Seminar, 8 July – ‘Sirens’, 1095-1113

On 8th July 2022, the seminar gathered in person for the first time in two and a half years. We read ‘Sirens’ from line 11:1095: ‘Ventriloquise’ to 11:1113: ‘All lost in pity for croppy’.

Leopold Bloom is thinking about communicating with Lydia Douce, at whom he is gazing. ‘Ventriloquise’ thus seems to indicate another form of communication. With ‘My lips closed’ he would perhaps talk to her by throwing his voice. ‘Think in my stom’, implying ‘stomach’, seems to refer to the stomach-based art of ventriloquy (a connection visible in French ventre), though it is also conceivable that this is the beginning of the stirring in Bloom’s stomach that eventually leads to his breaking wind. If it doesn’t refer to that, ‘What?’ asks ‘what, then, would I like to say to the barmaid?’

The answer is: ‘Will? You? I. Want. You. To’ (11:1096), which seems essentially a simple romantic or erotic proposal. It’s hard to see how Bloom conceives of these words, or why they are staccato: are they intended as sounds that he would somehow, as ventriloquist, throw across the room, overcoming his own shyness?

‘With hoarse rude fury the yeoman cursed, swelling in apoplectic bitch’s bastard’ (11:1097-8): this renders lines from ‘The Croppy Boy’ which Ben Dollard is singing. The lyrics of the song as given by Don Gifford mention ‘fiery glare’ and ‘fury hoarse’: the ‘yeoman captain’ is not only deceitful but actually furious at the croppy boy, whom he dubs a traitor. Joyce has added ‘rude’ and the emphatic ‘swelling in apoplectic’, terms not hinted at in the song. Primarily, the fact that the captain ‘breathed a curse’ has been linked to the idea of ‘cursing’ as obscenity, and linked back once more to the outburst from the blind piano tuner at 10:1120. ‘A good thought, boy, to come. One hour’s your time to live, your last’ (11:1098-9) quotes and paraphrases the song: ‘your last’ is the one addition to Ulysses not present in the lyric.

‘Tap. Tap’ (11:1100 is the second and last double-tap, signalling the same piano tuner just invoked.

‘Thrill now’ is Leopold Bloom’s reflection, not for the first time, on the audience’s reaction to the song (‘now’ perhaps indicating that it has reached a dramatic, especially ‘thrilling’ moment). But the ‘they’ in ‘Pity they feel’ seems likely to refer specifically to women. He is looking at Lydia Douce and she is the current instance of an auditor to the song, and from her reaction he, characteristically enough, seems to generalise about women’s emotions. Douce may well be on the verge of shedding a tear: thus ‘To wipe away a tear for martyrs that want to, dying to, die’ (11:1101-2). The main twist in this line is ‘dying to’, which idiomatically indicates a strong wish to do something but is ironised by the fact that what martyrs want to do (are dying to do) is … to die. The interpolated ‘dying to’ seems more like a ‘Sirens’ narrative twist than a feature of interior monologue. The next couple of lines reinforce the sense that Bloom is thinking in particular of women’s emotions: it is women, perhaps, who cry ‘For all things dying, for all things born’. Are these two categories the same: is a birth sad because one knows that what’s born (like a baby) will also one day die? The lines do suggest such a grand ‘cycle of life’ perspective, akin to that at 8:480-1. The notion of things being born in any case takes Bloom’s thought back to Mina Purefoy: ‘Hope she’s over’, that is, he hopes she’s had her baby and is no longer suffering. ‘Because their wombs’ naturally arises from thinking about childbirth but may well mean ‘Women have the heightened emotions just described because of the action of their wombs’.

In the next paragraph the language becomes more elaborate and grammatically unorthodox, and moves beyond Bloom’s own voice. Looking at drafts via the James Joyce Digital Archive repeatedly showed us how much Joyce had modified the phrasing. In the final version, anyway, we have ‘A liquid of womb of woman eyeball gazed under a fence of lashes, calmly, hearing’ (11:1104-5). The concrete meaning here is not too complex: Lydia Douce is listening to (‘hearing’) the song, ‘calmly’ (despite the speculation just now about emotional women). Her eye (‘woman eyeball’) ‘gazed’ (ahead, as it has done previously, for instance at 11:1044), albeit ‘under a fence of lashes’ (which may suggest that it is closing slightly). It appears that she is indeed on the verge of tears: thus ‘liquid’, which the ‘fence of lashes’ might work to protect her from or clean up. ‘Womb’ has followed on from the previous line, in a typical ‘Sirens’ mode in which a word echoes and resounds from one line to another, even when it does not especially belong. ‘Womb’ clearly sounds akin to ‘woman’, and is broadly associated with it (Douce, Bloom may think, is a woman and has a womb), though we noted that the two words are not in fact etymologically related. Though the ‘liquid’ seems to be tears, the idea of liquid also consorts well enough with that of the womb, so two kinds of liquid from the woman’s body are at some level invoked.

‘See real beauty of the eye when she not speaks’ (11:1105) sounds rather like a sexist joke: ‘Meet my wife – she’s a beaut when she’s not talking’, or the like. Bloom hasn’t actually seen Douce speak that much, and she seems to have been silent through the song so far. The main meaning of his thought seems to be that her beauty is at its height when she is observed in silent reflection, caught off guard. ‘When she not speaks’ is evidently an unusual way to say ‘when she’s not speaking’, and Joyce seems to have deliberately heightened this while revising the text.

‘On yonder river’ is from ‘The Croppy Boy’: ‘Upon yon river three tenders float’. The quoted phrase here picks up the ‘liquid’ of Douce’s eye and also arguably feeds forward to ‘wave’ in the next sentence: ‘At each slow satiny heaving bosom’s wave (her heaving embon) red rose rose slowly sank red rose’ (11:1106-7). The meaning again is simple enough: Douce’s bosom, clad in black satin, goes up and down as she breathes, and the rose on it also goes up and down accordingly. It may be implied that her breathing is somehow heightened because of the tension and ‘thrill’ of the song, though it is ‘slow’ in any case, not quickened. ‘her heaving embon’ is an insertion from Sweets of Sin (10:616) and may indicate that Bloom is actually reminded of the fragment he read by the sight of Douce’s bosom. Or it may, perhaps more likely, just be a case of the text mischievously remembering itself. In ‘red rose rose’, the same word goes from being subject to verb. The adverb ‘slowly’ seems, quite likely, to attach to the process of sinking – ‘sank red rose’ – rather than rising.

‘Heartbeats: her breath: breath that is life’ (11:1107) is Bloom’s reflection. Watching her breath go up and down naturally enough prompts ‘her breath’. ‘Heartbeats’ are a slightly different matter, but related as a bodily rhythm which, like breath, suggest ‘life’. ‘Breath that is life’ may thus be very literal (if you breathe, and your heart beats, you’re alive), though the phrase may also be carrying connotations from Christian idiom about the breath of life.

The next line puzzled us for a while: ‘And all the tiny tiny fernfoils trembled of maidenhair’ (11:1108). It may refer to the leaves, and perhaps the stalk, that come with the rose that Douce is wearing. These floral elements would carry ‘tiny tiny fernfoils’ that also, of necessity, rise and fall with her bosom that carries them. If Bloom is thinking this, then his eye would seem to be zooming in impressively (or implausibly) close. It was also suggested that the ‘tiny fernfoils of maidenhair’ could be hairs inside Douce’s ear (the ear being the organ of the episode), trembling as sound passes them. This would seem to make the image an even more extreme close-up. Amid these readings, we lose what might to some readers have seemed the most obvious connotation: something erotic, with ‘maidenhair’ possibly suggesting the pubic hair of a woman whom Bloom (rightly or wrongly) believes to be a virgin (11:1086), or also conceivably suggesting hairs elsewhere – for instance on her arms. As a group we were not certain which primary reading was correct, but perhaps favoured the floral one as most probable.

‘But look. The bright stars fade. O rose! Castile. The morn’ (11:1109): the ‘Sirens’ narrative voice recalls lines sung earlier at 11:320-22. Why? Perhaps because the focus on the rose has recalled Lenehan’s reference to Douce as ‘Rose of Castile’ which came just after those lines (11:329). As ‘But look’ does not feature in the relevant song ‘Goodbye, Sweetheart, Goodbye’, the seminar wondered if ‘But look’ also referred to a description of daybreak in Hamlet.

‘Ha. Lidwell. For him then not for’ (11:1110): Bloom sees Lidwell at the bar (but why hasn’t he noticed him before?) and realises that Douce’s display has been for Lidwell rather than for Bloom himself (as he has previously suggested, as at 11:1044-5). That is: ‘[She’s posing] For him [Lidwell] then[,] not for [me]’. ‘Ha’, uncharacteristic from Bloom outside the ‘high grade ha’ (4:70), is thus wry, though not bitter. Lidwell looks ‘Infatuated’ and Bloom wonders if he, gazing at Douce, looks the same: ‘I like that?’. The ‘though’ in the next sentence implies otherwise. ‘See her from here though’ means ‘No, if you see her from where I’m seeing her, you can avoid infatuation’. That’s because the angle shows the debris behind the bar: ‘Popped corks, splashes of beerfroth, stacks of empties’ (11:1111). Again a method to avoid the seduction of a siren is implied: seeing the messy reality behind the glamour.

‘On the smooth jutting beerpull laid Lydia hand lightly, plumply, leave it to my hands’ (11:1111-2). We thought that she was not actually, yet, pulling a pint, merely touching the pump, as part of an idle visual display. It might be surprising that her hand is laid ‘plumply’ – is she, to any degree, plump? Little other evidence is available for this: we can only really note the reference to her body as ‘Fine goods in small parcels’ at 11:368. ‘Leave it to my hands’ is a throwback to her lament about sunburn (11:121), where the meaning seemed to be roughly ‘And trust my hands to be sunburned too’. ‘All lost in pity for croppy’ implies something like ‘Her manual gestures with the beerpull are distracted or unconscious, because her mind is lost in pity for the song she’s hearing’. ‘All lost’ might also recall the phrase ‘All is lost’, connected with a song earlier in the episode (11:629).

We will resume at 11:1113 with the unusually suggestive sentence commencing ‘Fro, to’.


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Seminar, 10 June – ‘Sirens’, 1072-1094

On 10th June 2022, the seminar gathered online to continue its analysis of ‘Sirens’, commencing at line 11:1072: ‘Ireland comes now’, and making it to 11:1094.

‘Ireland comes now’: Leopold Bloom’s interior monologue refers to the fact that ‘The Croppy Boy’, delivered by Ben Dollard, has reached the assertion of loyalty to country. ‘My country above the king’ indeed, though the word ‘Ireland’ specifically is introduced by Bloom. ‘She listens’ means: Lydia Douce, observed at the bar in previous paragraphs, continues to listen to the song. It is at her that Bloom has ‘Looked enough’, making it a fair ‘Time to be shoving’ (11:1073). ‘Who fears to speak of nineteen four?’ is slightly more mysterious, though. It plainly refers to ‘Who fears to speak of ninety-eight?’, a nationalist reference to the rebellion of 1798. ‘Ninety-eight’ is well enough echoed in ‘nineteen four’, which may make the line simply auditory play. But what else, if anything, does it mean? Perhaps that the idea of rebellion in 1904 is indeed fearful for the middle-aged saloon bar patriots who are happy to sing about revolts safely in the past. No rebellion is on the cards in 1904, though it is actually closer than Bloom would guess.

A line (11:1074) describes quite straightforwardly Ben Dollard’s rendition of the song, conflating him with the character as ‘Dollard the croppy’. The piano tuner’s cane sounds ‘Tap’.

‘Bloom looked’ (11:1076) resumes ‘Looked enough’, and ‘unblessed to go’ inverts the croppy boy’s request to be blessed and let go to fight. Back to Lydia Douce then: ‘Got up to kill: on eighteen bob a week’. To be dressed to kill is a familiar idiom, here taking on additional siren connotations of seductive danger. Bloom’s thought is that Douce (and probably Kennedy too) is remarkably able to achieve glamour on her limited wages. ‘Fellows shell out the dibs’ appears to mean that if a woman is ‘got up’ well enough, she can supplement her wages through treats from suitors. ‘Want to keep your weathereye open’ has nautical airs, but seems primarily to mean that if you are courting such a woman, you need to be careful of rivals. The theme and the maritime flavour is loosely maintained by the half-quotation ‘Those girls, those lovely’. ‘By the sad sea waves’ is a quotation from the opera The Bride of Venice, according to Don Gifford. By the waves, perhaps as in Douce’s holiday in Rostrevor (11:197), such a woman might have a ‘Chorusgirl’s romance’ (11:1078). In this paragraph we are in the territory of Katherine Mullin’s 2016 study of ‘working girls’ in late Victorian and Edwardian fiction, but Bloom’s thought also moves to imagine a court case in which letters – perhaps to or from a ‘chorusgirl’ – are ‘read out for breach of promise’. This leads to a notion that his own letters could be used similarly: ‘Henry’, which Martha Clifford has referred to as ‘The lovely name you [have]’. ‘I never signed it’ might seem to refer to the last letter he wrote to Martha Clifford, four pages earlier, but he did sign that, ‘Greek ee’ and extra ‘H’ included (11:899). Perhaps, then, ‘I never signed it’ is the imagined voice of a figure in such a legal case.

‘Low sank the music, air and words’ (11:1081) seems to mean that the music has become quiet and restrained before building again to a climax: ‘Then hastened’. From the song’s lyric, the revelation that a supposed priest is really a captain serving the British crown is rendered as ‘The false priest rustling soldier from his cassock. A yeoman captain’. ‘They know it all by heart’, Bloom thinks, implicating a group of others, while actually seeming to know it by heart himself. ‘The thrill they itch for’ again suggests that other Dubliners are susceptible to the attractions of such narrative song, while he isn’t: which at least partly consorts with the notion of Bloom’s Odyssean immunity to song (though Odysseus, in the myth, is only really immune because externally restrained, not because emotionally indifferent). ‘Yeoman cap’ adds little, save that it rhymes with the following ‘Tap. Tap’ (11:1084): a sound that will become more repetitive in these final pages of the episode.

‘Thrilled she listened, bending in sympathy to hear’ (11:1085) describes Douce, captivated by the song (clearly a reversal of the gendered role of the siren), and perhaps deliberately takes up the wording of Bloom’s ‘thrill they itch for’ (11:1083). Bloom now thinks (11:1086-1089) about Douce and by extension, as quite often, about women in general. ‘Blank face’ describes Douce’s expression as she ingenuously listens. ‘Virgin [I] should say’ is his judgment of her level of sexual experience: ‘or fingered only’ is an odd level of specificity for further speculation. In ‘Write something on it: page’, ‘it’ is Douce’s face (though in context it is perhaps notionally linked to her hymen: see also 11:540), as Bloom, left to his own devices, privately develops a flamboyantly sexist line of thought in which a woman is the raw material on which a male lover may express himself. (This has relatively little in common with Bloom’s actual sexual experience, or with his actual dealings with most women in the book; it has a strong element of fantasy, even compensation.) The logic develops. ‘If not what becomes of them?’ means: if a man does not ‘write’ on a woman through sexual intercourse, then she will, as Bloom thinks, ‘Decline, despair’. Sex ‘Keeps them young’, such that they (women) can ‘Even admire themselves’. ‘See’ may mean that he is once more setting his sights on Lydia, to think: ‘Play on her. Lip blow’. The notion that he develops is of a male ‘blowing’ on a woman’s ‘three holes’, so that oral sexual activity could make a kind of music. The ‘Body of white woman’ with its ‘holes’ is likened to ‘a flute alive’: so the episode’s musical theme has extended to make human beings into virtual instruments. The amateur musician would vary the sounds: ‘Blow gentle. Loud’. The thought of a woman’s ‘holes’ reminds Bloom of the anuses that he meant to look for on the statues of the National Library earlier.

These thoughts about unusually bold sexual behaviour lead Bloom to the statement that ‘They want it. Not too much polite’ (11:1090). Again the implication is of compensation, or of rather lamenting his own typical conduct, because he is in fact as ‘polite’ as almost any male in the book. Women’s desire for brash and demanding suitors is ‘why he gets them’: that is Blazes Boylan. ‘Gold in your pocket, brass in your face’: the former is clear enough (women like money), the latter implies ‘brass’ not as money but as shamelessness, as in the phrase ‘bold as brass’. ‘Brass’ here is close to ‘brazen’ (and for once gold is paired with brass, not bronze).

‘Say something. Make her hear’ (11:1091): is Bloom thinking that he should do this, now, to Lydia Douce? That would fulfil his view that a male benefits from showing ‘brass’ and ‘not too much polite’, but if so, he doesn’t go through with it. ‘With look to look’ might suggest a quieter alternative: that he and Douce could just exchange meaningful glances across the bar and communicate. Such non-verbal communication might be like ‘Songs without words’ (11:1092), though that description seems imprecise: songs still have sounds, notes and melodies. The phrase ‘songs without words’ clearly extends the emphasis of the episode, not just to music in general but to the relation between music and words, or the literary possibility of rendering songs without conventional words.

This leads to a memory of ‘Molly, that hurdygurdy boy’ (11:1092; which seems to have changed from an earlier draft version in which they encountered a German musician). We can’t tell, unless there is more corroboration elsewhere in the novel, where he and Molly met this boy, who we may guess was playing a hurdygurdy (yet another musical instrument) with a performing monkey. ‘Ithaca’ refers to an ‘Italian organgrinder’ (17:2137) as a possible lover for Molly: this could well be the same figure, and could hint that the ‘hurdygurdy boy’ was encountered in Dublin’s Italian quarter. (Modern Internet results place this area quite near the Ormond Hotel, and centre it on, of all places, Bloom Lane.) Molly somehow ‘knew he meant the monkey was sick’. How, and from what did she know it? From the way the boy played, or spoke to her, or looked? Did he speak Spanish to her – ‘Or because so like the Spanish’ (11:1093) – or Italian (which might conceivably sound ‘like the Spanish’), or is the meaning of this line rather that the Spanish, more than the Irish, are intuitive and can detect emotions ‘without words’? The next line, ‘Understand animals too that way’, would at least follow logically enough from that fanciful idea: the intuitive Mediterraneans are good at understanding the feelings of animals as well as the unspoken ones of humans. ‘Solomon did’ understand the feelings of animals: he had a ‘Gift of nature. Bloom is typically proud to think that Molly has one too.

We resumed on Friday 8th July 2022 at line 11:1095: ‘Ventriloquise’.


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Seminar, 5 May – ‘Sirens’, 1056-1071

On Friday 6th May 2022 the group gathered online to discuss ‘Sirens’: lines 11:1056-1071 in the corrected text.

‘She looked fine’ (11:1056): Leopold Bloom’s recollection of how Molly looked the night (referred to in the previous paragraph) Michael Gunn lent them a box at the opera. ‘Her crocus dress she wore lowcut, belongings on show’: we wondered what the crocus dress was – colour? floral pattern? – and decided it was a matter of design, referring to the sleeves. ‘Belongings on show’ reprises Molly’s own amused description of Ben Dollard (11:557), thus inverting the gender of the observation: this time the belongings are breasts. ‘Clove her breath was always in theatre when she bent to ask a question’: ‘always’ implies that this happened at least more than once. The meaning then is: when we used to go to the theatre, Molly would ask me things (this in itself flattering for Leopold Bloom, viewed as a source of knowledge by his wife); because it was in the theatre, during a performance, she would have to lean in close and whisper it: therefore I would smell her breath, which was clove (perhaps the result of her deliberately taking a comfit or similar for extra sweetness on her night out). The memory is relatively intimate, and fond: in the past tense, something that Bloom has not experienced very recently. ‘Told her what Spinoza says in that book of poor papa’s (11:1058): does this mean that Molly, during a theatrical show, asked Leopold a question pertaining to Spinoza? Possibly; possibly he introduced Spinoza as part of the answer though he wasn’t part of the question. Spinoza is mentioned a few times in the book, and ‘Ithaca’ states that Bloom owns Thoughts from Spinoza (17:1372): this may well be the book mentioned.

Molly also recalls this incident in ‘Penelope’: ‘and him the other side of me talking about Spinoza and his soul thats dead I suppose millions of years ago’ (18:1114-6). Her recollection suggests a lack of interest in the topic, which is the opposite of Bloom’s understanding: ‘Hypnotised, listening. Eyes like that. She bent’ (11:1059). Molly, in fact, says that she was suffering from menstruation: ‘I smiled the best I could all in a swamp leaning forward as if I was interested having to sit it out’ (18:1116-7). Putting the two episodes together makes for a rather sad, if comic, misunderstanding, which could feel overplayed if it wasn’t buried by the distance between the textual moments. Leopold Bloom recalls a ‘Chap in dresscircle staring down into her with his operaglass for all he was worth’ (11:1059-60): Molly also recalls him: ‘I was fit to be tied though I wouldnt give in with that gentleman of fashion staring down at me with his glasses’ (18:1113-4).

Mr Bloom heads rather sideways into more abstract reflection:

Beauty of music you must hear twice. Nature woman half a look. God made the country man the tune. Met him pike hoses. Philosophy. O rocks!

The first line suggests that music needs to be heard twice (at least?) to be fully appreciated, perhaps with a sense of its trajectory and ending built in to the second listening experience. (Some critics have said similar things about Ulysses; indeed the discreet links between episodes just noted are relevant to this claim.) On the other hand, the beauty of ‘Nature’ and ‘woman’ can be appreciated with a mere ‘half a look’. Vision is instantaneous, sound takes time. ‘God made the country man the tune’ (11:1061-2) is a mildly witty adaptation of a line by William Cowper: ‘God made the country, and man made the town’ (cited in Gifford, ‘Ulysses’ Annotated, 2nd edition, p.308). That original line appears to imply that the country is pure and good, the town impure and fallible. Bloom’s revision implies that God made ‘Nature’, which can be taken in with ‘half a look’, while man made ‘the tune’, which ‘you must hear twice’. If taken seriously, the statement may appear to elevate human creativity over divine creation, though we probably shouldn’t assume that Bloom is issuing profound truths. It was suggested, though, that his seemingly musings at moments like this explore real and complex issues (notably around music, art and taste), in a way that may go beyond the realistic.

‘Met him pike hoses’ (11:1062) is how Molly pronounced ‘metempsychosis’ in ‘Calypso’ (4:331-343). Or did she? Actually that passage doesn’t contain any ‘pike hoses’. Is this notorious phrase Bloom’s fabrication? Not necessarily, as Mr Bloom’s question ‘Met him what?’ (11:336) seems to be a response to something that Molly has said but that isn’t registered in the text. It’s convenient for polysemic suggestiveness that ‘pike hoses’ might combine something phallic with a notion of hosiery. Molly definitely did say ‘O rocks!’ (4:343). We reflected that no-one in the book says this, and we’re not sure if anyone in real life has ever done so either, save when quoting Ulysses. Here in ‘Sirens’ it follows Bloom’s thought of ‘Philosophy’: the general implication may be that his brief reflections on the differences between kinds of beauty are already becoming too speculative, the kind of thing with which his wife would be impatient.

