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Authors: Bartholomew Gill

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Now that Flood had mentioned it, McGarr realized he had; he had thought the whole thing banal.

“We caught a bit of breakfast at the house of a kindred spirit there in Sandycove, and when we got back outside, we had over five hundred people waiting for us. By my count, which was partial, and did not include the eighty-two on our Bloomsday tour.”

McGarr thought of Ward and the letters he’d have to write.

“A carnival it was. But then”—Flood’s dark eyes flicked up at Sinclaire and then turned to McGarr—“barristers have their venue down at the Four Courts, surgeons in the Richmond and the Rotunda and in Holles Street hospitals. We, poor word mongers that we are, have only
—thank Homer and Joyce—to make the most of, and ‘Shames Choice,’ as he called himself in the
condemned no as
pect of the city. It was all the ‘raw clay’ of experience to him, to be molded to any purpose including his own. Or mine and Kinch’s.”

There was a pause while Flood gathered himself. Behind him McGarr heard the thump of a foot on an inflated bladder and the scrunching of cleats through short grass. Somebody shouted, several other somebodies cheered.

“As you know,” he began, almost too casually, “
is the story of the peregrinations of two men through Dublin on a June day in 1904. It begins at eight in the morning at the Martello Tower in Sandycove, where the character Dedalus was living with Buck Mulligan and an Englishman named Haines.”

“Stadely ploomp Book Molligan,” McGarr corrected silently and smiled, thinking of Noreen.

“As usual Kinch began what amounted to his daylong soliloquy there, recanting the opening of the book while perched on a rampart of the tower. But you’ll remember the day was stunning, all fair skies and sunlight, and Kinch warmed to his task. Some years he seemed to hate it. Out of sorts and surly, he only mumbled through the day. But this year—maybe it was the new book or something personal or the weather—he was brilliant. He chanted the text. He sang it, pointing out across the bay when he mentioned Howth.”

Again Flood paused.

“Others not on the tour demanded that he continue, but we had our schedule to maintain. Into our rented tour bus we climbed and drove up past the house in Dalkey where Dedalus taught on that day in 1904. Then on to Sandymount Strand, where Dedalus strolled and mused with his pocket filled with sovereigns on his way into Dublin. And on to Eccles Street, where we picked up the trail of Leopold Bloom, the book’s other main character. But slowly—you know—pulling the bus over so that Kinch, who changed hats to
Bloom’s bowler whenever the story line demanded, could narrate.

“The bus is a lovely big thing with plenty of windows, soft stuffed seats, air-conditioning—we’ve used it before—and mostly everybody on the tour was acquainted with the text. Mostly they just sat back and listened. And Kinch—Dubliner, scholar, and (can I say it?) thespian that he was—regaled them. Some, maybe knowing of his new book and half suspecting that, soon famous, he would not again want to perform what (I’ll be honest) amounted to an Herculean labor, had tape recorders out. Others asked him to sign copies of
And still others inquired where they could pick up his new book before returning home.

“To make a long story short”—again Flood’s eyes moved from Sinclaire to McGarr, but with a certain twinkle—“we made sure our group was strategically positioned in Davy Byrne’s much before lunch. Over the years we’ve discovered that most of them are used to early hours, and too, given our six-thirty start, Kinch was in need of a wet.

“Which, I must admit”—Flood raised a palm—“was our plan for most of the rest of the day. Without wishing to seem crass, I’ll confess that once into jars, our guests are happiest continuing in that vein. The facilities on the tour bus are somewhat limited, and most view the occasion as a literary holiday, with the emphasis solidly on the latter word.

“So—it was on to the Ormond Hotel, after which we visited pubs in Green, North Mount, and Montgomery (now Foley) streets which conform roughly to the pubs that Dedalus and Bloom visited in the ‘Cyclops,’ ‘Oxen of the Sun,’ and ‘Circe’ sections of the book. The original pubs have since been knocked down. There are, of course, surrogates. And we kept Kinch narrating all the while.

