"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words." ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Sunday, June 14, 2015

His Little Snuff Box

Conkers ~ by Margaret Clarkson
Conkers, also called Hacking Chesnuts: "A formerly common boy's game. A chestnut was tied to a string, and a boy would compete to shatter another boy's chestnut by swinging / hacking his own chestnut at it. Wells's chestnut was a veteran - it had beaten 40 others."
With Bloomsday coming up on Tuesday ~ June 16th ~ I thought I'd take the opportunity to review some of my archived Joyce material from my semester as a student assistant on the James Joyce Quarterly. In Ulysses, Stephan Dedalus in 22 years old, but it is always good to take a look back at his childhood in A Portrait of the Artist as Young Man. When cataloging JJQ articles one afternoon back in the day, I came across a mis - reading of one of Stephen's schoolboy conflicts and wrote the following editorial correction of the discrepancy, which appeared previously in

The Explicator:
Volume 42, Number 4
(Summer 1984)

In her article "'Do You Kiss Your Mother?': Stephen Dedalus' Sovreignity of Ireland," Janet Grayson refers to "the cold, slimy ordeal he [Stephen] has endured for refusing to give up his hacking chestnut." In fact, this skirmish between Stephen and Wells derives from Stephen's refusal to accept the hacking chestnut which belongs not to Stephen but to Wells.

What Stephen won't part with is a little snuffbox. Wells is trying to persuade Stephen to trade the snuff box for Well's own hacking chestnut. Stephen recollects:
That was mean of Wells to shoulder him into the square ditch because he would not swop his little snuffbox for Well's seasoned hacking chestnut, conqueror of forty.
In his notes to A Portrait, Chester G. Anderson includes the significant biographical information that "when Joyce was at Clongowes he had a tiny snuff box in the form of a little black coffin" (p 488).

Because of the emphasis placed upon the hacking chestnut in Joyce criticism, it is important to establish that the chestnut belongs to Wells rather than to Stephen. The conflict caused by the chestnut clearly illuminates Stephen's personality, but owning a hacking chestnut would be incongruous with his character. Any material possession may reflect the character of it's owner, and it would be quite unlike Stephen, who stands on the side - lines of the football game, feeling himself small and weak and "thinking it would be better to be in studyhall" (10), to own a hacking chestnut, conqueror of forty. Stephen is not interested in physically competing with or conquering his school fellows. It is, however, quite in keeping with his artistic sensibility that he would possess a little snuffbox (perhaps coffin - shaped) and prize it enough to suffer the "slimy ordeal" for the sake of keeping it in his possession., Stephen, who is curious about such things as green roses,* is the kind of boy likely to be charmed by the quaintness of a tiny snuffbox and cherish it because of its cunning craftsmanship and the personal or sentimental value it may hold for him.

His Little Snuffbox:
Even more accustomed & ceremonious!


The Fortnightly: Parallax & Snow Was General

Kitti's List: Book Haven

The Quotidian: 2010: Bloomsday

2011: Happy Bloomsday!

2012: Happy Bloomsday to All!

2013: Bloom's Day and Father's Day

2015: Stephen's Dilemma


2009: Never Fear!

2012: Asked and Answered: What Do I Fear?

* "White roses and red roses: those were beautiful colours to think of. . . . Lavender and cream and pink roses were beautiful to think of. Perhaps a wild rose might be like those colours and he remembered the song about the wild rose blossoms on the little green place. But you could not have a green rose. But perhaps somewhere in the world you could."
~ Portrait
, 12 - 13

Next Fortnightly Post ~ "The Young Language of Stephen Dedalus"
Sunday, June 28th

Between now and then, read
my shorter, almost daily blog posts

Looking for a good book? Try
my running list of recent reading

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