‘All gone. All fallen. At the siege of Ross his father, at Gorey all his brothers fell’ (11:1063-4): all this is a paraphrase of the Croppy Boy’s statement that his male relatives, at least, have all perished in combat for Ireland. He will now go ‘To Wexford’, which recalls ‘we are the boys of Wexford’, sung by two newsboys in ‘Aeolus’ (7:427-8). That the Croppy Boy is ‘Last of his name and race’ (11:1064-5) prompts Mr Bloom to self-reflection. ‘I too. Last of my race’ (11:1066). This was altered in the writing process: the 3rd Proto Draft, according to the James Joyce Digital Archive, reads ‘I too. Last of my name’. Joyce seems to have accentuated the idea of ‘race’, which in Bloom’s case tends to emphasise Jewish identity. ‘Milly young student’ refers to the interest shown in Milly by Bannon, reported in her letter in ‘Calypso’. The line here implies the thought that Milly could procreate, with Bannon or another in future, but this doesn’t seem sufficient: it wouldn’t maintain his ‘name’, though from one point of view it would maintain his matrilineal Jewish line. Bloom’s thought remains negative: ‘Well, my fault perhaps. No son. Rudy. Too late now’ (11:1066-7). That’s straightforward enough: slightly less so is the turn to wonder: ‘Or if not? If not? If still?’ (11:1067). We pondered this sequence and whether the successive questions modify the thought.

‘He bore no hate’ (11:1068) is from the Croppy Boy, though it seems naturally to transfer to Mr Bloom and his characteristic equanimity. He reflects, prompted by the line: ‘Hate. Love. Those are names. Rudy. Soon I am old’ (11:1069). The effect is to distance himself from hate and love, diminished as mere ‘names’ (a word that echoes ‘his name and race’) and thus without substance. This is rather different from what he will say about the same words in the next episode (12:1485). ‘Rudy’ is a name too, and the thought of lacking a male heir remains on Bloom’s mind. ‘Soon I am old’: too old to produce one. (It’s again intriguing to compare the 3rd Proto Draft, which for this line reads: ‘I too. No hate. Why hate? Or love? Love one another. Rudy, if he had lived’.)

‘Big Ben his voice unfolded’ (11:1070): Dollard sings, the voice perhaps seeming to open up as it grows in volume or rises through a melody. ‘Great voice, Richie Goulding said, a flush struggling in his pale’: we might have forgotten that Goulding was still around, but indeed Bloom hasn’t quite left him yet, and he’s still praising singers. ‘a flush struggling in his pale’ appears to means that a slight redness appears in his pale (because unhealthy?) cheeks; the phrase directly repeats from 300 lines earlier at 11:784. Bloom is ‘soon old’, the narrator confirms from his last self-assessment. Then it adds: ‘But when was young?’ (11:1071). That’s more provocative: when was Bloom young? His youth is, in fact, referred to often enough in the novel, but the rhetorical question seems to carry the implication that he’s never really been young.

We will resume on 10th June 2022 with line 11:1072: ‘Ireland comes now’.


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Seminar, 8 April – ‘Sirens’, 1041-1055

On Friday 8th April 2022 the group gathered online to discuss ‘Sirens’: lines 11:1041-1055 in the corrected text.

‘You bitch’s bast’ is an echo of the piano tuner’s words in the previous episode, 10:1120. Leopold Bloom didn’t hear these words so it’s clear that the sentence here is an interpolation by the narrative voice outside him. It’s cued by the previous sentence: ‘Since Easter he had cursed three times’. The ‘curses’ there are referred to indirectly, but that line is immediately followed by an actual curse, perhaps making a mockery of such piety. ‘And once at masstime he had gone to play. Once by the churchyard he had passed and for his mother’s rest he had not prayed’: here the words of the song are paraphrased from the first into the third person. We talked of a slight distanciation that this produces. ‘A boy. A croppy boy’ (11:1043), a kind of summary phrase indicating the subject of the song, does not have much clear direct source: the words do not feature in the song at this point.

In the next two paragraphs Leopold Bloom looks into the bar at Lydia Douce. ‘Bronze, listening by the beerpull, gazed far away. Soulfully’ (11:1044): it sounds as though she’s genuinely diverted by the music. Yet Bloom’s subsequent words tend to undermine this with an implication that she’s posing to be looked at, in a way that he finds typical of women. ‘Doesn’t half know I’m’ means ‘She does know that I’m looking at her’ (we noted the slang history of ‘not half’). More slang appears in ‘Molly great dab at seeing anyone looking’: it emerged that ‘dab’ (as in ‘dab hand’) first appeared in the 18th century. The point anyway is that Molly is aware of ocular attention, and – as so often – she is Leopold Bloom’s main reference point in thinking about what women are like.

‘Bronze gazed far sideways’ (11:1046) may replicate the action of ‘gazed far away’, or may indicate a change: her head is now moving to the side. That might enable her to see the side of her face in the ‘Mirror there’ (which has been mentioned before: the one with Cantrell and Cochrane enamelled on it). ‘Is that best side of her face? They always know’: the side of her face in question may be the one seen in the mirror, which may be facing away from Bloom. A strong element of projection or speculation is discernable here: no reason that we should take Bloom’s account of a woman at face value. Indeed, earlier in the episode ms Douce seemed bothered about her sunburn (11:114), so she might still be thinking of that rather than posing for others. (Bloom’s implied idea that she’s posing for his gaze doesn’t have any evident warrant.) ‘They always know’ (an excessive claim of knowledge about others’ knowledge: in the territory of what Steven Connor calls epistemopathy) again takes us into generalities about women, which again take us back to Molly, at the mirror by her front door: ‘Knock at the door. Last tip to titivate’. This strongly echoes 11:689-90: ‘Last look at mirror always before she answers the door. The hall’. Reference to Blazes Boylan’s arrival is implied, confirmed in the next line: ‘Cockcarracarra’ (11:1048). But what precisely does ‘Last tip to titivate’ mean? ‘Titivate’ means to touch up and improve one’s appearance: is the ‘tip’ a touch (even a dab) with make-up?

We covered one further, quite dense paragraph, which seems entirely interior monologue. ‘What do they think when they hear music?’ appears to refer to women, conceived to an unnecessary degree as an alien species. It was suggested that this rather vapid question is Bloom’s way of distracting himself from the thoughts of Boylan he’s just drifted into. ‘Way to catch rattlesnakes’ is glossed by Don Gifford with reference to snake-charmers, thus meaning: ‘Music enraptures and transfixes women, just as it does snakes’. There’s little evidence around for this proposition (note that Bloom has just implied that Douce is really thinking of her own appearance while appearing ‘soulfully’ to be lost in the music), and we noticed that ‘rattlesnakes’ are not the snakes charmed in India, but rather have American connotations. Rattlesnakes do make a sound of their own, which may be to the point. The word’s most memorable appearance in the book is surely in Josie Breen’s ‘He’s a caution to rattlesnakes’ (8:229).

Not very much evidently connects those lines to what comes next: a memory of the ‘Night Michael Gunn [manager of the Gaiety Theatre] gave us the box [from which to watch a musical performance]’. This is one of those specific moments of the past that is recalled multiple times by the Blooms, in parallax we might say, and which Luca Crispi has shown build a sense of their past life. Molly will think of it in ‘Penelope’. From their box they heard the orchestra ‘Tuning up’, which prompts the recollection that when the ‘Shah of Persia’ visited England in the late 19th century, he was taken to musical performances, and was said to have enjoyed the sound of the orchestra tuning up more than the music itself (thus ‘liked that best’). The notion is that the dissonance of the orchestra sounded like the foreign music to which the Shah was accustomed: ‘Remind him of home sweet home’ (11:1051). The popular memory, probably apocryphal, of the Shah’s foreign ways, is extended to a claim that he ‘Wiped his nose in curtain too’ (at Buckingham Palace?), thinking this was normal: ‘Custom his country perhaps’. We dwelled on Bloom’s tone here: a liberal European exercising a kind of benign cultural relativism about the mysterious ways of the Orient. (This is a reminder that, as Andrew Gibson convincingly shows in Joyce’s Revenge [2002], Bloom is at least as much an insider to the Dublin community as he is, perhaps more famously, an exotic outsider.)

‘That’s music too’, if it doesn’t refer to the Shah blowing his nose, seems to refer once again to the orchestra tuning up. This image, and the idea of liberally accepting it as ‘music’ and enlarging one’s sense of art, is pertinent to the opening of ‘Sirens’, which can itself be viewed as analogous to an orchestra in this way (and thus also to a semi-abstract modernist poem). ‘Not as bad as it sounds’ is a kind of comic solecism worthy of ‘Eumaeus’: how can music be not as bad as it sounds, when sounding is all that it does? But Bloom might mean ‘The actual sound of it isn’t as bad as the idea you’d form from hearing about it’. The next lines depict the sound of particular instruments, without their players, rather like, say, a record introducing the orchestra for children. ‘Tootling’ could well be a flute. ‘Brasses braying asses through uptrunks’ is a line that was embellished across drafts. ‘Brass’ is really the correct collective noun here (‘brasses’ suggests something else, like ‘horses brasses’): in any case the brass instruments ‘bray’, which sounds like what an ‘ass’ would do, and ‘ass’ is assonant with ‘brass’. ‘Through uptrunks’ could indicate sound rising through a brass instrument, like a tuba, but also seems meant to suggest an elephant, making its own sort of ‘braying’ sound through uplifted trunk. The rhyme of brass and ass is echoed again in ‘Doublebasses’ which are also, with a touch more assonance, ‘helpless’: ‘gashes in their sides’. We took this to indicate the fact that double basses lean back as if ‘helpless’; the ‘gashes’ would be f-holes. The image might be of a wounded soldier, but it was suggested that ‘gashes in their sides’ also connotes the crucified Jesus Christ. ‘Woodwinds mooing cows’ seems a straightforward analogy, whether we agree with Bloom or not. The whole sequence extensively matches instruments to animals in a way that echoes and extends, for instance, the list of animals at 11:963-4. The last is a crocodile: ‘Semigrand open crocodile music hath jaws’. This means primarily that a semigrand piano, its top opened, appears to have an ‘open jaw’ like that of a croodile. Perhaps the strings or hammers inside could also be likened to the crocodile’s teeth. ‘Music hath jaws’ is a mild play upon ‘music hath charms’ which Bloom at 11:904 misattributed to Shakespeare. The last aural resemblance is rather random and brings no animal element: ‘Woodwind like Goodwin’s name’ (11:1055), Goodwin being a Professor previously known to the Blooms.

We will resume on 6th May 2022 with ‘She looked fine’ (11:1056).


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Seminar, 11 March – ‘Sirens’, 1016-1041

On Friday 11th March 2022 the seminar gathered online to discuss ‘Sirens’: lines 11:1016 to 11:1041 in the corrected text.

‘The priest’s at home. A false priest’s servant bade him welcome. Step in. The holy father. With bows a traitor servant’ (11:1016-17): all of this relays the content of the song ‘The Croppy Boy’, being sung by Ben Dollard. In the song’s lyric (as given by Don Gifford on p.291 of ‘Ulysses’ Annotated, 2nd edition), a voice responds to the Croppy Boy’s inquiry by stating:

‘The priest’s at home, boy, and may be seen:

‘Tis easy speaking with Father Green;

But you must wait, till I go and see

If the holy father alone may be’.

