Ragging

In Brief

"Magdalen" (pronounced Maudlin) is one of the colleges that make up Oxford University. A"ragging" (i.e., hazing) such as happens to "Clive Kempthorpe" in Mulligan’s memory may have happened during Oliver Gogarty’s term at Oxford in early 1904, as Gifford speculates. But it seems unlikely that (as he says) both Mulligan and Stephen “recall” it, since Stephen has never been to Oxford. Rather, he must be imagining a scene called up by Mulligan’s words.

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If “Chrysostomos” was the first instance of interior monologue in the novel, this paragraph and the following one seem to be the first instance of a related technique that Joyce employs frequently: a fictive vignette briefly conjured up within the thoughts of a character. In the years when he was beginning to write fiction, Joyce described moments when fictional events seem to be charged with symbolic significance as “epicleti” (a Greek Orthodox term for the moment of transubstantiation) or “epiphanies” (“a sudden spiritual transformation,” in the words of Stephen Hero).

As Terence Brown observes in his introduction to the Penguin edition of Dubliners, such passages are not symbolic in the familiar sense of pointing beyond realistic events to “transcendent realities.” Rather, they are evanescent but harshly precise moments in which psychological, moral, and social meaning seem to be implicit in the realistic details, not forced upon the reader but waiting to be teased out. In Ulysses as in A Portrait, Joyce both creates such fictive moments and shows Stephen composing them in his thoughts. Leopold Bloom sometimes does the same thing.

What forms of significance can be teased out of this particular ruminative fiction? In addition to remarking on uppercrust British educational privilege, schoolboy violence, and homosexuality, one may also observe that Stephen’s recurrent association with oxen results here in his imagining a “scared calf’s face” and a “giddy ox.” The association of the name Stephen with the garlanding of bulls before their sacrificial slaughter receives an echo here in the fact that the calf’s face is “gilded with marmalade” and the fact that someone wielding "tailor's shears" is chasing him.

In much the way that a schoolboy game of hockey prefigures the gruesome slaughters of World War I in Nestor, this minor act of hazing seems to conjure up both castration (being “debagged”) and ritual murder. Rather than welcoming Mulligan's invitation to join forces against Haines, Stephen imagines himself as the object of the fantasized violence, and it seems to modify his attitude toward Haines. His long interior meditation concludes with his telling Mulligan, "Let him stay . . . There's nothing wrong with him except at night."

In Proteus Stephen conjures up another scene of violence in his imagination, and again recoils from it. Both Stephen and Bloom embody the pacifism that was such a notable part of Joyce’s constitution.

JH 2011
Magdalen College quadrangle. Source: www.canstockphoto.com.