Posted by: Lisa Hill | August 8, 2009

Ulysses, by James Joyce (disordered thoughts of an amateur #4)

7 Eccles St Dublin (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

7 Eccles St Dublin (Source: Wikipedia Commons)


Chapter 4: Calypso

I finished Chapter 4 last night, and thoroughly enjoyed it.  It’s back to straightforward narrative (more or less), is much easier to understand what’s going on than in Chapter 3, and Leopold Bloom is an unforgettable character.  It is so easy to imagine him pottering around in the kitchen, cooking up his kidneys and fondling the cat while he dawdles through random thoughts and ideas.  

‘Poldy’ is not an intellectual like Stephen, but neither does he get his kicks out of mocking other people like Buck Mulligan.  A man who cooks his wife breakfast each day can’t be all bad, even if he does have some less than salubrious habits.  He seems a bit under Molly’s thumb: even half asleep she orders him about, and awake, she expects him to retrieve her book from where she’s carelessly let it slip almost into the chamberpot.  He goes to a great deal of trouble to make a tray just as she likes it, but remains genial even when she’s not interested.  She has the power in this marriage, but he’s not downtrodden.   

Some letters arrive.  Bloom’s is from his daughter Milly, but we don’t find out about Molly’s till later, long enough for it to trouble Bloom.  She tucks it under her pillow and surreptitiously reads it while he’s downstairs.  We discover that their relationship isn’t all that it could be in other ways, but they’ve been together a long time and have learned to muddle through.  

Perhaps I should not be calling him Poldy.  It’s a familiarity and despite some intimacies I would rather not have shared (Too much information, Mr Joyce!  Too much information!) I  hardly know him.  At that time and in that society he would probably always have been Mr Bloom to his acquaintances…  

It’s easier to follow events in this chapter, but it’s not easy to divine some of Joyce’s ‘correspondences’.  No need to explore online to se that the organ is the kidney, but I needed Gerry Carlin and Mair Evan’s Joynotes to learn that the colour is supposed to be orange.  Oh yeah?  Methinks Mr Joyce could have had a Guiness too many when he claimed that, because there are colours all over the place in this chapter: reddening coals, green flashing eyes, grey horror, milkwhite teeth and so on.  On the other hand there’s a significance to a ‘homerule sun rising’ (p59) that’s political and cultural, and Bloom switches from fantasising about his chances with the young woman at the butcher’s to a dream of buying orange groves and melonfields in Jaffa which he reads about in a newspaper ad.  He’s attracted by the idea of investing in ‘vast sandy tracts’, receiving annually a ‘sending of the crop’. (p62).  (I suppose there are young people who are mystified by this sequence because they have never seen newspaper recycled into cut sheets for wrapping purchases at shops.  In my youth it was commonplace: at the greengrocer, the butcher, the fish-and-chip shop.)  

This sequence also shows us the art of economics of a sort: from a simple retail purchase to Bloom’s musings on an unlet rental property and the idea of investments and dividends, but Bloom is naive.  He meditates about jars he has at home in which to pickle the olives, Molly spitting out the pits, citrus wrapped in tissue and packed into crates, and warm sunny evenings savouring the perfume of the fruit.  In rain-sodden Ireland he imagines needing to pray to provoke the rain to irrigate the fruit, then recoils in horror at the idea of barren lands of the Middle East. His concept of these places is Old Testament biblical: Sodom and Gomorrah, ‘all dead names…a dead sea in a dead land, grey and old’ (p63).  Joyce, writing when the value of colonial posssessions in the Middle East was purely strategic, would be astonished by the flourishing cities of today’s oil-rich nations.  