This voice is the ‘false priest’s servant’ in Joyce’s text: also the ‘traitor servant’ who seemingly ‘bows’ on heading inside to look for the priest. The line ‘With bows a traitor servant’ is in the corrected text, not in others. If we accept the line then we must either take it as a narrative elaboration of what the lyric (as reported by Gifford) says, or as a rendition of a different, more elaborated lyric that Dollard sings, and that Joyce had in mind as the lyric of this song.

‘Curlycues of chords’ refers to the music being played on the piano by Bob Cowley. ‘Curlycues’ looks like an unusual spelling or pun on ‘curlicue’ but is apparently also an acceptable spelling of this word. The phrase seems to indicate musical elaboration in the background by Cowley; it might also suggest the ‘curly’ marks of musical notation, not that Cowley needs those in front of him.

Ruin them. Wreck their lives. Then build them cubicles to end their days in. Hushaby. Lullaby. Die, dog. Little dog, die. (11:1018-19)

Over to Leopold Bloom, reflecting on the fate of Ben Dollard, in a ‘cubicle’ in the Iveagh Home (11:1014-15). The theme of the thought is hypocrisy: manufacturers of alcohol (Guinness or Bass) ‘wreck’ the lives of addicted drinkers, then provide them ‘cubicles to end their days in’. It’s a strong political criticism. But how do we get from here to the next words? ‘Lullaby’ is musical, so fits the episode. More generally, these sentences appear to represent the soothing message given to Dollard and his ilk late in life: they are to lie down and sleep in the cubicles, without complaint. Gifford (p.307) gives a specific source for these words, given to him by a Ms Iona Opie who had given him an example of a child’s playtime song from Cheshire. The song runs ‘Die, die, little dog, die’. We must then assume that Bloom knows a similar song (and indeed that Joyce did). The moment is unusually dark and uncompromising.

The voice of warning, solemn warning, told them the youth had entered a lonely hall, told them how solemn fell his footstep there, told them the gloomy chamber, the vested priest sitting to shrive (11:1020-22).

In the song given by Gifford, this corresponds to:

The youth has entered an empty hall –

What a lonely sound has his light footfall!

And the gloomy chamber’s still and bar,

With a vested Priest in a lonely chair.

‘Lonely’ has been transposed from sound to hall; the words ‘solemn’ and ‘shrive’ appear in Joyce, not in Gifford’s version, again suggesting that Joyce’s notion of the lyric may be different from the one given by Gifford. ‘The voice of warning, solemn warning’ is literally Dollard’s singing voice, with the word ‘solemn’ prefiguring its appearance as an adjective for the sound of the footfall. But in a sense this ‘voice’ is also depersonalised, presented by the text as though it is not limited to Dollard. Perhaps the effect is that Dollard’s ‘voice’ has merged with that of the song itself, or indeed its author, William B. McBurney. In the seminar, the sense emerged that this impersonal ‘voice’ was a powerful force in the passage, corresponding to a certain representation of Irish history. This voice of history is also repeatedly interrupted, possibly undermined, by other features of the passage.

Decent soul. Bit addled now. Thinks he’ll win in Answers, poets’ picture puzzle. We hand you crisp five pound note. Bird sitting hatching in a nest. Lay of the last minstrel he thought it was. See blank tee what domestic animal? Tee dash ar most courageous mariner. Good voice he has still. No eunuch yet with all his belongings. (11:1023-7)

Back to Bloom: Dollard is a decent soul if addled now by drink. Is it because he is ‘addled’ that he (mistakenly?) thinks he will win the prize from Answers? (Gifford tells us that the magazine was founded by Alfred Harmsworth in 1888.) Plainly this is the Bloom who’s familiar with Tit-Bits and Mainly About People (‘Mainly all pictures’: 7:97); his droll reflections on print media, incorporating the stock phrase ‘We hand you crisp five pound note’, are highly entertaining. (We noted that £5 then might be over £600 now, and that these sums of money would be welcome to the impoverished characters of the novel.) The ‘poets’ picture puzzle’ refers to a picture which should be decoded to reveal the name of a poem. Dollard’s guess, ‘Lay of the Last Minstrel’ by Sir Walter Scott, seems pretty good (and note the poetic erudition of this indigent, ‘addled’ citizen), but we’re not told if it was correct, or if Bloom knows the real answer. A little confusingly, he goes on to what is actually a quite different kind of puzzle: word games with clues and missing letters. ‘See blank tee what domestic animal?’: the answer, ‘cat’, is so easy that the main point of the line seems to be the comic fatuousness of the question. ‘Tee dash ar most courageous mariner’, with an amusingly formal tone, must be ‘Tar’. Whether Dollard himself has tried this kind of puzzle is unclear. Like that other veteran Simon Dedalus he still has a ‘Good voice’; Bloom relates this to the notion of his sexual potency. ‘[W]ith all his belongings’ refers directly back to Molly’s amusement at Dollard at lines 11:555-60.

‘Listen’ (11:1028) is rather like an instruction from the narrative of the same order as ‘Begin!’ (11:63). Customers in the Ormond do as it says: ‘Bloom listened. Richie Goulding listened. And by the door deaf Pat, bald Pat, tipped Pat, listened’ (11:1028-9). The main emphasis we took from this was listening as a collective experience. The fact that ‘deaf Pat’ listens seems ironic but may in fact further heighten the sense of profound collective attention. He is ‘tipped Pat’ because Bloom tipped him at 11:1002-3.

‘The chords harped slower’ (11:1030): they’re piano chords, so in what sense are they ‘harping’? It might just be a very loose verb for producing music. It might connect to the sense of ‘harping on’ as discursive. It might also more specifically suggest the affinity between a harp and the inside of a piano. Further, of course, a harp is an Irish symbol, gold against green on the flag in the days of the United Irishmen, making it apt for the content of this song.

The voice of penance and of grief came slow, embellished, tremulous. Ben’s contrite beard confessed. In nomine Domini, in God’s name he knelt. He beat his hand upon his breast, confessing: mea culpa. (11:1031-3)

In the song as given by Gifford, these lines correspond to:

The youth has knelt to tell his sins;

Nomine Dei [Latin: ‘in God’s name’], the youth begins;

At ‘mea culpa’ [Latin: ‘I am guilty’] he beats his breast,

And in broken murmurs he speaks the rest.

‘Penance’ corresponds to the general action of confession. ‘Grief’ corresponds more closely to what follows in the song, as the boy talks of the death of his relatives. ‘Slow’ echoes what we’ve just heard of the chords; it’s now the voice that’s ‘embellished, tremulous’ (with vibrato?) rather than the piano with its ‘curlycues’. ‘Ben’s contrite beard confessed’ blends singer and character, bringing in the singer’s beard which has no actual relation to the content of the song. It is also an instance of a major ‘Sirens’ tendency (highlighted in the past by Derek Attridge) to highlight body parts, giving them syntactical agency: a beard, not a man, confesses. It might well be that the beard is hanging low, and thus can be fancifully construed as ‘contrite’. But the line also brings a certain bathos into an otherwise solemn passage.

That Joyce’s text says ‘In nomine Domini’ suggests that Dollard sings these words, thus marking another difference from the lyric given by Gifford. Joyce’s version means ‘in the name of the master’ rather than ‘in the name of god’, though the phrases are presumably intended to mean the same thing. The Croppy Boy beats his breast according to the lyric, but we can also probably imagine Dollard miming this action in his performance.

Latin again. That holds them like birdlime. Priest with the communion corpus for those women. Chap in the mortuary, coffin or coffey, corpusnomine. Wonder where that rat is by now. Scrape. (11:1034-36)

Latin again, thinks Bloom, because it echoes his earlier encounters with the language in episodes 5 and 6. The reflection ‘Latin again’ has a certain irreverence of its own. ‘That holds them like birdlime’ is a new metaphor for the power that the language exercises over listeners, something that Bloom has previously observed with reference to other images like drugs. ‘Birdlime’ is a substance placed on trees to catch birds (either to kill them as pests, or to eat them). The image of being trapped has a Sirenic character. ‘Priest with the communion corpus for those women’ was seen at 5:344-251; the ‘Chap in the mortuary’ was Father Coffey, whose name sounded like a coffin, at 6:595. Bloom at that line thinks ‘Dominenamine’; now he thinks ‘corpusnomine’, which Gifford tells us combines the ‘Corpus’ he heard in ‘Lotus Eaters’ with the ‘nomine’ he’s just heard in the song. ‘Wonder where that rat is by now’ refers to a rat Bloom saw at Glasnevin Cemetery (6:973), though it was also suggested that the thought could refer to Blazes Boylan. ‘Scrape’ would seem to be what Bloom imagines the rat doing: the word is slightly incongruous as it doesn’t appear at the relevant point in ‘Hades’.

‘Tap’ (11:1037) is the sound of the cane of the blind piano tuner, on his way back to the Ormon: a familiar piece of percussion.

They listened. Tankards and Miss Kennedy. George Lidwell, eyelid well expressive, fullbusted satin. Kernan, Si. (11:1038-9)

This description of listening seems to continue that above at 11:1028-9. The noteworthy point is ‘George Lidwell, eyelid well expressive’. ‘Lidwell, eyelid well’ is a laboured play on words, but Joyce has not resisted it. Its literal meaning is probably that Lidwell is in some way ‘eyeing’ the ‘fullbusted satin’ of Lydia Douce. An expressive eyelid might be winking, though Joyce doesn’t specify this. It’s another case of the isolated body part: eyelid here after the beard above. The tone of the bad pun, and the sense of erotic interest on Lidwell’s part, both rather contradict the solemnity of the song. ‘Si’ must be Simon Dedalus.

The sighing voice of sorrow sang. His sins. Since Easter he had cursed three times. (11:1040-1)

‘Sighing’ directly echoes ‘Si’, in a line which will be packed with sibilance: sighing, sorrow, sang, his, sins, since, Easter. It is a ‘voice of sorrow’ either for the sins (as Joyce’s line implies) or, ‘sighing’, for grief as noted above. In Gifford, the line ‘I cursed three times since last Easter day’ follows the lines about the fate of the Croppy Boy’s family, which in Joyce will be referred to later (11:1063). Once again it would appear quite possible that the lyric provided by Gifford is not identical to the one that we are to imagine sung by Dollard.

We will resume at line 11:1041 with ‘You bitch’s bast’.

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Seminar, 4 February – ‘Sirens’, 1000-1015

On Friday 4th February 2022 the seminar gathered online, two days after the centenary of the publication of Ulysses. The group discussed ‘Sirens’: 11:1000 to 11:1015 in the corrected text.

‘Must go prince Bloom told Richie prince’ (11:1000): Leopold Bloom tells Richie Goulding that he must leave the Ormond Hotel. The additional epithet ‘Prince’ refers to the Ormond’s claim that its dinner is ‘fit for a prince’ (11:359). It perhaps also anticipates the mock-elevated rhetoric of ‘Cyclops’ or ‘Oxen of the Sun’, where characters are momentarily given noble or royal status by the book’s language. Richie Goulding appears to protest, and Bloom to insist on his departure. ‘Got money somewhere. He’s on for a razzle backache spree’ might then mean ‘He wants me to stay on with him, and perhaps have more drinks, here or elsewhere – so he must have recently picked up some cash to fund this prospective enterprise’. Goulding is notorious for backache, and consuming backache pills, so the sense could be something like (humorously?) ‘He’s on a bender consisting of backache pills’, or maybe more likely, and consistent with the reading just given, it’s ‘He’s out to get drunk to numb his backache’. ‘Got money somewhere’ indicates a certain suspicion: if someone wants to go on a ‘spree’ then they must have a new source of cash – a bit like the suspicious drinkers in ‘Cyclops’ think Bloom does. But all this is rather an extrapolation (on Bloom’s part, and ours) from Goulding’s mere ‘No’.

