OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERALast week our Ulysses readers tackled Circe, the long chapter – as long as many a paperback novel – that leads Bloom and Stephen to the brothel and the savage streets of Nighttown. Set out as a play script, we read it as such:

Circe as a play reading worked well, but I had to devise a casting that would fit the size of the group (7 only!), and there are a lot of speaking parts in Circe, plus the narrator. I settled on the following scheme (like a butterfly on a rotting steak).

Narrator, Bloom, named males, named females, objects and un-named people in the singular, ditto in the plural. When you have kisses with speaking parts….

I sense a change in the novel from this point onwards. Circe has several parts. Bloom pursues Stephen into the red-light (why that shouldn’t be a green light I’ll never know – as everything goes!) district. He fantasises about this, that, and the other (mostly, the other!). Inside, Stephen, who has already brought light to the world with his ashplant (which I think of as a place for coaling steam engines), eventually uses it to bring about the end of the world. In the process he damages Bella Cohen’s lampshade (the least of her problems). Bloom covers the damage, and sets off in pursuit of Stephen again, who has fled into the arms (or should that be fists) of Private Compton & Carr – representatives of the British Empire. This is another one of those scenes that seems so different in Strick’s film – which, I must stress, I enjoyed, and recognised as a sincere attempt to render the book into a show, instead of a tell. As with Gery MacDowell’s knickers (panties for my American readers), the transchronologicalisation of the story (met him where?) into a more recent past – into it’s own time I suppose, when the film was made – has caused the problem; for Carr and Compton seem out of place in the Republican Dublin, and can no longer represent what they did for Joyce, in a novel written during the last years of British rule, published while the resultant Irish Civil War was still unfinished, and set in a time when those paroxysms were being prepared for.

Bloom rescues Stephen and takes him onward into the third and final part of the novel, the two sections, Eumaeus, and Ithaca.

The first of these sees them seek shelter in a cabman’s hut, and really it reads like an ‘ordinary’ piece of prose fiction. It’s as if Joyce is taking a break from hitting us with experiment after experiment. Ithaca too, on a sentence level, reads ‘normally’, though its structure, a series of questions and answers – a catechism in essence – is quite clearly unusual! This is the final act of Bloom’s journey. Over hot drinks, Stephen and Bloom sit at the kitchen table at number 7 Eccles Street. Bloom has re-gained the son that he lost, at least symbolically. He has returned home after many adventures. Upstairs Molly, Penelope to his Odysseus, sleeps, and Joyce has one more segment of story to offer us. This, apparently, was an afterthought, a doubtful addition to the Odyssean peregrination.

Yet, for many people, and for a while for me among them, it became the whole point of reading the book. More about it in the next blog posting….OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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