Vol. 45 No. 20 · 19 October 2023

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John Glenday writes about a pair of errors in the ‘Ithaca’ episode of Ulysses (Letters, 5 October). He justifiably wonders if the second was an attempt to correct the first, but in fact it isn’t. ‘Ithaca’ is filled with mistakes, some of which may have been deliberate, others pretty clearly accidental; in our book, Annotations to James Joyce’s ‘Ulysses’, we have tried to account for them.

The first problem Glenday mentions is that Bloom’s bee sting occurred on 23 May, i.e. three weeks and three days previously, not two weeks and three days (as the text says). Fortunately, this does not require reassigning the date of Bloomsday to 9 June. We doubt this was one of those ‘volitional’ errors which are said to be ‘the portals of discovery’: arithmetic was not Joyce’s strong point.

The other point involves the date of the interment of Emily Sinico, a character in the Dubliners story ‘A Painful Case’ who, having died the previous year, does not appear in Ulysses but is mentioned. Initially, Joyce wrote that her burial was on 10 October 1903. This created a problem since elsewhere in the episode, the date of her death was given as 14 October. Joyce caught this mistake and emended the date of her interment to 17 October; the emendation first appeared in the list of errata that accompanied the second edition of October 1922. Even though the problem with Mrs Sinico’s interment date is harder to spot, that was the one he corrected. Evidently he didn’t notice the problem of the bee sting.

Sam Slote
Trinity College Dublin

Marc A. Mamigonian

John Turner
Boston, Massachusetts


Gavin Francis writes about concussion in sport, and rugby in particular (LRB, 5 October). He makes one small error in referring to ‘a match between South Africa and England in June 2009’ as the ‘Battle of Pretoria’, following which ‘five England players and one South African were taken to hospital.’ That match was actually between South Africa and the British & Irish Lions. It was widely recognised after the match that something had to change. New rules about tackle technique and scrummaging followed.

The other reason the match is remembered is to do with the way it was lost. Ronan O’Gara, a substitute brought on for one of the five injured Lions, gave away a needless penalty in the final minute, which the Springboks kicked to win the game. The reason for O’Gara’s mistake? He’d suffered a concussion a few minutes before and the laws at the time didn’t allow for a replacement.

Finn Toner
London E17

To Drink or Not to Drink

Nicholas Penny mentions the moment in a Roman Catholic mass when the priest ‘drains the wine remaining in the chalice’ (LRB, 7 September). That brought back a morning in my Protestant Episcopal girlhood. I was shadowing my grandmother on her altar guild duties at All Saints in Worcester, Massachusetts, as she laid out linens for upcoming services. That silver tube at the corner of the altar, she explained, was where leftover Communion wine went right down into the soil.

Margo Miller
Boston, Massachusetts

Tipping Point

John Lanchester discusses the faulty data behind George Osborne’s drive to keep debt below 90 per cent of GDP, an economically meaningless threshold, and notes that the ratio now stands at 100.6 per cent (LRB, 21 September). That was, properly speaking, a forecast by the Office for Budget Responsibility for the end of 2023, published in March and greeted with an array of doom-laden headlines to the effect that we had passed yet another ‘tipping point’. In June, the papers jumped on the story again. According to the Office for National Statistics, debt had reached 100.1 per cent of GDP in May. The ONS walked back those estimates in July, but gave journalists a third crack at the story by announcing that the threshold had indeed been crossed – not in May, but in June. The papers weren’t so eager in August, when the ONS revised its June estimates down to 99.5 per cent and released a paltry figure of 98.5 per cent for July.

Ben van der Merwe
London SE18

Let them eat oysters

Lorna Finlayson writes that ‘there is a quasi-religious thought’ underlying the idea of equality, ‘perhaps the idea that everyone has an immortal soul or is a child of God’ (LRB, 5 October). Bernard Williams thought so, too. But he did not share Finlayson’s scepticism about recasting the idea of basic moral equality in a secular key. For Williams, when we say that ‘a human being is a human being’ it is not a tautology. Rather, we are simply reminding ourselves that we stand in a special relation to other human beings, a relation of solidarity, bound by a sense of fellowship with one another. Some call it prejudice. I prefer to think of it as a consequence of ditching the lofty point of view of the universe for the more mundane human point of view.

Jordan Walters
McGill University, Montreal

London v. Strasbourg

Tom Hickman sets out the unacceptable consequences of UK withdrawal from the European Convention on Human Rights, something that may follow from the Rwanda deportation cases, should the Home Office be successful in its appeal to the Supreme Court (LRB, 7 September). He also demonstrates the desirability of international supervision of our domestic courts in human rights cases.

However, in accepting criticism of the European Court of Human Rights for extending its jurisdiction in the granting 0f interim measures so as to make these binding in international law, Hickman loses sight of the fact that, but for such measures in the Rwanda cases, no injunctive relief would have been granted by the Court of Appeal to prevent deportation, and the applicants might very well have been deported to Rwanda, where they would now be languishing pending the final outcome of the cases on appeal to the Supreme Court.

