In Brief

Gifted as a singer and as a "mummer," Stephen thinks of his literary vocation too as a kind of performance. Unfortuntately, he has not yet produced more than a few slight lyrics. But that has not stopped him from imagining the rapture that will greet his earthshaking mature work, and he has actually practiced bows in the mirror to acknowledge the thunderous applause. In Telemachus and again in Proteus he mocks this callow asininity of a younger self. Circe affirms that, personally and artistically, he has "far to go."

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In Telemachus, Stephen thinks, "Hear, hear! Prolonged applause. Zut! Nom de Dieu!" The French means “Damn! In the name of God!" (i.e., Merveilleux! What an astonishing work of art!). In Proteus, he mocks himself with even more savage humor: “You bowed to yourself in the mirror, stepping forward to applause earnestly, striking face. Hurray for the Goddamned idiot!

Like so much else about Stephen's thoughts, these bitter reflections show how far he is from finding happiness and artistic success. (In Circe Stephen tells Zoe that he was born on a Thursday, and she reminds him of the nursery rhyme: "Thursday's child has far to go.") But by mocking himself Stephen indicates readiness to learn from his past errors, and he refines the herculean egoism that may eventually enable him to write a great work. (Joyce once remarked, "I never met a man with a faith like mine.")

JH 2014