… rounded by the lathe of intermarriage and ripened in the forcing-house of the seclusion of her race.
In a footnote, Ellmann attaches isolation to the Irish water-girl of Portrait. The study of genetics during the Edwardian era and before the Great War left much assumed and much misunderstood. Joyce and his world were still groggy and unable to shake off the “nightmare of history.”
Even today, Irish genetics stubbornly resist analysis by the Genographic Project. The protection of a short sea offered some protection from invasion as Joyce noted, but genetic studies still find some unexpected breaches that complicate a complete understanding of Irish history..
Today’s Irish gene pool carries more Continental Neanderthal DNA than most places. Neanderthals roamed from Croatia to Pakistan, India, Tibet, Mongolia, and the vicinity of Beijing. Irish Neanderthal DNA is typically not short strand DNA. This DNA did not arrive from Neanderthals dragging their knuckles across Europe. It came later from European invaders, perhaps with the Norwegian Vikings whose DNA is broadcast evenly across Ireland. The short sea didn’t deter a Norwegian contribution to Irish genetics. All this is to say that if the Irish are genetically isolated, it wasn’t because of the few nautical miles that separated the water girl from the rest of Europe.
Joyce claims the Irish bird-girl was different for the “seclusion of her race.” If that is so, it was cultural isolation imposed by English occupiers. Joyce contradicts his claim of seclusion with the phrase the “lathe of intermarriage.” That phrase lifts the genetic quarantine. One curious feature of Irish genetics is that strains seem unusually consistent within regions corresponding to three of the four ancient Irish kingdoms (Ulster stands apart because of the segregation of the plantation system).
Amalia Popper might be the product of a different racial seclusion. Forty percent of Ashkenazic Jews descend from at least one of four women. Descendants of these four “founding mothers” carry markers distinct from the more homogeneous three- fifths of the Jewish population (this proposed by Doron Behar, and his supervisor, Professor Karl Skorecki of the Technion’s medical faculty and Rambam Medical Centre in Haifa). Descendants of the four spread not only to the west where they acquired the name Askanazic from locales on the trade route in Turkey but also deep into China to the east. The four women of child-bearing age were married into the Jewish lineage from neighboring non-Judaic Semitics. Jewish Sephardi not descended from these four women and cannot be distinguished genetically from other Middle Eastern Semitics. Here the purity of the strain was protected by traditions limiting intermarriage.
To Joyce, Ashkenazic Amalia Popper must have seemed exotic in her look and manner. SHE of his obsession and his Jewish friendships in Trieste enticed him to focus his next great novel on the character of another Ashkenazic Jew, Leopold Bloom. But Joyce draws no genetic conclusions about the differences of culture and personality between Amalia and Molly. Molly is Sephardic, but ironically she is boundlessly cosmopolitan, the most Irish of Jewesses, and experienced beyond any “seclusion.” Amalia is quite “insular” (although supportive of Italian nationalism).
Given the genetic trail, Amalia Popper is “rounded by the lathe of intermarriage” no more than the bird-girl of A Portrait, socially secluded by genetics religion, and by caste. Joyce attempted to escape from his insular limitations of race, religion, and politics by living a common-law marriage with a hotel maid and fleeing to the Continent. His artistic goal was to break free from cultural limitations making an Askhansic traveler the father of us all.
don ward June 30, 2020