My father's voice

My father's voice

In Brief

Walking along the sand flats, Stephen wonders whether he will walk inland to visit his mother's brother's family in Irishtown, and the thought conjures up his "father's voice," acerbically complaining about the in-laws for nearly a full paragraph of text.

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Joyce's father John Stanislaus Joyce, fictionalized in the novel as Simon Dedalus ("uncle Si"), carried a fierce sense of his patriarchal heritage, and he despised May Murray's father and brothers: "O weeping God, the things I married into." Simon Dedalus calls his two brothers-in-law "Highly respectable gondoliers," implying that they are denizens of the lower class. "De boys up in de hayloft" likewise seems to imply that the Gouldings are country bumpkins.

John Joyce's prejudice was inflamed by the Murrays' dislike of him (he already drank too much when he was courting May, and her father John correctly supposed that he would not make her a good husband). It was perversely confirmed by his mother Ellen, who adamantly refused to bless his marriage to May, "regarding the Murrays as beneath her" (Ellmann 18). In the novel, Simon's own inveterate alcoholism does not stop him from referring hypocritically to Richie Goulding as "The drunken little costdrawer."

Ellmann notes that William Murray, the model for Richie Goulding, did indeed require "his children to call him 'sir,' and when he was drunk treated them savagely enough. But he was a fair singer of operatic arias, and he was married to a woman whom all the Joyce children, including James, depended upon for help and advice. Josephine Giltrap Murray ["aunt Sara" or "aunt Sally" Goulding in the novel] was intelligent, resourceful, and unfailingly generous, attributes that could not be too abundant in those harassed lives. She seemed to her nephew James to be a wise woman, and he brought her his shocking problems without shocking her. She had musical training, too, and sometimes she and John Joyce and May would play trios on the piano" (19-20).

Simon may be unfairly nasty toward his in-laws, but he is also eloquently witty: "sirring his father, no less! Sir. Yes, sir. No, sir. Jesus wept: and no wonder, by Christ!" Here as elsewhere, the strains of Joyce's "father's voice" weave their dry irony into the fabric of Ulysses.

JH 2015
John Stanislaus Joyce, father of James, in an oil potrait painted by Patrick Tuohy in 1923. Source: