Where to start with this section… The second to last of my Ulysses posts, and the last episodes in part two. My love for thirteen and fifteen is almost entirely outweighed by the pain that is reading episode fourteen, “Oxen of the Sun”. These episodes are where the book really descends into the bizarre, blurring imagination, memory and reality, particularly in episode fifteen, “Circe”. The focus in these episodes seems to turn back to Bloom, and as the night draws in, the book starts to more directly address the topic of sex, with a focus on adultery and prostitution, mirroring the darker surroundings. This section is the reason that Ulysses was finally banned for obscenity, and despite the idea of books being banned for obscenity in 21st century Britain, where 50 Shades of Grey was a phenomenon, is bizarre, reading “Nausicaa” does offer an explanation as to why it was seen as so scandalous when it was published.
“Nausicaa” takes place on the beach, and returns the focus towards Bloom again. This episode also heavily features a group of young women, one of whom Bloom takes particular interest in. While I didn’t follow the heavy parallels to The Odyssey, having very limited understanding of the epic Ulysses aims to mirror, I did manage to follow the main events of the episode. This is the second example of Bloom’s extramarital relationships, the first being his written correspondence with Martha. Like with Martha, Bloom’s interaction with Gerty MacDowell does not involve physical contact between the two, though this affair is physical in a way that Bloom’s relationship with Martha doesn’t appear to be. The episode offers frequent insights into Gerty’s mind, and her deliberate exposure of her leg to Bloom, who remains at a distance. The book has had several allusions to Bloom’s sexual appetite, most notably in his letters to Martha, and his portrayal of food and eating in “Lestrygonians”, though in this episode he finally acts on his desires. While the obscenity in this episode felt a little uncomfortable, I really enjoyed the character of Gerty, as the book has been very male-centric, and this is the first episode that offers a real insight into a woman’s mind.
Episode fourteen is known for being the hardest episode to understand, and, true to its reputation, I understood nothing. I knew before going into it that it was set in a hospital, and that it was linked to pregnancy, and that the language progressed through the evolution of the English language, from Latin to contemporary slang. The rest remains a mystery.
In a complete turn from episode fourteen, episode fifteen completely changes the form of the text, appearing in the form of a play script. I also found this episode much easier to understand, despite the surreal nature of the narrative. Bloom’s hallucinations, memories and imagination all coalesce into a series of bizarre, somewhat disjointed scenes, as he jumps in and out of fantasy, reality, and memory. This episode is the longest in the book by far – around 150 pages – but is a much easier read than episode fourteen, meaning the length isn’t as daunting. This episode again takes a more in depth exploration of Bloom’s sexuality, as well as exploring his relationship to Molly, sex, and women/femininity more generally. Bloom is also highly feminised in this episode, explicitly being referred to as “she” at points, reinforcing the feminine nature he is shown to have throughout the book. As the episode proceeds, Bloom seemed to gradually become more centred in reality: the whorehouse he followed Dedalus to in the previous episode. This episode also offers evidence for a physical affair Bloom had with an old servant of his, suggesting he does not always limit his extramarital relations to letter-writing and voyeurism as he does with Martha and Gerty.
Despite finding “Oxen of the Sun” almost impossible to parse, I really enjoyed getting to read “Nausicaa” and “Circe”, particularly “Circe” with its deliberate confusion of fantasy and reality. Having finished part two of the novel, this leaves me with only the third and final part to consider, which I’ll do in my next, and final, blog post. I’m at a point where I’ve already finished the book, as mentioned previously, and I’m going back through to go over parts I didn’t understand, and I’m pleased to report that “Oxen of the Sun” now makes far more sense, though it wouldn’t be a true series on my first thoughts of Ulysses if I’d included everything I know now I’ve researched and reread it.
The links to my thoughts on episodes one to three, four to six, seven to nine and ten to twelve are all linked, and the links to the Yale Modernism essays on “Nausicaa”, “Oxen of the Sun”, and “Circe” are as well. I’d also like to link to the Shmoop page for “Oxen of the Sun”, which takes a more detailed view of the plot, and marks out the stylistic changes as well. I used this page when rereading to refer to the exact points where the styles in “Oxen of the Sun” changes, as the Shmoop page does require some level of guessing. The method I used to finally have some understanding of “Oxen of the Sun” was by using the Shmoop page to understand what was happening in each stylistic section, and using the page linked above to know exactly where the style began and ended to know exactly which passage the Shmoop was referring to.