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Saturday, November 22, 2003

IN THE HEART OF THE HIBERNIAN METROPOLIS 

This Mr. Darcy business got me thinking of Ulysses, another novel in which money figures prominently, though in a more quotidian way. (Of course, there’s very little in Ulysses which could not be characterized as prominently quotidian.)

According to Jorn Barger’s exhaustive list of prices and monetary values in Ulysses, a 1904 pound would be worth roughly $100 today, making a shilling (at twenty to the pound) worth $5. This means that the monthly wage of £3 12s. which Mr. Deasy pays Stephen Dedalus for his services as a teacher at the Dalkey school is the equivalent of $360. Hardly Darcy territory, but consider this: the yearly rent of £12 on the Martello tower which Stephen has been sharing with Buck Mulligan would be only $1,200 today. If Stephen split this rent every month with Mulligan (Haines is only a temporary guest), he’d be spending just one-seventh of his income on lodging. Factor in that Stephen’s job appears to be essentially a quarter-time position, and it would seem that his circumstances should allow him to live rather comfortably–should, that is, if he wasn’t already in debt to the tune of £25 17s. 6d. and prone to such profligacies as blowing most of his month’s wages on a bender within 12 hours of receiving them.

Not that there’s anything wrong with that. In fact, given the prices he faced, it’s hard to blame him. We know from Mulligan’s cadging in Episode 1 and Bloom’s musings in Episode 5 that a pint of porter cost twopence; this jibes with the penny price which the loutish Farrington pays when he sneaks out of work for a quick half-pint glass of porter (chased by a breath-cleansing caraway seed) in the Dubliners story “Counterparts.” If a shilling is worth $5, then twopence is worth 83 cents. I don’t know about your neck of the woods, but a pint of draught Guinness costs at least five times that amount around here (and it will almost always be too cold; but that’s another story).

There’s more. The old milkwoman’s visit to the Martello tower during breakfast ends this way:
Haines said to her:
---Have you your bill? We had better pay her, Mulligan, hadn't we?
Stephen filled again the three cups.
---Bill, sir? she said, halting. Well, it's seven mornings a pint at twopence is seven twos is a shilling and twopence over and these three mornings a quart at fourpence is three quarts is a shilling. That's a shilling and one and two is two and two, sir.
Buck Mulligan sighed and, having filled his mouth with a crust thickly buttered on both sides, stretched forth his legs and began to search his trouser pockets.
---Pay up and look pleasant, Haines said to him smiling.
Stephen filled a third cup, a spoonful of tea colouring faintly the thick rich milk. Buck Mulligan brought up a florin, twisted it round in his fingers and cried:
---A miracle!
He passed it along the table towards the old woman, saying:

---Ask nothing more of me, sweet.
    All I can give you I give.
Stephen laid the coin in her uneager hand.
---We'll owe twopence, he said.
---Time enough, sir, she said, taking the coin. Time enough. Good morning, sir.
If you didn’t follow that, a pint of milk cost the same twopence that a pint of porter did. I never buy milk by the pint, but the last time I picked up a gallon of milk at the corner store it cost $3.30, and one-eighth of that is 41 cents. So, reckoned in milk, Guinness costs at least ten times as much in 2003 Minneapolis as it did in 1904 Dublin.

At those prices I could get a whole hell of a lot of utility out of $360 a month.

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