The Ursuline Manual in 'Circe'

U 15.4197: Prayer for the suffering souls in the Ursuline manual

In the climactic scene in 'Circe' when Stephen is upbraided by his mother’s apparition in the brothel she says to him:

Prayer is allpowerful. Prayer for the suffering souls in the Ursuline manual and forty days' indulgence. (U 15.4197-8)

Later in the same scene the mother says:

Inexpressible was my anguish when expiring with love, grief and agony on Mount Calvary. (U 15.4239-40)

These latter words are from a prayer entitled 'A Reparation of Honour to the Sacred Heart, to be made on the Feast itself, or at any other time, in presence of the Blessed Sacrament', found at pages 397-9 of the 1841 edition of the Ursuline Manual printed in Dublin by Richard Coyne, 4, Capel Street.1

The relevant passage (apart from the mother’s 'my' instead of 'thy') reads:

Inexpressible, we know, was the bitterness with which the multitude of our sins overwhelmed thy tender heart; insufferable the weight of our iniquities, which pressed thy face to the earth in the garden of Olives, and insurmountable thy anguish, when expiring with love, grief, and agony, on Mount Calvary, in thy last breath thou wouldst reclaim sinners to their duty and repentance.

Earlier editions of the Ursuline Manual had already been published. The fourth edition of 1841, revised and enlarged, is entitled in full:

The Ursuline Manual or a collection of prayers, spiritual exercises &c. &c. interspersed with the various instructions necessary for forming youth to the practice of solid piety arranged for the young ladies educated at the Ursuline Convent Cork.

A prefatory note from a member of the clergy praises the book for its 'fervent Piety, interesting Instructions and useful Doctrinal Expositions', and recommends it for use 'in Religious Communities, but likewise in Private Families, and as a Devotional Book to the Faithful in general'. It should be clear from the title and from this recommendation what the nature of the publication was.

In keeping with the reference by Stephen’s mother, the manual contains, in addition to the prayer addressed to the Sacred Heart, a section on Devotion for the Souls in Purgatory with accompanying prayer at pages 311-14, and a section on Indulgences at pages 189-91.

As the full title suggests, the Ursuline Manual takes its name from the Ursuline religious order of nuns whose patron is Saint Ursula, a legendary saint of the fourth century. According to legend Saint Ursula had numerous virgin companions who were invoked as protectors of navigators, and these help swell the numbers of the procession in ‘Cyclops’ (U 12.1712). The order was founded in Italy in 1535 and was the first institute for women dedicated exclusively to the education of girls.2 The Ursulines came to Cork from France in 1771.

Joyce's brother, Stanislaus, says of his paternal grandmother, Ellen O’Connell:

She had been educated by the Ursuline nuns, and in the attic of our Martello Terrace house there were a number of leather-bound French prayer-books that she had kept from her convent days, the symbol of culture in Cork when she was a girl.3

A recent study shows the manual to have been compiled in the Ursuline Convent, Cork about the time of Ellen O’Connell’s likely attendance there.4

Frederick Lang has previously noted that the prayer addressed to the Sacred Heart is to be found in Devotions to the Sacred Heart of Jesus translated and revised by Rev. Joseph Joy Dean, published in 1841 and subsequently.5 These Devotions were translated from the French and the cult of the Sacred Heart is itself French in origin.6 (The 2008 edition of Gifford and Seidman fails to mention Lang’s discovery, continuing to state that the source of the prayer is unknown.7)

Because of the popularity of devotions of this kind in nineteenth century Ireland the prayer can be found in many sources and the Ursuline Manual is only one of many. The background to the manual however shows it to have been compiled by and for women, which makes it not unsuitable for mention by a female character, May Dedalus.

Áine Nolan


1 The 1841 edition can be found at

2 Encyclopedia of World Religions, ed. Bruno Becchio and Johannes P Schadé (Concord Publishing, 2006), under ‘Ursulines’.

3 Stanislaus Joyce, My Brother’s Keeper (London: Faber and Faber, 1982), 44.

4 For details of the compilation of the manual see Gerardine Meaney, Mary O'Dowd, and Bernadette Whelan, Reading the Irish Woman: Studies in Cultural Encounters and Exchange, 1714-1960 (Liverpool University Press, 2013), 63-4.

5 Frederick K. Lang, Ulysses and the Irish God (Associated University Presses, Inc., 1993), 92-3.

6 Anne O’Connor, Translation and Language in Nineteenth-Century Ireland: A European Perspective (Palgrave Macmillan UK, 2017), 51.

7 Don Gifford, with Robert J. Seidman, Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce’s Ulysses, Second Edition Revised and Enlarged (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008) p. 518.

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