GENETIC JOYCE STUDIES - Issue 10 (Spring 2010)
 

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Re:Reading in the Rain

Newer Sources and Holiday Reading in the Prairies (VI.B.14) Notebook

 

Robbert-Jan Henkes

 

Summer 1924. On the Feastday of the Elevated Ankle. In the Municipal Library of the fortified town of Saint-Malo in Brittany, Joyce is reading. Outside the rain is pouring down. Dissipated clouds empty their red rains over the Land of the Past. Brittanny! Where all coastal towns were called Armoricae.

‘Les huîtres, monsieur!’ A smell of cooking is coming from the tiny kitchen of the librarian. Little does he know that in twenty years time his castle of books will burn to oblivion as a result of Allied bombings.

Spring never took off and the great water manufacturer up above decided to inundate the summer as well. Foggy dew and brine abound. July at its worst. Most certainly so. Gale born gravel is coming right out of January’s teeth, as if the seasons had switched places. Water worshipping angels are playing bagpipes deep into the bosom of the night.

‘I augur twill be worse,’ the quaking librarian, M. Herpin, says. ‘How nice!’ M. Joyce answers. ‘Oui oui, it could scarcely be bettered.’ M. Herpin sighs. ‘As we say in Bretagne: After three days we all tire of the rain, of our wife and of being abroad.’

 

What is M. Joyce reading with nothing better to do? M. Joyce is reading about Brittany, its customs and traditions. He is skimming though articles and books of the great folklorist Paul Sébillot. And through the textual Hubble telescope of time, we slowly get to know what exactly he has lain his lone and tired and sick eyes upon. It is not the 1909 volume of the Annales de la Société d’histoire et d’archéologie de l’arrondissement Saint-Malo. And neither is it the 1910 volume of the Revue de Bretagne, de Vendée & d’Anjou. Different holiday lecture has come to light since the first installment of ‘Reading in the Rain’ in the Spring of 2009: an ordinary traveler’s handbook, an encyclopedic excerpt about druids, two historical explorations of the Mont Saint-Michel, a booklet about the Gauls and some still unidentified work of an informational nature about the town where M. Joyce is staying, Saint-Malo, written by a relative of the librarian, M. Eugène Herpin.

Let’s have a closer look at the two books he is reading now.

 

Sometimes Joyce seems almost human. Through our genetic time telescope we see him reading about the Mont Saint-Michel, and apparently for no other reason than his upcoming touristic outing to the Mount, in the beginning of August, in a week or so. Almost human – for it isn’t the ordinary sightseers’ guidebooks that Joyce reads, telling you where and when to look left to the transept built in 1563 where the bones of the 23d bishop of Avranches lie, or so they say, with pictures of all the things you don’t realize you haven’t seen. For Joyce no picture books, but good old-fashioned books with letters, lots of letters. He wasn’t allowed to strain his eyes with writing, on doctor Borsch’s orders, but the good ophthalmologist had said nothing about reading.

The books Joyce read in preparation for his city trip are two tomes by Étienne Dupont (Avranches, 29 December 1864 - Saint-Malo 1928). Dupont was a historian with a penchant for out of the way legends and hard-to-find archival matter. He was for some time curator of the Saint-Malo public library and its archives, and he was one of the founders of the Société d’histoire et d’archéologie de l’arrondissement de Saint-Malo, and published in its Annales.

Dupont’s Le Mont Saint-Michel Inconnu, as the title implies, is a collection of lesser known stories about the legendary Mount, and it caused Joyce to jot down 72 notes, of which only one may have been used, 056(a) ‘quartermaster’, although the word itself does not appear as such in Dupont. His Les légendes du Mont-Saint-Michel, which Joyce read first, is a collection of stories and anecdotes, old and new, true and legendary, about the abbey and the prisons of the Mount. Joyce’s first note (of fifty) is of a compositional nature, 022(d) ‘tell in style of legend (Knock)’ – occasioned by Dupont, in his introduction, warning the reader that this is not a historical, philological work, of the kind Dupont specializes in — he is a true archivist, always ready to tell us where he found a manuscript or a piece of information, a man after my heart — but that these are anecdotes and legends pure and simple, told just like they are, without footnotes, commentaries or different versions of the same story. Joyce’s note would then refer to the old legends being told, in Dupont’s words ‘with such an intensity that you’d think they are real.’ Yes, very much like Finnegans Wake.

Having telescoped down the source, I have been able to supplement a couple of tentative transcriptions and correct a few mistranscriptions in the Brepols edition of Notebook Prairies VI.B.14. Sometimes regrettably: unfortunately there is no such word as ‘nombrilisme’ on 033(f), the word is Tombelaine. On the other hand it is nice to know that it says ‘goglu’ and ‘pisteur’ on 32(g) and to know what it is about. And there is a joke that has become clear, the one about flatchested women being called huguenotes on 031(a), because they don’t worship the saints, which sounds the same as seins, breasts.

Interesting!

A pity that these notes were never used in Finnegans Wake. But at least M. Joyce, when he visited the Mont Saint-Michel, knew infinitely more than he possibly could see.

 

Notebook pages

Source

total / used

Prairies B.14.015(g)-(j)

Cook’s Traveler’s Handbook for Normandy & Brittany (1923) [Mikio Fuse]

4 / 0

 

 

Notebook pages

Source

total / used

Prairies B.14.029(a)-(r)

M. Sabbathier, Dictionnaire pour l’intelligence des auteurs classiques, Grecs et Latins, tant sacrés que profanes, contenant la géographie, l’histoire, la fable et les antiquités, vol. 14 (1773) [Dirk Van Hulle] /

OR Joseph François Gabriel Hennequin, Esprit de L’Encyclopédie, ou recueil des articles les plus curieux et les plus intéressans de l’encyclopédie, en ce qui concerne l’histoire, la morale, la littérature et la philosophie  (1822) [Mikio Fuse]

OR Diderot - Encyclopedie, première édition, tome 5 [Dirk Van Hulle]

18 / 0

Prairies B.14.021(d)-022(d); 030(g)-031(g); 032(c)-033(f)

Étienne Dupont, Les légendes du Mont-Saint-Michel, Historiettes et anecdotes sur l’abbaye et les prisons, Perrin, Paris, n.d. (1924, Nouvelle édition) [Robbert-Jan Henkes]

50 / 4

 

 

Notebook pages

Source

total / used

Prairies B.14.045(d)-046(a); 053(k)-054(f); 055(l)-057(e); 059(b)-(k); 068(e); 068(g)-070(e)

Étienne Dupont, Le Mont Saint-Michel Inconnu, D’après des documents inédits, Librairie Perrin et Cie., Paris 1912 [Robbert-Jan Henkes]

72 / 1

 

 

Notebook pages

Source

total / used

Prairies B.14.046(e)-(f); 046(j)-047(a)

Albert Grenier, Les Gaulois, Collection Payot, 1923 [Robbert-Jan Henkes]

7 / 1

 

 

Notebook pages

Source

total / used

Prairies B.14.075(k)-076(h)

[Eugène Herpin, in:] ? Annales de la société historique et archéologique de l'arrondissement de Saint-Malo 1911 [Robbert-Jan Henkes]

13 / 1

 

 

 


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