In Brief

After one long recollection of Paris centered on Patrice Egan, and another focused on his own foolish pretensions, Stephen lapses into French a third time with thoughts that center on Kevin Egan. This note translates the French phrases, with some contextualizing interpretation.

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Stephen imagines "Paris rawly waking," and two imaginary women named Yvonne and Madeleine sitting in "Rodot's," a patisserie on the Boulevard Saint-Michel, "shattering with gold teeth chaussons of pastry, their mouths yellowed with the pus of flan breton. Faces of Paris men go by, their wellpleased pleasers, curled conquistadores." The chausson, or "slipper," is a flaky pastry wrapped around a fruity interior. The Breton flan is a version of the Spanish one, usually containing fruit. The word pus that Stephen applies to the custard's soft yellow filling has the same meaning in French as in English, with the same unsavory connotations. The word "conquistadores" is Spanish, of course, but Gifford observes that it is French slang for "lady-killers."

Morning gives way to "noon," which Stephen thinks of as a soporific time, and he is in a cafe or cheap restaurant with Kevin Egan, who is sipping absinthe and smoking cigarettes. Someone, perhaps Kevin but more likely one of the "gobblers" shoving "spiced beans down their gullets," orders "Un demi setier!" Gifford, apparently reading this as an anticipation of the sentence that follows ("A jet of coffee steam from the burnished caldron"), translates it as referring to a demitasse of coffee that Egan is ordering for Stephen. But in separate personal communications from France, Pierre Jeanjean and Karim Benslama observe that a setier (an old word, Rabelaisian in feel) is about 49 cl, roughly the same as a British pint. It makes much more sense to imagine a bean-gobbler ordering a half-pint of beer with his noon meal than Egan ordering a demitasse of coffee for Stephen.

The sentences that follow, however, recall a waitress coming to the table at Egan's "beck" and misunderstanding his introduction of the visitor from Ireland: "Il est irlandais. Hollandais? Non fromage. Deux irlandais, nous, Irlande, vous savez ah, oui!" (He's Irish. Hollandais? Not cheese! We're two Irishmen, Ireland, you understand? Ah, yes!). Kevin has told her that Stephen is Irish, but instead of "irlandais" she has heard "Hollandais," and assumes that Kevin is ordering food for his guest: "She thought you wanted a cheese hollandais."

After some talk about Irish matters, Egan mentions a Frenchman's description of Queen Victoria of England: "Vieille ogresse with the dents jaunes," an old ogre with yellow teeth. Egan lapses into French again when he tells Stephen about the "froeken" (fröken, Swedish for an unmarried young woman) who rubs men down at the bath "at Upsala." He seems to be talking about Uppsala, one of the largest cities in Sweden, but if so it is not clear why he would represent the young woman in the establishment as speaking French. But so she does in Egan's narration, this "bonne à tout faire" (maid of all work). "Moi faire, she said, Tous les messieurs" (I do all the gentlemen).

Finally, French appears once more very briefly as Stephen recalls how someone, either Kevin Egan or his estranged wife, asked him to say hello to Patrice: "Tell Pat you saw me, won't you? I wanted to get poor Pat a job one time. Mon fils" (my son), "soldier of France." Stephen has been thinking about the wife for several sentences before this point, so it seems natural to regard these as her words, recollected from some visit he paid her. But immediately after this, the "I" tells Stephen how he taught Patrice to sing "The Boys of Kilkenny." And this must be Kevin Egan, because he takes Stephen by the hand and sings the song to him ("Weak wasting hand on mine. They have forgotten Kevin Egan, not he them"). So the referent of "mon" seems obscure.

John Hunt 2014
A chausson aux fruits et chocolat. Source:
Flan or "Far" Breton. Source:
A half-pint of beer in a recent photograph from France. Source: