U 15.4170: Mulligan meets the afflicted mother.
Richard Ellmann notes that this remark by the phantasmic figure of Buck Mulligan in Nighttown was “based upon a story current in Dublin”. The story recounted that Oliver St John Gogarty, the original of Mulligan, “returning home late one night during his medical course, staggered up the steps of his home on Rutland Square, reciting a station of the Cross at each step until, as he reached the top of the stairs and his worried mother opened the door, he concluded ‘Gogarty meets the afflicted mother’.”(JJII 366). Two unpublished letters from “the afflicted mother” herself, Margaret Gogarty (see the photograph below), are relevant in fleshing out the background to the relationship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.
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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