Nice name

In Brief

"Get another of Paul de Kock's. Nice name he has": Molly's mind is no less filled with organs than her husband's is. Her remark in Calypso would be less funny had Joyce simply made the name up, but in fact Monsieur de Kock was a popular writer of mid-19th century Paris. In addition to the lewd double entendre, "Paul de" sounds like Molly's affectionate nickname for her husband: Poldy. So this is a "nice name" in several senses.

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Charles-Paul de Kock (1793-1871) was born into a family of Dutch descent living in Paris. He wrote novels at a clip rivalling Balzac's and with subject matters resembling Dickens'. Though less brilliant than either of these literary giants, he enjoyed huge popularity throughout France. Most of his stories concerned the lives of middle-class Parisians: seamstresses, flower girls, milkmaids, shopgirls, clerks, barbers. He did not hesitate to imitate coarse details of ordinary life. Gifford cites an Edwardian judgment that "His novels are vulgar but not unmoral."

Molly, however, assumes that de Kock is a lewd pseudonym. In Penelope, she thinks, "Mr de Kock I suppose the people gave him that nickname going about with his tube from one woman to another." In Sirens the suggestive name becomes elided with Boylan's penis as he stands at the Blooms' front door, rapping with the metal door knocker: "One rapped on a door, one tapped with a knock, did he knock Paul de Kock with a loud proud knocker with a cock carracarracarra cock. Cockcock."

In Circe the Kock-centered adulterous meeting becomes Bloom's fault when Mrs. Yelverton Barry accuses him in court : "I deeply inflamed him, he said. He made improper overtures to me to misconduct myself at half past four p.m. on the following Thursday, Dunsink time. He offered to send me through the post a work of fiction by Monsieur Paul de Kock, entitled The Girl with the Three Pairs of Stays." La Femme aux Trois Corsets (1878) was one of de Kock's novels. Later in Circe, when "Mute inhuman faces throng forward" to hear Bloom's answer to Bello's demand, "What was the most revolting piece of obscenity in all your career of crime?," one of them is "Poldy Kock."

Most of these later references to de Kock in Ulysses call attention to Molly's infidelity with Boylan, and indeed Joyce owned a copy of de Kock’s Le Cocu (The Cuckold) when he was living in Trieste. But Poldy Kock turns Molly's "nice name" into a domestic endearment, as Harry Blamires notes in The New Bloomsday Book (26). Whether or not she is conscious of this meaning, Molly's affection for the name Paul de Kock holds out some hope that her sexual passion for her spouse is not dead.

JH 2017
Hand-colored engraving by André Gill caricaturing Charles Paul de Kock, on the 18 August 1867 cover of La Lune. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
1903 drawing by Pablo Picasso titled Phallus and Nude. Source: web.org.uk.