The symbol is Calypso the nymph.  Joyce shows us four very different women: the butcher’s wife with her strong arms whacking a carpet on the clothesline; the fecund youth of the ‘next-door girl at the counter’ sauntering lazily in the morning sun; Mrs Marion Bloom, Molly, with her ‘warm heavy sigh’ and tousled hair, jingling the bed quoits with her ample bedwarmed flesh; and moustache cupMilly, their daughter, giving him a silly gift of a moustache cup when she was four or five.  Now Milly’s letters come postmarked Mullingar and addressed to Bloom – not to her mother.  At fifteen, she works for a photographer.  Girls left home early in those days to go away to work, and Bloom worries about her, torn between feeling confident that ‘she knows how to mind herself’ and yet ‘a wild piece of goods’. (p68-9)  

The Bath of the Nymphs by Francesco Hayez (Source: Wikipedia Commons)

The Bath of the Nymphs by Francesco Hayez (Source: Wikipedia Commons)


Looking for a picture of The Bath of the Nymphs, the painting that hangs above the Bloom marital bed, I discovered the Cliff notes for this book.   In general I don’t like them – but glancing through them reminded me about the key that Bloom has misplaced.  He would rather leave the front door unlatched than wake his sleeping wife, leaving his Penelope vulnerable to intruders as he sets off on his little journey to buy the kidneys.  

He pulled the halldoor to after him, very quietly, more, till the footleaf dropped gently over the threshold, a limp lid.  Looked shut.  All right till I come back anyhow. (p59)  

The journey weighing heavily on his mind is, like Stephen’s, a funeral.  Unlike Stephen he already has a black suit, though he’d rather not wear it because of the warm weather.  This, like other indications, show that the Blooms are better off financially than the impecunious Stephen, but they’re not upper class: Molly is about to perform in a music hall concert organised by Boylan, author of the letter that she tucked under her pillow.  We know she’s up to no good with him (and so does Bloom) because her full lips have that ‘rather stale smell that incense leaves the next day.  Like foul flowerwater’.  (p65)  

Onward, to chapter 5!  

Page references here are to my battered old copy of the Penguin Ulysses, 1979 ISBN 014003000x (which uses the 1960 Bodley Head edition, which was the 10th edition and has different page numbers to its predecessors.)  

Links to my disordered thoughts for other chapters are below. NB Page references to anything before Chapter 11 are to my 1979 Penguin, and after that are to my Penguin 2000 reprint.  

  • Intro  
  • Chapters 1,2,3  (Telemachus, Nestor, Proteus)
  • Chapter 4   (Calypso)
  • Chapter 5   (The Lotus Eaters)
  • Chapter 6   (Hades)
  • Chapter 7   (Aeolus)
  • Chapter 8   (Lestrygonians)
  • Chapter 9    (Scylla and Charybdis) 
  • Chapter 10  (Wandering Rocks) 
  • Chapter 11  (Sirens)
  • Chapter 12  (Cyclops)
  • Chapter 13   (Nausicaa)
  • Chapter 14   (Oxen of the Sun)
  • Chapter 15   (Circe)
  • Chapter 16   (Eumaeus)
  • Chapter 17   (Ithaca)
  • Chapter 18   (Penelope)

  • Responses

    1. This is an interesting and excellent chapter analysis, Lisa. I totally agree with your point of the myriad of colors everywhere (Joyce’s picking just orange seems a bit random). I hadn’t considered that leaving the door unlocked left Molly vulnerable. Good point.
      You go ahead and call him Poldy– I’m calling them Leo and Stevie, myself. :)


    2. Thanks, Lizanne, I really enjoyed your Funmary at Wandering Rocks (even if I was a bit mystified by the Twilight analysis LOL). My guess about the door is that at that period of time (and in my childhood too) it was commonplace to leave a door unlocked. So Joyce calling attention to Bloom’s unease is not about leaving the place vulnerable to theft (which is what all of us would fear these days in our amoral cities) but to intruders of a different sort.
      It is such a delicious book!


    3. oh very nicely done, Lisa. Thank you very much for sharing. You highlighted a few things that made it all more meaningful for me.

      I was not looking for the colors in my reading but I did find that the items you listed do support the Orange.

      You pointed out how economics is highlighted and gave wonderful examples.

      I think I will give it another listen with the text and your words to help open my eyes.

      Very much appreciated.



    4. […] Chapter 4   (Calypso) […]


    5. […] Chapter 4   (Calypso) […]


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