Braided drums

Braided drums

In Brief

The woman whom Bloom ogles in Lotus Eaters as she prepares to step up onto a cab is wearing riding gloves: "She raised a gloved hand to her hair….Drawing back his head and gazing far from beneath his vailed eyelids he saw the bright fawn skin shine in the glare, the braided drums." The meaning of "drums" here is uncertain, but Joyce seems to be referring to the raised lines on the backs of many gloves that glovemakers call "points." They probably originated as seams running back from the points where the fingers meet, but at some point in sartorial history they became ornamental ridges.

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Gifford glosses "braided drums" as "The ridges of cord on the back of the woman's glove." There are unanswered questions here: why would "drums" mean ridges, and why would "fawn skin" gloves have "cord" sewn onto them? But Gifford is admirably ready to hazard a guess about the phrase's meaning—other published annotators do not even attempt it—and his speculation seems generally plausible.

In a page on James Joyce Online Notes, John Simpson remarks that "drum seems to be an odd word to use here," since "None of the meanings of drum given in the Oxford English Dictionary seem to be relevant." But he observes that the "drum" in place names like Drumcondra is an Anglicized version of the Irish druim or droim, meaning "ridge" or "back." Both of these meanings would be highly relevant to the context, and in fact Patrick Dineen's Irish-English Dictionary, Simpson notes, contains the phrase druim na láimhe, defined as "the back of the hand."

The reappearance of "braided drums" in Circe makes clear that they are very much tied up with Bloom's fantasies of the "horsey" set of rich women, to which he supposes the carriage-boarding woman belongs. They make up part of the "amazon costume" worn by Mrs. Mervyn Talboys, a riding outfit borrowed from the fox hunts of the landed gentry: "hard hat, jackboots cockspurred, vermilion waistcoat, fawn musketeer gauntlets with braided drums, long train held up and hunting crop with which she strikes her welt constantly." This costume throws down a braided gauntlet to Bloom, commanding him to submit to a domineering woman.

JH 2021
A woman's driving glove. Source: