This long paragraph is a key moment in the chapter. It describes how HCE became the subject of rumour and gossip.
It’s a warning when the Wake gets all uxorious on us, as it does in the opening sentences. We remember how in the previous chapter the praise for Anna Livia (“How bootifull and truetowife of her,” 11.29) co-exists effortlessly with the Prankquean story (21.05-23.15), in which it’s the woman who gets blamed for turning the sons against the father. Just when the story has tied itself in knots trying to deny and simultaneously excuse HCE, we get the women rushing to the rescue: “We can’t do without them. Wives, rush to the restyours!” (34.30). On the one hand, this is looking ahead to the Anna Livia chapter, I.8, where ALP’s response to the rumours about her husband is to take gifts to all of her “furzeborn sons and dribblederry daughters” (210.04-05), of whom there may be as many as a “thousand and one” (210.05) or perhaps only “a hundred eleven” (201.29). On the other hand, those opening words, “We can’t do without them,” are also easily construed as a cynical shrug accompanying the rest of the phrase, which remains unsaid: “… and we can’t live with them.” The story that this long paragraph unfolds, after all, comes about because the Cad confided the puzzling encounter he’s just had with HCE to his wife–and from that point on, it’s all over Dublin. And even this story is, as the paragraph reminds us, a matter of rumour: “They tell the story … how one happygogusty Ides-of-April morning …” (35.01-03). There’s nowhere outside the rumour mill, any more than there was when we were told how Humphrey (might have) received his occupational agnomen.
HCE is “billowing across the wide expanse of our greatest park” one day, “ages and ages after the alleged misdemeanour” (35.07-08, 05-06). (The kettle logic of the previous paragraph is persistent here: even if the misdemeanour did take place, it was a long time ago.) He comes across a man with a pipe, who greets him in Irish (“Guinness thaw tool in jew me dinner ouzel fin?” (35.15-16), or Conas tá tú indiu mo dhuine uasal fionn?: How are you today, my fair gentleman?) and asks him for the time. Earwicker panics, fearing he’s about to be mugged or worse, and is about to produce his watch and perhaps lose it to the imagined ruffian, when the bell of the local church strikes twelve, giving him the answer he needs. This bell is a “ten ton tonuant thunderous tenor toller” (35.31-32). Its sound suggests the hundred-letter (ten tens) thunderwords that punctuate the Wake (all ten of them, plus a final one of 101 letters: ten ten ten and one), and this indeed is a key moment after which things won’t ever be quite the same again. It’s also already a stammer, the sure sign of an unease, and what it heralds is HCE’s outpouring of unsolicited and stammered denial of any wrongdoing. Note that when he mentions the “creature in youman form who was quite beneath parr and several degrees lower than yore triplehydrad snake” (36.06-07) who is suppose to have made the “hakusay accusation againstm” (36.04)—and who, if he ever existed, is no doubt another version of the earlier rumour-merchant, the so-called “Abdullah Gamellaxarksky, stambuling haround Dumbaling in leaky sneakers” (33.36-34.01)—HCE gives the well-known gesture of contempt: one hand in the bend of the elbow of the other arm, the whole looking like the inverted E that’s one of the regular sigla the Wake uses to designate HCE:
As always, the gesture is ambiguous. It seems to be directed towards the Wellington Monument in the park, but HCE’s blurted speech also swears fealty with “my British to the backbone tongue” (35.32). It may just be an accidental gesture, as HCE seems to be removing his glove by putting one hand in the elbow of the other arm, bending that arm and pulling. But is he offering to shake hands (“Shsh shake, co-comeraid!” 36.20) or fight (“Me only, them five ones, he is equal combat,” 36.20-21)? Or having a bet each way?
None of this would appear to have crossed the Cad’s mind before, of course, but now that it’s been mentioned it sticks. He tips his hat, tactfully thanks HCE, and goes on his way, pondering on what he has just heard for the rest of the day. He is still musing over it at dinner that evening.
The Cad’s wife, who has pieced together some of the story from her husband’s words at the table, mentions it to her priest, who is then overheard telling it to someone at a race meet.
At least, that’s the basic shape of it: “Our cad’s bit of strife … broke of the matter … the next night nudge one … to her particular reverend … trusting that the gossiple so delivered … would go no further than his Jesuit’s cloth … yet it was this overspoiled priest … who … was overheard … to… hushly pierce the rubiend aurellum of one Philly Thurston … at the hippic runfields …”. But the 39 lines of this paragraph are all one huge sentence, overlaid with trope upon trope. There are nine sets of parentheses, and another parenthetical insert marked off by dashes. In the centre of it, those parenthetical dashes mark out the possibility that that this overhearing at the racetrack might have been quite intentional: “by accident—if, that is, the incident it was an accident” (38.28-29). Whatever the case, it’s drowned out by the racecaller’s commentary that takes over somewhere around 39.03 or 39.04, and continues to the end of the paragraph.
