Joyce’s agenbite of books and boots

The slowly falling Mr. Dedalus, Stephen’s father, gives his daughter Dilly two pennies: “Get a glass of milk for yourself and a bun or a something. I’ll be home shortly” (p. 239). Dilly’s on her own now her mother’s passed, and needs money for food for herself and her siblings still at home. She knows her father’s habits. “Did you get any money?” (p. 237). But a few pages later Dilly surprises Stephen at an outdoor “slanted bookcart.” Stephen recalls a time Dilly’s face had “…glowed as she crouched feeding the fire with broken boots” (243):

-What have you there? Stephen asked.

-I bought it from the other cart for a penny, Dilly said, laughing nervously.

…-Mind Maggy doesn’t pawn it on you. I suppose all my books are gone.

-Some, Dilly said. We had to.

Earlier at the bookcart Stephen considered, “I might find here one of my pawned schoolprizes” (p. 242).

Of this scene Frank Budgen said, “Stephen has a strong sense of family solidarity…But who would save drowning people must first be a good swimmer” (p. 132), forgiving the resourceful Joyce for abandoning his family for a life of books they would have to burn to keep warm. But here’s Dilly, hungry in frayed clothes and broken boots, willing to spend one of but two pennies on a used book.

One thing’s certain, we won’t keep warm with eBooks. But maybe Budgen’s point was that Stephen was not a good swimmer. (Joyce was afraid of water.) 

Of books and boots, and their life-span, two “leathern vessels,” a term found in OED:

[ME. bote, a. OF. bote (mod.F. botte), corresp. to Pr., Sp., Pg. bota, med.L. botta, bota, of uncertain origin. Identified by Diez, Littré, etc. with F. boute (also, in mod.F., botte) butt, cask, leathern vessel; but ‘the phonology of the two words in OF. shows that they are quite distinct’ (P. Meyer). In med.L. also butta ‘butt’ and botta ‘boot’ are never confounded, though bota is frequent as a by-form of both, which has probably misled etymologists.]

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