Posted by: Lisa Hill | January 18, 2010

Ulysses, by James Joyce (Disordered thoughts of an amateur #13)

Chapter 13: Nausicaa

I’ve never been to Dublin, so usually, when I’m reading Ulysses I am imagining Bloom in a landscape of images drawn from films and books and the web. But it’s a bit harder to imagine myself anywhere but Australia as I read Nausicaa today, for I am on holidays in the Hunter Valley and the view through the bedroom window is insistent. There is a forest of young gums just beyond the fence, and the early morning sun is playing on the pale bark of one, spotlighting the birds as they flit from one limb to another. Instead of the distant hum of city traffic there are bellbirds calling and a frog chorus. It is warm but (mercifully) not hot after a little light rain yesterday – dress for excursions to the nearby wineries is T-shirts and sandals. I haven’t seen a suit for days…

And Bloom? Well, he’s on the Strand, ogling the girls as the sun goes down – and not only am I miles inland beside a billabong, had I not been to the beach at Truro in Cornwall years ago when I was five, I would be imagining the wrong sort of beach altogether. Bloom is crunching over rocks, pebbles and shards of shells, not the fine pale sands of broad Aussie beaches. He’s wise to leave his shoes on, and he won’t find any sand in his socks when he takes them off at night. (Take a look at Joyce Images to see a picture of the Strand).

Part of the fun of reading Ulysses is discovering which writing style he’s chosen for the new chapter. Nausicaa reminds me straightaway of Maeve Binchy. As readers of this blog know, I am not in the habit of reading chick-lit and they may be even more surprised to learn that I had this memorable experience in Positano, where plaques commemorate the visit of John Steinbeck and that Yehudi Menuhin practised his violin in the very hotel at which I stayed. Alas, I had finished (and shed, in various hotels) the supply of books brought from Australia and their replenishments from the LRB bookshop in London and the English bookshop in Paris, and at the Buca di Bacco there was nothing else to read but the Binchy and some ancient Lonely Planets on that shelf of books the book-lover finds in most hotels in Europe.

So I recognised that schmaltz at once. (Have I spelt that correctly? I don’t have a dictionary here). I cannot imagine James Joyce soaking himself in romance novels in preparation for writing this chapter, but perhaps like me he found the experience of reading just one so memorable that it sufficed. Certainly he was a master of the style and could pick up a contract with Mills and Boon any time for the asking:

The three girl friends were seated on the rocks, enjoying the evening scene and the air which was fresh but not too chilly. Many a time and oft were they wont to come to that favourite nook to have a cosy chat beside the sparkling waves and discuss matters feminine. Cissy Caffrey and Edy Boardman with the baby in the pushcar and Tommy and Jacky Caffrey, two little curly-headed boys, dressed in sailor suits with caps to match and the name H.M.S. Belleisle printed on both. For Tommy and Jacky Caffrey were twins, scarce four years old and very noisy and spoiled twins sometimes but for all that darling little fellows with bright merry faces and endearing ways about them. They were dabbling in the sand with their spades and buckets, building castles as children do, or playing with their big coloured ball, happy as the day was long. (p450)

Daft as Gerty McDowell’s girlish musings are, she is no girl, ‘the years are slipping by for her, one by one‘ (p474) and she’s old enough for Bloom to decide that she’s been ‘left on the shelf’ (p479). As it turns out she’s not exactly an innocent either – as we find out when she flashes her knickers at him. Guided by the Ladies Pictorial in the subtle wiles of womanhood, she has ‘instinctive taste’ and ‘a coquettish little love of a hat’ not to mention an elaborate collection of undies which were ‘her chief care’.(p455) Indeed she prides herself on taste and appearance infinitely superior to Cissy and Edy, reassuring herself that the cooling of her suitor Reggy Wylie’s affections is ‘simply a lover’s quarrel’ (p454) and that her daydreams of marriage with a gentleman destined for Trinity are intact. She will overcome ‘the disadvantage of a ‘home circle [with] deeds of violence caused by intemperance’ (p 460) and be a fine wife remembering to ‘turn off the gas at the main every night’ and ‘every fortnight the chlorate of lime’ in the outhouse – in which she tacks up the grocer’s Christmas almanac with its pictures of ‘halcyon days’ and ‘oldtime chivalry’. (p462). More poignantly, ‘but for that one shortcoming she need fear no competition and that was an accident coming down Dudley Hill and she always tried to conceal it’ (p474) Poor Gerty, her castles of sand are as doomed as those of little Jacky’s if Bloom’s reaction to her limp is anything to go by.

