Seminar, 12 October – ‘Sirens’, 183-200

On Friday 12 October, we began at 11.183 (‘You horrid thing‘) and read 17 lines.

  • The exchange between Misses Douce and Kennedy, which centres around the comment ‘you horrid thing’, is more complex than it first seems. ‘Horrid’ appears to have a peculiarly English inflection, which made us wonder how it came into their vocabulary: through music hall song? Does it recall a comic opera stage direction? The tone of Miss Kennedy’s remark is one of mock-protestation rather than genuine rebuke, but perhaps the tone of ‘horrid’ changes a little when it is repeated; what the repetition in brackets does do well, though, is indicate the simultaneity of the episode.


  • What, precisely, is the distinction between a ‘flush’ and a ‘blush’? Characters do both throughout the novel, and we traced some of the similar instances of these words, especially in ‘Nausicaa’. Is there a distinction to draw between between emotional and intellectual responses to the situation? While there are blushes and flushes throughout Joyce’s work, it is rare that we see a flush recede, as here (‘flushed less, still less’).


  • Just at the point when we think we’ve got the colours of their hair clarified, Joyce sets down another puzzle. Does ‘more goldenly’ mean ‘more like herself’ (but we know so little of either of them, really) or is the light in some way accentuating the colour of her hair against her skin? Does this mean she’s moved and her relationship with the light in the space is different?


  • We spotted a Gabler oversight at the last session, in an inconsistent spelling of ‘greaseabloom’. In this session, we again discussed this inconsistency, and noted that the second instance is capitalised in both cases. Another name, Ceppi, is also worth commenting on: Ceppi is not Italian, as one might assume, but Swiss. The family had been in Dublin since the nineteenth century and sold picture frames, looking glasses and statues: with this information, the phrase ‘bright of their oils’ takes on a range of possible meanings. Is Joyce setting us a reader trap, or is he himself unsure of the details?


  • From Ceppi to Nannetti to Bloom. ‘Wheedling’ isn’t the most positive term, and, recognising that he too is without an office, Bloom’s thoughts appear to be going somewhere he doesn’t want them to. ‘Doors’ might be religious as well as secular; the gist of Bloom’s thinking on religion, then, is that it pays.


  • Then follows a series of seventeen monosyllabic words, notable also for including five iambic pentameter constructions. We sensed here a touch of the recitative opera and thought for a while about Joyce’s (and Bloom’s) familiarity with this form, and its relevance to this episode particularly. Again, Bloom appears to stop himself from thinking unwanted thoughts: what does he want? What is the unspoken thought between ‘I want’ and ‘not yet’? ‘Want’ here may of course suggest ‘lack’ rather than ‘desire’. This section invited us to consider the plotting of Ulysses as a whole and to this end we discussed Peter Kuch’s recently published Irish Divorce/Joyce’s Ulysses (a review by the Irish Times here), in which he suggests that Bloom allows the affair to happen – to drag on, even (‘not yet … not yet’) – so that he has reason to divorce Molly. In an extremely uncharacteristic moment for the Charles Peake group, we spent some time away from the line in question and pondered various aspects of the divorce process in Ireland in Joyce’s time. At this point, it is worth noting that all this Bloom material was added in a later draft: he interrupts the sirens.


  • What is the significance of The Clarence and/or The Dolphin? Why doesn’t Joyce make Bloom think about the Ormond in this moment? We discussed the distinctions between pubs and hotels, between wet and dry institutions, and the corresponding social hierarchies therein.


  • In strolls Simon Dedalus! We compared his rocky thumbnails with Bloom’s attention to his own nails in ‘Hades’ (when he and Simon share the ride in the funeral carriage and see Boylan out the window). He flirts with Miss Douce, apparently harmlessly, though he holds on to her hand for an uncomfortably long time until she pulls it away. The seminar ended with a discussion of the significance of Rostrevor as a location to take a holiday. Some wondered if it really is the kind of place to take a vacation; others read this word as a gloss for ‘free time spent with family, hardly unusual for a single woman’. We noticed the shell she brings back, which made us wonder where exactly in Rostrevor she’s been, and which reinforces the presence of the Homeric sirens. We discussed whether she had indeed been on the coast and might, therefore, be considered a ‘seaside girl’ in the manner of Gerty. This brief mention of a shell, then, arguably does some heavy lifting in painting a picture of Miss Douce as an attractive and desirable woman, showing her flesh to ‘poor simple males’.


