Footleaf

In Brief

Trying to close the front door 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 is satisfied with the appearance: "Looked shut." It is clear enough what is happening here, generally speaking: something at the foot of the door is covering the threshold, making it appear closed. But what exactly is a "footleaf"?

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David J. Wilson, who raised the issue with me in a personal communication, writes, "This is a question which never occurred to me in fifty years of Ulysses-consciousness. But once it is asked, the solution is obvious. First, look the word up in the Oxford English Dictionary. My eyes nearly popped out of my head: No Entry Found. Next, with trembling fingers, I looked in Gifford. Not a peep. Then I googled it. Plenty of hits, but the relevant ones were all to Ulysses itself. The problem is, of course, that footleaf is hiding in plain sight—in context, the meaning is 'obvious.' Next step is to look at The Door Itself."

Wilson accepts, then, that Joyce may have coined the word, but he reasons that it is referring to an actual feature of the door at 7 Eccles Street, and presumably to many other Georgian doors in Dublin. Looking at pre-1967 photographs of the door, he identifies a thick extension at the bottom, covering the threshold. His conclusion: "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."

The caustic conclusion to his remarks was directed at the writer of this note, who had the temerity to observe that it would be strange to refer to a thick and fixed part of the door as a "limp lid," or to say that it "dropped gently over the threshold." I had wondered whether house doors in the Edwardian era had something comparable to the flexible "sweep" that forms part of the weatherstripping of many house doors today.

The reality may lie somewhere between our opposite hunches. Close inspection of the second photograph accompanying this note will reveal 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. Clearly it angles outward. Is there a hinged wooden flap at the base of the door? Could a wooden flap be installed in such a way as to swing in both directions over the threshold? Answers to these questions may require a visit to the James Joyce Centre.

JH 2017
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.