of the life at sea that is this openly revealed. The vulnerability of Murphy’s old body becomes the object of attention when, flaunting the tattoo on his “manly chest79,” the sailor is forced to stretch his wrinkled skin; otherwise the image would be indistinguishable. Moreover, another sign of his old age is the fact that he has to wear “a pair of greenish goggles80” when he reads. Almost as a matter of course, the weakness of a vulnerable body links to the topics of the conversations that follow the “tattoo episode,” which centre upon shipwrecks, deaths at sea as well as the decline of Irish shipping.

  • 81 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 31.
  • 82 Cf. Brannigan, op. cit., p. 92.
  • 83 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 37.
  • 84 Ibid.
  • 85 Ibid., p. 40. The words are actually read, but not understood, by Bloom in the “Nausicaa” episode, (...)
  • 86 Ibid., p. 109.
  • 87 Ibid.
  • 88 Ibid., p. 40; emphasis added.

17 To illustrate one last eloquent example that demonstrates how the chronotope of the ship represents a signifier of Stephen’s arrested development, we must return to “Proteus.” Strolling on Sandymount Strand, Stephen tries to decipher the “[s]ignatures of all things81,” among which, as Brannigan pertinently observes82, are the “heavy sands [which] are language tide83,” but also, I would add, the “gunwale of a boat, sunk in sand” and the “bloated carcass of a dog84.” The wreck of the boat, itself an obvious denial of the functions held by the chronotope of the ship, is tellingly linked to Stephen’s failure as a poet. Indeed, precisely in “Proteus” he has a moment of poetic inspiration; yet, ironically, he cannot find a proper piece of paper upon which to write, so he tears the bottom of an unsent letter and, scribbling down a few lines, he wonders “Who ever anywhere will read these written words85?” As a matter of fact, the reader has the privilege to read Stephen’s poem, which comes to his mind when he finally delivers the letter, with a “[b]it torn off86”: “On swift sail flaming/Through storm and south/He comes, pale vampire/Mouth to my mouth87.” This interesting connection between the wings of the vampire and “bat sails bloodying the sea88” in “Proteus” portends the imminent approach of the threemaster, which both counterbalances the “carcass” of the boat, and, as seen, links Stephen to the ambiguous figure of D.G. Murphy.

Conclusions

18As it results from the comparative analysis of Joyce’s fluid anti-developmental narrations, a complex symbolic network connects the author’s novels and short stories and, from Dubliners through Portrait and Ulysses, links their “eternally adolescent” protagonists. Notwithstanding the constant transformation of the author’s characteristic style, the dimension of the sea, and particularly the chronotope of the ship, one of its main constitutive elements, always maintain a precise role. As for the ship, far from representing a necessary element in the rite of passage from adolescence to adulthood for the young protagonists of Joyce’s works, it functions as a signifier of their condition of arrested development. Indeed, as the experiences of the young Dubliners in “An Encounter” and “Eveline” show, ships and boats are repeatedly linked to dangerous situations and to a deep sense of estrangement. Moreover, as seen in the exemplary case of Stephen Dedalus, in both Portrait and Ulysses, these maritime elements are often connected to images of immobility and of death, thereby questioning in effective and significant ways his actual development as an artist.

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Bibliographie

Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Ed. Michael Holquist. Trans. Caryl Emerson and Michael Holquist. Austin [et al.]: University of Texas Press, 1981.

Boddy, Kasia. “The Modern Beach.” Critical Quarterly. 49.4 (Winter 2007): 21-39. Wiley Online Library. Web. 28 February 2015.

Brannigan, John. Archipelagic Modernism. Literature in the Irish and British Isles, 1890-1970. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2015.

Casarino, Cesare. Modernity at Sea: Melville, Marx, Conrad in Crisis. Minneapolis [et al.]: University of Minnesota Press, 2002.

Castle, Gregory. Reading the Modernist Bildungsroman. Gainesville [et al.]: UP of Florida, 2006.

Cohen, Margaret. “The Chronotopes of the Sea.” The Novel. Volume 2: Forms and Themes. Ed. Franco Moretti. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006.

Conrad, Joseph. The Shadow-Line. Ed. Jeremy Hawthorn. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997.

----. “Youth.” The Nigger of the ‘Narcissus’ and Other Stories. Eds. John H. Stape and Allan H. Simmons.

London: Penguin, 2007.

Esty, Jed. Unseasonable Youth. Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development. New York: Oxford UP, 2012.

Feigel, Laura and Alexandra Harris (Eds.). Modernism on Sea. Art and Culture at the British Seaside. Oxford: Peter Lang, 2009.

Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces.” Trans. Jay Miskowiec. Diacritics. 16:1 (Spring 1986). 22-27. Web.

JSTOR. Last retrieved 30.05.2016.

