Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part IV

“The Cyclops”

Perhaps the most complex and bizarre episode yet.  An unnamed first person narrator, clips of seemingly random text written in different styles.  What is this ridiculous list of names in the style of a saga other than a good laugh?  Ah, but is the true hero here a pint of Guinness?:

Terence O’Ryan heard him and straightway brought him a crystal cup full of the foamy ebon ale which the noble twin brothers Bungiveagh and Bungardilaun brew ever in their divine alevats, cunning as the sons of deathless Leda. For they garner the succulent berries of the hop and mass and sift and bruise and brew them and they mix therewith sour juices and bring the must to the sacred fire and cease not night or day from their toil, those cunning brothers, lords of the vat.

Then did you, chivalrous Terence, hand forth, as to the manner born, that nectarous beverage and you offered the crystal cup to him that thirsted, the soul of chivalry, in beauty akin to the immortals.

But he, the young chief of the O’Bergan’s, could ill brook to be outdone in generous deeds but gave therefor with gracious gesture a testoon of costliest bronze. Thereon embossed in excellent smithwork was seen the image of a queen of regal port, scion of the house of Brunswick, Victoria her name, Her Most Excellent Majesty, by grace of God of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland and of the British dominions beyond the sea, queen, defender of the faith, Empress of India, even she, who bore rule, a victress over many peoples, the wellbeloved, for they knew and loved her from the rising of the sun to the going down thereof, the pale, the dark, the ruddy and the ethiop.

On a serious note, there’s some nasty anti-Semitism in this chapter and poor Bloom shows that he’s too good a man compared to the “citizen.”  Harry Blamires has a great explanation of the Cyclops in The New Bloomsday Book:

For though the events are recounted by a nameless narrator, the narration is punctuated by a series of commentaries in vastly different styles – but each style an inflated caricature of the legal, the epic, the scientific, the journalistice, and so on.  The total effect is to set the gentle, pacific, charitable Bloom in lonely opposition to a barbaric, bigoted, and aggressive nationalist – and likewise to place Bloom’s mildness and commonsense in lonely isolation within a world given over to vast excesses.  The intemperate inflations represent many aspects of culture, many movements in our civilization, that are irrational, violent or prententious.  The fact that the reader, as well as Ulysses-Bloom, feels swamped under it all is appropriate and of course intentional. – p. 112

A recent podcast of WPR’s To The Best of Our Knowledge, “Where There’s a Will There’s a Way,” contains a performance of Shylock’s monologue from The Merchant of Venice (ACT III, Scene I:48-68).  I could not help but notice the parallels between this monologue and Bloom’s defense against the Citizen.  Since Ulysses is full of allusions and discussion of Shakespeare I can’t imagine that Joyce didn’t do this on purpose.  Am I on to something here?

Then it all ends like this:

When, lo, there came about them all a great brightness and they beheld the chariot wherein He stood ascend to heaven. And they beheld Him in the chariot, clothed upon in the glory of the brightness, having raiment as of the sun, fair as the moon and terrible that for awe they durst not look upon Him. And there came a voice out of heaven, calling: ELIJAH! ELIJAH! And He answered with a main cry: ABBA! ADONAI! And they beheld Him even Him, ben Bloom Elijah, amid clouds of angels ascend to the glory of the brightness at an angle of fortyfive degrees over Donohoe’s in Little Green street like a shot off a shovel.



More excess with no substance.  This time the episode is from the perspective of a young woman Gertie Macdowell who Bloom watches on the beach at Sandymount.  The reader sees her thoughts, fantasies of love tainted with consumerism.  All of the language is very pretty, especially compared with the ugliness of “The Cyclops.”  But it’s almost too pretty, sentimental and silly.  Here’s a passage I liked that is typical of the episode:

How moving the scene there in the gathering twilight, the last glimpse of Erin, the touching chime of those evening bells and at the same time a bat flew forth from the ivied belfry through the dusk, hither, thither, with a tiny lost cry. And she could see far away the lights of the lighthouses so picturesque she would have loved to do with a box of paints because it was easier than to make a man and soon the lamplighter would be going his rounds past the presbyterian church grounds and along by shady Tritonville avenue where the couples walked and lighting the lamp near her window where Reggy Wylie used to turn his freewheel like she read in that book THE LAMPLIGHTER by Miss Cummins, author of MABEL VAUGHAN and other tales. For Gerty had her dreams that no-one knew of.
She loved to read poetry and when she got a keepsake from Bertha Supple of that lovely confession album with the coralpink cover to write her thoughts in she laid it in the drawer of her toilettable which, though it did not err on the side of luxury, was scrupulously neat and clean. It was there she kept her girlish treasure trove, the tortoiseshell combs, her child of Mary badge, the whiterose scent, the eyebrowleine, her alabaster pouncetbox and the ribbons to change when her things came home from the wash and there were some beautiful thoughts written in it in violet ink that she bought in Hely’s of Dame Street for she felt that she too could write poetry if she could only express herself like that poem that appealed to her so deeply that she had copied out of the newspaper she found one evening round the potherbs.

There are lots of contrasts in the chapter: Gertie’s idealized dreams of marriage and family compared with the bratty children her friends are caring for, Gertie’s pure beauty compared with Bloom’s foreign mystery, and throughout it all sex and religion.  The religion in the sounds and smells of the retreat at the nearby church.  The sex in the aspect of this section that makes it creepy and unsettling: all this time Bloom is playing with himself and Gertie is putting herself on display for him.

Yeck!  It’s a long fall from Bloom the biblical hero of “The Cyclops” to Bloom the dirty old pervert.  In the previous episode, the citizen is prejudiced against Bloom for his foreignness but Bloom proves to be noble.  In this episode, Gerty finds Bloom’s foreignness attractive yet now he seems dangerous.

Blamires has this take on it:

The ideal-real dichotomy is again a theme implicit throughout this episode, for Bloom’s purely visual relationship parallels his purely verbal relationship with Martha.  The disintegration represented in Bloom’s partial relationships with Molly, Martha, and Gerty seems to reflect a Joycean judgement on modern life. – p. 137

“Oxen of the Sun”

Oh dear, the famous episode in which the English language gestates before the reader’s eyes is before me.  Full of literary parody that goes way over my head because I’ve never read the originals.  The basic gist is that a group of unruly medical students and other men drink and speak crudely while Mrs. Purefoy struggles through labor for the third day in a nearby room.  Only Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus see this as disrespectful and try to turn the conversation to be appropriate to the moment.  For this they are both isolated and symbolically drawn to one another.  Sprinkled throughout are references to fertility and cattle (tying it to the Odyssey).

I am drawn to this passage although I’m not quite sure what it means:

The voices blend and fuse in clouded silence: silence that is the infinite of space: and swiftly, silently the soul is wafted over regions of cycles of generations that have lived. A region where grey twilight ever descends, never falls on wide sagegreen pasturefields, shedding her dusk, scattering a perennial dew of stars. She follows her mother with ungainly steps, a mare leading her fillyfoal. Twilight phantoms are they, yet moulded in prophetic grace of structure, slim shapely haunches, a supple tendonous neck, the meek apprehensive skull. They fade, sad phantoms: all is gone

That’s all for this update.

Here is the Ulysses reference of this week.