The crossblind crux

P 4.216: The director stood in the embrasure of the window, his back to the light, leaning an elbow on the brown crossblind, and, as he spoke and smiled, slowly dangling and looping the cord of the other blind.

U 7.439-41: — He'll get that advertisement, the professor said, staring through his blackrimmed spectacles over the crossblind. Look at the young scamps after him.

U 11.460-2: Miss Douce's brave eyes, unregarded, turned from the crossblind, smitten by sunlight. Gone. Pensive […] she lowered the dropblind with a sliding cord.

Three different locations in Joyce’s Dublin can boast cross-blinds: the Director of Studies’ office at Belvedere College, the Telegraph Office on the ground floor of Middle Abbey Street and the Ormond Hotel bar, once again on the ground floor. The fact that the term is not found in dictionaries and printed books has led readers and critics to believe that it might be Joyce’s own coinage, perhaps even with intentional “cross” symbolism:

Thus, in the "Aeolus" section, he, like Stephen in A Portrait, is brought into conjunction with "the crossblind" (129) to symbolize his subjection to the institutional sanctions of the community.

John B. Vickery, The Literary Impact of "The Golden Bough" (Princeton, New Jersey: ‎1973), p. 385

But ads in newspapers clearly show that “cross-blinds” were a common feature of window furniture before and in Joyce’s lifetime in Ireland. Advertising examples range from 1856 (the only non-Irish example, in the Liverpool Mercury of Friday 14 November, where a furniture shop offered Venetian cross blinds) to 1940.

Irish Times, 10 November 1905, p. 8

Cross-blinds of white or cream silk for the lower part of a window, trimmed with silk lace, are extremely decorative for spring. They sound expensive, but they need not be so; for odd sizes of the silk can be fitted to the window by being joined in convenient and attractive rectangles and points by strips of the lace insertion.

Freeman’s Journal (1923), 17 March

Irish Independent (1936: 1 December, p. 3)

illustrated advertisement

Cross-blind was apparently synonymous with short blind:

SHORT BLINDS.—These are very useful in obviating the inconvenience of being seen by persons passing the windows, or of being exposed to the view of opposite neighbours. […] They should reach to the top of the lower sash, and descend to the window sill. Hem the bottom of each blind, and make a case in the top, through which run a tape, (securing it by a few stitches in the middle,) and leaving long ends of tape to wrap tightly round the nails which fasten the blind on each side to the window frame.

Eliza Leslie, The House Book, Or, A Manual of Domestic Economy: For Town and Country (Philadelphia: 1845), pp. 191-2

The main purpose of the cross-blind was then to prevent passers-by from looking into a room through the bottom sash of the window, whereas those inside could look out over the blinds. As these blinds seem to have been in place permanently, contrary to the drop-blinds for the upper sash of the window, they could also be attached to a wooden frame on the inside of the window. This would explain why the Director of Studies could lean his elbow on the cross-blind.

The first part of the word formation, “cross”, is very likely used as in the OED’s first sense for the adjective: “1. a. Lying or situated athwart the main direction; transverse; passing from side to side”.

Gifford’s comment on the word for 7.440: “A window shade that pulls up from a roller at the bottom of a window” cannot be ruled out, but I have been unable to find documentary evidence to support it.

The expression has caused problems for translators: Goyert’s first German translation of 1927 vaguely calls them “Fenstervorsatz” ("a device attached to the window"), whereas his successor Hans Wollschläger translates it literally as “Kreuzblende”, which has the serious disadvantage of also being a term for a particular type of aperture for optical equipment. Friedhelm Rathjen, in his 2014 translation of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man seems to be the first who found a satisfactory German term in “Querrollo”, which does justice to "cross".

Morel’s “brise-bise” misleads readers into assuming it is a small decorative window curtain rather than a blind.1 Pim’s advertisement with its erroneous Brise Brise makes it quite clear, however, that this refers to the fabric and not the mechanism.

Harald Beck


1 "Petit rideau tendu au bas d'une fenêtre pour empêcher l'air de passer" (Le Trésor de la Langue Française).

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