“In the last, in Foley Street, I never saw him in better form. As I’ve said, it’s the ‘Circe’ or ‘Nighttown’ chapter
that deals with Dedalus and Bloom’s visit to Dublin’s notorious red-light district, and Dedalus plays the piano and sings and dances. Kinch, like Joyce himself—who had such a clear, pure tenor voice that he could have had a career on the stage—was musical. There wasn’t anything he couldn’t play, and after a kind of intermission he removed the Dedalus boater and his glasses and donned a lady’s shift and sleeping bonnet and gave us Molly Bloom’s soliloquy which, as you know”—again he looked from McGarr to Sinclaire and back—“closes

“But with such verve and vivacity, yet understanding, of what is on the whole of it a complex, multilayered piece, that even I—who have heard him now for over a decade—was impressed.

“The place, McGarrity’s—it’s new, or at least newly named—was packed, and the crowd nearly brought down the roof.”

As though to signal that he had finished his own monologue, Flood folded his hands on the desk in front of him.

After a while Sinclaire asked, “And when was the last you saw him Bloomsday?”

“There in McGarrity’s. I’m not as young as he was, and I’m afraid I was done in by the”—his head fell to his chest—“smoke and the noise and, perhaps most, since I don’t drink, the relief of having put the entire event by us for the year. I am, I’m afraid, an academic. An unworldly person. And the plethora of detail generated by having to organize an event like this, which is, I should imagine, really quite a simplicity in the scheme of things, entirely exhausts me. And then I could see that Kinch had only just begun to howl, as it were, and if he insisted, I could see I was going to be dragged out to some after-hours club off Merrion Square. I went home to my bed and my wife.”

“When was the last time you saw him?”

“Half-eleven. I caught his eye for a moment and signaled that I was leaving. He waved and turned back to the company he was in, and that was it. My last glimpse.” Flood paused, then added, “Apart from—you know—war deaths, I can’t think of anything like this happening to any other literary figure like Kinch.”

“And what company was Coyle in when you left?” Sinclaire’s voice was soft, and in the shadowed room sounded like a conspiratorial whisper.

“A group of Japanese, mostly. Kinch was towering over them.”

“Had he mentioned to you or would you know of any plans he might have had for the balance of the evening?”

Flood cocked his head. “He called it ‘floating’ on his ‘Lethe,’—pronounced ‘Liffey-float’—which meant that he would allow himself to be carried along by the tides and currents of the night. Mind you, he didn’t say that to me exactly. That night anyway. But I knew the look he had well enough…”

Sinclaire waited, and Flood explained, “Of…beatitudinous bliss, which is probably all-too-clumsily Joycean and redundant. But when he could enjoy himself, Kinch did. It was his working-class upbringing, I should imagine. But he had a way of launching himself into merriment, and when he did, you could read it in his face.”

“You seem to have been well acquainted with him. Did he have any known enemies? And please know that we’re trying to understand just who Kevin Coyle was. Anything you might mention will be held in the strictest confidence.”

“Kinch?” Flood shook his head. “Kinch was exactly what Joyce called Stephen Dedalus in an earlier work—the
—a ‘priest of external experience.’ Kinch was a watcher, an observer, an acceptor, and not in that way alone was he therefore an artist. But he would have made no enemies.”

“Did he argue with you?”

Flood’s head came up. “Argue in what sense? Academically? My, yes. Often, especially years ago, when he was still just a student and testing his intellectual wings, so to speak. Then we argued interminably, and by that I mean
often. But since both of us maintained a studious academic honesty, we—usually he—deferred to the more cogent position. More recently, I found it was I who was deferring to him, though not in all things. But it was always—let me assure you—an
that I found perhaps the most piquant in my life. I am not an outwardly emotional man, but I shall miss Kevin Coyle dearly, and anything I can do to help you discover what happened to him, I will. Anything.”

“What about your business? Did you argue about that?”


“Joyce’s Ireland and Bloomsday Tours Limited.”

Flood shook his head. “
own that yoke lock, stock, and the barrel of debts and headaches it takes to get each tour off the ground every year. When I decided to start up the thing, ten years ago, I asked Kinch to join me as a partner, but he wisely declined, saying that he viewed himself more a scholar than an entrepreneur. And then, at the time he was working hard on the new book.”

“You paid him, I assume.”