Is it really sunny enough to get a suntan in Rostrevor? We wonder, and hope to find out at our next session. We start again on 02 November at line 200 (‘bronze whiteness’).

Before then please do look at the CFP for the Aeolus workshop, to be hosted in March 2019 in conjunction with the Leeds Joyce reading groups.




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CFP: Reading Joyce’s ‘Aeolus’

CFP: Reading Joyce’s ‘Aeolus’

London: Saturday, March 2, 2019

Reading Joyce’s ‘Aeolus’ (PDF)

Of the 18 episodes of James Joyce’s Ulysses (1922), ‘Aeolus’ has claims to be among the most neglected. Conspicuously revised after its first appearance in The Little Review in October 1918, it belongs exclusively neither with the opening chapters of Joyce’s novel nor with the more radically experimental narratives of the later episodes. In this way, it presents a textual curiosity in the book, long overdue critical reappraisal.

This workshop, a collaboration between the James Joyce reading groups at the University of Leeds and the Charles Peake Ulysses reading group, hosted by the Institute of English Studies at Senate House, aims to offer new perspectives on this all too easily overlooked episode.

We welcome papers that focus on this episode exclusively, or explore its relationship with other chapters of the novel, or the rest of Ulysses more broadly, or other texts besides. Possible paper topics include, but are in no way limited to:

  • Newspapers, popular media, and advertising
  • Technology, trams, telegraphs, and printing presses
  • Parnellism, the Irish language question, and political history
  • Alcohol, socialising, and homosocial spaces
  • Geography, city planning, urban infrastructure, architecture, and mapping
  • Minor and ‘real-world’ characters
  • The Little Review: adaptation, revision, and annotation

Papers should be no more than 20 minutes in length. 250-word abstracts and brief biographies should be sent to the organisers, Helen Saunders ( and Steven Morrison ( by 30 November 2018.

When: Saturday 02 March 2019

Where: Institute of English Studies, Senate House, University of London

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Seminar, 21 September – ‘Sirens’, 166-182

We’re back! On Friday night we welcomed old and new faces to the first Charles Peake seminar of the academic year 2018-19. After a brief round of introductions, we began reading ‘Sirens’ again, from 11.166.

We returned to Miss Kennedy’s abbreviated name (having discussed this in our final seminar of last year). As well as noting that this is the only time her name appears shortened, we wondered if it lends her a masculine edge (‘Kenny’) or perhaps indicates a pet name we are unaware of. Her strange posture (‘stooping’) reminded us of Swift (‘Stoop not to interest, flattery, or deceit’) and arguably Goldsmith (‘she stoops to conquer’), while the internal rhyme of fair/hair anticipates later examples of this in the passage (‘laughter after laughter’). ‘Napecomb’ appears to be a Joycean original – or, at least, the only example the OED recognises – and the fact of it being tortoiseshell makes it, according to the fashion press of the time, an especially desirable item. As such, ‘her tortoise napecomb showed’ suggests not just that it becomes visible, but that she reveals it in a particularly performative way. Is this a response to Miss Douce’s sun tan – is there a slightly competitive edge between them?

It goes without saying that there is much tea flowing in this episode. Previously out of a teapot tea she poured, into the teapot tea she poured; this time, it moves in and out of her mouth as she chokes with laughter. Whether this evoked something sexual, or simply conjured a sense of joyous abandonment, was discussed. Finally, we noted that the word order of ‘spluttered out of her mouth her tea’ seems a Joycean idiosyncrasy.