‘Much?’ appears to be Leopold Bloom asking Pat the waiter how much he owes for food and drink. Back to interior monologue: ‘He seehears lipspeech’ is Bloom’s mental description of how Pat takes in verbal communication. It means ‘he reads lips’, but this meaning is conveyed in an unusually vivid and poetic way, in which two senses – sight and hearing – are conflated into one verb. ‘Lipspeech’ (the sight of lips speaking: speech perceived through vision, not hearing) might also faintly recall the ‘wavespeech’ of ‘Proteus’ (3:457). The following exchange slightly puzzled us. ‘One and nine’ is what Bloom owes – we might take it as words spoken by Pat, or as Bloom’s recognition or repetition of those words. That would leave three pence left over from two shillings. If Bloom pays two shillings and is then dispensing with change, then ‘Penny for yourself’ looks like ‘And take a penny for yourself as a tip, Pat’. But that leaves two pennies, which come up again in ‘Here. Give him twopence tip’. So either:

  1. Bloom gives Pat a penny, then adds a further twopence (though this would make threepence in total), and in both sentences he is explaining this to Pat;
  2. ‘Penny for yourself’ is Bloom’s thought, which is then superseded by what he actually gives, twice as much as his first intention;
  3. ‘yourself’ is Bloom referring to himself: ‘I’ll take a penny for myself, and give the waiter the other twopence’. This adds up, but it seems unusual for Bloom to think of himself directly in the second person in this way.

If we turn to the budget in ‘Ithaca’, we find the cost of ‘Dinner and Gratification’ as 2 full shillings (17:1468). That budget is notoriously incomplete, but most of the figures it does give appear to be accurate. If ‘Gratification’ here means the tip, it appears that Bloom has, indeed, given Pat threepence. This would correspond with option a) above.

James Joyce Online Notes gives twopence as the sum for a ‘tip to a bothered waiter’: see That doesn’t explain what happens to the other penny here.

‘Deaf, bothered’ (11:1003) is possibly Bloom’s mental reconfirmation of obvious facts about Pat (‘bothered’ here meaning deaf), mainly to set up the contradiction of the next sentence: ‘But perhaps he has wife and family waiting, waiting Patty come home’. That is: he may be deaf, and thus unappealing, but he might still have a loyal wife and family. ‘Patty come home’ probably ventriloquises the wife’s yearning call. ‘Hee hee hee hee’ is a repetition of a motif from two pages ago, mainly here perhaps to set up the next, rhythmically counterposed phrase: ‘Deaf wait while they wait’. That is: the deaf waiter ‘waits’ (does his job as a waiter) while his family ‘waits’ at home for his return. All this is a play on lines 11:916-9, and must be taken as external narrative, not Mr Bloom.

‘But wait’ (11:1005) takes up the verb from Bloom’s idea that the family are ‘waiting’ for the waiter, and applies it to something else, in a paragraph entirely external to Bloom’s thoughts. ‘But wait. But hear. Chords dark’ means ‘Bob Cowley is playing “The Croppy Boy” in the piano, so wait to hear this before leaving the bar’. As such, the line has a ‘Sirenic’ meaning, calling to the Odysseus figure to pause and hear music rather than move on. ‘Chords dark’ echoes the ‘black deepsounding chords’ that Cowley ‘griped’ (11:998-9), and more distantly, for instance, the ‘long dark chords’ (1:250) that Stephen Dedalus remembers playing. Joyce, then, sometimes describes music via light and dark, in a form of synaesthesia. ‘Lugugugubrious’ immediately rather deflates the grand dark chords, making fun of the word ‘lugubrious’ (with an echo, perhaps, of ‘lug’: the ear, organ of this episode). The chords are ‘Low’ (low and dark seem to go together, in music), and this also suggests a physical scene: ‘In a cave of the dark middle earth. Embedded ore. Lumpmusic’ (11:1005-6). Don Gifford indicates that this is a reference to a scene in Richard Wagner’s 19th-century opera Das Rheingold, in which dwarves are guarding gold under a mountain. To later readers this – and especially the phrase ‘middle earth’ – may sound like J.R.R. Tolkien, which is probably not coincidental, if Tolkien took such images partly from Wagner or shared a common source with him. ‘Embedded ore’ may suggest an idea of the ‘gold’ of musical pleasure or value that waits to be extracted. ‘Lumpmusic’ could involve a similar idea, but like ‘Lugugugubrious’ it carries more bathos (music shouldn’t usually be lumpen, shouldn’t it?). It also looks rather like a Germanic compound formulation.

In general what’s going on in this paragraph is an attempt to describe music through words, to find a way of paraphrasing one medium in another. This may well involve invoking an existing narrative or imaginary landscape – like that of Wagner – for connotations that might correspond to the emotion produced by the music. One piece of music (‘The Croppy Boy’) thus seems to stimulate thought of a quite different one (Wagner’s). The thought doesn’t seem to be Leopold Bloom’s, as none of the language appears to be rooted in his mind.

A very similar process is going on in the next paragraph: ‘The voice of dark age, of unlove, earth’s fatigue made grave approach and painful, come from afar, from hoary mountains, called on good men and true’ (11:1007-9). Again a kind of ekphrasis is at work: an experiment at finding words to convey musical mood. The elaborateness and grandeur of the language may, though, indicate irony around this venture. The ‘voice’ here is probably a literal voice, that of the singer Ben Dollard, who ‘called on good men and true’ in the first line of ‘The Croppy Boy’. That voice is heard as one of ‘dark age’ (‘dark’ at least is already familiar as a description of the music); more mysteriously of ‘unlove’ (that is, it’s negative, it has no love or hope to offer the listener?) and of ‘earth’s fatigue’. Some members of the seminar heard historical associations here: for instance with Stephen Dedalus’s meditation on the weariness of the world in ‘Proteus’. The quotation ‘Diebus ac noctibus inijurias patiens ingemiscit’ (3:466) is translated by Gifford as ‘day and night it [the Creation] groans over wrongs’, and may be taken as a thought about the burden of historical memory, which could be echoed here in ‘earth’s fatigue’. It would be relevant, to this reading, that the song is a lament from a nationalist political position.

The voice, in any case, ‘made grave approach and painful’: an instance of the staginess of ‘Sirens’, in which figures or voices step forward as if to a stage direction. ‘Come from afar’ perhaps echoes the motif ‘gold from afar’ and ‘ring from afar’ around lines 11:112-3. Perhaps the voice, coming from ‘afar’ and from ‘hoary mountains’, is also heard as arriving from a rural, non-metropolitan scene: the location of the 1798 rebellion, pertinent to the song, or more generally an imaginary location of nationalist feeling. But the ‘mountains’ here also probably connect back to the Wagnerian scene of the previous paragraph. ‘Good men and true’ are mentioned as the audience at the start of the song: the listeners at the Ormond are momentarily interpellated into this role. ‘The priest he sought. With him would he speak a word’ paraphrases the lyrics of ‘The Croppy Boy’.

‘Tap’, we assume, signals the tapping cane of the blind piano tuner on his way back to the Ormond. It also provides a little punctuation before we return to Bloom’s perception of ‘Ben Dollard’s voice’ (11:1011). ‘Base barreltone’ is Molly’s joking description of Dollard, recalled by her husband earlier (8:117). ‘Doing his level best to say it’ is also an echo of an earlier episode: Bloom thought that the printing press was ‘Doing its level best to speak’ (7:176). Is he consciously, or just accidentally, echoing that thought now, with regard to Dollard? Either way, does his statement imply denigration of Dollard’s voice, as struggling to get the melody and meaning across? It seems so, as Bloom goes on to an ‘Other comedown’ for Dollard, implying that his voice is the first. Meanwhile ‘Croak of vast manless moonless womoonless marsh’ suggests a chorus of frogs from a pre-human Earth (a note by Joyce, indicated by the James Joyce Digital Archive, points to this): perhaps not a pleasant sound for a human singer to make. ‘Womoonless’ is worth noting as a coinage that blends, in Wakean spirit, ‘womanless’ and ‘moonless’. However, whether Bloom thinks this sentence is doubtful; it is a late addition by Joyce which is probably not intended as a piece of interior monologue.

As for Dollard’s social ‘comedown’: ‘Big ships’ chandler’s business he did once’ might remind us of Little Chandler from Dubliners. (The partial original for the character, Christopher Dollard, died in 1885 and does not in fact seem to provide this background. Gifford indicates that Robert Adams’ Surface and Symbol does provide more relevant background, but doesn’t relay it himself.) Bloom remembers the business: ‘rosiny ropes, ships’ lanterns’. The nautical theme can be connected to sirens: you need a rope to tie yourself to the mast. ‘Failed to the tune of ten thousand pounds’ is a playful way of putting it, rather like calling the venture a glorious failure. Ten thousand pounds sounds rather a lot of money, especially for 1904: perhaps Bloom is merely inventing the figure. ‘To the tune of’ picks up the musical theme, just as Bloom is listening to Dollard sing a tune. Dollard is ‘Now in the Iveagh home’, in a cubicle provided by charity for the poor and unemployed. ‘Cubicle number so and so’ gestures at the multiplicity and interchangeability of those units. ‘Number one Bass did that for him’ (11:1015): Bloom thought of Bass ale when first recalling Molly’s ‘Base barreltone’ phrase, recalling ‘Powerful man he was at stowing away number one Bass’ (8:121). Bass (beer, alcohol) has made Dollard indigent; bass is also a musical term that applies to his voice, singing the ‘dark’, ‘low’ song that’s been described above.

We will resume from line 11:1016: ‘The priest’s at home’.

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Seminar, 10 December – ‘Sirens’, 979-999

On Friday 10th December the seminar gathered in person for the first time since early 2020. Uniquely, the meeting took place upstairs in the Crown public house. The group discussed ‘Sirens’: 11:979 to 11:999 in the corrected text.

At the close of the last seminar we’d reckoned that ‘O look we are so!’ (11:979) was Bloom’s thought of Molly celebrating her own singing. If Bloom was listening through a wall (‘My ear against the wall to hear’), then the music sung by Molly and her musical partner could literally be called a form of ‘chamber music’. It’s also probably ‘chamber music’ in the standard sense: classical music suited to performance in a small venue. That’s what the phrase, at this point, means to Bloom. It also meant more to Joyce, who had published his first book of poems, Chamber Music, in 1907. The poems were somewhat musical, in form and content, which made some sense of the title. A further connotation may hover in the volume’s title: ‘chamber’ as bedchamber, ‘chambering’ as sexual activity, for a book mainly about romance and betrayal. But better known is the connotation of ‘chamber pot’, bringing the high-flown romance down to earth with the sound of urination. According to Richard Ellmann, already had the book’s when this further connotation was suggested by Oliver Gogarty (James Joyce, revised edition [Oxford: OUP, 1982], p.154). Bloom doesn’t immediately have this notion in mind, but immediately reaches it in the next line: ‘Could make a kind of pun on that’ (11:979-80). We must say that this is an extra-diegetic reference: the citation of a book by James Joyce was plain to Joyce and to some of his readers, and is probably the first thing that we now think of, but it’s not evident to anyone in the book (which happens three years before Chamber Music is published!).

