Welcome back to my series on Joyce’s Ulysses. In case you missed the first post, the link can be found here, discussing my first thoughts on the first three episodes (Joyce used the term ‘episodes’ rather than ‘chapters). In this post, I’ll be covering episodes four to six the first episodes that feature Leopold Bloom, the protagonist of the book. This is also the opening section of part two of the novel, the longest part, and the part that follows (mostly) Bloom’s day.
I was expecting the switch to Bloom’s perspective before I started to read episode four, but it shocked me afterwards how much it felt like I’d missed that should, supposedly, be obvious from the text. I think the thing I’m struggling to adapt to is that nothing is as obvious as it could be in Ulysses – the obfuscation is a major part of the novel. Anything that lies just below the surface that could be inferred easily in most novels is far more obscured in Ulysses, and the text seems to give much less in terms of the obvious. Episode four opens with Bloom considering meat, and proceeds to follow him to the butchers to buy a kidney for breakfast. This much, I gathered, but I managed to completely miss the introduction to Bloom’s daughter Milly, who he thinks about for a period upon receiving a letter from her. Somehow, I assumed that Milly was a nickname for Bloom’s wife, Molly, and just assumed he was thinking about his wife whenever his daughter’s name came up for an embarrassingly long time.
Episode five follows in a similar style to four, following Bloom as he returns out into Dublin. This episode starts to develop Bloom’s plans for the day: he is heading to the funeral of Paddy Dignam, a name he frequently returns to throughout his day. Little seems to be said about Bloom’s relationship with Dignam aside from their apparent friendship, but regardless, Dignam’s death seems to be weighing on Bloom. The main issue I found reading this episode was the confusion around Bloom’s secret alter ego/pseudonym, Henry Flower. Bloom picks up a letter from a woman named Martha, and I didn’t pick up on his use of pseudonym or the nature of their relationship until a bit later. I was conflating the letter from Martha with the letters Bloom receives in the earlier episodes, and was confused by the line Bloom keeps seeming to return to, when the letter-writer asks what scent his wife wears. I did, however, follow much of the rest of the episode. The details of the scene in the chemists managed to elude me, but for the most part I felt relatively confident reading the rest of this episode, perhaps because the style was very similar to that of the previous episodes, giving me a better chance to adapt to the style, and the style was also reasonably similar to that of episode three, though four and five are differentiated from three because of their focus on Bloom instead of Dedalus, meaning the voice was changed.
“Hades”, or episode six, or the funeral episode was probably the episode that gripped my interest the most out of the episodes I’ve written about so far. The conversation between the men in the cart as they make their way to the funeral was some of the most interesting character work I’ve seen. The men in the cart with Bloom are exceptionally well-developed over the time we spend with them (Dedalus’ father, Simon Dedalus, was the most interesting character in this scene in my opinion), and it offers a great insight into the kinds of gossip happening in Dublin in 1904. I also picked up on a couple of jokes in Hades I was quite proud of: I spotted the first appearance of the ‘macintosh man’, a mysterious, unknown figure who keeps reappearing in the text, and realised the moment where Bloom imagines Dignam’s coffin falling out the carriage and the damage that would be done to the body was in fact, imaginary, despite the rather convincing presentation of the scenario. Dignam’s funeral also seems to act as a way for Bloom to mourn in a more general sense rather than for Dignam himself. Bloom’s mind is preoccupied with ideas of death, though I noticed few direct references to Dignam.
The first few Bloom episodes of Ulysses were definitely more challenging to read than the Dedalus episodes, but overall, I preferred the experience of being inside Bloom’s head and having an insight into his thoughts. Bloom’s thoughts seem much more mundane than Dedalus’, and Bloom seems to have a more simplistic way of seeing the world that seems to drag me in more. The normality of his day, as well, is somehow more attractive to me than Dedalus’ morning which seems rather unbelievable to the mundanity of Bloom’s breakfast, interactions with acquaintances and experience at the funeral. There are no gunshots or imagined panthers in Bloom’s morning.
Again, I made use of the Yale Modernism essays to offer an understanding of the episodes. The links to the pages for episodes one to three are in my previous post, and four, five and six have been linked respectively.