Having discussed the pharmacist at length in a previous session, the punchline of the joke between the two nonetheless eluded us. What is a ‘greasy eye’? Grease is frequently associated with Bloom in the novel – we noted the role of the narrator in trying to collapse the distinction between Bloom and the pharmacist – but does the word have anti-Semitic connotations in this specific example? We conceded that perhaps we misread the word previously, and that the pharmacist is lecherous or sleazy instead.

We had various imaginative responses to Miss Douce’s invitation to ‘imagine being married to a man like that’. We wondered about whether he (‘like that’) really is married (is Miss Douce thinking more of his wife than of him?), or whether this is a statement about her unmarried status more generally (‘imagine being married’). Marriage rates were on the decline in Dublin at this time; celibacy and social purity movements, moreover, on the rise. Again, we know very little about the barmaids but we did wonder if their suggested resistance to marriage indicates their youth: they have a choice to be single, if they wish, a socially-acceptable decision not available to women of the previous generation. Perhaps, however, the call to ‘imagine’ reflects their inexperience, and to this end we paused for some time on ‘a full yell of full woman’: is this a genuinely womanly noise, or just something meant to sound as a woman should?

‘Delight, joy, indignation: while the reason for their indignation is suggested only, other examples of this word in the novel might provide a clue. Bloom wonders if Martha Clifford is putting on an act in her seductive letters (‘Wonder did she wrote it herself. Doing the indignant: a girl of good family like me, respectable character’) and in ‘Circe’ Mary Driscoll, defending herself against charges of improper behaviour around Bloom, speaks ‘indignantly’.

Many different editions of the text were used in the session; Gablers were thin on the ground. Importantly, the clause – in some editions – ‘after bronze in gold’ is, in Gabler, ‘after, gold after bronze’. We reflected on what Gabler’s reason for making this change might be for some time. ‘Shrill’ suggests something discordant (just as ‘indignation’ adds a disruptive tone to a previous sentence), notably through the vocabulary itself rather than the rhythm of the words. We thought about bells for a time – bells in pubs especially – and wondered if there is something slightly metamorphic or anthropomorphic going on here.

‘Married to Bloom’ was evidence, to us, that the Arranger (to use David Hayman’s term) of this episode is increasingly characterful and performative (compare this with our earlier discussion of what parts of the conversation about black satin blouses actually did/not take place). ‘Married to Bloom’ is reported but not actually said. Again, the Arranger collapses the distinction between the pharmacist and the novel’s central character (‘greaseabloom’) (notably, non-Gabler editions have ‘greaseaseabloom’).

Once the Arranger joins in, the two women go back to ostensibly polite dialogue, reported in a conventionally realist mode, although ‘I wished’ seems a little at odds with this. As too does the joke (‘I’m all wet’) which seems to suggest three types of wetness – sweat, urine, lubrication – but never commit to one of these. We discussed here how our historical distance makes the innuendo harder to read, while even between Misses Douce and Kennedy there is an unwillingness to be explicit. Is this an attempt to continue the laughter, which falls a little flat?

The next seminar, where we may attempt to answer this question, will take place on Friday 12 October. We will begin again at ‘-O Miss Douce!’ (11.183).

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Seminar Dates – Update

I have just been reminded that we’ve already done ‘Aeolus’. I meant ‘Sirens’. We will resume our reading of ‘Sirens’ in September. Please do blame this on the boogie.

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Seminar Dates 2018-19

We have dates for the next academic year, as follows:

21 September 18.00-20.00
12 October 18.00-20.00
2 November 18.00-20.00
7 December 18.00-20.00
4 January 18.00-20.00
1 February 18.00-20.00
1 March 18.00-20.00
5 April 18.00-20.00
3 May 18.00-20.00
7 June 18.00-20.00

All will be taking place in Senate House, room to be confirmed (I’ve asked for a roomier room, but the IES is constrained by only having a small range of free venues – and we’ve managed so far, I suppose). Hope to see seminarians new and old in September, when we will be resuming our reading of ‘Sirens’ at around lines 165 to 166.

