Bonsoir la compagnie
U 14.1534-6: Closingtime, gents. Eh? Rome boose for the Bloom toff [...] Play low, pardner. Slide. Bonsoir la compagnie.
There are several options we can chose from to explain where Joyce’s “Bonsoir la compagnie” comes from. The most straightforward is that it is simply a conventional French expression of farewell (literally ‘Goodnight the company’).
This doesn’t tell us enough, though. It’s quite possible that James Joyce or his father was familiar with Constance Maud’s song Bonsoir la Compagnie, published by Boosey and Co in 1896 (there is a rare copy in the British Library). 1896 was quite early in Constance Maud’s career, but she had already published several songs, and in the previous year had published the fictional tale Wagner’s Heroes.
In France the tune or "air" Bonsoir, la Compagnie dates back to at least 1724, where it may be found – to different words - in Le theatre de la foire, ou L'opera comique (Paris, vol. 4, p. 63). We can find the musical score in Chansons Choisies (Geneva, 1782, vol. 3, No. 17 (at end)), which opens as illustrated.
And this 1782 version includes the poem which Arnold translates – and which was not unfamiliar to French and English readers at the time. It is by a pleasure-loving French cleric, Gabriel Charles de L’Attaignant - the Abbé de L’Attaignant. One might see some similarities between Joyce’s life and that of L’Attaignant:
Bernard Benstock aptly notes (in Narrative Con/texts in Ulysses, p. 193) that Bannon, who has just found out that Bloom is his new girlfriend's father, and Mulligan, who wants to give Stephen the slip to Westland Row station, are taking French leave.
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