Thursday, January 22, 2015

Three Quarks for Muster Mark!--page 383

Yes, we have reached that famous line as of yesterday evening. Ed obliged by rendering the verse in his best imitation of a gull, as apparently that's who's speaking. He said he was lucky not to have to go too much further with it as it was a bit painful.

We find ourselves pretty deep in the tale of Tristan and Isolde and spent some time getting a grip on what the story is or was, as there seems to be more than one version. In any case, the archetypal nature of the relationship was seized upon, as apparently it descends from or at least echoes an an old Persian tale, and also bears a resemblance to the doomed love triangle of King Arthur, Guinevere and Lancelot. We talked a bit about the identities and differences. As Wikipedia tells it, unlike Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde unknowingly are dosed with a love potion, so that their falling for each other is not of  their own volition but due to circumstances beyond their control. One version of the story has it that the potion wears off fairly soon and they must choose again of their own free will.

The parallel with the Arthur/ Guinevere/ Lancelot love triangle is that they really are triangles--there is, at least initially, love and respect on all sides. Everyone feels for the others and understands his or her motives. But goodwill isn't apparently enough to prevent tragedy.

In John P. Anderson's book Joyce's Finnegans Wake: The Curse of the Kaballah he says that King Mark, bridegroom-to-be, is older than Isolde's own father, and that their marriage is a mere business transaction--her father has promised her to anyone who could slay a particularly evil serpent for him. In this light, Tristan and Isolde's love is presented as spontaneous and real, while her marriage to Mark is seen as debased. 

Anyway, it's high time I read the Tristan and Isolde legend. I even  have a copy of the Joseph B├ędier retelling on hand. 

I personally was taken by the appearance of Dion Boucicault (the elder) on page 185 as the one time I was in Dublin,  I happened to stay in a large B&B on Lower Gardiner Street, which had been put together out of the two houses where Boucicault and Lafcadio Hearn had lived at different times.Although I had some passing acquaintance with Hearn,  I wasn't familiar with Boucicault at the time I was there , but now learn that he was a hugely famous Victorian playwright. The Townhouse Dublin, which is what the place is called, tells us that Boucicault grew fabulously wealthy from his plays, married three times and died broke. I like the bit where playwright Sean O'Casey is quoted as saying, "Shakespeare's good in bits, but for colour and stir give me Boucicault".

I think it's got to be the women troubles that makes Joyce throw Boucicault in, at least in part. Boucicault married his third wife while not yet divorced from the second, and at least the folks at the Townhouse Dublin speculate that it was the scandal that made him pass into obscurity. The Townhouse bio speculates that he isn't more well-known today because he was ostracized later in life and that had an impact on his future reputation as well. However, it may be that his success was more just a thing of the moment. By chance I found a reviewer talk about his play, The Colleen Bawn, also mentioned in this section of our text, twenty-five years after its London debut:

I fear me this present notice is erring a little on the score of reminiscences of the past, but, after all, is there much save reminiscence to be written upon such a subject as The Colleen Bawn?  I am tempted even to continue in the same tone, and to recall the deep sensation created a quarter of a century ago on the first production of the piece.  How all London flocked to witness the "sensation header" in the water cave scene, and how ladies during the ensuing winter took their walks abroad in scarlet cloaks modelled on those worn by the heroine.  Irish domestic drama could hardly be said to be quite unknown to us, but this development of it came upon us as a revelation.  Experience has shown that Mr. Boucicault has a certain number of stock Irish characters, including the loving peasant girl, the humoursome yet heroic "boy," the old woman, and the pettifogging lawyer, and these he has since served up to us in several other plays.  But then they were all new, and who can forget the charm and grace of Mrs. Dion Boucicault, the life and soul of the piece, as Eily, and the artistic merit with which the author invested the part of Myles. 

