Black panther

Black panther

In Brief

"He was raving all night about a black panther, Stephen said. Where is his guncase? . . . Out here in the dark with a man I don't know raving and moaning to himself about shooting a black panther." Stephen complains to Buck Mulligan about Haines frightening him during the night with his nightmare, and in Proteus he thinks again of when "he woke me up." In real life Joyce was wakened by something far worse than mere apprehension that the Englishman might fire his gun.

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Richard Ellmann narrates the actual events. Joyce was living at the tower, largely at Gogarty’s expense and "sufferance" (the word used by Stanislaus Joyce in his diary). Relations were strained, but Gogarty did not want to endanger his bohemian reputation, and his chance of appearing in a good light in Joyce's fiction, by putting Joyce out. Trench, whom Gogarty knew from Oxford and who had become a fervent follower of the Irish Revival, was living with them in the tower. On the night of September 14, 1904 Trench woke up screaming about a black panther that was about to spring on him, fired his revolver at the fireplace beside which Joyce was sleeping, and then went back to sleep. His nightmare returned and he screamed once more and reached for his revolver, but Gogarty had taken it. Gogarty said, “Leave him to me,” and shot some pots and pans over Joyce’s bed, which crashed down on him. "The terrified Joyce considered this fusillade his dismissal" (175). He got up, dressed, left the tower, and walked all the way to Dublin. The next day, he wrote a note to a friend asking him to go to the tower and pack up his trunk. Ellmann comments: “Perhaps all grand gestures end with someone else packing the trunk.”

This event prompted Joyce to decide finally to leave Ireland, for the second time and for good. He did so with Nora Barnacle, whom he had met in June of the same year.  They boarded a ship for France in October. (Trench committed suicide on June 1, 1909, by blowing out his brains. Ellmann speculates that it was "perhaps with the very weapon with which he and Gogarty had so nearly blown out Joyce's.")

In fictionally presenting these decisive events, Joyce made many changes. He eliminated the terror of having a firearm discharged in his direction in the confines of a small dark stone room. Haines does not fire his gun, and Stephen merely asks nervously the next morning, "Where is his guncase?" Gogarty’s role in the terrorizing disappears as well. Stephen’s response thus becomes softer than Joyce’s was. Sympathizing with Haines when Mulligan promises to "give him a ragging," he decides that he can remain in the tower. And instead of a dramatic break with Mulligan, he merely deepens his feeling that a break is imminent, thinking that he cannot come back to the tower on the next night. In Proteus, imagining Haines as an upper-class Britisher on safari and Mulligan as his trusty hound/tourguide, he thinks, "I will not sleep there when this night comes. A shut door of a silent tower, entombing their blind bodies, the panthersahib and his pointer." (His next thought is, "Call: no answer." Probably he is imagining showing up at the tower, yelling up at the stone slits to announce his arrival, and being rebuffed.)

Although Stephen does take his leave of Bloom and the rest of us much as Joyce took his leave of Gogarty—by walking off into the darkness at the end of Ithaca—the novel does not encourage us to think that his split from Mulligan exercises any decisive significance in his life. Instead, by setting the events in the tower on June 16, 1904, the date of his first outing with Nora Barnacle, Joyce manages to make the story more about love than alienation.

JH 2011
Black Panther, oil painting by Sandra J. Haley. Source:
Flash of a side-ported revolver. Source: