Stephen’s stroll on the strand

At the opening of the third chapter of Ulysses (Proteus) we encounter Stephen Dedalus mid-thought and mid-stride on Sandymount strand. A few lines before, at the end of the previous chapter (Nestor), we had just left him, over seven miles away, departing down the gravel path of Mr Deasy’s school (Summerfield Lodge) in Dalkey.

To the initial reader the how, why and when Stephen is on the strand is not clear and true to the protean nature of this chapter his movements are difficult to pin down with any certainty. Later in the chapter at 3:61 we get a first hint of a material reason why Stephen is there:

His pace slackened. Here. Am I going to aunt Sara’s or not?

The ‘when’ is only clearly anchored in chapter six (Hades) where at 6:38-43 as the funeral cortège progresses up Irishtown road past Watery Lane (Dermott O’Hurley Avenue) we read:

The carriage swerved from the tramtrack to the smoother road past Watery lane. Mr Bloom at gaze saw a lithe young man, clad in mourning, a wide hat.

– There’s a friend of yours gone by, Dedalus, he said.

– Who is that?

– Your son and heir.

This is Stephen Dedalus heading south-east towards the strand. We can now place this incident as being about 11.10 with Paddy Dignam’s funeral cortège having set off from Newbridge avenue just after 11.00. So when we stumble into Stephen’s thoughts at the start of Proteus it is about 11.25 am and he has ventured out across the strand.

There is little doubt that Joyce would have considered how Stephen had arrived at the strand even though it occurs outside the text of the narrative. Joyce’s desire for verisimilitude meant that we spent most of the text devoted to the Proteus chapter in James Joyce’s Dublin, A Topographical Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses (2004) discussing the ‘how’ of Stephen’s arrival at Sandymount. The Nestor/Proteus nexus has been dealt with in detail on pages 28-31 of James Joyce’s Dublin. Apart from a few minor adjustments, there is no point in repeating it all here, but suffice to say that Stephen most likely catches the 10.00 train from Bray at Dalkey station at 10.10 and arrives in Westland Row station at 10.42. He then sets out along Brunswick street towards Irishtown and eventually Sandymount strand.

After some fieldwork on the Strand, timings for the episode are now offered as:

10.10 Train from Dalkey

10.42 Arrival at Westland Row

11.10 Watery Lane

11.13 past Strasburg Terrace

11.27 near Leahy’s Terrace

11.32 turns in the direction of the Pigeon House

11.40 reaches his farthest eastward point

11.50 sees the Rosevean; begins in his walk his back along the ‘Poolbeg road’

12.05 catches a tram

12.25 sends telegram

It was in looking at the maps offered in James Joyce’s Dublin that I felt the map on page 31 depicting Stephen’s route on the strand was, while correct, rather timid and unsatisfactory in covering a whole chapter of Ulysses. However, pinning anything to the shifting sands of Proteus was always going to be less than definitive, but certain features and actions were discernible. So with ‘Dan Occam’ (3:123) whispering in my ear “keep it simple” I decided to attempt a more informative two-page spread map of Stephen’s stroll on the strand for the revised edition of the book.

Stephen’s Stroll on Sandymount strand

The walk on Strand happens between the sighting of Stephen by Watery Lane and his catching a tram back to central Dublin on his way to the newspaper office via College Green post office. The map above is an attempt to offer a possible simple solution to Stephen’s perambulations by highlighting six passages from the text.

Stephen initially intends to visit his Aunt Sara at Strasburg terrace but obviously avoids going there directly and heads for the strand via The Green.

3:3 the nearing tide

It is about 11.25 with high tide on 16 June 1904 at 12.42 pm (Thom’s, 1904, p. 15).

3:18-19 Am I walking into eternity along Sandymount strand?

Map button A – Even after so much land reclamation Sandymount strand can still offer an impressive sense of infinity with your eyes open.

Sandymount strand 2012: photograph Ian Gunn

3:29 They came down the steps from Leahy’s terrace

Map button B – Stephen, walking with his eyes shut, has curved round and on opening his eyes sees two "midwives" descending from the steps on to the strand.

3:55-6 They are coming, waves.

With the tide coming in Stephen starts moving nearer the shore.

