Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 29, 2009

Ulysses (1922), by James Joyce (disordered thoughts of an amateur #8)

Chapter 8: The Lestrygonians

Now then, where were we?  Ah yes, Chapter 8 and the Lestrygonians. This is where Odysseus has been given his marching orders by Aeolus, and lands up on the island of the Lestrygonians.  A sexy wench lures the lads to more peril.  Daddy is Antiphates, king of the Lestrygonians, and he’s a giant cannibal.  He eats the shore party, but Odysseus gets away with the rest of the crew.   

So there’s lots of eating in Chapter 8.  It’s one o’clock and Bloom is getting hungry but in the end all he gets is a sandwich.  The chapter begins with an evocative image of a sugarsticky girl shovelling scoopfuls of creams for a christian brother (p150) – an image probably lost on anyone born after 1950 whose sweets come in gluttonous packets of hygienic plastic.  How we loved to take our sixpences to the sweet shop!  Those shopkeepers must have had the endless patience gene as we pondered the vast array, eventually choosing ‘one of these, and two of those, and a piece of licorice for mummy’.  We would have watched in awe had anyone bought shovelfuls of anything, for although we were not poor, such bounty was reserved for birthday parties.  Some school treat, says Mr Joyce, but I don’t remember anyone ever being given a sweet at school…  

But I digress.  It’s amazing how evocative images of food are, how they tap into memories of home and family meals and childhood treats!  For Joyce, though, this chapter also offers the opportunity to allude to Ireland’s poverty: there’s a little girl in a tattered dress, underfed on a diet of ‘potatoes and marge, marge and potatoes’ (p151). Today people eat ersatz butter in the form of golden margarine because it’s thought to be better for the heart, but the pale margarine of poverty was apparently a different thing entirely.  Bloom is in no doubt about the role Catholic dogma plays in this poverty: he sees Dedalus’s daughter selling off the furniture because the home is being broken up, and we learn that Stephen’s mother had 15 children, birth every year almost, while the priests have no families themselves to feed (p151). A century after Joyce wrote this they’re still preaching increase and multiply, only now their victims are in the developing world, in Africa, South America and the Philippines and the consequences are not just a disaster for the family but also for global overpopulation.  I live in hope that their somnolent ‘loving’ god will send a revelation to the Pope to put a stop to the human misery this dogma causes.   

A Google search for Butler’s monument house corner (p151) led instead to James Joyce Ulysses: A Photo Journey, (an interesting site to compare Dublin today with Joyce’s Dublin at Joyce Images) and this in turn led to James Joyce Music, a site which explores all the musical references in Ulysses.  There’s a CD you could buy to play while reading, which would be nice, especially since the recording is done with just voice and piano so evocative of the times.   This link is to a music clip of Blumenlied, the Flower Song:  

This is a song Bloom buys for his daughter Milly when she is taking piano lessons. Known in English as “The Flower Song,” it is tied to Bloom’s pen name, Henry Flower, which he uses in his clandestine correspondence with Martha Clifford. It is one of a number of flower references throughout Ulysses. (Cover notes)  

A reader could spend years discovering the riches in this book!  

The narrative technique in Lestrygonians is the interior monologue again, but in this chapter we see Bloom not wanting to think about what’s going on between Molly and Boylan.  Is this the first example in literature where the reader witnesses the truncated thoughts of a man repressing his fears and the text suppressing them too? As Bloom ponders various advertising strategies (p153) he remembers ads for Dr Hy Franks’ quack remedies for the clap, and suddenly it occurs to him that Boylan might infect Molly:  

If he…  




No, no, I don’t believe it.  He wouldn’t surely?  

No, no.  

Mr Bloom moved forward raising his troubled eyes.  Think no more about that. (p153)  

But his rebellious thoughts keep resurfacing.  As he passes by a cycle shop he remembers Molly’s sexy dress on a day at the races, the ‘snug little room’ they had, and the ‘cosy smell of her bathwater’ on tub night.  They were happy.  Happier then. (p155).  

Source: Joyce Images


This chapter brings me another statue to look out for when I visit Dublin next year.  Bloom passes by Tommy Moore’s roguish finger, a reference to Thomas Moore, (1779-1852) the bard of Ireland who ended up in Paris to escape gambling debts.  Bloom’s caustic allusion to the adjacent urinal references Moore’s popular ballad The Meeting of the Waters – a beauty spot in Ireland where the Avonmore and Avonbeg Rivers meet to form the Avoca River.  

I don’t see how it meshes with the Lestrygonians theme or the digestive tract allusions, but most of the people Bloom meets in this chapter establish him as a sensitive and caring bloke.  Not exactly a SNAG, but fond enough of animals to spend a penny on Banbury cakes to feed some hungry pigeons (p152); kindly to melancholy Mrs Breen whose husband is ‘off his chump’ i.e. loopy(p159); genuinely concerned about Mrs Purefoy’s three-day labour ending in a stillbirth no one bothers even to register (p161) and sensitive to the pride of the ‘blind stripling’ he helps across the street (p180-1).   

It’s also an elegiac chapter, showing how profound Bloom’s losses have been.  Molly’s alienation dates from little Rudy’s death, and she – not wanting to risk having another child only to lose it –  ‘could never like it again’ (p167).    The ‘stream of life’ (p155) seems utterly pointless to him:  

His smile faded as he walked, a heavy cloud hiding the sun, slowly shadowing Trinity’s surly front. Trams passed one another, ingoing, outgoing, clanging.  Useless words.  things go on same; day after day; squads of police marching out, back; trams in, out.  Those two loonies mooching about.  Digman carted off.  Mrs Purefoy swollen belly on a bed groaning to have a child tugged out of her.  One born every second somewhere.  Other dying every second.  Since I fed the birds five minutes.  Three hundred kicked the bucket.  Other three hundred born, washing the blood off, all are washed in the blood of the lamb, bawling maaaaaa. (p164)   

So he’s in a liverish mood (sorry, an irresistable pun) when he finally decides to turn into the Burton for lunch and the scene revolts him.  

