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Someone’s been reading A Portrait of the Artist on Radio4, in one of those sad, reflective, serious voices that out-Bennets Alan of that ilk.

To be sure, we Did the novel at school. Burton Upon Trent Boys Grammar School, which to my shame I didn’t even think of burning down at the time, let alone attempt!

I got the sense that our English teacher – who was one of the good guys – didn’t know what to make of the novel, and I recall that he said as much. But I came back from a summer holiday before the A levels reeking of William York Tyndall’s A Reader’s Guide To James Joyce (Thames & Hudson, 1959/1968 –still on my shelves, heavily taped, and annotated), which turned me from a blank bemused to a full-on enthusiast for this writer’s fiction.

Hence my 2000 mile bucket-list round trip in 2016 to see, but not be seen to see, the statue of that old artificer on the bridge over the Grand Canal in Trieste.

Hearing the mournful rendition of the story though, brought back my pre-Tyndall despair. What a tedious and sanctimonious book it can appear to be, taking itself too seriously, and being taken that way by readers, and perhaps by listeners too. Its charred predecessor, Stephen Hero, which Joyce put to the fire and somebody else had to rescue had an even more self-obsessed eponymous protagonist – and an author that had yet matured enough to recognise him for what he was.

A Portrait, though, is made of more ironic, and subtly comic stuff. It is James Joyce, not celebrating, but satirising the narcissistic youth he grew out of being.


I’m not a natural traveller, but a friend and I had been talking about driving to Trieste for about ten years – slightly more time than it might take!

Time is an issue though, and both of us must be running out to some extent. Last year we opted for finally getting round to doing it, and set the date for this year. The middle of October was chosen, and on the fifteenth I set off by train to meet him in Suffolk, from where he would drive us, there and back, as Hobbits go.

There was a purpose to all this – or was that a porpoise? It was to allow me the unalloyed pleasure of walking past the statue of James Joyce, whilst appearing not to notice him. The intended comic moment became more comic in reality. My camera packed up a couple of weeks before we were due to go. No problem, I thought. I can take the old Sony Handycam – a decade out of date but still going strong. All those stories I put up on Vimeo have been shot with it!

The salamander in the firewood though, was that my friend would have to do the shooting. He’s about as much of a technophile as I am.

I spotted Joyce from a hundred yards away, a slim, upright figure, motionless among the desultory few who were crossing the bridge on foot. There are tourists in Trieste, even in October, but the place was quietly bustling rather than frenetically overcrowded.

There’s our man, I said, perhaps sounding like some B-movie hit-man supplied by central casting. Where? Keep looking, I told him, and we strode down the Canal Grande to our destiny. Then, as we neared the end of the bridge I sprung on my partner what it was he had to do. It’s like a trumpet, I told him, passing over the Handycam. You switch it on here, and you film here. You zoom in here, and you zoom out here too. You can do it all with one hand, like holding a trumpet. I’ve never held a proper trumpet. Maybe I should have asked, but hasn’t everyone held a trumpet, even if only a toy one?

So I sauntered over the bridge, looking cool, and avoided the Irishman’s glance, staying on the far side of the road. Let him wonder! Then, just out of his line of sight, I crossed over and looked around the buildings, which are impressive. Then I turned and walked back, passing him as I had intended to do. It worked like a dream.

My friend was at the end of the bridge, holding the camera like a saxophone.

He said, you’ll have to do it again.


I think I missed you.

You’re kidding?

No, I’m pretty sure I missed you, at the crucial moment.

The footage shows me, not that cool as it turns out, walking across the bridge, and then the trumpet voluntary kicks in, and we zoom, in, zoom out, pan wildly, find Joyce, lose him, find me, lose me, not necessarily in that order. I couldn’t have written a better screenplay for the culmination of a fifteen hundred kilometre drive from one side of the continent to the other.

I’m a big fan of Daniel Boorstein’s old book on the falsification of reality (The Image, a history of pseudo events in America ). I don’t know if it’s still in print, but if it is, get hold of a copy, because it still stands up to scrutiny. A pseudo-event, in case you haven’t jumped to it, is an event staged for the camera: re-run, re-envisaged, totally fabricated.  Of course, you might wish to consider, at this point, just to what extent a written account of a past occurrence – even at Owl Creek Bridge – is itself, a pseudo-event.

It’s OK, I said. We’ll make do with what you got. Joyce, I think, would have appreciated the comic irony, and even if he didn’t, I do!

