The map of it all

The map of it all

In Brief

In Penelope Molly recalls a concert "over a year ago" in which she participated "on account of father being in the army and my singing the absentminded beggar and wearing a brooch for Lord Roberts when I had the map of it all." This was no doubt a fundraising event for troops fighting in the second Boer War, a cause dear to Molly because her father was a career soldier in the British army. Lord Roberts commanded the British forces in South Africa for one year (January-December 1900), so it makes sense that Molly wore a brooch bearing his image in the concert. Roberts remained very popular after handing the reins over to Lord Kitchener, and such brooches were commonplace in the UK. Fundraisers were still being conducted in 1903. But "the map of it all" is obscure. A 50-year string of commentary has implausibly interpreted these words as referring to Molly's face, or Lord Roberts', but a correspondent has recently advanced a much more sensible explanation: Molly once owned a handkerchief which displayed a map of South Africa.

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In a personal communication, Vincent Van Wyk has called my attention to the existence of these handkerchiefs. For nearly three years Britain was fighting a war of imperial conquest in an unfamiliar land on the other side of the globe. Newspapers sometimes printed maps to help their readers make geographical sense of the war, but some enterprising manufacturers also reproduced maps of the Transvaal and the Orange Free State on pocket handkerchiefs which people could buy and carry about. The handkerchiefs were produced in huge numbers and raised enormous sums for support of the troops.

It seems plausible that Molly, after she recalls wearing a patriotic brooch at the concert, would then recall that at the time she also owned one of these patriotic handkerchiefs. (Perhaps she brought it to the show too, conspicuously displayed on her person. At similar British concerts today, singers often wear clothes and accessories befitting the patriotic theme.) Penelope makes clear that Molly has many uses for handkerchiefs and appreciates showy ones: "how did we finish it off yes O yes I pulled him off into my handkerchief"; "weeks and weeks I kept the handkerchief under my pillow for the smell of him"; "and the four paltry handkerchiefs about 6/- in all sure you cant get on in this world without style."

Van Wyk's literal reading of "the map of it all" is much more persuasive than a commonly repeated figurative one. In The Chronicle of Leopold and Molly Bloom (1977), John Henry Raleigh writes that Molly's phrase "is an oblique reference, I believe, to the common saying that someone has the map of Ireland written all over his, or her, face. This constitutes the only reference in the book to the fact that she looks Irish as well as Spanish-Jewish" (182). In the second edition of Ulysses Annotated (1988), Don Gifford repeats Raleigh's reading: "That is, she has the map of Ireland all over her face: colloquial for 'it's obvious that she is Irish'." Sam Slote too (2012) affirms this sense of the phrase, but he applies it to Lord Roberts, who was born in India to Anglo-Irish parents: "He has the map of Ireland written all over his face: 'he is unmistakably Irish'."

None of these three commentators shows how the figurative meaning might mesh with a coherent understanding of Molly's thought and syntax, but when one attempts to do so its limitations become evident. Why would Molly think that she looked Irish, and why would she recall one occasion "when" she "had" it? People normally think of others having a certain ethnic look, not themselves, and if she thinks she had the look of the Irish when she sang at the concert, does that mean she has since lost it? Still another implausibility is that, as Raleigh admits, this would be the only time in the novel when Molly is said to appear distinctively Irish: she has a dark complexion that makes her look exotic. The difficulties continue. Does Molly remember looking Irish at the time of the concert because she thinks it somehow advantaged her? Even among relatives of the Irishmen fighting in the British army in South Africa, it is hard to imagine how an Irish-looking singer on the stage would make them support English aggression more enthusiastically.

But perhaps Raleigh supposes that the phrase connects not with the preceding words but with what comes after: "I had the map of it all and Poldy not Irish enough was it him managed it this time I wouldnt put it past him." Construed in this way, Molly is jumping from thoughts of South Africa to the issue of being hired for concerts: Bloom has trouble getting gigs for her because he doesn't look Irish enough, but she had the map of it all.... This reading too is hard to square with the fact that Molly looks exotically Spanish and Jewish, and with the temporal limitation of only once having had the look. Even more importantly, though, her Irish appearance seems irrelevant to landing gigs, because Molly never once thinks of finagling concert appearances herself. In the male-dominated concert world of turn-of-the-century Dublin (vividly represented in "A Mother," and Kathleen Kearney has popped into her thoughts only seconds before), she leaves that to people like her husband and Blazes Boylan.

Slote avoids all these problems by assuming that "I had the map of it all"  refers not to Molly but to Lord Roberts, and there seems to be some logic to his choice: an Irish audience supporting Irish troops might well respond favorably to a British general who looked Irish. But in addition to the tense problem of "had," this reading runs roughshod over the grammatical subject of the clause. "I" normally refers to oneself, doesn't it? How could "I had" possibly mean "Lord Roberts had"?

JH 2022
A 1901 handkerchief produced to raise money for the war by the Daily Mail, with images of Lord Roberts, Rudyard Kipling and Arthur Sullivan's The Absentminded Beggar, a map of South Africa, and Queen Victoria. Source:
Another handkerchief with identical images, this one dated 1899.