Flood nodded. “And well.” He reached across the desk and picked up what looked like a bank check. “One thousand pounds, which isn’t bad for one day’s work, no matter how arduous. This year I’ve made the check out to Katie. Next year I don’t know what I’ll do. I’ve only just thought of it now, with your questions, but I’m not much of a thespian myself, or even a good reader. And as for my memory—I have to keep my home phone number in my billfold so I won’t forget it.”

When it was apparent that Flood had nothing more to add,
Sinclaire said, “Holderness. A research student. We don’t have a first name for him, but could he have had some difficulty with Mr. Coyle?”

“David Allan George Holderness, you’ll mean. A brilliant chap altogether, but utterly lacking in tact, at least in regard to Kinch. And then they were so much like oil and water—Kinch, the Dub’. Working class. A positivist, let’s say, in regard to the world and his work. Yes, he possessed humor and was capable of trenchant sarcasm, the weight of which Holderness himself was sometimes made to feel, but Kinch’s great achievement was to have found a way around the aesthetic problem posed by Joyce and Beckett. By that I mean how important novels might still be written in the shadow of their achievements. Holderness was—rather,
s—pretty much what Kinch once called him, ‘A Beckett clone without Beckett’s depth, wit, or sympathy for the human condition.’”

McGarr cleared his throat. He had waited long enough. “Professor Flood—you see in us two plain, poor policemen. Our leisure hours are spent in our garden or with our children. Once, when I was a young man living abroad and feeling…bereft of my culture, I picked up a copy of
The dust jacket said it was Ireland’s greatest literary work by Ireland’s greatest writer. To be honest, I was mystified. It left me cold. As did—let me add—
Waiting for Godot
when my wife dragged me to the theater.”

Flood’s arms were again folded across his large chest, such that his bow tie appeared fixed to his darkly shadowed jowls. “Well—you’re not alone. I sometimes think myself lucky if ten percent of my students actually read Joyce and Beckett and not just the trots of their works. That it leaves most of them cold, I wouldn’t doubt. And it’s our own fault. Academics, I mean. As Kinch contended, those two are having the last laugh, and it’s at our expense. We’ve played their
game, and in so doing, made entirely too much of them. Joyce once bragged that what he was writing would keep scholars busy for years, and here I am over a half century later making literally literary capital from that very prediction.

“Think of him: an odd, acerbic man—half blind, irascible, and impecunious. He quarreled with his best friends and inevitably insulted casual acquaintances. He was a scathing critic, a devastating satirist, and possessed of such boundless egotism that he baldly stated even before he had published much that he was the greatest writer since Shakespeare. Of the
he bragged that it was the perfect book for the perfect reader, who could spend his entire life reading no other book and still never sound all its depths or understand all its resonances. The problem is, he was right.
Finnegan’s Wake
is a masterpiece, the ultimate novel of competence.

“Beckett, who when Joyce’s eyesight was failing, took notes for and, it seems,
him, played a similarly intricate academic game on his reader. But although always the perfect gentleman personally, Beckett’s creation—the novel of
—is nasty and cruel and, what’s worse, a dead end. A kind of literary black hole.

“Shall I go on?” His eyes twinkled.

“I’d like that,” said McGarr. “Especially the bit about the novel of…incompetence?”

“Yes—interesting turn of phrase, what? Would you like the short explanation or the long?”

“Well…” Sinclaire glanced at his watch.

Flood nodded, folded his fingers together. “It begins with Joyce and the novel of competence. In spite of what I just said about him in a negative way—since we must smash old idols in order to raise new—Joyce was a man of undoubted imminence, great imagination, deep learning, and brilliant intellect, none of it more obvious than in the manner in
which he ‘plotted’—and I mean that in the strategic, not simply tactical way—all of his works, but in particular
which, to continue the military analogy, was his break-through book.

“About words he once said, ‘Why own a thing when you can say it.’ And since with his intellect and astounding facility with languages, tongues, stories, and myths, he could say most things, it therefore followed that he—James Joyce, impoverished emigré son of a Dublin idler—owned not only the things he could name in the contemporary world, but many other things from all recorded time. That was step one in the grand stratagem to become the modern Shakespeare.

BOOK: The Death of a Joyce Scholar
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