The ‘pun’ is that the sound of urine going into a chamber pot sounds like music, and thus is another kind of chamber music. ‘It is a kind of music I often when she’: that is, when Molly uses the ‘orangekeyed’ chamber pot. ‘Acoustics that is’ appears to mean: the sound of the urination is ‘musical’, that is variable over time, because of the changing ‘acoustics’ within the pot. ‘Tinkling’ is Bloom’s notion of the sound that Molly’s urine makes; whether or not it’s onomatopoeic, it is a word that could be applied to the higher keys on a piano, and thus musical. ‘Empty vessels make most noise’ reprises the statement about acoustics: different noises occur according to how much urine is in the pot. But the phrase is also idiomatic in a proverbial sense, meaning ‘People with least insight to impart are the most bombastic’. With quite characteristic casual wit, Bloom has turned a figurative phrase back into a literal one.

The next sentence, an attempt to form a more thorough scientific version of the idea, becomes confused: ‘Because the acoustics, the resonance changes according as’ is making the same point again: different amounts of water will generate different sounds. But the thought tails off into an incoherent formulation: ‘the weight of the water is equal to the law of falling water’ (11:982-3). There is no ‘law of falling water’. Bloom goes on into a more specific musical analogy: ‘Like those rhapsodies of Liszt’s, Hungarian, gipsyeyed’. Members of the seminar expressed their own views of Liszt. It was suggested that he was a modernist, though he lived in a rather earlier era, from 1811 to 1886. To compare Liszt’s music to urination might sound unflattering to him. The basis of the comparison seems to be in the following lines ‘Diddle iddle addle addle oodle oodle’, where what might be a version of the sound of falling or dripping liquid also resembles a rendition of piano keys – perhaps ‘tinkling’ rapidly on high notes. It is notable that Liszt is also rendered as ‘Hungarian’, like Leopold Bloom, and ‘gipsyeyed’, perhaps more like Molly. ‘Pearls. Drops. Rain’ (11:984) seems simply to be a mental depiction of falling drops of urine, or perhaps also a visualisation of musical notes. ‘Hissss’ concludes all these visual and auditory versions of the phenomenon, with the same number of s’s as the snake’s hiss at 11:964. It can also be viewed as an accessible Bloomian version of Stephen Dedalus’s conception of the sound of urination and water on the beach (3:456-7).

‘Now. Maybe now. Before’ (11:984-5) appears to indicate Bloom’s thoughts turning again to current events at Eccles Street. The words may well mean: ‘Maybe Molly is now urinating, “musically”, in her chamber pot, just prior to [that is, “Before”] Blazes Boylan’s arrival’.

That arrival is taken up as the narrative proper cuts to Eccles Street. In ‘One rapped on a door, one tapped with a knock’ and the rest, rhythm is primary. It could be taken as a masculine, marching rhythm of conquest. What’s specifically described, we think, is Boylan lifting a ‘knocker’ that’s on the door and ‘rapping’ with it, then, in addition, issuing a ‘tap’. ‘Cockcock’ conveys something of the impatient sound of two knocks together. ‘One’ is an oddity in all this, depersonalising a character who is already rather impersonal. It might also have the implication that Molly Bloom, inside, hears ‘one’, someone, knocking, without being certain that it’s Boylan. Plainly, the words are straining for sexuality and innuendo. ‘Rapped’ might suggest a raptor or rapacious lover. ‘Tapped’ has already been sexualised at 11:706-7: ‘Tipping her tepping her tapping her topping her’. A ‘knock’ itself might be sexual (‘knocked up’?), and Molly has already highlighted the name of Paul de Kock, implying that ‘Kock’ sounds like ‘cock’, slang for penis. That in turn is emphasised here with ‘cock carracarracarra cock. Cockcock’ (11:987-8). A ‘knocker’ might gesture at ‘knockers’, slang for breasts, but probably more directly the ‘loud proud knocker’ (‘proud’ as in standing proud from the door?) is vaguely phallic. What, amid all this, does ‘carra’ mean? Possibly a cockerel’s crow. ‘Carra’ is an Irish combination of phonemes, as in ‘Carragher’.

‘Tap’ (11:989) sounds like Boylan’s final tap, but probably needs to be read primarily as what it usually is in ‘Sirens’: the sound of the blind piano tuner’s cane. We could say that different pieces of percussion are interacting and replying to each other: ‘Cockcock. / Tap’.

Back to the performers by the piano. Bob Cowley requests that Ben Dollard sing to his accompaniment a song known as ‘Qui sdegno’, in the Italian version of Mozart’s The Magic Flute (1791). This might follow naturally from the previous piece that Cowley was playing (11:965), which was by the same composer. But the idea is a road not taken, as Tom Kernan immediately ‘interferes’. That’s a strong verb: perhaps what he’s interfering with is the close relation between singer and pianist. He interferes to demand a different song: ‘The Croppy Boy. Our native Doric’. He gets his wish, as others endorse the request: Simon Dedalus saying ‘Ay do, Ben’, and others apparently echoing ‘Do, do’. (‘They begged in one’ conveys a degree of clamour: it means ‘they called in unison’ for the song.) Nonetheless we thought the nationalist song The Croppy Boy possibly an odd request for the Protestant Kernan, and ‘Our native Doric’ odder. He’s saying ‘an authentic, local Irish song, rather than a Continental one’. ‘Doric’ is a word mainly associated with Ancient Greece, and thus perhaps an incongruous one to express native Irishness – though the word is also used to mean Scots dialect. That transferral of the term from Greece to Scotland is, in effect, replicated by its use for Ireland, an idea that also seems implied by an ‘Aeolus’ headline (7:326). ‘Good men and true’ (11:992) is simply from the first line of the song.

‘I’ll go’ (11:994) is Leopold Bloom’s thought: he will leave the Ormond Hotel. In the next lines he calls for Pat the waiter to settle his bill, but it’s all oddly phrased. ‘Here, Pat, return’: does Bloom really think that? Or is this an external description of a gesture that he makes? ‘Come’ and ‘To me’ are an echo of the previous song sung by Simon Dedalus (11:740-751): probably these are to be understood as textual interpolations, not as Bloom’s thought. ‘He came, he came, he did not stay’ then takes up the song’s verb ‘To come’, to say that Pat comes to Bloom’s table – briefly? ‘How much?’ asks how much money Bloom owes for lunch; these words are probably spoken aloud.

Bob Cowley asks Ben Dollard, about ‘The Croppy Boy’: ‘What key? Six sharps?’. The group suggested that this is irony on Cowley’s part: that he is saying ‘So, now that I’ve been forced to play this simple ballad instead of the subtler Mozart, shall I make it as challenging for myself as possible?’. Six sharps here means six black keys in the scale, arguably requiring greater dexterity. These correspond to Dollard’s reply: ‘F sharp major’. But would Dollard really be particularly happy to sing in a particular key simply because it’s agreeably challenging for Cowley? If there is indeed irony and banter in the tone here, Joyce leaves it very discreet and draws no attention to it. The six black keys partly explain the next sentence: ‘Bob Cowley’s outstretched talons griped the black deep sounding chords’ (11:998-9). His fingers are especially ‘outstretched’ because the key physically demands such reach; this gives them a suggestion of looking like ‘talons’; and talons ‘gripe’, that is ‘grasp tightly, clutch’. Joyce has chosen an archaic verb here, and it’s not surprising that some editors or proof-readers have thought he mean ‘gripped’, which must be a variant on the same word. The chords are ‘black’ because six of the keys are black: a transferred epithet. They’re also ‘black’ because they’re ‘deepsounding’; and further, they may be, in another figurative sense, ‘black’ because the history that the song will recount is a dark one of betrayal amid the national struggle.

Do black keys really suggest depth? An addendum to that question can be found in a comment by the songwriter Bob Dylan: ‘On the piano, my favourite keys are the black keys. […] The songs that go into those keys right from the piano, they sound different. They sound deeper. […] Everything sounds deeper in those black keys’. (Quoted in Clinton Heylin, Revolution in the Air: The Songs of Bob Dylan Vol.1: 1957-73 [London: Constable, 2009], p.497.)

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Seminar, 11 November – ‘Sirens’, 965-979

On Thursday 11th November the seminar gathered online to discuss ‘Sirens’ from lines 11:965 to 11:979.

‘Minuet of Don Giovanni he’s playing now’ (11:965-6): Bob Cowley is playing this tune on the piano. ‘Court dresses of all descriptions in castle chambers dancing’ is Bloom’s summary of the action in the opera when this minuet is played. ‘Dresses of all descriptions’ seems to be a textual reference back to Simon Dedalus’s ‘Mrs Marion Bloom has left off clothes of all descriptions’ (11:496-7), though Leopold Bloom himself probably (or so one hopes) couldn’t hear that line. ‘Misery’ may refer to the misery of Masetto, the fiancé of the woman Zerlina whom Don Giovanni attempts to seduce; or to the ‘Peasants outside’ in general. Don Gifford refers to a general ‘sense’ that the peasants are ‘outside’ the house during these scenes. It was suggested that the episode’s analysis of music here adds a socio-economic dimension, as music is associated with privilege. The image of the peasants is sharpened by Bloom: ‘Green starving faces eating dockleaves’. Green (for illness rather than envy?), starvation and resorting to eating dockleaves all suggest a repatriation of this image to the Ireland of famines. ‘Nice that is’ then seems merely sarcastic, unless it means ‘that image is nicely symmetrical’. The line ‘Look: look, look, look, look, look: you look at us’ (11:968) is challenging. It probably describes the ‘looks’ back and forth between ‘castle’ folk and peasantry (though if they’re outside the walls, can they really look at each other? The sense is perhaps more of a tableau than a realistic setting), recognising their differences in status and comfort. ‘You look at us’ might then be what those in the castle say to those outside: a spectacle of wealth. The repeated ‘look’ sounds like an instruction, but may have the shade of a noun (one ‘look’ after another). But the repetition here is surely also a musical effect of some kind.

‘That’s joyful I can feel’ (11:969) means: ‘I can tell that this music is joyful’. ‘[Could] Never have written it’ is a statement of fact. ‘Why?’ is a rather superfluous question: it doesn’t seem necessary to ask why Bloom can’t write music like Mozart. He answers it: ‘My joy is other joy’, as if saying ‘The reason I couldn’t write such a work is that I take joy as a listener, rather than a composer or musician’. ‘But both are joys’ confirms that consuming might be as valid an experience of pleasure as creating. ‘Yes, joy it must be’ sounds like the confirmation of a piece of logical reasoning, giving the impression that Bloom has made more of a decisive and significant case than he has. (It was noted that Bloom casually meanders in and out of large aesthetic issues throughout his meditations in the Ormond.) ‘Mere fact of music shows you are’ – joyful? Making music indicates inner happiness? His example of this, characteristically, is his wife: ‘Often thought she was in the dumps till she began to lilt. Then know’ (11:971). This means ‘I have often thought that she was in a bad or sad mood, till she started to sing: then I knew better, that she wasn’t’. ‘Lilt’ perhaps carries the specific connotation of cheerful singing, rather than anything that could indicate a more melancholy mood. We noted that only a page or so earlier, Bloom thought himself affected by sad music in writing sadly to Martha Clifford, which makes us sceptical of his blanket association here between music and good cheer.

