Rheumatic wheels

D (“The Sisters”) 262-5: If we could only get one of them newfangled carriages that makes no noise that Father O’Rourke told him about – them with the rheumatic wheels – for the day cheap […]

Eliza, one of poor Father Flynn's ignorant sisters, seems prone to malapropisms: she also turns the Freeman’s Journal into the Freeman’s General. In the first version of the story this mistake is still attributed to Nannie by the young, rather blunt narrator:

Of course, neither of his sisters were very intelligent. Nannie, for instance, had been reading out the newspaper to him every day for years, and could read tolerably well, and yet she always spoke of it as the Freeman's General.

The Irish Homestead (1904) 13 August, p. 675

The whole section about the planned outing to the old house was only added when Joyce revised the story for publication in book form in 1905.

Just five years before the reverend James Flynn died in 1895 John Boyd Dunlop had opened his small factory in Dublin for the newfangled pneumatic tyres he had invented for his son's tricycle. Almost immediately the tyre was jokingly referred to as the “rheumatic” tyre - Eliza may very well have picked it up from gossip.

Engelsche en Duitsche vakbladen gaan voort, luide de loftrompet te steken over den hollen luchtdrukband (Pneumatic tyre, of, zooals een niet-vakblad voor eenigen tijd schreef: "Rheumatic tyre").

De Kampioen (1890) 1 May 1890, p. 149/1

THE RHEUMATIC TIRE. Mrs. Buskom — "What is the matter with Mr. Green? He looks dreadful."

Mrs. Green — "He's been learning to ride a bicycle, and he thinks the rheumatic tire was too much for him."

Judge's library: a monthly magazine of fun (1893) August, p. 57/2

A man who has a rheumatic tire can’t go very fast.

Dallas Morning News (1893) 7 August, p. 4

Mrs Partington’s Successor

From Harper’s Bazar.

"My son has taken to riding those two-wheezicles," said Mrs Spriggins, "and he's perfectly crazy about 'em. He buys every new fandango that comes out. What with rheumatic tires and patent feet gear and cycloramas to show how far he's rid, he's just ruining himself as far as fiancees are concerned."

Macon Telegraph (Georgia) (1896) 6 April, p. 4

Green Purchaser (in automobile warerooms) — My friend sent me here to get a rheumatic tire.

Clerk — Rheumatic? You mean pneumatic, don't you?

Green Purchaser — Perhaps it is pneumatic. I thought it was called rheumatic because it's swelled.

Popular mechanics (1910), October, p. 610

The tyre was to be seen at a number of stands at the Stanley Show in January, 1890, and caused no end of comment, criticism and interest. One of the humorous features of this exhibition was the hollow rubber-cushioned tyre shown by Stanley Brothers. It bore a ticket designating it as the "rheumatic" tyre. This caused plenty of fun and was looked upon as a good joke.

Herbert Osbaldeston Duncan, The world on wheels (1927), p. 595

Eliza's substitution of "tyre" by "wheel" cannot be documented for almost another decade. Her totum pro parte is perhaps another, more subtle hint that she does not really know what the newfangled invention is all about.

Harald Beck

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