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Bloomsday 2018

Please see the invitation below to join the unofficial Charles Peake seminar celebrations for Bloomsday 2018.

We’ll be meeting at 2pm on Saturday 16 June at the bar of the Tavistock Hotel in Russell Square. To begin, we’ll think about the five senses and how these are depicted in the novel by considering a few select passages. Please do have a think about any examples on this topic that you especially enjoy and would like to discuss. Remember to bring a copy of Ulysses with you!

Given our location, we’ll move on to Sirens at four (she said) by discussing Joyce’s feelings about the episode and some of its publication and reception history: handouts for this will be provided. We’ll probably wrap up around 5 – 6pm.

Seminarians might be also interested in the evening’s entertainment. At Queen Mary there’s the launch of Dedalus, a sequel to Ulysses (details here) and at the Irish Cultural Centre in Hammersmith there’ll be a theatrical performance of Joyce’s works (details here).

Hopefully many members of the seminar will be able to make it.

Please direct any questions to Helen Saunders (via email, or comment below).

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Seminar, 1 June – ‘Sirens’, 151-166

We rounded out the 2017-2018 season with a further fifteen lines of the ‘Sirens’ episode (and it’s not entirely clear that we’re done with the last of those). Some of the following we think we got, the rest we at least had a crack at:

We scrutinised the sentence bookended by ‘by’s, but decided this was mere repetition, perhaps for the sake of the rhythm, describing a circle. Bloom’s “eyes went by” and, we trust, the rest of him too. The word “blessed” sets up a contrast with Bloom’s “dark eyes”, but the plurality of “virgins” tickled us, as did “white under” the blue robe, with its profane suggestion of nakedness. We related “come to me” to the Blessed Virgin’s intercessionary power, her role as “Refuge of sinners” (13.442), but noticed that it not only anticipates the climactic, identical line in Lionel’s aria from Martha (watch this space), but that Bloom had himself quoted, or even silently sung, the preceding two lines in ‘Aeolus’: “Co-ome thou lost one,/Co-ome thou dear one!” (7.59-60).

“God they believe she is: or goddess”: already pious belief and the subject of long controversy (and I do mean long), the Immaculate Conception of Mary, rendering her born without stain of sin, was proclaimed in 1854. Pius IX’s bull became dogma with the recognition of papal infallibility in 1870, while the doctrine of the Assumption – the direct ascent to heaven of Mary – was similarly dogmatically defined in 1950 (I have to put my hands up to some post-seminar fact-checking here, but we did have the gist of it on the night). Speaking of gist: we noted that Bloom is here boiling down to its very barest bones  something expressed at greater length by Stephen in his thoughts in ‘Scylla and Charybdis’ on “the madonna which the cunning Italian intellect flung to the mob of Europe” (9.839-40). We noted the “they” and Bloom’s distance from specifically Catholic Dublin and we also discussed the use of the colon in musical notation (its appearance after the key signature).

What follows is Bloom’s version of events, regarding his being caught out looking at the statues of goddesses in the National Museum in ‘Scylla’. As Mulligan tells Stephen there, Bloom’s eyes “were upon” the statue’s “mesial groove” (9.615). We can deduce here (the “fellow spoke”) that Mulligan must have interrupted Bloom by saying ‘good day’, since, at the end of ‘Scylla’, he says “Good day again” to Bloom (9.1204). This point was where Bloom saw the “student” (Mulligan) with “Dedalus’ son” and conditionally puts a name to the face, remembering what Simon had to say in ‘Hades’: “Was that Mulligan cad with him?” (6.49).

The statues in the museum and Bassi’s statues are here conflated, the heathen goddesses and the Mother of God: “All comely virgins.” Blasphemous in this formulation, the logic is nevertheless that underpinning Stephen’s objections in ‘Scylla’, the madonna’s absorption of and association with prior forms of goddess worship. The whiteness of the naked statues brings in “those rakes of fellows” who are students like Mulligan (Bloom is here suggesting that the Buck was in the Museum for no better reasons than himself); but the whiteness of Mary’s vestments brings in sinners also; and it was hard not to see a third layer of meaning, whiteness in its relation to virginity and brothels (as when Bloom is put up for auction by Bello in ‘Circe’: “Must be virgin”, 15.3100).

