A Portrait

A Portrait
Ernest Schoffeniels
etching, 1967
numbered 1 from an edition of 5

Noted Belgian biochemist Ernest Hubert Jules Schoffeniels (1927–1992) scratched into this pair of etched squares the opening words of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, “Once upon a time and a very good time it was there was a moocow.”

Born in Liège, Schoffeniels’ career in research and teaching ranged from the Royal Institute of Natural Sciences in Brussels in 1945, to facilities of the Danish government, to Columbia University, to Duke University, before he returned to the University of Liège in 1971. Over two hundred publications are credited to his name including Molecular Basis and Thermodynamics of Bioelectrogenesis, Molecular Approaches to Ecology, L’anti-hasard, Cellular Aspects of Membrane Permeability, Dynamic Properties of Glia Cells, most printed in numerous editions and languages.

On page 67 of Anti-Chance: A Reply to Monod’s Chance and Necessity (Oxford: Pergamon Press, Ltd., 1976), Schoffeniels discusses the molecular basis of instinct, and in particular the role of olfaction in the reproductive physiology of a mouse, “Thus we get closer to the molecular mechanisms underlying a behaviour which would be regarded as instinctive by the psychologist. As regards man, the problem has not yet been tackled by psychiatrists or psychologists. However certain observations allow us to suppose that as with all other mammals, chemical communication must regulate some human behaviour. On this point there is an excellent passage in [James Joyce’s] Ulysses which I cannot resist reproducing.

Tell you what it is. It’s like a fine fine veil or web they have all over the skin, fine like what do you call it gossamer, and they’re always spinning it out of them, fine as anything, like rainbow colours without knowing it. Clings to everything she takes off. Vamp of her stockings. Warm shoe. Stays. Drawers: little kick, taking them off. Byby till next time. Also the cat likes to sniff in her shift on the bed. Know her smell in a thousand. Bathwater too. Reminds me of strawberries and cream. Wonder where it is really. There or the armpits or under the neck. Because you get it out of all holes and corners. Hyacinth perfume made of oil of ether or something. Muskrat. Bag under their tails. One grain pour off odour for years. Dogs at each other behind. Good evening. Evening. How do you sniff? Hm. Hm. Very well, thank you. Animals go by that. Yes now, look at it that way. We’re the same. Some women, instance, warn you off when they have their period. Come near. Then get a hogo you could hang your hat on. Like what? Potted herrings gone stale or. Boof! Please keep off the grass.

Perhaps they get a man smell off us. What though? Cigary gloves long John had on his desk the other day. Breath? What you eat and drink gives that. No. Mansmell, I mean. Must be connected with that because priests that are supposed to be different. Women buzz round it like flies round treacle. Railed off the altar get on to it at any cost. The tree of forbidden priest. O, father, will you? Let me be the first to. That diffuses itself all through the body, permeates. Source of life. And it’s extremely curious the smell. Celery sauce. Let me.”

As Schoffeniels was a celebrated scientist, he was also an accomplished printmaker. He served as president of L ‘Association pour le Progrès Intellectuel et Artistique en Wallonie*, and was responsible for bringing the first International Biennial of Print Arts to Liège in 1969. He wrote in the catalog for that exhibition, “The charm that graphic art exudes on artists is born from a recurring astonishment that accompanies every freshly printed sheet.”

Schoffeniels’ A Portrait supplements rich holdings at Bridwell Library written by and related to the writings of James Joyce. The Violet Hayden Joyce Collection was given to Bridwell on Bloomsday 1971, followed by the purchase of the George Leinwall Collection in 1977, and the bequest of SMU Professor of English Virginia Mosley’s collection in the 1990s.

An engraving by Schoffeniels, Remembrance, printed in Riessonsart par Fléron in 1969, is also in the Bridwell Library collection (1987.036). “Perfume of embraces all him assailed,” a phrase from James Joyce’s Ulysses describing olfactory sensations experienced by Leopold Bloom as he enters Dublin’s Burton Hotel for lunch, is scribed into the plate.

* Wallonia is the French-speaking southern region of Belgium.

Lower South Stairs
A Portrait