Published online by Cambridge University Press: 12 September 2012
There is a passage in the ‘Aeolus’ chapter of James Joyce's Ulysses in which a conversation about rhetoric – ‘One of the most polished periods I think I ever listened to in my life fell from the lips of Seymour Bushe’, J. J. O'Molloy opines to Stephen – is suddenly interrupted by a passage which appears to belong to Stephen Dedalus's stream of consciousness but which many critics agree is an allusion to, or a parody of, Dickens's style in David Copperfield:
–A few wellchosen words, Lenehan prefaced. Silence!
Pause. J. J. O'Molloy took out his cigarettecase.
False lull. Something quite ordinary.
Messenger took out his matchbox thoughtfully and lit his cigar.
I have often thought since on looking back over that strange time that it was that small act, trivial in itself, that striking of that match, that determined the whole aftercourse of both our lives. (U, 115; 7: 759–640)
It has been argued that the beginning of the final sentence imitates the tone of Victorian autobiographical narration and is probably based on David Copperfield's reflections on the wedding of Peggotty and Barkis – ‘I have often thought, since, what an odd, innocent, out-of-the-way kind of wedding it must have been …’ (DC, 201) – but critics have disagreed on how we are to read it: is it Stephen's mind, replete with literary matter, which finds its thought by repeating phrases from his reading?