Cloacal obsession

Professor MacHugh's reference in Aeolus to the "cloacal obsession" of the Romans and the English delivers a thunderous backhand smash to a charge lobbed at Joyce by H. G. Wells in 1917. Wells coined this phrase in a review essay that, while mostly quite generous to Joyce, also frankly expressed English prejudices against Irish Catholics. Joyce's adoption of the phrase responds to these prejudices by reversing their values: taking excessive interest in coarse bodily functions, he suggests, is far less contemptible than repressing them out of consciousness altogether.

JH 2020

1920 photographic portrait of H. G. Wells by George Charles Beresford, held in the National Portrait Gallery, London. Source: Wikimedia Commons.

The Cloaca Maxima, a large sewer system dating to Etruscan times in ancient Rome. Source: www.sweetromemyhome.com.

A Roman watercloset of the 2nd century AD, its toilets facing water-filled troughs where patrons could dip the cloth-covered sticks that did the work of toilet paper. Source: www.sciencemag.org.