Don’t leave your mother an orphan!
U 14.1122-3: - O no, Vincent, Lenehan said, laying a hand on the shoulder near him. Have no fear. He [Stephen Dedalus] could not leave his mother an orphan.
Once again Joyce dug into the treasure trove of Irish bulls to add another “gem” to Lenehan's seemingly inexhaustible repertoire. The joke made an early appearance in America and was reprinted verbatim for decades to come:
An Irishman receiving a challenge to fight a duel, declined.
On being asked the reason, "Och," said Pat, "would you have me leave his mother an orphan?"
Cincinatti Mirror (1835) 3 October, p. 391
The first appearance of this Irish bull in a British publication seems to be in the Preston Guardian of Saturday 12 May, 1849 (p. 3). It was further reprinted in Tit-bits in 1882, and later made its way into collections such as W. H. Howe’s Irish wit and humor (New York, 1898), p. 145, and H. P. Kelly’s Irish bulls and puns (first ed. apparently New York 1906). Joyce owned a copy of the London edition of Kelly (Skeffington: n.d.).
Lenehan's grossly insensitive remark (Stephen's mother died less than a year earlier, and he could hardly not have known about it) slyly insinuates - with the duelling context of the joke - that Stephen would not be up to a challenge that required courage.
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