Gefter Wondrich, Roberta. “The Marine and Watery Element from Dubliners to Ulysses.” Anglo- American Modernity and the Mediterranean. Ed Caroline Patey, Giovanni Cianci, Francesca Cuojati. Milano : Cisalpino, 2006. 227 – 247.

----. “‘these heavy sands are language’: the beach as a cultural signifier from Dover Beach to On Chesil Beach.” Civiltà del mare e navigazioni interculturali : sponde d´Europa e l´”isola” di Trieste. Eds. Ferrini, Gefter Wondrich, Quazzolo, Zoppellari. Trieste : EUT, 2012.

Hagena, Katharina. Developing Waterways. Das Meer als sprachbildendes Element im Ulysses von James Joyce. Frankfurt am Main [et al.] : Peter Lang, 1996.

Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. Ed. Seamus Deane. Introduction and Notes: Seamus Deane. London: Penguin Books, 2000.

----. Dubliners. Ed. Seamus Deane. Introduction and Notes: Terence Brown. London: Penguin Books, 2000.

----. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Vintage Books, 1986.

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Littoral Space. London [et al.]: Routledge, 2015.

Pearson, Nels C. “‘May I trespass on your valuable space?’: Ulysses on the Coast.” Modern Fiction Studies. 57.4 (2011): 627 – 649. Web. works.bepress. Last retrieved : 14.06.2016.

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Notes

1 An early contribution on this theme is Sydney Feshbach's essay “Literal/Littoral/Littorananima: The Figure on the Shore in the Works of James Joyce” (1985); additionally noteworthy are, among others, Katharina Hagena's monography Developing Waterways. Das Meer als sprachbildendes Element im Ulysses von James Joyce (1996), Robert Adam Day's essay “Joyce's AquaCities” (1996), Roberta Gefter Wondrich's article “The Marine and Watery Element from Dubliners to Ulysses” (2006) and John Brannigan's chapter “James Joyce and the Irish Sea” in his recent volume Archipelagic Modernism (2015).

2 Esty, Jed. Unseasonable Youth. Modernism, Colonialism, and the Fiction of Development. New York: Oxford UP, 2012, p. 2.

3 Joyce is if course not the only writer ascribable to this category; another name that must be mentioned is undoubtedly that of Virginia Woolf. In novels such as The Voyage Out (1915) and To the Lighthouse (1927), this relationship (adolescence/sea/arrested development) is outlined in the same way, even though Woolf's characters often have social and cultural backgrounds that differ from those of the Joycean protagonists.

4 As Joyce famously stated in a letter to his editor Grant Richards, Dubliners should represent “a chapter of the moral history of my country,” that he presents “under four aspects: childhood, adolescence, maturity and public life. The stories are arranged in this order” (qtd Joyce, James. Dubliners. Ed. Seamus Deane. London: Penguin Books, 2000, p. xxxi).

5 Casarino, Cesare. Modernity at Sea: Melville, Marx, Conrad in Crisis. Minneapolis [et al.]: University of Minnesota Press, 2002, p. 10.

6 Ibid.

7 Pearson, Nels C. “'May I trespass on your valuable space?': Ulysses on the Coast.” Modern Fiction Studies. 57.4 (2011): 627- 649; p. 628.

8 Casarino, op. cit., p. 4.

9 Ibid., p. 10.

10 Esty, op. cit., p. 22.

11 Ibid., p. 5.

12 Castle, Gregory. Reading the Modernist Bildungsroman. Gainesville [et al.]: UP of Florida, 2006, p. 1.

13 Ibid., p. 57.

14 Ibid., p. 71.

15 Ibid.

16 Namely the exotic picaresque and the Bildungsroman of the sea. (cf. Casarino, op. cit., p. 7).

17 Casarino, Cesare, op. cit, p. 9.

18 Foucault, Michel. “Of Other Spaces.” Trans. Jay Miskowiec. Diacritics. 16:1 (Spring 1986). 22 – 27; p. 24.

19 Ibid., p. 27.

20 Casarino, op. cit., p. 13.

21 Ibid.

22 Ibid.

23 Bakhtin, Mikhail. “Forms of Time and of the Chronotope in the Novel.” The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays. Austin [et al.]: University of Texas Press, 1981, p. 84.

24 Ibid., p. 85.

25 Cohen, Margaret. “The Chronotopes of the Sea.” The Novel. Volume 2: Forms and Themes. Ed. Franco Moretti. Princeton: Princeton UP, 2006, p. 648.

26 Apart from the ship, another maritime chronotope that undergoes an equally significant transformation is that of the sea-shore. Research on this topic has been carried out by, among others, Kasia Boddy in her article “Modern Beach” (2007), Roberta Gefter Wonrdich in the essay “'these heavy sands are language': the beach as a cultural signifier from Dover Beach to On Chesil Beach” (2012), Lara Feigel and Alexandra Harris in a co-edited volume Modernism on Sea (2010) and, more recently, Ursula Kluwick and Virginia Richter in The Beach in Anglophone Literatures and Cultures (2015).