Thinking of Molly the singer leads him to a memory of talking to C.P. M’Coy in episode 5, about her concert tour, with the additional fact that M’Coy’s wife is also a singer and he thus tends to equate her with Molly – unjustifiably in Bloom’s view. ‘M’Coy valise’ is the specific way that M’Coy comes back into Bloom’s thought: a reference to M’Coy’s reputed habit of borrowing suitcases and pawning them. (Surely this amounts to theft?) ‘My wife and your wife’ suggests M’Coy’s erroneous equation of the two wives. M’Coy’s wife is, in reality, more like a ‘Squealing cat’ as a singer, her voice ‘Like tearing silk’ (11:972). (Anything involving silk might sound luxurious, but context suggests that this noise is supposed to be unpleasant.) Going further: ‘Tongue when she talks like the clapper of a bellows’ (11:973). So it’s Mrs M’Coy’s speaking, as well as singing, voice that’s at fault. Clearly this description is an insult, but the phrase is surprising: isn’t it a bell, not a bellows, that has a clapper? No, we were told that a bellows can too. The word ‘bellows’ also brings unflattering associations because to bellow is unfeminine. (A similar connotation probably applies to Bello in ‘Circe’.)

Bloom moves on to more general thoughts about women’s voices. ‘They can’t manage men’s intervals’ means that women’s voices are, in a certain way, inferior to men – they can’t hit the same notes – though the expression, referring to ‘intervals’, isn’t very precise. ‘Gap in their voices too’ seems to pick up from the ‘gap’ of the ‘interval’ between notes, but shifts to a different thought: that women’s voices are inviting, alluring the male listener into a ‘gap’. This is a version of the Siren concept, which becomes thoroughly sexualised: ‘Fill me. I’m warm, dark, open’ (11:974). ‘Molly in quis est homo: Mercadante’ refers to a memory of Molly singing a 13th-century hymn called the Stabat Mater, which represents the alleged thoughts of the Virgin Mary at the crucifixion of Jesus Christ. Quis est homo is a phrase from the hymn, not its title, so ‘Molly in’ doesn’t quite make sense. ‘Mercadante’ looks like a Bloomian error, as though he’s wrongly attributing this musical piece to that Italian composer: an error seemingly arising from his having thought of them in quick succession back in ‘Lotus-Eaters’ (5:402-4). In any case this musical memory is presumably presented as an example of the woman’s voice with its inviting ‘gap’. Bloom’s memory of hearing Molly sing it involves ‘My ear against the wall to hear’ – the wall of a bedroom or room in the house, of a concert hall where she was rehearsing? ‘Want a woman who can deliver the goods’ implicitly repeats the contrast between Molly, who can deliver them, and Mrs M’Coy, who can’t. This image of singing as projective also already contrasts somewhat with the feminine and sexualised one of a line or two earlier.

To Eccles Street: ‘Jog jig jogged stopped’ means that Boylan’s carriage is stopping outside Bloom’s house (to deliver the goods?). In a sense ‘Jog jig’ works as a subject, ‘jogged stopped’ as the verbs of this sentence, so a kind of syntax is working even in such an unconventional formulation. The drafts on the James Joyce Digital Archive showed that the next line had been altered and expanded, into the final ‘Dandy tan show of dandy Boylan socks skyblue clocks came light to earth’. Here the subject is the ‘dandy tan shoe’, which can be unproblematically attributed to ‘dandy Boylan’; ‘came light to earth’ is its action, with a slight flavour of epic – something that a Greek god or hero might do. ‘socks skyblue clocks’ is then essentially an interpolation of more information (some members of the group noted for the first time that the clocks are a textile pattern that does not literally represent timepieces).

‘O look we are so!’ (11:979): is Bloom still thinking of listening to Molly sing? Then the phrase might just be attributed to her, celebrating her own prowess. It’s not evident that it refers to someone present at the Ormond Hotel. Was Molly’s performance ‘Chamber music’? Or does Joyce get himself to this old favourite phrase via the idea that Molly was singing behind a wall, in a room, in a ‘chamber’? We’ll start with that phrase next time.

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Seminar, 8 October – ‘Sirens’, 938-965

35 years since its inauguration, the seminar returned to commence a new academic year with an online session on Friday 8th October 2021. We read ‘Sirens’ from line 11: 938 to line 11: 965.

The first paragraph is entirely Leopold Bloom’s interior monologue. ‘Her ear too is a shell’ (11: 938) detects a resemblance (and not through the mild form of simile, in which her ear is merely like a shell), though if all Bloom can see is the ‘peeping lobe’, the resemblance can’t be vividly evident. ‘Peep’ is something that a half-hidden object might do (the implication is that it ‘peeps’ or looks out from its hiding place), as well as what peeping Leopold is doing himself; it also carries an auditory meaning, and either way it features in the overture: ‘peepofgold’ (11: 10). ‘Been to the seaside’ is Bloom’s deduction from what he sees, not least the shell in their hands; ‘Lovely seaside girls’, from the song Milly has cited in episode 4, is a natural association. ‘Skin tanned raw’ is his observation about Lydia Douce’s skin after her holiday in Rostrevor. ‘Raw’ is blunter than what’s been said before (11: 116). Ms Douce ‘should have put on coldcream first’: quasi-scientific practical advice from Bloom. The cream if applied before exposure to sun would ‘make it brown’ rather than red; Mina Kennedy at 11: 116 has also encouragingly said ‘it gets brown after’, but without implying that cream would have been involved to achieve this effect. ‘Buttered toast’ combines a sense of ‘browned’ skin with the dampness of the cold cream: imprecisely perhaps, as the cream should have been absorbed by the time the skin browns. ‘O and that lotion mustn’t forget’ refers to a bottle he’s supposed to pick up for Molly from Sweny’s on Lincoln Place. The line was added later than others, so arguably doesn’t connect strongly with ‘Fever near her mouth’ which would seem to take us back to ms Douce. We wondered about this ‘fever’: a cold sore, a rash? Indeed Douce has referred to a potential ‘rash’ at 11: 124; perhaps these two lines are quietly connected. At the risk of too suspicious a reading, we considered whether this evidence of ‘fever’ was meant to imply a sexually transmitted infection such as herpes, making that earlier discussion more euphemistic than it seemed. ‘Your head it simply’ reprises the song, but perhaps the swirling head would be connected to the ‘fever’, or to the hint of sexual activity.

‘Hair braided over: shell with seaweed’ (11: 941) presumably means that ms Douce’s hair is braided over her ear, and thus resembles seaweed on a shell, extending Bloom’s earlier metaphor. The Sirenic aspect is plain. ‘Why do they hide their ears with seaweed hair?’ mixes the metaphor in to what it describes: if women do ‘hide their ears’ with their hair, that hair is now officially, for a moment, dubbed ‘seaweed hair’, a compound substance of plain reality and image. The question seems odd: do women ‘hide their ears’, or is that just a fairly natural consequence of longer hair falling where it does? Does Bloom crave to see more of their ears? His mind runs on to associations: (Western European) women hiding their ears reminds him of Turkish women wearing Yashmaks that only show their eyes, and thus hide ‘the mouth’. He wonders ‘why?’: the real reasons must include a complex of religion, custom and climate, but Bloom’s only interest is in a more erotically tantalising outcome. ‘Her eyes over the sheet’: Molly, peeping looking over a bedsheet, though this image didn’t appear in ‘Calypso’. ‘Yashmak’ connects, though, with Bloom’s general sense of Molly as Mediterranean and associated with Turkey. ‘Find the way in’ implies that the hiding and discretion of the ‘yashmak’ invites investigation and penetration. The phrase has no subject (you, or I, find the way in), hesitating between an imperative and the finder’s description of his activity. ‘A cave’ is what you ‘find your way in’ to: the male encountering the veiled woman is becoming an intrepid explorer, with overtones perhaps of a mountain cave in the East. At the same time the ‘cave’, as the place to be penetrated, is plainly a vaginal image in this context. ‘No admittance except on business’ is one of the many casual colloquial phrases that Joyce marvellously makes Bloom think in contexts that make them slightly offbeat, refreshed and witty. The phrase could normally refer to any commercial space or office; here it vaguely, suggestively means something like ‘I’m hidden from and closed off to everyone, except for the serious business of sex’.

‘The sea they think they hear’ (11: 945): another, briefer paragraph all of interior monologue starts with Bloom’s observation about the barmaids and George Lidwell with their shell. ‘Singing’: they think they hear the sea singing? The word is of course generally pertinent, and Bloom has been hearing a lot of singing. Or perhaps the sea is more of ‘A roar’, and of course it’s not really the sea: ‘The blood it is’, a typical bringing down to earth. ‘Souse in the ear sometimes’ must mean something like ‘the ear is sometimes drenched’ (or even drowned) – with water, blood, wax? The sense isn’t so clear, but the general implication seems to be a blocked ear failing to hear properly. ‘Well, it’s a sea’: the blood, that is, is an internal ‘sea’ within the human body, though the images hardly seem similar. The film Fantastic Voyage (1966) was evoked (and the notion of a ‘tour round the body’ also appears in ‘Lestrygonians’, 8: 1046-50). The sea of blood would then contain ‘Corpuscle islands’ (11: 946). All this is actually prefigured by Stephen Dedalus at 3: 939-4, for whom a woman’s blood is akin to Homer’s ‘winedark sea’.

The next paragraph takes us away from Bloom and back to others. ‘Wonderful really’: Lidwell repeats his verdict on the sound of the shell, from 11: 931, adding that it’s ‘So distinct’. ‘Again’ indicates that he politely holds the shell to his ear one more time. Thus in a sweetly balanced sentence he ‘held its murmur, hearing: then laid it by, gently’ (11: 947-8). His question to ms Douce, ‘What are the wild waves saying?’ seems like vague charm (‘smiled’ is added to the act of asking), but Don Gifford points out that it’s a quotation from a particular song, which ends up saying that the wild waves are a voice of the creator. The lines of the song are curiously anticipatory in tone of W.B. Yeats’ ‘The Lake of Innisfree’, but if Joyce noticed that, he wasn’t saying.

The next line mildly inverts syntax to delay meaning. It means: ‘Lydia Douce smiled back at George Lidwell, charmingly, without answering verbally’. But three adjectives come at us first: ‘Charming’ (which thus feels like a verb: ‘Charming George Lidwell, Lydia Douce smiled’), ‘seasmiling’ (which essentially repeats, in advance, what will be the main verb at the end of the sentence, but adds ‘sea’ for the usual briny flavour of the episode), and ‘unanswering’. She probably can’t immediately think of much that the wild waves might be saying. She may or may not know the song, as Lidwell evidently does.

‘Tap’: the piano tuner tapping his way back to the hotel. Another sentence takes us once again to another place, as Blazes Boylan turns into Eccles Street: ‘By Larry O’Rourke’s, by Larry, bold Larry O’, Boylan swayed and Boylan turned’ (11: 952-3). In general the line works with repetition and rhythm; the standout phrase is ‘bold Larry O’’, which picks up Bloom’s thought from 4: 112-3 and puts the publican into an Irish ballad. (The Joyce Project online cites both ‘Bold Traynor O’ and ‘The Night Before Larry Was Stretched’ as possible sources.)

