Flyblown faces

In Brief

Kevin Egan lives in a dismal part of Paris: "the Montmartre lair he sleeps short night in, rue de la Goutte-d'Or, damascened with flyblown faces of the gone." Stephen's imagination connects the present state of the district with the even more squalid conditions of several decades earlier, as represented in Émile Zola's novels.

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Gifford describes Montmartre as "A poor, run-down section in north-central Paris, at the turn of the century a favorite haunt of avant-garde artists, bohemians, and students." Its Rue de la Goutte d'Or (Street of the Golden Drop), he notes, "was named for the golden wine from long-since displaced vineyards."

The "gone" (deceased people) whose faces "damascene" the street in Stephen's imagination (he is apparently thinking of their faces ornamenting the street, like the shapes woven into damask, a heavy cloth textured with wavy patterns) come from the works of Zola, the late 19th century naturalistic novelist who sought to depict the lives of poor people in all their bleak, sordid limitation. Gifford describes two characters who live on this street in Zola's novels. "Gervaise Macquart, the protagonist of L'assommoir (The Grog Shop or Gin Mill) (1877), lives in what Zola calls the quartier de la Goutte d'Or and, with her husband, declines into derelection, filth, inanition, and finally death as a result of alcoholism." Her daughter "Nana (Nana, 1880) is born and comes of age in the quartier; she is en route to supreme success as a grand cocotte (prostitute) when she meets a premature, and symbolic, death from small pox. The second to the last paragraph of Nana is a particularly vigorous description of the face of Nana's corpse, devastated by smallpox as though the 'virus' with which she had 'poisoned a people had mounted into her face and rotted it' (my translation)."

As Gifford observes, Stephen's image of "flyblown faces" is gentle by comparison with the originals.

JH 2014
Self-portrait of Émile Zola, taken in 1901. Source: Wikimedia Commons.