It wasn’t until interim relief was granted in Strasbourg that the applicants were able to obtain an interim injunction binding in domestic law, apparently because the Home Office did not seek to contest a renewed application to a reconvened and reconstituted Court of Appeal. At first instance Mr Justice Swift refused interim relief, and neither the Court of Appeal nor the Supreme Court appeals committee would interfere with his exercise of discretion to refuse relief essentially on the basis that the importance of the home secretary’s ability to implement her policy outweighed the prejudice to the applicants if removed to Rwanda. The Supreme Court was also persuaded by an assurance that if the applicants succeeded in establishing that the policy was unlawful at trial the government would seek their return to the UK under its agreement with the government of Rwanda, unless such a decision was stayed pending appeal. Such a stay would have been quite likely. It is probable this series of events would have come to pass had the European Court not intervened.

Even if the Supreme Court now reverses the majority final decision on the lawfulness of the Home Office’s actions, the approach at earlier stages appears to be flawed, in particular in its reliance on government policy as an element in the balance of convenience and in the assessment of the merits of the applicants’ case, which was considered ‘not conspicuously strong’ but in fact succeeded, albeit by a majority. The notion of public interest in the implementation of a policy that is challenged as unlawful gives primacy to executive policy over the rule of law. In fact the question of the balance of convenience was itself finely balanced, so that maintenance of the status quo should have been the outcome, holding the position until a final decision. This is what in fact happened, and it is thanks to the ECHR and the Strasbourg Court that it did. The egregious and now abandoned Human Rights Bill would have required no notice to be taken by UK courts of any Strasbourg interim measure and would accordingly have been not only in breach of the ECHR but also a source of potential injustice.

Nigel S. Price
London N7


One idea about the title of Nineteen Eighty-Four, floated in Colin Burrow’s piece, is that George Orwell was writing the novel in 1948 and simply swapped the final two numbers around, presumably to create a connection between the projected future and the world its first readers inhabited (LRB, 5 October). Another suggestion is that he took the year from the title of a poem, ‘1984: End of the Century’, published by his first wife, Eileen. Of course it’s possible that neither is correct. On page 7 of the typescript reprinted in Nineteen Eighty-Four: The Facsimile of the Extant Manuscript, the work of the pre-eminent Orwell editor, Peter Davison, we see what Orwell typed and then changed. In his diary, Winston enters the date he believes he is writing on as ‘April 4th, 1980’. At a later date, presumably, since the change is entered in ink, Orwell scratched out ‘1980’. A ‘2’ is written alongside the typed zero, changing Winston’s diary date to ‘1982’. Then, above the now scratched out ‘1980’ Orwell writes (again in ink) ‘1984’. Davison detects a written ‘2’ beneath the ‘4’ in that final date, and notes: ‘So the progression is typed “1980”, amended to 1982 and then to 1984 in manuscript.’ On this evidence, the ‘swapped years’ argument evaporates.

The idea that Orwell was inspired by Eileen’s poem is compromised by the possibility that he never read it. It was published in 1934 (a year before they first met) in Eileen’s high-school magazine, to commemorate the school’s fiftieth anniversary. Her projection fifty years into the future to ‘1984’ – a hundred years after her school had been established – makes perfect sense.

Peter Marks
University of Sydney

Colin Burrow quotes an erroneous claim that Anna Funder made in her book Wifedom about my mother, Celia Kirwan. The claim is entirely baseless, as I have told the book’s publisher, Viking.

Ariane Bankes
London W1

Austin’s War

Thomas Nagel’s piece about J.L. Austin prompts recollection of his role in Oxford’s 1938 ‘Munich’ by-election, in which the Conservative candidate was Quintin Hogg (LRB, 7 September). Austin coined the slogan ‘A vote for Hogg is a vote for Hitler.’ A.J.P. Taylor, his colleague at Magdalen College, remarked that this was the only one of Austin’s propositions he ever understood.

David Carpenter
London SE3

Savage Face

Describing the Parco dei Mostri at Bomarzo, Michael Dobson writes that ‘one cave has been sculpted as the mouth of a huge savage face, with a raised flat stone tongue that invites guests to enter and use it as a picnic table, eating while seeming to be eaten’ (LRB, 5 October). The photograph illustrating the piece is captioned ‘Cave at the Sacro Parco di Bomarzo’ but, though it is the mouth of a huge savage face, it is barely a cave and has no tongue. The sculpture in the photo is usually thought to represent the head of a sea god, either Proteus or Glaucus; the cave that Dobson describes is the Bocca Tartarea, or ‘Mouth of Tartarus’ (the lowest region of the Underworld), though it’s also colloquially known as the Orco or ‘Ogre’. The text around the mouth says ‘ogni pensiero vola’: ‘every thought flies away.’

Thomas Jones
Orvieto, Italy

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