Squirrel - dead or alive? 

U 18.129-30: that American that had the squirrel talking stamps with father 

Molly's memory of “that American that had the squirrel talking stamps with father” looks straightforward enough at a first glance, and yet gives rise to a number of questions that cannot be decided with absolute certainty.

  Excluding the possibility that Major Tweedy was talking stamps to a squirrel, we still cannot be sure if its American was male or female, if the squirrel was alive or a piece of furry clothing worn by the American, or (if it was a live squirrel) the American had it with him or her when talking stamps.

Squirrel fur (less likely). Squirrel as a short form of "squirrel fur" is certainly documented by the OED, and we may be intrigued by the fact that Joyce announced to Nora in a letter of 1 November 1909:

I hope to send you a splendid set of furs which I am selecting specially. They are grey squirrel. There would be a grey squirrel cap with violets at the side and a long broad flat stole of grey squirrel and a beige granny muff of the same on a steel chain, both lined with violet satin. Would you like that, dear? I hope I may be able to get it for you. Letters II, p. 258

  In addition, Molly is interested in clothes, so might treasure such detail.

  But unfortunately that reading would hardly make sense if the stamp-collector in question was male, as we would assume in company with the first translations of Ulysses which Joyce supervised: Morel has "cet Américain" and Goyert "des Amerikaners" (men wearing squirrel fur were the exception rather than the rule). Both translators take it for granted that the squirrel was alive and accompanying its owner on his visit to the Tweedys. Morel: "qui avait un écureul" and Goyert: "der das Eichhörnchen hatte". In both cases this would not work for an item of clothing.

Squirrel as pet (more likely). Unlike Joyce's contemporaries few readers today would be familiar with the fact that "pet squirrels" were actually quite a craze in the 19th and into the 20th century. In 1922 Warren G. Harding was in the White House, the 29th President of the United States. President Warren had a pet squirrel called Pete, as this photograph from 1922 documents. See Natalie Zarrelli’s article, “When Squirrels Were One of America’s Most Popular Pets”, in Atlas Obscura 28 April 2017.

The story goes back, of course, much further. Holbein's picture of a lady at the court of Henry VIII painted in the 1620s shows how old this kind of companionship was.

  Joyce added the squirrel conundrum only in the 3rd placard, so just a few months before the publication of Ulysses when he was hastily adding flesh the so far rather skeletal portraits of the Blooms' parents.

Harald Beck

Fig. 1: "Pete, the pet squirrel, at the White House" (Harris & Ewing, photographer (1922)

Fig. 2: Portrait of a Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling (1526-8) Hans Holbein the Younger