The two maries re-examined 

U 3.297 From farther away, walking shoreward across from the crested tide, figures, two. The two maries.

U 7.853 By the Nilebank the babemaries kneel, cradle of bulrushes. 

In the first draft of the Proteus episode (NLI 36,639/7A) Stephen Dedalus observes two women approaching Sandymount strand:

They came down the shelving shore prudently, their flabby bodies on splayed feet sinking in the silted sand. One carried a bag like a midwife’s, the other an umbrella with which she poked at times and turned over a shell of the beach.

In the second draft (Buffalo V.A.3) they are called Frauenzimmer. Joyce, living in Zurich, would have been familiar with the perplexing German compound for “womenfolk” and its condescending, even slightly contemptuous undertones (though how our Dublin artist as a young man would have known about that is less obvious).

  When Stephen sees the two figures again during his wanderings Joyce refers to them as “the two damsels” in the second draft, but then decides against it and leaves it at “figures. The two.” In the fair copy (the Rosenbach manuscript) they eventually become: “figures, two. The two maries.” 

There is no doubt about a small m, so Joyce regarded “maries” as a generic term rather than as a reference to the Virgin Mary and Mary Magdalene unexpectedly looking for cockles on Sandymount Strand, as commentaries would have it. As an extra catch to that theory Stephen decides to identify one of them as “Mrs Florence MacCabe, relict of the late Patk MacCabe, deeply lamented”.

  Nevertheless the word “maries” has baffled attentive readers and commentators of Ulysses for a long time, although the English Dialect Dictionary offers a plausible explanation: “3. Obs. A maid of honour; a female attendant.” Plausible because we are in the mind of a character who is rigorously poeticising the banal reality before his eyes, turning two Dublin biddies into Frauenzimmer, damsels and maries, and telling us with an obscure, archaic word that one of the two is swinging her bag ”lourdily” (which, like “maries”, is an obsolete word). In a way Joyce here anticipates on a micro-scale his governing technique in the Oxen of the Sun episode.

  One of the quotations offered by the EDD points to Sir Walter Scott, and a footnote to Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border (1803) offers this explanation: “The Queen’s Maries were four young ladies of the highest families in Scotland.”1 

  So it is no coincidence that Joyce tried “damsels” before he decided on “maries” on the axis of selection. The OED’s definition for damsel 1.3 anticipates what we find in the Scott commentaries and the English Dialect Dictionary: “A maid in waiting, a female attendant. Originally a young lady of gentle birth, as maid of honour or waiting-woman to a lady of rank; but gradually extended downward.”

  Joyce uses the word ”maries” again in the Aeolus chapter, taking up the bulrushes association from Proteus in a context focused on Moses. “By the Nilebank the maries kneel”. This obviously refers to ladies in waiting on the pharaoh’s daughter who found Moses in the “cradle of bulrushes” (Exodus 2:1-10). In the first typescript of the summer of 1918 (manuscript missing) Joyce appropriately changes this to “babemaries”.

  Again the proper name Mary is irrelevant for an understanding of this passage.

Harald Beck


1 I am grateful to Vincent Deane who remembered seeing the mystery word in Scott commentaries.