Swung lourdily

Swung lourdily

In Brief

Stephen sees two middle-aged, unfashionable women coming down the steps to the sand, and the narrative adopts his perspective and thoughts: "Number one swung lourdily her midwife's bag, the other's gamp poked in the beach." Lourdily seems to mean simply "heavily" (from lourd in French, a language that Stephen drops into throughout Proteus). And "gamp" appears to mean "umbrella," because of Mrs. Gamp, the umbrella-carrying nurse in Dickens' Martin Chuzzlewit.

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Dickens tells us that Mrs. Gamp's sign-board proclaimed her "Midwife," and that at her first appearance in the novel she has just been up all night helping another "professional lady" deliver a child. Starting from this literary reference point, Stephen conjures up a little dramatic vignette, as he began to do in Telemachus. In his thoughts, the umbrella and the midwife's bag (seen together in Kyd's illustration) get distributed between the two women, and the bag contains "A misbirth with a trailing navelcord."

It seems all but certain that Stephen does not know these two women, does not know that one is a midwife or that one is the widow of "the late Patk MacCabe, deeply lamented," does not know that she lives on "Bride Street" in "the liberties." His thoughts here show the hand of the artist-to-be, and the figure of the two women out on a jaunt together will return at the end of Aeolus, transformed into a short story. By the time he tells his "parable of the plums" there, Stephen has found a name for the second woman, "Anne Kearns," to go with "Florence MacCabe." He has changed them into virgins ("vestals"), given them ages (50 and 53), and changed their place of residence (from Bride Street to Fumbally's Lane, "Off Blackpitts").

The two women return at the end of Wandering Rocks, and now Joyce's narrative trumps Stephen's. The bag, it seems, had nothing to do with midwifery and everything to do with clam-digging. The tragic grotesquerie of Stephen's dead-baby fantasy gives way to comic absurdity, as eleven little mollusks roll over to gape at the Lord Mayor: "two sanded women halted themselves, an umbrella and a bag in which eleven cockles rolled to view with wonder the lord mayor and lady mayoress without his golden chain."

JH 2015
Watercolor sketch of Mrs. Sairey Gamp by Kyd (Joseph Clayton Clarke), the famous illustrator of Dickens characters. Source: www.wordsmith.org.