Review & Recommend: Ulysses Episodes 7-9 - James Joyce

Ulysses – James Joyce (Episodes 7-9): Review & Recommend | CLASSICS CATCHUPS

This is the third installment in my miniseries (if you could call it that) of Ulysses blog posts, and it also marks the halfway point, at least in terms of having covered half the episodes. I’m actually quite a way ahead of the posts now — about to read the penultimate episode, in fact, but I’ve not had chance to keep writing quite as quickly as I’m reading. I also didn’t decide until a bit of the way through that I was going to start writing these, and haven’t really tried to catch up. Episodes seven to nine covers “Aeolus”, “Lestrygonians” and “Scylla and Charbydis”, some of the densest episodes so far in the book. I certainly didn’t really follow “Aeolus” or “Scylla and Charbydis”, though “Lestrygonians” was a bit easier to follow. These episodes also follow Bloom, though there’s a heavier focus on the other characters than there was in the previous three episodes.

“Aeolus”, episode seven, takes place in the newspaper offices, and the chaos of the characters running around made it almost impossible for me to follow. I noticed the reappearance of Stephen Dedalus, protagonist of the first three episodes, along with the letter given to him my his boss. I also managed to just about follow Bloom this episode: his visit to the offices with an idea for an advertisement, and the subsequent haggling he finds himself forced into. The more minor characters, however, Lenehan and O’Molloy seemed more like background decoration than characters with their own purposes and motives, though they probably only appeared this way to me because I was too focused on trying to follow Bloom’s journey. Either way, I managed to completely miss their reasons for being at the offices, and it all faded into background noise. I also didn’t entirely understand who the people Bloom was interacting with were, but I followed his attempt and subsequent dismissal, and determination to continue to pursue his idea.

After the chaos of episode seven, episode eight was a nice antidote, with the focus back on Bloom, chronicling his lunchtime experiences. Bloom’s focus, however, does jump around, from one person to the next, thinking about the food they are consuming or are about to consume. I did find it tricky to follow exactly where he was, because his thoughts were so consumed by the food of others rather than his own progress through the city. The thoughts of his past with his wife, Molly, were also interesting to me, especially given their placement, in the middle of an episode about food. His thoughts of Molly, I’ve noticed as I progress further through the book, are almost all of their early relationship; reminisces of the old days. This episode as well, offers a reason for Molly’s affair: Bloom reveals he hasn’t been able to face a sexual relationship with his wife since the death of their son. To me, this made Molly’s affair more understandable, and seemed to explain Bloom’s near-acceptance of her unfaithfulness and his own extramarital quasi-relationship with the mysterious Martha. This line about Rudy offers an explanation for both Blooms looking to external relations to make up for something lacking in their marriage — Leopold can’t face sex with Molly because of his fears of having another experience like Rudy, while still craving an emotional and sexual intimacy he seems to have lost with Molly because of his fear while Molly craves the sexual relationship she used to enjoy with Leopold, but is forced to look elsewhere because of Leopold’s inability to satisfy her. This insight into the Bloom’s relationship didn’t quite hit me until the Yale modernism essay (linked below) cited the line about Rudy and emphasised the celibacy resulting from his death, but was important to my understanding of the relationship between Leopold and Molly.

However, in true Ulysses fashion, just after an episode where I felt I’d managed to follow most of the going-ons, I was hit with “Scylla and Charybdis”, episode nine. This episode takes place in the library, and moves the focus away from Bloom and back to Dedalus. I followed this episode insofar as I knew Dedalus was talking about Hamlet from previous reading, and I understood that he was talking about Hamlet, as well as Shakespeare more generally, and he was saying some very clever things. However, exactly what he was saying entirely eluded me, and the appearance of the Buck Mulligan play towards the end of the episode only served to baffle me further. I had accepted before reading this episode that it was one I would struggle with, and I was certainly proven right on my read through. Even having read around this chapter on various websites and having discussions about it, I’m still not entirely sure of what point Dedalus was trying to make in his speeches, and nor do I understand the section towards the end where Mulligan introduces his bizarre play.

Episodes seven to nine were definitely a much different experience to the first six episodes, with their diversion from the protagonist of the section, and focus on more minor characters, as well as the chaos and density present in episodes seven and nine. I definitely preferred the previous episodes, which I’ve written about here and here. Happy, however, to have managed to read through, read about, and write about the first nine episodes. Here’s to completing the second nine!

The links to the Yale modernism essays are, as ever linked here for episode seven, episode eight, and episode nine, with all previous essays linked in the earlier relevant posts.

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