Cross words for crossed letters
U 18.740-1: those long crossed letters Atty Dillon used to write
A look at the first translations of Ulysses by Georg Goyert (1927) and Auguste Morel (1929), and also at the celebrated second German translation by Hans Wollschläger (1976), shows that the meaning of this collocation was not clear to the translators: neither “langes Zeug”, nor “lettres écrites en large et en long”, nor “diese ellenlangen Briefe” captures its true meaning.
The OED defines this sense of “crossed” as: “(of a letter) written with lines crossing at right angles”.
Irate men confronted with “crossed letters” alleged the practice was of female origin, and the "Prince of Preachers", the famous Charles Haddon Spurgeon (also of Ulysses fame), stated quite categorically in his autobiography:
Economising may have been an important reason to write crossed letters but presumably there was a certain aesthetic pleasure and teasing involved, too:
Crossed letter - early 19th century (Wikimedia Commons)
Among famous women writers who wrote “crossed letters” we find Jane Austen and Anne Brontë. Male writers like Captain Frederick Marryat were not amused:
One irate correspondent inveighed against the writing of crossed letters in the newspapers in 1871:
Less than a year before Joyce added a paragraph to the Rosenbach manuscript of Penelope containing “those long crossed letters” in 1921, he had copied the following phrase into a notebook (NLI MS 36.639/5A): "ladies closely crossed letter". He may have found the phrase in Peter Parley, Tales about the Sun, Moon, and Stars of 1837 (p. 362).
A Portrait of the Artist shows that Joyce was familiar with the popular Peter Parley tales (see Peter Parley’s Tales of the Ancients elsewhere in JJON).
Joyce's Environs >