See the animals feed.  

Men, men, men.  

Perched on high stools by the bar, hats shoved back, at the tables calling for bread no charge, swilling, wolfing, gobfuls of sloppy food, their eyes bulging, wiping wetted moustaches. (p168-9)  

Hungry as he is, he can’t bear it (and it’s no pleasure to read either).  At Davy Byrne’s ‘nice quiet bar’ instead (p173) he has a chaste Gorgonzola sandwich ‘cut into slender strips’ (p172)  and a glass of burgundy – the choice of wine rather than Guinness emphasising his other-ness.  Alas, Nosey Flynn wants to chat about Molly’s upcoming tour, and mention of Blazes Boylan raises Bloom’s bile.  It was here that I realised that Bloom can’t go home till six o’clock because he doesn’t want to confront Molly and Boylan together.  It’s resignation rather than cowardice, I think.  Over his wine he indulges nostalgic memories of making love on Ben Howth, but such rapture is no longer possible.  ‘Me.  And me now’ he thinks, downcast (p176).  

Poor old Bloom.  While he’s in the loo, the drinkers discuss him.  He’s a Mason, says Nosey, but ‘he’s not too bad’ and ‘has been known to put his hand down to help a fellow’ but that ‘God Almighty couldn’t get him drunk‘ and he won’t ever commit himself to anything in writing.  (He wouldn’t give Nosey a tip for the races either.) (p177-8)  But worse for Bloom than that is that when he leaves the bar and turns into Kildare St – after all his efforts to steadfastly avoid thinking about Boylan – he sees the man himself on his way to the assignation with Molly at two o’clock.   

Yet he’s still entertaining ideas about Martha Clifford, hoping that his ad in the Irish Times for a ‘smart lady typist to aid gentleman in literary work’ may lead to other offers! (p159)  

BTW I searched Cliff Notes to see why the enigmatic UP message bothered Mr Breen so much but it transpires that nobody really knows.  I also used Notes on James Joyce’s Ulysses  written by Gerry Carlin & Mair Evans to refresh my memory of The Odyssey.  

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. Enjoyable as ever. I’d love to know what you picked up before you read any accompanying notes. Blooms dismay at certain possibilites pertaining to Boylan passed me completely by. On the sweet treat I think this may have been a sweet that you took to school or bought on the way or in the lunch break or something rather than than one given out by the school – I can’t imagine that happening. My own father was one of thirteen and his one of eleven (or the other way around I can’t remember) and not all of them survived (one finding his way to a shoebox grave at the bottom of the garden legend has it) – luckily I’m one of three – so times have changed! Good luck with the next chapter – it’s getting harder!


    2. Hi Michael,
      Alas, due to the dubious notes from my university days in the margins – irritating but impossible to ignore – it’s not really possible to separate my responses now from a first reading. (This is my third reading of Ulysses). I really wish I’d kept a reading journal of my first reading all those years ago and that’s why I like your posts so much – it brings back that sense of bewilderment coupled with a sense of excitement when a puzzle is solved that I think everyone feels when confronted with this book for the first time.


    3. So sad! You can only experience something for the first time – once! Still, never too late to reject orthodoxy – never trust the solutions to those puzzles, authority is bunk – make up your own answers! Joyce probably would have :-)


      • Absolutely right, Mike, and yet what I like about Joyce is that because it’s so dense with allusions and puzzles and mystifying hints that turn out to be significant later on, is that each time you re-read it – or even bits of it – even amateurs can discover something new. Of course if I dug out the Shakespeare and made a pseudo-scholarly effort for a while I would probably recognise the allusions that the ‘authorities’ refer to. But not only do I not think that’s necessary, I think it’s not what Joyce intended – in fact I think he’s mocking that kind of earnest endeavour in this chapter. Yes, it’s good to have a basic understanding of the structure of the novel and the Odyssean elements, and it’s good fun to wander around online and find pictures and photos but that’s as far as it goes for me.
        BTW is that picture of a library on your blog the actual Dublin library?


    4. I googled National Library Dublin and that’s what came up. Knowing my luck it was probably built in 1957!


    5. I’ll have a look at the foundation stone when I’m there next year!


    6. I just came across this tonight, I haven’t listened to it, just wanted to pass it along in case you were interested

      I didn’t realise that this was your third reading of Ulysses! You’ll be able to write your own guide soon enough. Although I guess you actually are…


    7. Thank you, Louise, I’ve just listened to Declan Kiberd on the audio link you gave, and it’s fascinating. So he thinks ‘Ulysses has become a notoriously incomprehensible bore, almost wholly the property of academic Joyceans and is seldom if ever read by anyone not forced to the task’? I don’t think he’s been online enough! There are people like me who are just reading it because they want to, i.e. with DoveGrey Reader, and there are others reading in online bookgroups like 20th Century Lit, and still others who may indeed be reading it because ‘they have to’ but are having a lot of fun like the boys and girls at Wandering Rocks. I did like Kiberd’s way of chatting about Ulysses and his accessible manner, so I think his book might be terrific, but I don’t think anyone actually needs it – because you can still enjoy Ulysses even if you don’t understand everything – I certainly don’t! Besides, if anyone is confused or wants something explained, there’s heaps of help out there on the web.


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