Of course, what I should have said when my friend proposed that I repeat the exercise was, if only I’d thought of it at the time….No, no I won’t

Meanwhile here’s the latest collection of short stories from BHD…49 Tales, Anecdotes,Flash Fictions, Monologues and Short Stories…


The printed bibliography is functionally obsolete. Stuck in the knowledge of its period of setting-up and publication, give or take the odd errata slip, it offers a mere snapshot in time of what was known, rather than what is. The digital database on the other hand, offers a continuously developing record of what is known and understood. Book lists can be amended with additions, deletions, and corrections. New knowledge can be incorporated, old knowledge can be refined. Of course, manipulation, falsification and misinterpretation can also take place, but as a means of finding out what was published and by whom and when, the database outstrips the printed bibliography without doubt.

That doesn’t mean there is no value in, or use for those old books of lists though. One such, a left over from my days of selling second-hand books, provides an interesting sidelight, not only on what was published, but on what was thought about it. It provides too, a reminder, that our impressions of the past can be inaccurate and misleading. The book in question is The Best Books of The War, and it covers UK publication across a range of subjects from 1939-45. It was published by W.H,Smith and Sons, in 1947, with an anonymous compiler who provides a Preface, and the initials F.S.S. That, I suspect, stands for F.Seymour Smith, who contributes An English Library (3rd,revised ed.CUP,1943) in the Literary Criticism and Belles Lettres section.

I was interested in the Fiction category, some twenty pages of titles by authors forgotten, remembered, and never known. It’s the surprises, in who was there, and how they were thought of, that are most interesting. Who was commented on, and who not so, in what the Preface tells us is a ‘bookman’s’ personal selection, challenges or reinforces our own perceptions.

The biggest surprise for me was to see Monkey listed. I remember this collection of ancient Chinese tales as a rather odd TV series of the seventies or eighties, but here it is, from Allen and Unwin in 1942, translated by Arthur Waley from the sixteenth century original by Wu Ch’ ‘eng-en.

            There are surprises too in the responses of our guide through the period. ‘Eroticism’ he tells us, ‘must not be encouraged’ but ‘may be enjoyed,’- in relation to The King Was in his Counting House, by James Branch Cabell,  Lane,1939 (let me know if you have, or do!) – neither of which, I suspect, would be said so simply and directly these days. Is this the tip (if that’s not too vulgar a word) of the surfacing permissive society iceberg?

James Joyce gets a gem of a reference, for Finnegan’s Wake: ‘It is not as daft as it seems, especially if read aloud,’ which is worth several hundred thousand words of the lit. Crit. I remember reading on it when I was a student! The short story is well represented, and so are women writers, with more of both than I would expect in a modern ‘100 books to read before you die’ listing. Authors who are still well known, and those who are not, caught my attention. ‘Old hands’ include H.E.Bates, Sir Osbert Sitwwell, and L.A.G.Strong. Bates is excluded (with a disparaging mention) by Hensher (The Penguin Book of the British Short Story, 2015), and Sitwell passed over, but Strong is a bit of a revival figure today, which pleases me. ‘Newcomers’, to F.S.S., include J. Maclaren-Ross, also in Hensher, and, surprising to me in so late a publication, V.S.Pritchett.

Elizabeth Bowen is included, with the comment, ‘a delicate touch for the short story,’ but also that ‘some of them in this volume are too literary.’

Our own assumptions, or mangled, half forgotten knowledge, of the past can be challenged or confirmed by such collections. F.S.S. quotes 61,000 books as being published during the period, of which he estimates some 20,000 will be long-lasting, serious additions to the ‘bookman’s’ trade, and life. That some have been, and others have not, reminds us that our opinions are of only passing worth, yet perhaps sufficient to occupy a minute or two of each other’s time.

A slim volume, of a mere ninety nine pages, this bookman’s selection was passed to me by my late father-in-law, Leslie Walker, a bookman to his fingertips, internationally known as Nelson’s Bookroom. He it was who told me that ‘any fool can sell books,’ thus encouraging me, as well qualified, to enter the trade – it was only half the story, I soon learned.



Readings For Writers, by Mike Smith. 12 essays on short stories and their writers.

Volume 1: Hemingway,Bierce,Chekhov,Wells,Parker,Joyce,Coover,:Lawrence,Bates,Pritchett,Arthur Morrison, & James Salter. For Writers cover

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERATT cover2012 066OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA I couldn’t sleep, what with the heat, so, as you do, I started to list, not my favourite ten short stories, but ten of my favourite short stories:

Weep Not My Wanton

A Canary For One

A Rider in the Sky

The Fall

The Dead

Arabesque – The Mouse

The Little Farm

Fitter’s Night

The Misfits

The Gift of the Magi

A Christmas Carol

Monsieur Oufle

Blondeau The Cobbler


You expect me to keep count as well?

You want the authors? A.E.Coppard, Ernest Hemingway,Ambrose Bierce,V.S.Pritchett,James Joyce,Coppard again,H.E.Bates,Arthur Miller (twice),O Henry,Charles Dickens,Abbe Bourdelot,Bonaventure des Perriers,


And there was Chekhov’s Rothschild’s Fiddle too, should have been in that first ten, not to mention some stories by friends of mine…Kurt Tidmore’s Prairie Song for example, and Hugh Thomnpson’s The Italian Fisherman, and Marilyn Messenger’s unfinished story (she knows which one I mean), and nearly all of Vivien Jones’ Perfect Ten collection, and one from her White Poppies collection, and a Daphne Du Maurier, and D.H.Lawrence’s Odour of Chrysanthemums…..


And then the question, why is it that the women writers come in so far down the list, and so few? And then, the question, why are there no Jewish Writers in there (for all I know, Miller might have been Jewish, and so might others…I don’t enquire into that sort of thing), and what about redheads, or people who are left handed (like me), or adopted (like me), or apparently heterosexual (like me)? Or who don’t have beards? And does it matter anyway? If I listed my favourite poems, one of Josephine Dickinson’s would come in the first half dozen (Instead of Time), and if novels, Isoabel Colegate’s The Shooting Party would be there with Silas Marner.


If I’ve read all of Elizabeth Bowen’s short stories, and two collections of Alice Monro’s, and one of Miranda July’s, and yet none of their’s appear in my over-stuffed top ten, does it tell you anything about them, or anything about me?   And does the fact that my two Coppard entries are from over two hundred stories, and my two Miller’s are from sixteen? From my own several hundred attempts I think four stand out, and one of them I’m still post-creatively infatuated with! And there’s another ought to be in there, but…. Why are there no African stories, or South American, or Asian ones? Why are there none from Wigton, or Wigtown for that matter? Why none from China? How many have you read from my home town, by the way?


And I sort of know that if push came to shove, I’d rescue – desert island disc style – two from the waves (Weep Not My Wanton and The Little Farm – I think…..)


And what about all the ones I have forgotten, for the moment, or really forgotten? How many of them, if remembered, would spring into that top ten? And in fact, isn’t the ten of your top favourite anythings of anytime, just a snapshot of where you are, and when, at that place, and that moment?

(and Christine Howe’s Dancing With Johnny)…oh, yes, and ……

Ulysses, for me, is a man’s book. It is a novel about being a man, by someone who focussed his attention on that issue, because, being a him, it was central to his understanding of himself. He was also, so far as I am aware, a hetero-sexual man – if there is a distinction to be made – and I take this novel to be an insider’s view of that condition. For me, iIMG_7421t is a book about being a hetero-sexual man in relation to women, and to other men.

Molly Bloom’s monologue, therefore, occupies a key position both in the novel, and, I suspect, in our opinion forming in relation to it. Placed at the end of the story it attracts attention because of that placement – and here I find another unusual quality in Ulysses, unusual that is, in relation to the novel form in general. I’m very happy to argue that the fundamental difference between short stories and novels can best be summed up by the analogy with a journey: the novel is about the travelling. The short story is about the destination. Yet here is a forty page tour de force that, on a first couple of readings, seems to be both destination, and culmination of Bloom’s wanderings. Getting back to Molly, in however many ways you want to interpret that idea, is what has driven Bloom throughout the day. She has never left his, or our minds, except temporarily. She is ‘the woman’ in his life, despite all those others that jostle his consciousness, of his own concupiscence, of his own emotions.

I have heard people talk of Molly as some sort of ‘earth Goddess’, a symbolic mother figure, the Alpha and Omega and all that clever elevated stuff. I have heard them also damn the book, because Molly fails some test of credibility or authenticity, from a woman’s perspective, or as an objective presentation of some putative female essence.

