You don't save

In Brief

Urging Stephen not to carry his money loose in his pocket, Deasy warns him that "You'll pull it out somewhere and lose it." Stephen's problem, he says, is that "you don't save." He is right; Stephen's life could certainly benefit from some financial prudence.

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At the same time, Joyce seems to be calling attention to some large cultural differences that may partly account for the two men's different attitudes toward money. Deasy's "You don't yet know what money is. Money is power" reflects the serenely unconscious association between money and power held by members of the Irish Protestant Ascendancy, and the more conscious association between prudential thrift and financial wellbeing held by many Protestants around the world, particularly the Scots Presbyterians of Deasy's heritage.

In Circe a more benign father-figure, Leopold Bloom, does for Stephen what Deasy recommends that Stephen do: he takes what remains of the young man's monthly pay into his own pockets so that Stephen will not lose it all as he drunkenly careens through the brothel. His wisdom is confirmed in Eumaeus, when the worthless Corley accosts Stephen in the dark streets to beg a loan of him, and Stephen is both ignorant of what remains in his pockets and indifferent to its fate. Searching in vain for the money which Bloom relieved him of, "in another pocket he came across what he surmised in the dark were pennies," but Corley observes, "Those are halfcrowns, man"—a considerable sum. Stephen gives him one anyway.

Deasy may despise the "jew merchants," but the book suggests that they share his ethos of saving and prudent investment. Bloom, who has learned thrift from his Jewish father and does not waste money on alcohol like most of his fellow Dubliners, has managed to accumulate a respectable amount of savings. He is acutely aware that only these savings stand between him and penurious old age, and he believes that something in Catholic culture encourages people to neglect the cultivation of worldly prosperity. After telling Stephen about the anti-Semitic attack he endured in Cyclops, he defends his ethnic heritage: "History, — would you be surprised to learn? —  proves up to the hilt Spain decayed when the inquisition hounded the jews out and England prospered when Cromwell, an uncommonly able ruffian who in other respects has much to answer for, imported them. Why? Because they are imbued with the proper spirit. They are practical and are proved to be so. I don't want to indulge in any... because you know the standard works on the subject and then orthodox as you are... But in the economic, not touching religion, domain, the priest spells poverty. Spain again, you saw in the war, compared with goahead America. Turks. It's in the dogma. Because if they didn't believe they'd go straight to heaven when they die they'd try to live better —  at least so I think."

One of "the standard works on the subject," indeed the standard, was Max Weber's The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, written in 1904-5. Seeking to explain the economic success of the northern European countries, and of "goahead America" (which he visited and was much impressed by), Weber decided that "they are imbued with the proper spirit" or Geist: specifically, the Protestant (most of all, Calvinist) ethic of working hard, saving money, and putting money to work. In Ireland, this ethic resides most vitally in the Scots Presbyterians of Ulster—Deasy's people. (One of the tragedies of independence has been the emigration of this Protestant work ethic from the Republic.)

Many have challenged Weber's thesis, and even if it is entirely correct, there are no doubt other reasons why a particular individual might be financially irresponsible. Joyce was certainly aware of another explanation for his own habits: the example set by his father. In 1904 he wrote to Nora Barnacle, "How could I like the idea of home? My home was simply a middle-class affair ruined by spendthrift habits which I have inherited" (Letters II, 48).

JH 2012
Grant Wood's American Gothic (1930), displayed in the Art Institute o Chicago. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Cover of 1934 edition of Weber's great book. Source: Wikimedia Commons.