“By went his eyes” is a nice piece of internal rhyme and a third repetition of ‘by’. This is voiced by the narrator and what follows is not clearly interior monologue: the actual book Sweets of Sin Bloom has in his pocket, of course; and an attempt to separate the sin from the sweet – “Sweet are the sweets” – is answered by that knowing, mock-portentous “Of sin.” We thought these two lines might be in lieu of Bloom’s thoughts, which may well have turned to Boylan and Molly and so, in typical fashion, have then shut off and turned elsewhere. Bloom has been made unavailable to the reader of ‘Sirens’ once more, for now at least.

The “giggling peal” is of laughter rather than bells, though there is the suggestion of harmony here. The word “young”, repeated soon after, directs us back to Bloom’s response to Sweets of Sin in ‘Wandering Rocks’: “Young! Young!” (10.624); although we are back in the bar, something carries over, perhaps, “Douce” returning us to ‘sweet’ also. In “goldbronze” the voices are fused, but we wondered whether the two women might have their heads together here. The repetition of “your other eye” and then “your other” might be actual repetition or the same phrase echoing – no time seems to have passed at all while the narrative was away dealing with Bloom.

We discussed the neologisms, “gigglegold” and “freefly”. It was suggested that something Homeric was going on here, the sirens letting fly, “screaming”, “piercing” – even throwing “young heads back” . . . having eaten the rest; the mysterious “signals” (hand gestures, pointing at their eyes, perhaps) adding to this reading. Conflated as he has been with the old fogey, Bloom is on some level the object of the laughter and we discussed female laughter in its effect on men, the fear of ridicule and so on: Bloom remembers Molly “screaming” with laughter at 11.557. The final word “notes” brings us back to music again.

The word “foredone”, as in put out of existence, is an archaism, as is “mirth”, which doesn’t seem right here in any case; unless it is allied with the “panting” passing into “sighing” (repeated, once for each of them, maybe) which might be the two women resuming a more conventionally feminine mode once again, quietening down after letting their laughter “freefly” in proper, unrestrained hilarity.

A demonstration was given of the difference between lipping – the edge of the cup meeting the lips – and sipping – the cup then being raised so that the tea may be drunk – not the first time that what looks like a musical wording is in fact (or simultaneously) capturing a very precise motion, a rather ladylike one in this case. We liked “gigglegiggled” but took it to be principally mimetic, with a link to “gigglegold”.

At which point, having waited for her friend to a) settle down a bit and b) be in possession of a mouthful of tea, Miss Douce sets the whole thing off again by repeating her imitation of the old fogey. Just as we’d had problems with ruffling the first time, so here “fattened” left us confused – puffed up around the eyes from laughter, or are the eyes themselves ‘fattened’ somehow? – and the rhyme of “rolled” and “droll” did not help, for all it was suggestive. We do not see this mimicry and perhaps the language is making a point in preventing us from reconstructing it precisely.

We were struck by the idea that “Kennygiggles” masculinises Miss Kennedy here (and the ‘Miss’ is dropped, for only the second time in the episode) – this is filling in for a name, in rather the way that “Bloowhose” and the like fills in for Bloom’s. We wondered precisely who or what is stooping here: Miss Kennedy or the “fair pinnacles of hair” (given separate agency, much like Bloom’s eyes)? These things are happening while she splutters: “showed” is an active verb, but it is the hair doing the showing?

At which point we ran out of time and thought we probably hadn’t quite exhausted the last line (all those questions). So we will resume there, with the hair and the tortoise (wordplay I notice only now as I write), at the next seminar, in September: final dates for next year will be confirmed as soon as I have them. Hope you all enjoy the summer and the upcoming Bloomsday especially.


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