OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOur reading of Ulysses, out here in rural Cumbria, will reach Lestrygonians this week…

Two hundred pages into the book and it’s getting towards lunchtime. Bloom moves through Dublin, seeing, remembering, encountering. For me, this was the chapter in which I began to recognise that the story was filling up with references to what had gone before, and in the opening line, to what had gone long before, for ‘lemon platt’ has been mentioned in ‘A Portrait of the Artist.’

These references, our own memories of Bloom’s day, as well as his own of earlier days, enrich the text in a way that few other fictional texts are enriched. Surely this is one of the techniques that lifts this novel out of the ruck!

Bloom encounters a YMCA man and is given a ‘throwaway’, which reminds us that he has already given one away himself. ‘I was going to throw it away’, he has told Bantam Lyons earlier in the day, and told him twice – perhaps to drive the nail of the phrase deeper into our subconscious. Writing about Joyce and Hemingway in his study of the short story form, Frank O’Connor gently satirizes their use of repetition. David Lodge, in an essay on style, pins it down to that which we do repeatedly, until the reader notices we are doing it!

The throwaway here is a leaflet for an evangelist, but Bloom misreads its first word…’Bloo…Me?’ But no, it’s ‘Blood of the Lamb’ But has Joyce put the idea into our heads that Bloom is a sort of Elijah? Buck Mulligan was conjuring God, remember, right at the beginning of the story.

A page later and we get a reminder of the rat at Paddy Dignam’s funeral, as Bloom considers

the world of the brewery: ‘Rats get in too.’ Seagulls distract him, and the recollection of ‘Reuben J’s son’ drowning himself (who? You should ask.), which raises all sorts of questions. The seagulls ‘Live by their wits’, as did the original Ulysses; as does a man who sells advertising. And they pluck things from the sea too, in which we know there is a body floating. Shakespeare is quoted, and a little later we get ‘Swans from Anna Liffey’. Shakespeare has been called the ‘Swan of Avon’, the Liffey is Dublin’s river, and will become Anna Livia Plurabella, reputedly the most accessible passage of Finnegan’s Wake.

As Bloom’s journey toward Davy Byrne’s pub continues his mind ranges over past events.He notices an advert for ’11/- trousers’ (eleven shillings for the post decimal among us). Eleven is the number of renewal, and of the years since Rudi’s death, and since Bloom and Molly have made love. Then he recalls a clap doctor’s posters, and the thought strikes him:

‘If he…

O!

Eh?

No…No.

No, no. I don’t believe it. He wouldn’t surely?

No,no.

Mr Bloom moved forward raising his troubled eyes’

Then we get a time check: ‘After one. Timeball on the ballast office is down.’

The clock is ticking towards Blazes Boylan’s meeting with Molly.

Eventually he gets to Grafton Street where, in the window of a silk merchant he pauses, to reflect on what will soon happen.

‘Gleaming silks, petticoats on slim brass rails,rays of flat silk stockings.

Useless to go back. Had to be.’

And there follows the scene which brought forth one of Joyce’s most frequently quoted encounters, in which he is asked how the writing is going. Well, he says, and boasts of having completed two sentences the day before. Looking for the right word, his interlocutor asks, to which Joyce delivers the famous cap, that he had the words already but was struggling with the order:

‘Perfume of embraces all him assailed. With hungered flesh obscurely, he mutely

craved to adore.’

Which is really all you need to know, and say, about it!

Rejecting the gross ambience of Burton’s restaurant on Duke Street, he heads for Davy Byrne’s pub, where he eats, and thinks of Molly and himself. Prefiguring her monologue, he recalls the moment on Howth Head that has become so famous, one of the very few endings of a novel that is regularly recalled. This page long reflection is topped and tailed by the following lines:

‘Stuck on the pane two flies buzzed, stuck.’

&

‘Me. And Me now.

Stuck, the flies buzzed.’

I’ll finish with the opening of the last element of the chapter.

‘Mr Bloom came to Kildare Street. First I must, Library.’

He receives a shock:

‘Straw hat in sunlight. Tan shoes. Turnedup trousers. It is. It is.’

Who? And where’s the bastard going in all his finery?

Bloom dives into the museum, hoping he has not been seen. To be seen by the man who is about to shag your wife, with both of you knowing it, must be tricky. He pretends to look for something to cover his discomfort. He finds the soap. The chapter ends with the word ‘Safe!’

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