In Brief

In Calypso, trying to close the front door of his house most of the way but not so far as to engage the lock, Bloom eases it toward him "till the footleaf dropped gently over the threshold, a limp lid," and he feels satisfied with the appearance: "Looked shut." Clearly, something at the foot of his door is covering the threshold, making it appear closed. But what exactly is a "footleaf"? The answer: a hinged wooden "leaf" at the foot of the door.

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David J. Wilson raised the issue of the word's reference with me in a 2017 personal communication, observing that it cannot be found in dictionaries and is not explained in Gifford's collection of annotations. (Nor have subsequent annotators—Kiberd, Johnson, Slote—had anything to say about it.) Joyce probably coined the word, then. Looking at pre-1967 photographs of the door, Wilson identifies a thick extension at the bottom, covering the threshold. He argues that "The footleaf is, beyond doubt, as solid as any part of the door. It is not added on to the door—it is integral. It may be described as a 'limp lid,' but it is made of thick oak. It is not a 'sweep' to keep the roaches out. Nor is it a draught-excluder! This footleaf has one, and only one, great function—it keeps out the rain. If you can’t see this perfectly plainly for yourself, then may the devil break the hasp of your back."

His caustic conclusion was directed at me after I remarked that it would be odd to call the footleaf a "limp lid," or to say that it "dropped gently over the threshold," if it were a fixed ("integral") part of the door. I wondered instead whether house doors in the Edwardian era had something analogous to the flexible "sweep" that forms part of the weatherstripping of many house doors today. My hunch was supported by the fact that, in the second of Wilson's pictures shown here, one can see "perfectly plainly" that the lines of shadow from the area railing to the left of the door bend as they cross the lowest part of the door, suggesting the presence of a hinged wooden flap whose bottom edge can angle outward.

A visit to the James Joyce Centre in 2019, where the door is displayed on the basement floor, confirmed that it does indeed have a hinged wooden flap on the bottom, shown in the third and fourth photographs here. Walking along Eccles and other Dublin streets with old houses, I found many such weather flaps. I do not know what Edwardian builders and homeowners called them, but Joyce's coinage seems entirely apt, since the word "leaf," per the OED, can denote "A hinged part or one of a series of parts connected at one side or end by a hinge; a flap"; "One of two or more parts of a door, gate, or shutter turning upon hinges"; or (a use that is still commonly encountered today in the expression "drop-leaf table") "A hinged flap at the side of a table to be raised when required for use." The leaf on the 7 Eccles Street door is secured by two hinges, plainly visible in the photographs.

JH 2021
Photograph of the door at 7 Eccles shortly before its removal, when the house was in sad shape. Source: David J. Wilson.
Closer view of the foot of the door. Source: David J. Wilson.
Weather flap on the bottom of the 7 Eccles Street door held in the James Joyce Centre, Dublin. Source: John Hunt.
One of the two hinges securing the flap. Source: John Hunt.