3:61 His pace slackened. Here. Am I going to aunt Sara’s or not?

Map button C – As he nears Leahy’s terrace he wonders about his intentions.

3:147 The grainy sand had gone from under his feet.

He turns back northwestward. He is now walking closer to the Irishtown shore line.

3:158-60 He halted. I have passed the way to aunt Sara’s. Am I not going there? Seems not. No-one about. He turned northeast and crossed the firmer sand towards the pigeonhouse.

Map button D – Still dithering, he realises that he has overshot his destination.

3:205-6 His feet marched in sudden proud rhythm over the sand furrows, along by the boulders of the south wall.

Map button E – He continues towards the South wall. Having finally abandoned the idea of calling at Strasburg terrace he walks with more resolve.

3:265-9 He had come nearer the edge of the sea and wet sand slapped his boots. [] Here, I am not walking out to the Kish lightship am I? He stood suddenly, his feet beginning to sink slowly in the quaking soil. Turn back.

Stephen reaches his furthest east point asking himself rhetorically and jocularly if he is intending to continue as far as the Kish lightship in the middle of Dublin bay.

3:270-1 Turning, he scanned the shore south, his feet sinking again slowly in new sockets. The cold domed room of the tower waits.

He turns and looks south in the direction of Sandycove and thinks of the Tower.

3:278-9 He lifted his feet up from the suck and turned back by the mole of boulders.

He is sinking into the increasingly wet sand and is in danger of getting wet feet from the incoming tide.

3:282-5 The flood is following me. I can watch it flow past from here. Get back then by the Poolbeg road to the strand there. He climbed over the sedge and eely oarweeds and sat on a stool of rock, resting his ashplant in a grike.

Map button F – Stephen climbs up on to the breakwater and sits on a rock looking back south over the strand. While there he watches a dog (3:310) and “cocklepickers” (3:331).

3:326-7 Do you see the tide flowing quicky in on all sides, sheeting the lows of sand quickly, shellcocoacoloured?

The tide continues to flow in.

3:453-4 In long lassoes from the Cock lake the water flowed full, covering greengoldenly lagoons of sand, rising, Flowing.

The rising tidal streams from the Cock lake blend with Stephen’s urination.

3:461 Under the upswelling tide he saw the writhing weeds lift languidly …

There is now no way back on to the strand from where Stephen sits.

3:503 He turned his face over a shoulder, rere regardant. Moving through the air high spars of a threemaster …

Map button F – Stephen looks over his shoulder and sees the masts of the Rosevean heading up the Liffey. Stephen probably leaves immediately to go to central Dublin, walking via the Pigeon House Road, Cambridge Road, Thorncastle Street, and Bridge Road to take a tram to College Green.

The most difficult location to determine is where Stephen stops and climbs up off the strand to a rock. He does not really have enough time to make it all the way along to the Pigeonhouse but he needs to be far enough east to observe the incoming tidal streams running from the Cock lake. He also needs a point where he can clamber up fairly easily and be able to see the ‘threemaster’ by just turning his head.

The route today: overlay on GoogleEarth composite image

The reclamation of Joyce’s reputation as a writer in the Dublin of the 1960s ran apace with the reclamation of Sandymount strand. As the map above shows, the proposed route placed over a modern aerial photograph indicates that retracing Stephen’s stroll would require no sand-covered footsteps today.

In 2012 I endeavoured to replicate the stroll with a stop-watch. While the fieldwork required detouring round a hurley match, weaving between houses and accommodating a blocked container yard access, it was still possible to get a good idea of the time required to cover the route. From the moment Stephen steps on to the strand to the point where he sits down on the rock on the breakwater appears to take a leisurely 35 minutes and with a 10-minute stay before setting off would give Stephen adequate time to return to central Dublin by catching a tram near Bridge road.

As suits its theme it is difficult to be certain about much topographically in this chapter and there are no doubt other ways to join the dots on Stephen’s stroll. The current proposed map is an attempt to avoid too much complexity while accommodating as many of the set points as can be grasped in such a mutable subject. Whether it can stand the sands of time or the shifting tides of Joycean scholarship we have yet to see.

Ian Gunn

Search by keyword (within this site): Topography Strand Bray Dalkey Sandymount Funeral