But Molly is not some character dreamed up by a committee of Feminists, nor by a laboratory full of scientists, nor an academic Department of Sociologists. She is neither objective, nor representative, of anything except James Joyce’s understanding of his own feelings, transmuted, transmigrated even, into the fictional mind of his fictional character, Leopold Bloom. Molly’s authenticity does not lie in her credibility as a woman, but in the effectiveness of her presentation as a fictional character. Do not look for an explanation of what woman means in a universal sense, in Molly, but rather look to understand what it means to Bloom, and, if you must, through him, to Joyce himself. Compare that with your own understanding, and your own feelings, by all means, but recognise that the differences will not discredit the character created in his imagination – though they may challenge the one forged in your own.

In fact, as I have read the book again I have found progressively that I see Molly more as a reflection on Bloom himself, than on any notion of woman. It is what Bloom thinks about that the mirror is being held up to. It is what we, as men reading a man’s book, as women reading this man’s book, think of him, that is central to our response to the book. The suitors that Molly runs through in her mind are defeated by Ulysses Bloom, by virtue of not being him. Bloom is his own man, warts and all, and Molly’s monologue, for me at least, is part of Joyce’s telling of that story. His Odyssey is not a means of us understanding or perceiving her more clearly. Her monologue is another device for us to get clearer view of Bloom. Her final ‘yes’ confers victory on him.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAIf you’ve been following my blog, you’ll know that film/text adaptation interests me. Especially, that D.W.Griffiths cited Dickens as the source of his inspiration for the techniques of movie making that Griffiths became famous for.
A commonplace idea about movies is that they can do, at a glance, what it takes pages of text to achieve. Most obviously, this relates to the backgrounds against which the foregroound action or dialogue takes place. Authors are left with the choice between heavy handed description, which is said to bring narrative to a halt, or the provision of vague statements and very narrow details, leaving the reader to fill in the gaps.
So it was a surprise, when approaching the Oxen of the Sun chapter in Joyce’s Ulysses, that I found the movie backgrounds, in Strick’s film, to be much less detailed that the text in Joyce’s original. There’s a strange reversal here and it reveals something about the way the novel Ulysses works, a methodology that gives to the text a sense of real life – what perhaps Joyce was referring to when he talked about ‘refining himself out of existence’ – that we might more easily associate with a moving, and sounding, picture.
This is that Joyce builds up the reality of his novel by a series of repetitions. Sometimes whole sentences, often phrases or even single words, these references to times present and past, if we notice them, become like the echoes of memory in our own lives, being triggered later by other events. Text, in this case, triggers our recollections of text. The unusual word or phrase, the striking sentence, takes its meaning from a previous reading, gives meaning to a later one. Of course, this can be done in film too, but, unless I’m missing something – always a distinct possibility – Strick’s film doesn’t do it on anything like the scale, of variety and frequency, that Joyce’s novel does. In fact, if it tried to, we would be cutting so often, and so briefly, to visual equivalents of Joyce’s well placed prompts in the background of the scenes, that it would obscure the actions, and lines of the actors in the foreground. Some, I suspect, might say that Joyce’s writing itself suffers in places, from this tendency.
Stuart Gilbert, in his study, makes the point, that in the fantasies of the Circe chapter – which our little group will tackle, unaided by alcohol, next week – experienced by Bloom, and Stephen, (and us!), all the images have been drawn from these earlier references. Fantastical they may be, but each one is grounded in a verbal theme that Joyce had already planted in our minds. The line by line, one word at a time, telling of a story in language is difficult enough to follow. For a film to attempt the same depth and intensity in the showing of one might be completely overwhelming.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe one eyed monster gets put out by Ulysses in the original, but in Joyce’s story, Leopold Bloom’s encounter with the citizen is a little more nuanced.

There’s a lot to like in Cyclops, but perhaps not much that bears directly on the Boylan, Molly, Bloom triangle.

For a start there’s Garyowen, the dog; a mutt the like of which hadn’t been seen since Dickens wrote Bill Syke’s bull terrier. In Strick’s film the hound becomes a German Shepherd, which to my mind wasn’t the right sort of dog at all, even though Hitler had one! Worth remembering the name of that dog: it’ll crop up again soon; only a mention, but another thread that binds the disparate characters into this whole Dublin.

The Citizen is known to us all. He sits a corner, with ‘the friends we love (are) by our side and the foes we hate before us’. Life for him is simple, and the enemy always there. Identities change, of both friends and enemies, but so long as you can see the world as being made up of those two entities, and can attribute each label somewhere, anywhere, then you’re never in quandary about what to do. The Citizen is the antithesis to Bloom, and, antithetically, Bloom tries to reason with him. Beneath all this ‘grand politic’ though, something very personal is going on.

