In Brief

At the beginning of Telemachus, Stephen has pondered "Mulligan's even white teeth, glistening here and there with gold points." At the end of the chapter, Mulligan turns his "hyperborean" flattery of Stephen to mockery: "Toothless Kinch and I, the supermen." Stephen too will think of his decaying teeth, at the end of Proteus: “My teeth are very bad. Why, I wonder. Feel. That one is going too. Shells. Ought I go to a dentist, I wonder, with that money? That one. This. Toothless Kinch, the superman.” In these details Joyce was faithfully representing his own condition in 1904.

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Ellmann observes in a footnote that, after leaving for the continent with Nora in the autumn of 1904, “In Paris his teeth had been so bad that, when he occasionally yielded to his fondness for onion soup, the hot soup striking his teeth made him writhe in pain” (194). In Pola in early 1905, under Nora’s loving influence, he began to take more care of his physical being: “He put on weight, grew a moustache, and with Nora’s help in curling began to wear his hair en brosse. He felt the first stirrings of dandyism. He went to the dentist as planned, and had some teeth fixed; then he bought a new suit.  He rented a piano and sang his songs” (194). 

By having Stephen wonder, on Sandymount Strand where Joyce first walked out with Nora, whether he should go to a dentist and get some teeth fixed, the novel may be obliquely alluding to the beneficent influence of a lover.

John Hunt 2011
Everyone but Jim has the toothache: the Joyces with their solicitor on their wedding day, July 4, 1931. Ellmann reproduces the photograph courtesy of the Poetry-Rare Books Collection at SUNY Buffalo.