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
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.