Mina Kennedy ‘glide[s]’ again (11: 954), as she did at 11: 931-2: a signature movement, then, more fitting for someone seen behind a bar, her moving feet not on show. She is gliding to the two ‘waiting’ men with ‘tankards’ (see 11: 759), which have now become metonymic. The seashell meanwhile becomes ‘forsaken’, an emotive exaggeration for an object that’s been put down: perhaps the word brings a pathetic fallacy (an object is made emotional). The next line is again tricky. It means ‘Miss Douce’s head archly let Mr Lidwell know that she had not been so lonely while on holiday’. The subject (the head) is delayed quite a while, as the message takes up the first half of the sentence. Slight confusion also results from the adjective ‘lonely’ and the adverb ‘archly’ being adjacent; it was observed that adverbs tend to produce hammy operatic theatricality. Perhaps the oddest feature, though, is that her ‘head’ conveys the message, rather than her actually saying it (admittedly if she said it, that would use her head, but it would be an unusually perverse formulation). We have then to assume that ms Douce conveys the reply merely by a facial expression, or indeed by the angle – arching? – of her head.

Actual verbal communication does evidently resume, with ms Douce’s confirmation that she took ‘Walks in the moonlight by the sea’ (11: 956). Lidwell is gently pressing her for information: was she alone? ‘No, not alone’. Then ‘With whom?’. Her answer is ‘with a gentleman friend’ (11: 957). The barmaid who has been such a figure and object of fantastical and hypothetical desire in the episode is thus revealed to have had what sounds like a real romantic encounter very recently, though with no implication of how far it went. Why is her answer ‘noble’? Because she’s – reluctantly? – telling the truth; or because her formulation is dignified, and keeps the friend suitably mysterious, rather than offering any vulgar kiss and tell.

Over at the piano in another room: ‘Bob Cowley’s twinkling fingers in the treble played again’ (11: 958). What’s noticeable is that the next few lines may well be, unusually, Cowley’s thoughts. They replay details of his financial affair discussed in the previous episode: thus ‘The landlord has the prior’ is Ben Dollard at 10: 964; ‘A little time’ is what Cowley told Simon Dedalus he needed at 10: 894 (the phrase might also have musical resonance); and ‘Long John’ (Fanning) was the person he wanted Dollard to speak to, at that same moment (10: 893). The next two lines are challenging. The first describes the piece that Cowley is playing. ‘Lightly he played a light bright tinkling measure’ is straightforward enough, even with a tautologous repetition of lightness; we note also that ‘tinkling’ echoes ‘twinkling’. ‘Measure’ might be an archaic name for a musical piece, though it also more directly refers to a segment of time within a piece. The second half of the sentence, though, develops elaborate terms as though we’re hearing Cowley’s aspiration or fantasy of what the piece might be: ‘for tripping ladies, arch and smiling, and for their gallants, gentlemen friends’ (11: 960-1). Tripping means dancing; the whole image is historical, taking us back at least a century, perhaps more, whether to the notion of a Regency dance or rather the Renaissance idiom associated with episode 9. ‘Gallants’ has a Joycean resonance from a Dubliners story, where it was largely ironic (and the discrepancy between aspiration and reality there is surely replayed here). But the sentence is also picking up elements from the previous paragraph: it was Lydia Douce who was ‘arch and smiling’ and who introduced the thought of ‘gentlemen friends’. Cowley probably couldn’t hear that conversation, so we’re reading a narrative blend of his aspiration with her contributions. The next sentence is still more tricky. ‘One: one, one, one, one, one: two, one, three, four’ (11: 961-2). We know it refers to musical rhythm or, more specifically, dance steps (is Cowley thinking it, as part of the timing of what he’s playing?), but getting from that to a really concrete explication is another matter. It was suggested that the sixth ‘one’ is equivalent to the first, and that both those words, followed by a colon, announce four steps that follow.

Back to Bloom’s interior monologue (11: 963-5), prompted by his thoughts on the roar of the sea in the shell some 18 lines earlier. His list of sounds begins, then, with the sea. ‘Wind’ is a logical step from that (you might hear the wind at sea, and it might roar as the sea does), which perhaps leads to ‘leaves’ because they’re something in which you hear the effect of the wind (the wind among the reeds?). ‘Thunder’ is another natural and meteorological sound, which will become relevant in Finnegans Wake. ‘Waters’ is rather close to ‘sea’, but probably means inland or fresh water: rivers or springs. That would be close enough to the ‘hitherandthithering waters’ of another chapter of the Wake, and also to Joyce’s early poetry. Poem XXXV in Chamber Music (1907) commences ‘All day I hear the noise of waters / Making moan’ (see Poems and Exiles, Penguin 1992, p.38), and ‘Flood’, written only three years before this episode was first published, also meditates on waters (Poems and Exiles, p.49). ‘Cows lowing’ is another sound from nature (and recall the 1904 poem ‘Tilly’, in Pomes Penyeach, where the cows ‘moo and make brute music with their hoofs’: Poems and Exiles, p.42), leading to thought of ‘the cattlemarket’ which may be leading us into bathos with its specificity. On to another loud animal: ‘cocks’, then naturally to hens (because Bloom can’t think of the male without thinking of the female). He is either correcting himself with the thought that hens, unlike cocks, don’t crow so don’t belong in the list, or presenting this as a quasi-interesting ‘factoid’. ‘Snakes hissss’: it’s quite charming that Bloom’s interior monologue makes the effort at onomatopoeic rendition. The effect is like a children’s book, though still on the same spectrum as more elaborate versions like Stephen’s sounding of the sea (3: 457).

‘There’s music everywhere’, Bloom roundly concludes (11: 964), though his list has actually been rather too bitty and digressive to prove much. The sentiment plainly applies to the whole episode, in which he has literally been hearing music for much of the time. But he immediately contradicts it, remembering ‘Ruttledge’s door: ee creaking’: a recollection from early in ‘Aeolus’, 7: 50. ‘No, that’s noise’, Bloom thinks: but why is a door noise and a river music? The distinction seems to be nature as music, artifice as noise, but no foundation is given for this. What looks a plausible venture into auditory theory actually proves patchy.

We will resume next session with ‘Minuet of Don Giovanni’ (11: 965).

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Seminar, 9 July – ‘Sirens’, 916-937

For the last seminar of the academic year, we read ‘Sirens’ from line 11:916 to line 11:937.

In ‘Hee hee hee hee’ the primary source is ‘he’, that is, Pat the waiter. This is expanded to ‘hee’ as though it becomes a laugh, part of a self-satisfied, very rhythmic, comic performance. The rest of the paragraph plays changes on certain phrases:

He waits while you wait. Hee hee. A waiter is he. Hee hee hee hee. He waits while you wait. While you wait if you wait he will wait while you wait. Hee hee hee hee. Hoh. Wait while you wait. (11:916-9)

Here ‘Hee hee’ can come across as a stuttering false start for a sentence that should begin ‘He’; ‘Hee hee hee hee’ sounds like the rhythmic counterpart to other phrases like ‘A waiter is he’ and ‘Wait while you wait’. The level of repetition is as high here as anywhere in the book, with whole sentences directly repeated (‘He waits while you wait’) and repeated with variation (‘Wait while you wait’). The line ‘While you wait if you wait he will wait while you wait’ is then an extreme example of spinning out variations on one element – as close as Joyce gets to Gertrude Stein? The slightly varying meanings of ‘wait’ (the customer waiting, the waiter waiting on them, and also waiting to do so) were discussed in the previous seminar. ‘Hoh’ is a rogue element (I don’t recall that we produced a reading of it).

‘Douce now. Douce Lydia. Bronze and rose’ (11:920) doesn’t tell us very much, save that the narrative focus is returning to Lydia Douce, with her bronze hair and the rose on her blouse. The next lines report her speech to the latest customer George Lidwell. ‘She had a gorgeous, simply gorgeous time’ repeats her assessment to Simon Dedalus earlier (11:198), and amplifies it in a fulsome manner. ‘And look at the lovely shell she brought’. Assuming that ‘brought’ doesn’t mean ‘bought’, she means ‘brought back’ to Dublin from Rostrevor. Now she brings it again, from one part of the bar ‘To the end of the bar to him’ (11:923). The formal tone here might be mock-heroic: ‘she bore lightly the spiked and winding seahorn that he, George Lidwell, solicitor, might hear’ (11:923-4). A similar excess of ceremony seems present in the account of her instruction:

— Listen! she bade him. (11:925)

Back to the other room, where men are making music: ‘Under Tom Kernan’s ginhot words the accompanist wove music slow’ (11:926). Kernan, hot with gin mentioned at 10:762, has joined the company and is sounding off while Bob Cowley improvises on the piano. The words from ‘Authentic fact’ (11:927) to ‘you’ll sing no more lovesongs’ (11:928) are plainly Kernan, narrating a tale of the past in characteristic fashion. ‘He did, faith, sir Tom’ (11:929) is less clear: is someone else, like Cowley, acknowledging and confirming the story and flatteringly calling Kernan ‘sir Tom’? It’s hard to make sense of Kernan himself uttering this sentence containing his own name. Bob Cowley ‘wove’ music (a Penelopean act), then ‘lay back’: in between, a fragment is inserted of Bloom’s earlier thought ‘Tenors get women by the score’ (11:686). This is a piece of textual, rather than personal, memory; its pertinence is the claim that the ‘scoundrel’ Walter Bapty was such a tenor.

Back to the end of the bar, Lidwell and Douce: ‘Ah, now he heard, she holding it to his ear’ (11:930). Douce seemingly instructs Lidwell to ‘Hear!’ as well as ‘Listen!’ (compare ‘Begin!’ at 11:63); accordingly ‘He heard’. ‘Wonderful’ is Lidwell’s own judgment, then, on his impression of the sound of the sea in the shell. While Douce ‘held it to her own’ ear, Mina Kennedy also joins the scene: ‘And through the sifted light pale gold in contrast glided’. ‘Pale gold’ is the grammatical subject of this phrase, but it’s fine that meaning and association drifts mistily across ‘sifted light pale gold in contrast glided’. The light is ‘sifted’ because of the blind on the window.

‘Tap’ (11:933) is the sound of the piano tuner’s cane as he taps his way back to the Ormond Hotel; the isolated sound follows immediately an intention ‘To hear’, but no-one here can yet hear it. The scene we’ve just read about is witnessed by the book’s major protagonist: ‘Bloom through the bardoor saw a shell held at their ears’ (11:934). ‘He heard more faintly that that they heard’ is a strange claim: if they’re hearing an impression of the sea, ‘hearing the plash of waves, loudly, a silent roar’ (11:936), as a result of placing the shell by their ears, then how can Bloom, with no shell, hear anything like it? The sense is probably just that he imagines what they hear: imagined, the sound is fainter. ‘each for herself alone, then each for other’ suggests that each character first listens to the shell independently, then in some way shares it with another (both listening from opposite sides at once?). The impression is of an experience that’s enhanced by being shared: the sound of the sea is, we might say, an imaginary one that they have to encourage each other to have. The paradox of ‘a silent roar’ might recall us to high-faluting claims about silence in Joyce (say, Jean-Michel Rabaté’s 1982 essay ‘Silence in Dubliners’), though its literal meaning is that the roar isn’t a real, external sound, or that the roar is silent to a more distant observer like Bloom.

‘Bronze by a weary gold, anear, afar, they listened’ (11:937) plainly reprises the episode’s primary motif (11:1, 11:64), but gold Kennedy is now ‘weary’ from work. The themes of near and far also come with the motif (for instance 11:112); here they are literally near to each other, while ‘afar’ may refer, if anything, to the sense that the sea they’re hearing is far off, not present.

We would resume in October 2021 with the line ‘Her ear too is a shell’ (11:938).

[This and the next three blogs are all from Joe.]

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