3.393-6: Cissy wiped his little mouth with the dribbling bib and wanted him to
sit up properly and say pa pa pa but when she undid the strap she cried out,
holy saint Denis, that he was possing wet and to double the half blanket the
other way under him.
Robert J. Schork reacts to
the exclamation “holy saint Denis” in a footnote to his Joyce and Hagiography: Saints Above! (p. 205):
both national and devotional points of view, I cannot explain Gerty MacDowell's
] exclamation in
"Nausicaa": "holy saint Denis" (U 13.395).
This is all the more surprising as he
quotes from Paul Mercanton’s memory of Joyce in the preceding lines that Joyce
“was astonished that Saint Denis meant nothing to the French”.1 Mercanton’s following
lines are enlightening:
in "Nausicaa" he put an invocation to Saint Denis in the mouth of one of the
young girls on the beach, just as he had once heard it, for he made up nothing.
Mercanton is undoubtedly quoting Joyce
here, and we should rest assured that the girl’s invocation to “Saint Denis” (the
patron saint of France) was authentic. St Denis was not unfamiliar to the
Irish, and he appears in the opening line of a popular song praising St.
Patrick, sung to the tune of “The Night Larry before was stretched”:
fig for St Denis of France
He's a trumpery fellow to brag on;
A fig for St George and his lance,
Which spitted a heathenish dragon;
And the Saints of the Welshman or Scot
Are a couple of pitiful pipers;
Both of whom may just travel to
Compared with that patron of swipers;
St Patrick of Ireland, my dear!
(1839), p. 290
The exclamation Joyce once heard on a
Dublin beach had obviously been handed on to the girl by her parents’ and grandparents’
generation, as in the following examples either the writers or their characters
all have an Irish background:
the divil a bit you've had man at all to eat with that old crone; I've been
watching her all the time, and by the holy St. Denis of France I'll take my
bible oath that she ate more than any four persons at the table.
1840, p. 272
but had'nt I been handy wid my legs in scaping from that divil Glanville, and
his imps, by the holy St. Dennis, they'd have showed me as much mercy as a
thumb nail would to a flay.
1842, p. 27
What! How -?" ejaculated the astounded pilgrim. "Holy saint Denis!
What's this at all! Why don't ye behave yersilf, ye great omadhaun!
All the Year Round
Holy Saint Denis! lamb has not crossed
my mouth this season. And the day before that?' 'We had,' replied Mr. Flyn, 'two
rabbits and a salmon.'
(1889), vol. 4,
The Authenticated report of the discussion which
took place at Londonderry, between six Roman Catholic priests and six clergymen
of the Established Church, in the diocese of Derry in March 1828 and
published in Dublin that same year shows us that veneration of St. Denis was considered
as typically Irish as that of St. Bridget:
They have no unity in
their devotions either, when we enter a Romish Chapel, we behold one creature
kissing and venerating a picture of Christ, another is prostrate before a
Crucifix, or an image, one is calling on the Virgin, another on a saint
Bridget, or it may be
or perhaps the feigned resemblance of some imaginary saint; memorials you will
call them, how can one of these pictures of a mortal, remind us of the
Denis Carrying His Own Head, woodcut, 1826."
Commons: public domain)
Mercanton, “The Hours of James Joyce”, 219, in Portraits of the Artist in Exile. Recollections of James Joyce by
Europeans, ed. Willard Potts, (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1979).