The forgotten arm-strap
U 6.10-12: He passed an arm through the armstrap and looked seriously from the open carriage window at the lowered blinds of the avenue.
When Bloom enters the mourning carriage on the way to Paddy Dignam’s funeral he takes his seat and then passes his arm through an arm-strap. The arm-strap was a familiar item in horse-drawn carriages, early motor cars, and even railway coaches – but these days we have all but forgotten what they are. Joyce’s annotators pass over the term, perhaps not even noticing it, and the major dictionaries of English elect not to include it.
But the arm-strap has a long history and an important purpose, similar though not identical to today’s seat-belts. Arm-straps didn’t protect the passenger being thrown forward in the event of an accident, but they helped to prevent the passenger swaying about and knocking into fellow passengers when the carriage or car rocked about on bumpy roads.
How can we tell what these arm-straps looked like? In reconditioned horse-drawn carriages the interior furnishings have often been replaced and the arm-straps are no longer in evidence. But this is not always the case.
In these two carriages we can see arm-straps similar to those Bloom passed his arm through. The looped design of the first illustration makes it easier to make out the straps inside each door. In the second illustration the strap is more difficult to make out, as it lies flush with the wall of the carriage and the decorative material forming the strap harmonises with the ribbon of material along the upper edge and the rear corner of the carriage:
For another image of a pair of polished leather arm-straps see the interior of a carriage illustrated above.
A similar design was found in railway coaches. See the side view of a carriage seat and window in The car-builder's dictionary: an illustrated vocabulary of terms which designate American railroad cars, their parts, attachments, and details of construction (1895) figure 501 “An English first-class carriage”:
The arm-strap is not shown to its best advantage in this two-dimensional illustration. The number marking its location (200) can be found at the bottom right of the window; the arm-strap itself is the decorative strip passing down the right-hand side of the window glass.
When we turn to cars the arm-strap is more easily identified. The Locomobile Company of America published their marketing booklet The Car of 1912 in 1911. The workmanlike but elegant “38” Limousine had arm-straps by the side of the rear bench-seat:
whereas the grander “48” Limousine had an altogether more relaxing environment, with soft arm-straps hanging from the plush ceiling of the carriage alongside the car’s fashionable window blinds.
We may have forgotten this piece of standard equipment provided for the comfort of passengers, but Bloom was quite familiar with arm-straps as he took his seat in the carriage for Dignam’s funeral.
Search by keyword (within this site): Transport Railways Funeral