In Brief

New Style. "Therefore, everyman, look to that last end that is thy death...Nine twelve bloodflows chiding her childless": after Latinate prose obscured by mists of translation, and Anglo-Saxon language strangely modeled on both prose and verse, come two paragraphs whose style is not much easier to characterize. The call for "everyman" to confront his death suggests an allusion to the medieval morality play Everyman, but neither this paragraph nor the following one resembles it stylistically. Their most distinctive verbal mannerism is constant repetition of the words "man" and "woman"—a feature which is not characteristic of the play. It may be intended to suggest a sermon in Middle English.

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Stuart Gilbert (1930) heard in this section "an anticipation of an early Church style which is in advance of its context in the episode" (279). It would be interesting to know his basis for making that claim. Weldon Thornton (1968), in sharp contrast, heard an allusion to the prologue of Everyman, which would mean that Joyce was jumping ahead of the historical context, going directly from the late 10th century to the late 15th. Robert Janusko (1983) was persuaded by Thornton's identification. Don Gifford (1988) agrees that the first paragraph echoes the play's prologue, but he characterizes the entire section, quite unspecifically, as "Middle English prose." Declan Kiberd (1992) appears to believe that the influence of the play continues through both paragraphs, and Jeri Johnson (1993) makes that claim explicitly. Sam Slote (2012), who like Thornton does not attempt to characterize the styles of the chapter, does agree that the first sentence alludes to Everyman.

Like other morality plays, Everyman uses personified abstractions to represent its protagonist's struggle for spiritual wellbeing. Summoned to appear before God and make an account of his life (the play's full title is The Somonyng of Everyman), Everyman tries to convince Fellowship, Kindred, Cousin, and Goods to accompany him, but they all refuse. Good Deeds feels too weak to join him, but she introduces him to her sister Knowledge and he goes with her to see Confession, after which Good Deeds feels strong enough to make the journey. At the end of the play, Everyman climbs into his grave with Good Deeds, dies, and ascends to heaven, the lesson being that your good deeds, justified by God's grace, are all that you can take with you.

The play apparently was performed often in the decades following its composition, and a modern stage adaptation with a female lead was performed in the U.K. and the U.S. from 1901 to 1918. Two films based on the adaptation were released in 1913 and 1914. Joyce might well have heard of one or another of these recent enactments. He would not have encountered any excerpts from the script in Saintsbury's or Peacock's anthologies of English prose, because it consists entirely of verse lines, but he does seem to have perused the text of the play. The allusion that Thornton detected occurs in the Messenger's prologue:
Man, in the beginning,
Look well, and take good heed to the ending,
Be you never so gay.
You think sin in the beginning full sweet,
Which in the end causeth the soul to weep,
When the body lieth in clay.
Here shall you see how fellowship and jollity,
Both strength, pleasure, and beauty,
Will fade from thee as a flower in May.
For ye shall hear how our Heaven-King
Calleth Everyman to a general reckoning.
Joyce's echo of these lines ("Therefore, everyman, look to that last end that is thy death") seems to be prompted by the fact that Bloom and nurse Callan have been talking in the previous paragraph about an unexpected death. Bloom's black clothes have made the nurse fear some "sorrow," but she learns that no one dear to him has died. His cheerful inquiry about Doctor O'Hare, however, produces the news that this "young" man has died of cancer. Callan, who is pious, prays for "God the Allruthful to have his dear soul in his undeathliness," and the two stand "sorrowing one with another." The hope that God will save the dead man's soul triggers a new section of narrative keyed to the lines from Everyman.

The one-sentence opening paragraph then abandons the play's idiom and echoes biblical language: "the dust that gripeth on every man that is born of woman for as he came naked forth from his mother's womb so naked shall he wend him at the last for to go as he came." Chapter 14 of the Book of Job begins, "Man that is born of a woman is of few days, and full of trouble. / He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not" (1-2). Earlier, Job has said, "Naked came I out of my mother's womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away" (1:21). Was Gilbert perhaps thinking of these well-known verses being used in medieval homiletic writing when he argued that the passage was written in an "early Church style"? There is no way of knowing, but clearly the image of man born of a woman exerts a much stronger influence on the following paragraph than does anything in Everyman.

Bloom is now "the man" who has come into the hospital, and Callan is "the nursingwoman." He asks her not about Mrs. Purefoy but about "the woman that lay there in childbed. The nursingwoman answered him and said that that woman was in throes now full three days." She says that "she had seen many births of women but never was none so hard as was that woman's birth," and "The man hearkened to her words for he felt with wonder women's woe in the travail that they have of motherhood." Until some reader discovers a medieval text that recurs to these two words with comparable regularity, Joyce's second paragraph should probably be regarded as a riff on verses from the Book of Job, perhaps in the style of a real or imagined medieval sermon. Gifford's "Middle English prose" is frustratingly generic, but his instincts seem keener than those of Janusko, Kiberd, and Johnson, for whom the fact that Everyman is written in verse never even registers as a problem.

This section echoes Middle English vocabulary much more sparingly than the previous one echoed Old English. Only one word needs glossing: "unneth" recalls the Middle English uneathe or unethe = difficult, not easy. This word derived from an Old English one, uneaþe, and the second paragraph contains several such echoes of the past. Bloom's asking "how it fared with the woman" may possibly be heard as a reprise of the previous section's echoes of "faring" in Ælfric's life of St. Cuthbert. There are also several instances of alliteration in something like the Anglo-Saxon manner. The most striking ones come near the end: it is said that Bloom "felt with wonder women's woe," and when he marvels that the attractive young nurse is still a "handmaid" (i.e., not married) nine years after he first met her in the hospital, the judgmental narrative harps on her sterile menstruations: "Nine twelve bloodflows chiding her childless." 

It is also worth noting that this section recapitulates the false-start quality of the previous one. There, two sentences powerfully reminiscent of Old English verse relapsed into a Latinate style, before settling into five paragraphs of Anglo-Saxon prose in which an alliterative poem plays only a thematic role. Here, the action begins with half a sentence reminiscent of a late medieval verse play, before settling into a paragraph that sounds like the (earlier?) Middle English prose that Joyce's historical model might lead one to expect. Joyce evidently had some fun painting outside the chronological and generic outlines of his design. He also clearly enjoyed letting new narrative settings express themselves in new styles. Bloom's arrival at the hospital after wandering about all day calls for The Wanderer, even if it is not in prose. His sad talk with nurse Callan about a young doctor's death calls for Everyman, even if its dating is too late. His entrance into a common-room filled with wildly dunken talk and laughter will likewise call for some fantastic medieval travel stories.

JH 2021
 Frontispiece from edition of Everyman published by John Sklot ca. 1530.
Source: Wikimedia Commons.
 Poster announcing November 1902 performances of Everyman at The Albert Hall in Leeds. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
 Edith Wynne Matthison performing the title role of Everyman in 1903, in a photograph published in Sunset Magazine. Source: Wikimedia Commons.