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.
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
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.
1 "Petit rideau tendu au bas d'une fenêtre pour empêcher l'air de passer" (Le Trésor de la Langue Française).
Search by keyword (within this site): Drink Design Advertising Translation