MEET GERTY MACDOWELL
O what a falling off was there!
If the opening paragraph of Nausicaa represents the lofty style the Narrator hopes to achieve in presenting Gerty MacDowell, it should be noted that there are numerous occasions when the style deflates. The episode’s technique of tumescence and detumescence (rising and sinking) is commonly portrayed as the contrast between Gerty’s portion that parodies, in Joyce’s phrase, the “namby pamby jammy marmalady drawersy style” (JJL: 135) of the Ladies’ magazine and the restless staccatto of Bloom’s. This is quite true. But Gerty’s Narrator has been infected with the realism of the novel in progress: so Tommy’s tinkling is accompanied by the warning “to mind he didn’t wet his new tan shoes.” (xiii:77) Furthermore, Gerty herself (“more Giltrap than MacDowell” (xiii: 83)) increasingly gives vent to snippy comments, a bathetic turn from the “high style” to a cranky vernacular. To this we may add the breathlessness of the prose which occasionally creates confusion as to whom the Narrator refers. The style stumbles.
And that singular anomaly, the lady novelist --
The term Ladies’ Magazine does not refer to the gender of its staff, as Nathanael West underscored in the novel Miss Lonelyhearts. The term describes the intended market. If the initial style of Nausicaa resembles, at least superficially, the standard magazine fiction, and if it also represents the influence of such fictions on Gerty’s perspective, it does seem that she has been more profoundly influenced by the advice columns and the advertising. She has this in common with Mr Bloom. (The one work of fiction Gerty specifically acknowledges – “The Lamplighter by Miss Cummins, author of Mabel Vaughn” (xiii:633) – had been published in 1854, a classic of its kind. It may be of special interest to Miss MacDowell as its heroine is also named Gerty.) Nausicaa is the second of three consecutive episodes that emphasize the role of print in Dublin, though signs of reading are present throughout Ulysses, not simply the literary allusions of the author, but the reading habits of the citizens of Dublin. Much has been made of Joyce’s oral virtues, almost to the point of overshadowing this bookish element; many of the lists of Cyclops, for example, defy easy utterance. They represent the thoroughness of print. The presumed danger of reading is the first jest of the Quixote; as for Gerty, remember that Flaubert referred to Emma Bovary as a “female Quixote.”
This is the second time in Ulysses we have been taken to Sandymount Strand: the first occasion featured Stephen Dedalus. For this reason, I believe that Gerty MacDowell, like Stephen, is twenty two years of age, and that the pairing of these two episodes by location, also creates a couple who reveal the result of some seven years of determined reading. (Not an exact number: “seven is dear to the mystic mind.” (ix:27)) True, the material Stephen peruses has a loftier intellectual content, but the quality of attention they pay to their preferred text is much the same.
Gerty’s wardrobe is described with great care; two items have, as it were, a price tag. The length of eggblue chenille “seven fingers two and a penny.” (xiii:160) A finger is a unit of measurement with which I am unfamiliar, other than as a measure of volume (“I’ll take two fingers, barkeep”). The OED tells us that it is a U.S. measure, about four inches. Found at Clery’s summer sales and slightly shopsoiled, presumably this is a bargain. She paid three and eleven for a pair of silk stockings; (xiii:499) the 1902 Sears Roebuck catalogue lists a pair of silk stockings at 98 cents, a rough equivalent based on the old formula that one shilling equals two bits; these would not be top of the line. We learn a great deal about Molly’s clothes in Penelope (indeed, it is a recurring topic throughout Ulysses); significantly, she is not so sure about cost: “a peachblossom dressing jacket like the one long ago in Walpoles only 8/6 or 18/6.” (xviii:1497) Of course, she need not be concerned with cost: her husband buys things for her.