Norwegian captain

Norwegian captain

In Brief

Walking home along Dorset Street in Calypso, Bloom sees someone he barely knows: "There's whatdoyoucallhim out of. How do you? Doesn't see. Chap you know just to salute bit of a bore. His back is like that Norwegian captain's. Wonder if  I'll meet him today." The Norwegian captain, who perhaps pops into Bloom's mind because he has just been thinking about merchant shipping between Palestine and Ireland, is a hunchbacked figure in a story told by Joyce's father. This familial inheritance makes only an obscure and inconsequential contribution to Ulysses, but in Finnegans Wake it inspires a twenty-page narrative.

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Ellmann relates that the story came into the Joyce family through Philip McCann, a distant relative who served as James' godfather. McCann told John Joyce "of a hunchbacked Norwegian captain who ordered a suit from a Dublin tailor, J. H. Kerse of Upper Sackville Street. The finished suit did not fit him, and the captain berated the tailor for being unable to sew, whereupon the irate tailor denounced him for being impossible to fit. The subject was not promising, but it became, by the time John Joyce had retold it, wonderful farce, and it is one of the parables of native and outlander, humorous but full of acrid repartee, which found their way into Finnegans Wake. If that book ever reached his father in the afterworld, James Joyce once said, John Joyce's comment would be, 'Well, he can't tell that story as I used to and that's one sure five!'" (23-24).

In the third chapter of Book II of Finnegans Wake (p. 309 ff.), a story about a Norwegian captain and a tailor comes over the radio as HCE is working in his pub. The captain in this story is clearly one of many stand-ins for HCE himself, as a Germanic invader who becomes domesticated through marriage ("Cawcaught. Coocaged."). He bears the name Pukkelson, from pukkel, a Danish word for hump or bump (Humphrey is now a Humpback). The tailor receives the name Kersse, more or less the same as the tailor in the original story, and he is a curser. At one point the two men join to become a "salestrimmer," and they make peace ("swearing threaties") when the sailor marries the tailor's daughter.

JH 2017
The Norwegian merchant vessel Normandie, in a photo held by the Sverresborg Trondelag Folk Museum, Trondheim. Source: