Lap, lapin

Lap, lapin

In Brief

Not least of the bewildering ways in which Proteus plunges the reader into the waves of Stephen's thoughts, with little connection to the dry land of plot, dialogue, and action, is its refusal to translate his kaleidoscopic multilingualism into English. After some scattered phrases in Italian, German, and Latin, Stephen leans into French, the foreign language that most colors the shifting verbal fabric of the chapter. Stephen is fluent in French, and he thinks of the brief time he lived in Paris as a would-be artist in exile. His internal monologue becomes peppered with language that he remembers from those days. This note, and two subsequent ones, translate those bits of French speech and provide some contextualizing interpretation.

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Stephen's thoughts of Paris are triggered by the name of the Pigeon House, which reminds him of a joke about pigeons ("— C'est le pigeon, Joseph") in La Vie de Jésus ("The Life of Jesus") by the irreverent French writer Léo Taxil. Stephen learned about the book from a young man named Patrice Egan, "home on furlough" from the French army. Patrice is the son of the wild goose Kevin Egan, whom Stephen has made a point of looking up in Paris.

Stephen recalls Patrice saying, "— C'est tordant, vous savez. Moi, je suis socialiste. Je ne crois pas en l'existence de Dieu. Faut pas le dire à mon père." (It's hilarious, you know. Me, I'm a socialist. I don't believe in the existence of God. But don't tell my father that.) Stephen asks, "Il croit?" (He's a believer?), and Patrice replies, "Mon père, oui" ("My father, yes").

As Stephen recalls looking at Patrice across the cafe table, the coincidental resemblance between the English verb "lap" and the French noun lapin (rabbit) turns Patrice, Proteus-like, into a bunny: "he lapped the sweet lait chaud with pink young tongue, plump bunny's face. Lap, lapin." Lait chaud is the cup of warm milk that Patrice is drinking. Stephen thinks, "He hopes to win in the gros lots" (he hopes to hit the jackpot in the lottery.) The French lot stems from the same root as the English lottery, and a gros lot is a first prize, a jackpot. Patrice passes his days playing the numbers. In Circe he returns as a "rabbitface," still proclaiming himself a "Socialiste!"

John Hunt 2014
Cafe, Boulevard des Italiens, 1927 lithograph by unknown artist. Source:
Pencil and ink sketch by Jean Vincent. Source: