The afflicted mother – two letters
U 15.4170: Mulligan meets the afflicted mother.
Two unpublished letters from “the afflicted mother” herself, Margaret Gogarty (see the photograph on the left), are relevant in fleshing out the background to the relationship between Joyce and Gogarty, which, as we know, is mirrored by that between Stephen and Mulligan. They are not, alas, to John Stanislaus Joyce (that would have been worth reading) but of interest nonetheless.
The letters are to Thomas Kettle, one of Joyce’s circle in his college years. They are written over the New Year period of 1903/4 and are among the Constantine Curran papers held in University College Dublin Library Special Collections. (The collection includes quite a few letters to and from Kettle; how they came to be among the Curran papers I am not quite sure – perhaps Curran was Kettle’s literary executor.) Kettle seems to have been regarded by Mrs Gogarty as a reliable young man who might be able to talk some sense into Oliver. I shall give them in reverse order. In the first letter Mrs Gogarty had asked Kettle to come to visit her in order to discuss what can be done about Oliver. In this second letter she expresses her disappointment that Kettle has declared his inability to make this rendezvous. It is dated New Year’s Day 1904 and sent from 5 Rutland Square, which was also Gogarty’s own address at this time:
The previous letter she had sent to Kettle was dated 30 December 1903, just a couple of days previously.
I think we need be in little doubt as to who the “bad
Catholic” is. This letter, like the other one apparently overlooked by biographers, may well give some indication of the nature of the “call” that Mulligan
says his aunt intends to make on Stephen’s father (U 9.552/3) and it does make
the possibility of such a call, or maybe a letter, more plausible. It is not unlikely that when Mrs Gogarty, in the first letter cited, mentions the possibility of Kettle meeting "us", the "us" refers to her and to Gogarty's aunt, given that Gogarty's father, Dr Henry Gogarty, was no longer alive at this time. Mulligan's aunt, of course, herself features strongly in Ulysses. It
also, incidentally, indicates that Joyce probably did frequent Gogarty’s house
to some extent, making the scene of Mulligan telling his mother that Stephen’s
mother is “beastly dead” more plausible as well.
The passage in Proteus where Stephen remembers being scared of Mulligan's dog and being laughed at by Mulligan for his fear (U.3.310-12) may also indicate that Joyce had visited Gogarty at his home, bearing in mind that Gogarty's father bred setters and knew Giltrap, the owner of the immortal Garryowen.
Reading this letter, especially the original, is a rather uncanny experience. It is as if one were stepping into the book; it reminds us again of how infinitely permeable the boundary between “life” and “art” is in a work such as this. And oblique though the angle is, such material can be useful for the study of Joyce’s work as well as of his life.
See also: Here's a health to Mulligan's aunt, by Harald Beck
The editors are very grateful to Guy St. John Williams for contributing the hitherto-unpublished picture of his great-grandmother.
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