[As the stammer (“words which he could balbly call to memory,” 37.16, from the Latin balbus, stammering; “ff, flitmansfluh, and, kk, ‘t crept i’ hedge,” 37.20), the river language (“whenas to many of softongue’s pawkytalk mude unswer u sufter poghyogh, Arvanda always aquiassent,” 37.21-22) and the trigrams (“a hup a’ chee,” 38.16, “annie lawrie promises,” 38.21) suggest, the Cad and his wife are also versions of HCE and ALP. HCE and ALP have three children. Write them in a tally, |||, and we also have 111. The Cad’s wife’s telling of the story “among a hundred and eleven others” (38.13) will be mirrored and inverted when, in order to placate the rumours, ALP will distribute presents to her 111—or is it 1001?—children. So if the Cad and his wife are in some sense also HCE and ALP, are we to infer that in some ways HCE’s undoing is his own work, and that like Bloom’s staged public confessions and excoriations in “Circe” all of this answers to some desire to be found guilty—and in the only way possible, by disavowal?]
This in turn gets overheard by two ne’er-do-wells, Treacle Tom and Frisky Shorty, who are spending a day at the track after just getting out of jail “on the bumaround for an oofbird,” someone wealthy from whom they can make a sovereign (a “jimmy o’goblin”). There’s still a lot of noise: the band (the Seaforth Highlanders) is playing rather loudly, so what they think they hear may not be entirely reliable, but the parson seems to be telling “the butty bloke in the specs” something about that Mr Adams (HCE) who has, it seems, already been in all the sunday papers.
That night after the races, much the worse for an extensive pub crawl, Treacle Tom returns to his dosshouse and collapses into bed. Half asleep and interrupted by the aftereffects of the drinking (“moltapuke on voltapuke”), he seems to mutter “alcoh alcohol alcoherently” ( 40.05) a version of the tale he’s heard, or thinks he’s heard, and this in turn gets overheard by three other inhabitants of the dosshouse, including an “illstarred beachbusker” called Hosty (40.21). Hosty doesn’t know where his next meal or drink is coming from. He has spent the last eighteen months unsuccessfully trying to get himself a hospital bed, and the present evening thinking of ways of doing himself in. First thing in the morning, the three of them are up and out from their “hogshome” (41.17), singing fit to wake the citizens as they cross Dublin, pausing first at a pawnshop in order to redeem the false teeth of the singer, and then at a pub for the first of many drinks. Out of these sessions comes the scurrilous ballad about HCE we shall hear in a few pages, the “lay of the vilest bogeyer but most attractionable avatar the world has ever had to explain for” (42.15-16).
[There’s noise everywhere here in these last few paragraphs. Noise at the races—first the uproar of the race itself and its calling, then the band—means that those two “pisononse Timcoves” (39.14) Treacle Tom and Frisky Shorty are piecing together what they overhear from out of that din. At the next stage, what Hosty and his companions hear from Treacle Tom is at best “alcoherent” (40.05) and broken by snoring and vomiting. Much of the transmission, or invention, is blurred by large quantities of alcohol. At one point (42.11), the story seems to blur into another one, the story of how Buckley shot the Russian general, which we’ll hear in full later in II.3.
And there’s noise in these paragraphs in a different sense too, this time purely syntactical. The paragraph we’ve just been looking at stretches over almost three pages and 97 lines. It’s made up of two sentences (the full stop’s at 41.03), which between them contain 19 parenthetical interjections, varying in length from a single word to around five lines. All told, about 25% of the entire passage is scattered through various parentheses. Sometimes there are only a few words of what for want of a better term we could call the main sentence, separating successive parentheses: the first half of page 40 is a particularly good example of that. Take out the parentheses, and the sentences that are left are still long and labyrinthine: sometimes they’re pulverised by lists, sometimes they snake through successive or nesting subsidiary clauses, phrases of which may be the ones those parentheses take as their cues. The sentences dare you to parse them, and not to lose track of what the subject was before you get to the verb, and then of what the verb was once you’ve sorted out the predicate. They provide the syntactic equivalent of the hubbub through which the rumours are half-heard and pieced together through surmise. You have to listen very carefully to hear the story, and to filter out the din of the “roaratorio” (41.28) before you can let it all flood back in again. Once you’ve done it, you’re never completely sure that you’ve got it right, and that a second or later reading won’t qualify what you’ve surmised, or even undo it. What you’re doing as reader is very much like what the rumour-mongers you’re reading about are doing: pulling something together out of the hubbub. It’s a bit like “Proteus” in Ulysses: Stephen is wandering along the beach at low tide with the scattered debris of Dublin around him, and the reader is wandering through those tenuous scattered sentences and impressions, part of whose very point is to avoid settling out into a clear and unbearable image of the guilt that still troubles Stephen.]
The ballad immediately finds a massive audience, right across Dublin, and of all ages and classes: the list occupies nearly a page (42.29-43.21). Printed as a broadsheet, it soon makes its way across the country.
Here, the rumour is not even primarily about HCE, but about the ballad that vilifies him, highly anticipated and met with thunderous (and hundred-lettered) applause.
“The Ballad of Persse O’Reilly.”