Bloom is being accused of something of which he is totally innocent, and ignorant. It’s one of the most elaborately planted time-bombs in any novel that I have read, and it concerns the horse that won, in actual reality, the grand horse race that is was being run on 16th June. That time-bomb goes off in Bloom’s face at the Ormond Bar, but we have to go way back into the novel to see it’s careful, and subtle planting. If you’re lost, take a look again at the section where Bloom encounters Nosey Flynn, and see what he does with that rolled up newspaper. Not only a wonderfully constructed plot device, it’s also a clever example of how words in English can take on quite different meanings when used, or understood, in different contexts.

This week the group are reading on through the Nausicca episode. It is eight O’clock of a summer evening in Dublin, and Leopold Bloom has not gone home. Neither will he for several hours yet. His wife is being gone through by Blazes Boylan – the euphemism is Joyce’s– several times. He can’t do anything about it, except imagine.

This is a potent brew, for Joyce catches his hero on the multiple hooks of pain and pleasure, something he seems to have experienced, and which, I think, he expects us to have as well. I knew an old woman – it’s not the opening of a nursery rhyme- who used to say ‘a standing prick has no conscience.’ From what I remember, that might well be true! And, I suspect there are other organs, that Mr Bloom might relish, that might also be lacking in that department, standing or supine.

Bloom, in the gathering dusk stands by the sea wall watching young women on the beach. One of them, Gery MacDowell, leaning back, lifting her knee, exposes her Edwardian undies to him. Bloom masturbates at the sight. As Gerty walks off, and fireworks explode over Dublin, Bloom sees she is lame.

Joyce’s encounter with a lame woman is documented, though any possible sexual response on his part is not. But the fiction’s the thing, and its importance to us. How does Bloom’s encounter resonate with us? With me? With you?

This is one of those scenes that might well be seen differently through modern eyes, compared to the way it would have been viewed in when the novel was published.

In the nineteen twenties publishing such encounters might have been thought indecent, though there would have been plenty of smutty books around that would tell of worse – or better, and many respectable ones that dot, dot, dotted the implications of such scenes. There’s a possible deeper difference to: our attitude to the incident in a post-women’s lib world, in a post-Saville world.

It would be easy to use this scene as a springboard to discussion about abuse. I’ve seen several headlines recently that suggest that male arousal by the public display of the female form is ‘perverted’. The most recent I noticed was ‘pervs’ caught by a photograph online of a man’s buttocks, presented, as if they were his wife’s breasts. There is an interesting issue here about our reactions, as men or women, to what we see, or experience in any way, with our senses, and how society expects us to mediate those reactions into responses that are deemed acceptable. These expectations change, and I suspect for most of us, in any generation, they will change noticeably during an average lifetime. 1904 begins to look a long time ago, not so much in how people act and react, but in how they are expected to.

Bloom has already ogled, surreptitiously, two women: the woman in the butchers, and the lady about to mount (sic) her carriage. Joyce has referred to a man with a mirror in his hat – for looking up skirts! Something which he’d be arrested for, and possibly put on the sex offenders list today, but which, before the First World War would have been ‘acceptable’, in that sense of being ‘normal’, even if unwelcome.

If attitudes have hardened, clarified, does the book unintentionally diminish Bloom as a hero in our eyes? Should it?

My thinking is that it should not, and for the reason that something is happening here that neatly displays the fundamental difference between fiction and reality. It is not merely that there is no Bloom, no Gerty MacDowell, that there is no exposing and masturbating, but that we, the readers – who are not really watching an incident, but having one created in our imaginations – are told the motivations, and sensations of both participants. This is something that we could not at all know if we were to hear of, or indeed witness, what the book portrays.

E.M.Forster in that gem of a book about the novel, ‘Aspects of the Novel’ touches on this: that we know far more about fictional characters than we do about real ones. He uses Moll Flanders as his example, but this scene in Ulysses, it seems to me, is a perfect example of the reader knowing what could not be known in reality.

When we read Gerty’s and Bloom’s thoughts, we are reading their creator’s authoritative version of them. This is what they are thinking and feeling, what they are doing. It is not their version, nor any ambiguous speculation by some outsider. And Joyce is quite clear, that they are both playing a game of their own fantasising. They are both depicted as recognising the motivations, and actions of the other, something that we cannot really replicate in our real lives.