Still, in counterpoint to Bloom’s dreams of dalliance, Gerty fancies flirting too, and weaves a tragi-romantic daydream around the ‘foreign gentleman‘ in mourning (who is ogling her from the rocks). It suits Bloom just fine when the ball ends up near him and he has a chance to kick it back to her and catch her eye. He’s hard at work with his hand in his trouser pocket when Edy breaks into their mutual fantasy – Gerty fends the question off by mentioning the time, and Cissy darts off to ask Bloom what it is. It’s about eight o’clock, but his watch has stopped just as he has had to, so they are none the wiser – but almost as if they were privy to Gerty’s earnest desire for them to take the ‘snotty-nosed twins and their baby home’ (p469), the two girls begin to gather up the children ready to set off.

Nothing daunted Gerty and Bloom eye each other off again. Things (a-hem) reach a climax as the baby throws up, fireworks explode and Gertie – leaning back to see them in a most unladylike way – sees a ‘long Roman candle going up’ (p477).

‘She wasn’t ashamed and he wasn’t either’ (p477) although ‘a fair unsullied soul had called to him, and wretch that he was how had he answered? An utter cad he had been. He of all men! But there was an infinite store of mercy in those eyes , for him too a word of pardon even though he had erred and sinned…’ (p478)

Gerty departs, revealing her disability and the narrative technique shifts. I was quite sorry to see the end of the chick-lit; I was peeved by Bloom’s casual dismissal of Gerty and her prospects after he discovers her limp. I didn’t want to know about his damp shirt and sticky trousers, thank you very much, and I was not interested in his worries about Blazes Boylan, the ad he hasn’t finished and his sensory impressions of women and marriage. The chapter ends with him writing the beginnings of a sentence in the sand: I AM A …. and I am sorely tempted to finish it for him in ways he wouldn’t like. Serves him right that a cuckoo’s call reminds him of his cuckoldry…

After all this, I reminded myself that there were supposed to be Homeric correspondences so I looked up Carlin and Evans. Now I understand why the ‘organ’ for the Cyclops episode couldn’t be the eye (which – with all due respect to Mr Joyce- logically, it should have been). He needed the eye to go with the nose for this episode because of the (a-hem) activities undertaken by Bloom. The symbol is the virgin, and the colours are grey and blue (though I noticed blue much more, with Gerty’s garter and the trimming on her hat, just for starters). Gerty’s pathetic pictures in the loo are transcended into the art of painting, and the Homeric parallels come from Books 5 and 6 of The Odyssey. Odysseus has left Calypso’s island, Poseidon has washed him up on a Phaecian beach and after a snooze in his hiding-place he is woken up by Princess Nausicaa and her maids doing the washing. (This is why Gerty thinks so much about her undies coming back from the laundry, right?) He returns a ball the maidens have been playing with, and since he praises Nausicaa’s beauty, when he begs him to help her, naturally she agrees.

Carlin and Evans also tell me that the style is borrowed from a sentimental novel called ‘The Lamplighter (1854) by Maria Cummins in which the heroine is also named Gerty. I can only assume that Maeve Binchy has likewise modelled her oeuvre on the same author. Aficionados of Ms Binchy are entitled to question this assumption as it is based on the reading of a single novel, but no correspondence will be entered into as I would have to read more of them to prove my point.

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. […] the nearest thing to excitement comes when Mahony witnesses an old man doing something much like Bloom’s misadventures down on The Strand in Ulysses (the Nausicaa chapter) but the narrator doesn’t respond, neither answering Mahony’s […]


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