(GJ) Canto XLII (p.15, ll. 1-6).

E col suo vedere attosca l’uomo quando lo vede.

(And with her sight, she attacks the man when she sees him.)

The eyes have it in this canto as Giacomo ferments into Ulysses. There are alms for a blind beggar in the prose poem, a lame veteran, and a blind stripling in the novel.

Joyce emerges from the opulent home of Baron Ambrogio Ralli, host to the city’s society. The Ralli House neighbors the residence of wealthy Annie Schliemer. For some, Annie contends as a possible identity of the “Dark Who,” along with Amalia Popper and Emma Cuzzi.

The area is plush, and a blind beggar might think this a good “sit” for his trade. Restaurant servers say that working-class patrons are more likely to leave appropriate tips than the very wealthy. However, Trieste is a European city where tips are not entitlements, but where citizens embrace personal responsibility for the poor. [In Valencia, I overheard a woman leaving a market apologize to a beggar because she had no cash for his paper cup. She promised to return immediately with coins. I choose to believe that she did. The exchange unfolded practically in the shadow of the Basilica de la Virgen de los Desamparados, Basilica of the Virgin of the Forsaken.]

Until his birthday in 1914, Joyce was the blind beggar in his most precarious financial state. After A Portrait’s serialization in The Egoist began, the Joyces found at least occasional relief until Jimsey could manage to binge away his good fortune on bar bills, dinners hosted, clothing, entertainment, ostentatious boons to beggars, and the occasional payment of past-due accounts. The subsequent patronage that allowed Joyce to produce Ulysses transmogrified him from the blind beggar into the blind stripling, stricken but known to have the mystical power to tune a tree stump, baling wire, and human bones into the piano (or the novel) that reveals the human soul.

In this incident from Giacomo Joyce, the poet, momentarily flush with cash and delight, finds himself eye to eye with the SHE who now despises him. SHE has become the black-eyed basilisk, a reptile that kills with a poisonous glance. She tosses a favor to her former teacher too by turning suddenly on her heel, avoiding eye contact, and by doing so, spares his life.

Images and phrases from Giacomo Joyce, like the seed of almsgiving so important in Judaic Law, often reroot in Ulysses. The precept of Tzedakah, or philanthropy, benefits the giver and recipient at least equally. As a frequent canny recipient of charity, this must have delighted Joyce. 

In Ulysses, Jewess Molly’s ample arm extends from her Eccles Street window to drop a coin to the begging veteran. She must reach past the sign that announces: Unfurnished Apartments. The sign is a signal to Blazes Boylan that the coast is clear for their assignation. The sign topples, her kindness balancing her infidelity, as Joyce might have reason to hope for himself. Similarly, “The Dark Who” receives the grace to suppress her homicidal intent after giving alms to the beggar.

don ward October 13, 2020

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