Brass quoits

In Brief

In Calypso the Blooms' brass bed joins the cat in making its own kind of speech, early on when Molly turns over in bed ("the loose brass quoits of the bedstead jingled") and later when she raises herself up on an elbow ("She set the brasses jingling"). Whatever part of the bed "quoits" may refer to, their jingling becomes part of a chorus of sounds reminding Bloom of his wife's adultery, mingling with the jingling of harness bells as Boylan journeys to 7 Eccles Street.

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The ancient game of quoits, which was very popular in England in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, is similar to horseshoes. Players throw iron or steel rings, concave on one side and convex on the other, at spikes set in squares of moist clay, scoring points by landing the ring either around the stake or close to it. Joyce evidently is using the name of the iron rings metaphorically to describe some structures on the brass bed that Molly inherited from her father.

One might suppose by analogy that the "quoits" are rings encircling the rods at the head and foot of the bed. Gifford does: "The quoits are the brass discs that decorate the metal rods supporting the bedstead." But Victorian brass beds do not seem ever to have had decorative elements of this sort, and a sliding ring would not fit with Bloom's reflection that the discs have worked loose and should be secured: "Must get those settled really. Pity. All the way from Gibraltar." Joyce's word more likely refers to washers that help secure the finials to the bedposts, or perhaps to caps that are fitted to the tops of the posts.

The jingling sound of these loose concave rings, so readily linked to thoughts of a bed rocking with sexual activity, becomes associated also with the jingling of horses' harnesses in Lestrygonians: "Grafton street gay with housed awnings lured his senses. Muslin prints, silkdames and dowagers, jingle of harnesses, hoofthuds lowringing in the baking causeway. . . . High voices. Sunwarm silk. Jingling harnesses. All for a woman, home and houses, silkwebs, silver, rich fruits spicy from Jaffa. Agendath Netaim. Wealth of the world. . . . He turned Combridge's corner, still pursued. Jingling, hoofthuds. Perfumed bodies, warm, full. All kissed, yielded: in deep summer fields, tangled pressed grass, in trickling hallways of tenements, along sofas, creaking beds."

In Sirens the triple association of sexuality, horsedrawn cabs, and a creaky bed appears made to order for Blazes Boylan, who shows up at the Ormond bar in a jaunting car and soon after jaunts up to the Blooms' house. The overture of this episode's musical themes includes "Jingle jingle jaunted jingling," and variations of these two words appear dozens of times in the chapter. Boylan is a jaunty fellow himself, the "jinglejaunty blazes boy." His jaunting car jingles its harness bells again and again, sometimes going "Jiggedy jingle jaunty jaunty," or "Jog jig jogged."

Having picked up these additional "j" sounds in Circe, the brass quoits return in Circe to speak their expanded language. After the cuckoo clock from Nausicaa calls Bloom a cuckold three times in its language, "The brass quoits of a bed are heard to jingle" the words "Jigjag. Jigajiga. Jigjag." In Penelope Molly confirms that the bed has been making some eloquent music: "this damned old bed too jingling like the dickens I suppose they could hear us away over the other side of the park till I suggested to put the quilt on the floor with the pillow under my bottom."

Although the text does not call attention to the shape and function of the quoits, a reader might be forgiven for hearing lascivious suggestions in the thought of concave rings encircling stiff spikes. They seem to inhabit the same imagistic universe as a horse named Sceptre aiming for the Gold Cup, a loud proud knocker announcing its presence in an entryway, and bottle rockets erupting in showers of sparks.

JH 2017
Ball finial on the post of a Victorian brass bed. Source unknown.
Brass bed finial washer. Source: www.houseofantiquehardware.com.
Brass bed post cap, 1.5" diameter. Source: www.goodsandchattels.com.
Quoits lodged in clay near the stake. Source: www.mashamsportsassociation.co.uk.