At any rate, references to Boucicault's plays liberally sprinkle our current text, The Colleen Bawn being one of his most famous. And surprisingly, Joyce mentions "Arrah-na-poghue" three times in two pages, and doesn't alter the spelling once. The Irish words translate as "Anna of the Kiss", and is referring to the title character Arrah Meelish who turns out to be in love with none other than Shaun the Postman. Yep--you read that right. Kisses especially of the secret variety figure heavily in this section too. Two-tongue Common was a group favorite.

They play, though, is actually called Arrah-na-pogue, so of course some industrious soul may well want to find out why Joyce put in that extra "h".


  1. Interestingly enough, since my group is following a reading order of easiest-to-hardest chapters, we've jumped forward and are now also reading the Tristan & Isolde chapter.

  2. Cool! For some reason I am actually following through on my intention and reading the Bedier retelling of the legend. I'm finding it surprisingly compelling.

  3. I just ran across this account of Murray Gell-Mann's humorous decision to use "quark" for his new theoretical particle:

    One of the things we want to know is how you decided to name them quarks.
    Murray Gell-Mann: It was sort of an obvious name for the fundamental particle out of which the strongly interacting particles are composed.
    Maybe it was obvious to you!
    Murray Gell-Mann: Well, not quite. Not the spelling anyway.

    I had the sound, "quark." But it could have been spelled differently. For example, k-w-o-r-k or something like that. I thought it was a nice sound. And it didn't mean anything already, I thought, and that was good because when we give fancy Greek names to things -- and of course, I can do that -- but when we've given fancy Greek names to things, it usually turns out that what they mean later is not so appropriate as what we thought at first. The proton, for example. "The first thing," it means. Fundamental. And it turns out it's not fundamental. So, the name proton is very learned, but it turned out not to be apt. Now "quark," if it didn't mean anything at all, was not going to be obsolete, ever. Anyhow, that was fun. That was the sound. But then, leafing through James Joyce's Finnegans Wake, as I sometimes do -- it's a copy my brother bought, actually, when it first came out in the United States in 1939, and leafing through it, I saw the phrase, "Three quarks for Muster Mark." And I thought that would be very good. So I spelled it q-u-a-r-k. Now, Joyce undoubtedly meant it to be pronounced "kwark" to go with bark, and hark, and mark and so on, but I figured out a rationale for pronouncing it "quark," which is that in "Three quarks for Muster Mark" -- of course there is multiple determination of the word, as in many other cases of Finnegans Wake, and what I figured was that one source out of the multiple, the many determinants of the word -- one source was perhaps the fact that the dreamer, whose dream the book is, is Humphrey Chimpden Earwicker, who is a bar man, a publican, he owns a bar. And frequently, through the book, you hear people giving orders for drinks at the bar, drinks to take away, and so on. So one of the determinants of "three quarks for Muster Mark" could be "three quarts" for so-and-so. An order to the bar. And I still think that may be true, although there are many other, more important factors that have gone into the phrase. Anyway, that allowed me to interpret that maybe it was pronounced "kwork" instead of "kwark" But the commentators on Finnegans Wake think that -- and I think correctly -- that the main thing that it refers to is "three cries of the four gulls" that are following the ship on which they Tristan and Iseult are traveling. They're making fun of King Mark because Tristan and Iseult are having a love affair. Those four gulls occur throughout the book, as four evangelists, four old men in the park, and so on and so forth. Four commentators of various kinds, and in this case they're four gulls following this ship. "Quark" is listed in the dictionary as the cry of a gull. So it's undoubtedly the primary determinant, but maybe "three quarts for so-and-so" has a slight connection with it as well. That would justify pronouncing it "kwork" instead of "kwark."

    What initially attracted you to the word?
    Murray Gell-Mann: Oh, nothing, just an amusing word. The story I told just now, about the sound and the meaning and so on, is now in the Oxford English Dictionary, because they asked me for a detailed description, and I sent them a detailed letter about it. I think it is the only article in the Oxford English Dictionary that is based on a private letter.

    The videos can be found here:

  4. Nice find, Ed. Especially since I obviously shirked on the whole quark angle here. Or should that be sharked?