…the short skirt taut from the round knobs of the knees. A white flash: a flake, a snowflake: And when she next doth ride abroad/ May I be there to see!
By the first decade of the Twentieth Century, Western Europe’s loathing for the Turk, the pirate-invader, diminished. The Ottomans endured an initiation into European warfare in the Crimea, allying with the French and English against the Tsar. Later Ataturk’s Turkey replaced a theocratic nation with a secular one, enforcing the change with laws. The “Young Turks” even replaced the Arabic script with less beautiful latinate lettering. In exchange, Turkey gained the modernity of a clackety writing machine that aided commerce and communication.
At least since he wrote “Araby” (including the homage to “The Arab’s Farewell to his Steed”), Joyce was fascinated by the Near East. In A Portrait, he found meaning in the romance and magic that drew his mother to treasure a memento of Turko the Terrible, “…the boy that can enjoy invisibility.” He resurrects the inscrutable Turk three times in Ulysses and adds eastern spice to the females who grace the novel. Molly, like the bedroom nymph, appears in Nighttown in harem wear. Fetishist Bloom plans to buy Turkish carpet slippers for Molly’s feet. Turko, the baths, ladies in pantaloons, soft slippers, a typewriter for secret love letters, the reader prepares for Bloom’s (and Joyce’s) harem dream come true.
Bloom’s harem accommodates a soprano, a daughter, a water sprite, and an invisible correspondent. For Mr. Bloom, comprehensive and expansive mating is another Eastern rite, growing like vines up and across the Moorish Wall. Poldy’s dream is the artistic cultivation of Joyce’s id. The author’s personal “Turkish delight” would mix wife, daughter, student, and perhaps a second student (even a third). Here in Giacomo, Joyce, as sultan, imagines two girls, Lucia and Amalia, hitched to a sled. They are oblivious to his attention and surrounded by virgin snow. He enjoys invisibility, like Turko, because they live in his fantasy.
Joyce’s understanding of the harem shaped a fantasy peppered with more mystery than fact. Harems were typically subject to rules outside of the polyamorist’s control. The sultan’s mother, or lacking one the lead wife, managed the harem. Other events played out according to tradition and could not be altered by the lone male. Harem translates “place of the women.” As such, Joyce would be disappointed by its functioning. As Kemal Ataturk moved the Turkish Republic toward European secularism, Joyce’s artistic image of a harem life that was magical, mysterious, sensual, and polygamistic became more archaic and inaccurate.
“Lotus Eaters” found Bloom as Turko in an Eastern bazaar, a cross-legged potentate smoking a hookah. By “Circe,” he aspires to the stature of that other paternalistic Turko of the Crimea, mustachioed Sargeant Major Tweedy. All this is born of Joyce’s desire for NoraLuciaAmaliaAnother and his desire to legitimize his obsession.
Today, Turkey resumes movement away from Western ideas, disappointed by the European Union’s rejection, a weakening NATO, and the Arab Spring’s sputtering. Turko is shifting from secularism and toward the policies that predated his alliance with France and England during the Crimean War. Turks recommitted to Western partnerships when they joined with an old enemy, Hapsburg Austria, during the Great War. Hagia Sophia soon will revert from an international treasure to a mosque as Turkey slips further into nationalism. And Joyce’s bevy may be compelled to wear rather than forbidden from wearing head-covering as the Irish Sultan might have wished.
don ward July 14, 2020