Yet, Joyce does not suggest that either knows what the other is doing. They only have belief in it.

This is one of the scenes that did not work well for me in Joseph Strick’s sincere film adaptation. Transposed into a short-skirted nineteen sixties just about everything that Bloom, and this imagining onlooker, found alluring was notably absent. When I first read the book, as a teenager, questions of abuse/exploitation did not enter my head! Nor when I read it ten years later, nor even ten years after that. After a gap of twenty years though, returning to the book, I found that the scene did raise the issue. Another example of the context in which a book is read making a difference to the way it is perceived.

I began to sense this week that I was making some headway in evangelising the Joycean eye for language, when one of the group (no names, no blushes) asked me if I thought the phrase I used to title this blog post was a Joycean pun:

Me neither, until it was pointed out what you get if you remove a few letters…..OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAfter Lestrygonians, Scylla & Charibdis. After the food, food for thought as Stephen expounds his promised theory of Shakespeare. Joyce is said to have lifted this from the works of Frank Harris who had published before the First World War a book called The Man Shakespeare, in which the relationship between the bard and Ann Hathaway is examined. Frank Harris is an interesting character in his own right, played by Jack Lemon in the film Cowboy. Reputedly he kidnapped a Mexican heiress from her hacienda and eloped with her over the Rio Grande! He became a London editor, a friend of Oscar Wilde and a publisher of H.G.Wells and Bernard Shaw. His four volume biography, My Life and Loves was banned for a time due to its explicit sexual content. So, if Joyce did borrow from him, he would seem a suitable source for inclusion in the similarly racy Ulysses.

Scylla & Charibdis are passed between quite neatly. You might almost miss it:

‘A man passed out between them, bowing, greeting.’

This is Bloom, stepping between Stephen and Mulligan. ‘The wandering jew’, Mulligan calls him as he goes. This chapter is ending, The Wandering Rocks is about to begin, with Father John Conmee S.J. Giving us a neat time-check: ‘Five to three.’

We travel with the good father, observing what he sees, and noting what he thinks. He is our insight into the church that Joyce resisted so strongly.

The chapter, like Aeolus is made up of discrete sections, though this time without headings. In the second we catch a glimpse of Molly’s arm:

‘from a window in Eccles street flung forth a coin.’

And in the next: ‘A plump bare generous arm shone, was seen,

held forth from a white petticoatbodice and taut shiftstraps.’

And then, a couple of paragraphs on, Blazes Boylan, as H.E.L.Y.’S. Men file past, as they did for Bloom.

The more you read on in this novel, the more you will see; and with each reading that amount will increase. Like a face you meet repeatedly, its detail etches itself into your consciousness.

McCoy, at the Dolphin, says, ‘After three’ and then ‘Who’s riding her?’

and we know the answer to that.

Yet so much of what is in here to recognise, will depend on what you already know, for this novel does not so much create a world as represent one, and it is not only the world of Dublin in 1904. Joyce gives us the world of his own reading and education, and if you have not shared that then you will have a massive landscape of references to discover before you can begin to see the landscape that he is painting here.

I had a grammar school education, and not a successful one. They managed to put me off Homer for half a century, but not quite forever! With Shakespeare – due to a single teacher – they failed utterly to put me off, so the Shakespearean allusions, puns and references came a little easier; but in classical Greek I’m all at sea. It’s the Sirens, though, the Misses Douce and Kennedy, who dominate the next scene, where Bloom eats in the restaurant, while in the bar of the Ormond, Simon Dedalus, and Ben Dollard sing. Boylan has also been there. Again, Bloom sees him, but he doesn’t see Bloom. This scene has the delightful Miss Douce snapping her stocking elastic beneath her skirt to sound the hour. Four O’clock. Blazes is eager to be away, and why wouldn’t he be?

We hear throughout the chapter a ‘tap’ that might make us think of Boylan knocking on Molly’s door, or of the blind strippling, who has left his tuning fork in the bar, and will return for it. There is a tapping insistence too about Boylan’s approaching romp with Molly, and lots of references to jingling and jauntiness. In a nice juxtaposition Joyce calls Boylan the ‘conquering hero’, whereas Bloom is the ‘unconquered’ one. Pretending to be answering an ad, Bloom, as Henry, writes to Martha. Throughout it all, the satiny bosoms of the two misses, rise and fall.

As our little reading group enters its fourth week, we’re heading through to our appointment with The Cyclops, of which more next blog.OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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…




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


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!’