27 Casarino, op. cit., p. 28.

28 Cohen, op. cit., p. 664.

29 Conrad, Joseph. “Youth.” The Nigger of the 'Narcissus' and Other Stories. London: Penguin, 2007, p. 146 (emphasis added).

30 Conrad, Joseph. The Shadow-Line. Ed. Jeremy Hawthorn. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1997, p. 49.

31 Brannigan, John. Archipelagic Modernism. Literature in the Irish and British Isles, 1890 – 1970. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2015, p. 69.

32 Joyce, James. Dubliners. Ed. Seamus Deane. London: Penguin Books, 2000, p. 31.

33 Ibid.

34 Ibid., p. 33.

35 Brannigan, John. Archipelagic Modernism. Literature in the Irish and British Isles, 1890-1970. Edinburgh: Edinburgh UP, 2015, p. 71.

36 Casarino, op. cit., p. 16.

37 Joyce, Dubliners, op. cit., p. 12.

38 Ibid., p. 13. Originally a military dock situated on a peninsula in Ringsend, a suburb on the south bank of Dublin port. It was turned into an electricity power station in 1897 (cf Ibid., p. 247, fn 19).

39 Ibid., p. 15.

40 Ibid., p. 12.

41 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 71.

42 Joyce, Dubliners, op. cit., p. 15.

43 Ibid.

44 Ibid., p. 18. This detail eloquently contributes to the already mentioned negative representation of mariners in Joyce, as I will further comment in the following section.

45 Ibid., p. 20.

46 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 72.

47 Ibid.

48 As it is defined by Esty in his eponymous study.

49 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 76.

50 Joyce, James. Ulysses. Ed. Hans Walter Gabler. New York: Vintage Books, 1986, p. 550.

51 cf. Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, op. cit., p. 264.

52 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 78.

53 Joyce, James. A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, op. cit., p. 69.

54 Ibid.

55 Ibid.

56 Ibid.

57 Castle, op. cit., p. 23.

58 Ibid., p. 24.

59 Ibid.

60 Joyce, A Portrait, op. cit., p. xiii.

61 Ibid., p. 268 – 269.

62 Ibid., p. 25.

63 Ibid., p. 275.

64 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 5.

65 Ibid.

66 As it is known, the action in Ulysses takes place during one single day, 16th June 1904.

67 Joyce, A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, op. cit., p. 220.

68 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 16.

69 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 85.

70 Ibid., p. 86.

71 Cf. Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 42.

72 Brannigan, op. cit., p. 86.

73 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 511.

74 Cohen, “The Chronotopes of the Sea.” The Novel. Volume 2: Forms and Themes, op. cit., p. 665.

75 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 509.

76 Ibid., p. 519. Incidentally, Bloom's remark can easily be read as a testimony of the decline that the literary genre of the sea-adventure tales was facing in those decades, as I have already pointed out.

77 Cohen, “The Chronotopes of the Sea.” The Novel. Volume 2: Forms and Themes, op. cit., p. 665.

78 Ibid.

79 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 516.

80 Ibid., p. 538. Curiously enough, the “confused notion” (D 15) that the young protagonist of “An Encounter” had with regard to sailors having green eyes, is again transmuted in a degraded manner here; this old mariner has little to do with the prototypical figure of an heroic seafarer (just as does the sordid “queer old josser” (D 18), notwithstanding his green eyes).

81 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 31.

82 Cf. Brannigan, op. cit., p. 92.

83 Joyce, Ulysses, op. cit., p. 37.

84 Ibid.

85 Ibid., p. 40. The words are actually read, but not understood, by Bloom in the “Nausicaa” episode, while he is walking on Sandymount Strand.

86 Ibid., p. 109.

87 Ibid.

88 Ibid., p. 40; emphasis added.

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Sara Spanghero, « Ships and Boats in James Joyce: Representing Arrested Development in the Modernist Bildungsroman », TRANS- [En ligne],  | 2017, mis en ligne le 03 mars 2017, consulté le 25 septembre 2017. URL : http://trans.revues.org/1462 ; DOI : 10.4000/trans.1462

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Auteur

Sara Spanghero

Sara Spanghero is a doctoral student in English Philology at the University of Trieste en-cotutelle with the University of Göttingen, where she is a member of the interdisciplinary research training group “Dynamics of Space and Gender.” Through a comparative analysis of selected modernist novels, (mainly by James Joyce and Virginia Woolf), and selected films of the French nouvelle vague (in particular by François Truffaut), her investigation focusses on the representation of adolescent protagonists and their relationship with the symbolic as well as material dimension of the sea. She earned an M.A. in English Philology from the University of Göttingen in 2011, and a B.A. in Foreign Languages and Literature from the University of Trieste in 2009.

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