Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part V


“Circe”

Egads!  Just when you think James Joyce can’t confuse you anymore he creates an episode in the form of a play script with stage directions, sets it in a brothel, fills it with hallucinations, and makes it the longest episode in the book.  Joyce almost taunts you to give up reading the book, but I’m made of sterner stuff.  Try this on for size:

BLOOM: (MEANINGFULLY DROPPING HIS VOICE) I confess I’m teapot with curiosity to find out whether some person’s something is a little teapot at present.

MRS BREEN: (GUSHINGLY) Tremendously teapot! London’s teapot and I’m simply teapot all over me! (SHE RUBS SIDES WITH HIM) After the parlour mystery games and the crackers from the tree we sat on the staircase ottoman. Under the mistletoe. Two is company.

Somewhere along the way Bloom goes on trial for being either an pervy creep or a cuckhold (or both).  Women he’s propositioned decide to drop his drawers and spank him within an inch of his life.  Suddenly everything changes and Bloom becomes the hero of the people creating a new Bloomusalem in their midst:

BLOOM: I stand for the reform of municipal morals and the plain ten commandments. New worlds for old. Union of all, jew, moslem and gentile. Three acres and a cow for all children of nature. Saloon motor hearses. Compulsory manual labour for all. All parks open to the public day and night. Electric dishscrubbers. Tuberculosis, lunacy, war and mendicancy must now cease. General amnesty, weekly carnival with masked licence, bonuses for all, esperanto the universal language with universal brotherhood. No more patriotism of barspongers and dropsical impostors. Free money, free rent, free love and a free lay church in a free lay state.

After that, Stephen Dedalus sees his dead mother and gets pugnacious with some British soldiers.  For the most part I can’t make heads or tails of it.

Thank god for Harry Blamires!  Otherwise this is what little sense I would have made of this episode.  Turns out it’s a lot more to it.  According to Blamires, the visions that dominate “Circe” are external manifestations of our protagonists’ interior fears and hopes.  Also, it all ties to Shakespeare again, both the dramatist and his plays.  And of course this whole section is a play!  This section is the first part in which the reader doesn’t follow the interior monologue of one or more of the characters because of the dramatic structure, and yet due to the hallucinations the deepest interior thoughts of the characters are made exterior!  That Joyce is one clever dude.

Well, that was entertaining, but I’m glad “Circe” is over.  Part III and Molly Blooom are up next.

One thought on “Reading James Joyce’s Ulysses, part V

  1. Melville (if I remember correctly) suddenly drops a chapter written as a drama in the middle of Moby-Dick. Did Joyce read Melville?

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