Chapter 16: Eumaeus
Oh, what a relief it was to start reading this chapter after all that hallucinatory confusion in Circe! Stephen has sobered up, (a bit) and so has James Joyce, and as soon as you start reading you know what he’s up to…
The expert who wrote the introduction to my edition calls Joyce’s style for this chapter ‘old narrative’ – but let’s call a spade a spade: Eumaeus is nothing but clichés and euphemisms. (Deliberate, of course!)
His inscrutable face, which was really a work of art, a perfect study in itself, beggaring description, conveyed the impression that he didn’t understand one word of what was going on. (p726)
What a perfect style to choose for this chapter! Bloom has rescued Stephen and is escorting him out of the red light district. Like many a sober adult before him, he can’t resist the opportunity to share the wisdom of the years in the form of a lecture on the perils of wine, women and song – and of course Stephen (like many a hungover young man before him) has heard it all before.
(I’m sorry, I couldn’t resist aping Bloom’s style for that sentence. Will try to resist the temptation from now onward.)
Why Eumaeus? Well, in Homer’s Ulysses, the hero has finally made it home. Athena has told him what’s going on (i.e. about Penelope’s crowd of suitors taking over the house) and so he disguises himself to catch them unawares. In the shack of his faithful goatherd Eumaeus, he meets up with Telemachus who is also trying to find out about his mother. The disguise comes off, father and son are reunited, and together they plot a strategy to ambush the suitors and get them out of the house. (After all Ulysses has been through, this shouldn’t be too difficult, right?)
Stephen’s feeling none too well after his night’s carousing, and has nowhere to go because his usurper mates have abandoned him. He doesn’t even have any money left to give ‘Lord’ John Corley who importunes him as a distant relation. All he can offer is half-a-crown and a recommendation that Corley apply for the job at Deasy’s that he’s decided to quit. Friendless, penniless, jobless – things aren’t looking too good for Stephen, and he’s not at all enthusiastic about going home to live with his father and siblings. So Bloom finds a cabman’s shelter (Prop: Skin-the-Goat, gettit?) for a restorative coffee and a roll while they work out what to do. (p717)
Joyce’s ‘art’ for this chapter is navigation and the symbol is sailors, and so it is that they meet up with a redbearded sailor called Murphy who leads them a merry dance up the garden path (sorry!) with a rigmarole about all the places he’s travelled to and the adventures he’s had. There is a nice little parody of Ulysses when Murphy prattles on about his ‘own true wife’ waiting for him for seven years while he’s been sailing about, and Bloom ponders how frequently this theme crops up in literature and folklore (e.g. Rip Van Winkle) but there aren’t any stories about ‘the runaway wife coming back’ (p719).
(By now there must be feminist theses about this discrepancy, I am sure, but Joyce and Bloom pre-date ideas about the role of traditional literature in making women behave themselves. Even the Lord’s wife in Beowulf is only pretending to seduce him, and that at her husband’s direction.)
Anyway, it’s Bloom’s distress about his faithless Molly that makes him fantasise a little about taking a trip to London. He hasn’t travelled much, but he thinks of himself as a ‘born adventurer’ and it’s ‘just a trick of fate’ that he’s remained a landlubber. (p722) In England, he thinks, he could make arrangement for a concert tour, not some ‘hole-and-corner scratch company’ (i.e. not Blazes Boylan’s musical comedy show) but ‘something top-notch, with an all star Irish cast’ (p723), i.e. a proper opera company. And he could, while he was at it, also set up a travel agency for the common man. This part (p724) is terribly funny with Joyce quoting travel brochures and their promises with gay abandon. (Oops, there I go again).
The atmosphere in the cabman’s shelter becomes more and more like an Irish pub when Skin-the-Goat and the Murphy the Sailor begin discussing Irish nationalism. Skin-the Goat ‘with an axe to grind, was airing his grievances’ (p741) about the exploitation of Ireland’s natural resources, advising his listeners that they should all stay and work in Ireland instead of taking themselves off for work elsewhere and enriching England. The sailor (though Bloom doubts he really is one) takes umbrage and the usual barney takes place, while Bloom shares his philosophy with Stephen…
You must look at both sides of the question. It is hard to lay down any hard and fast rules as to right and wrong but room for improvement all round there certainly is though every country, they say, our own distressful included, has the government it deserves. But with a little goodwill all round. It’s all very fine to boast of mutual superiority but what about mutual equality? I resent violence or intolerance in any form. It never reaches anything or stops anything. A revolution must come on the due instalments plan. It’s a patent absurdity on the face of it to hate people because they live round the corner and speak another vernacular, so to speak…
…all those wretched quarrels …stirring up bad blood – bump of combativeness or gland of some kind, erroneously supposed to be about a punctilio of honour and a flag – were very largely a question of the money question which was at the back of everything, greed and jealousy, people never knowing when to stop.‘ (p745)
Oh, how much heartbreak and human misery could have been spared if Joyce’s own countrymen had heeded these words during the Troubles!
Stephen, however, has a headache (as well he might) and he’s not in the mood. He demands a change of subject, and Bloom reads aloud the report of Paddy Dignam’s funeral in the paper. They’ve spelt his name wrong (L. Boom) but they’ve left Stephen’s out altogether, which amuses Bloom but Stephen isn’t much bothered. The gossip goes on and the subject of hot-blooded Spanish women comes up. Bloom produces a photo of Molly, asking Stephen if he considers her to be a Spanish type? Poor Poldy!
Perhaps prompted by the embarrassing earlier appearance of the old whore and his worries about Stephen getting sucked into vice, Bloom becomes positively paternal. He likes the idea of this young intellectual as a friend, and he wants to protect him so that one day he can marry his Miss Right. He is shocked to discover that Stephen hasn’t eaten since the day before yesterday (it’s now one o’clock in the morning) but dare not take him home in case Molly arcs up about it. He decides that he will find him a shakedown for the night to keep him out of the cold, and all he needs to do is think of a tactful way to suggest it…
They set off together arm-in-arm (because Stephen’s a bit unsteady on his feet) and begin to talk of music. (Well, Bloom does most of the talking. Prattling, really). It turns out that Stephen has a beautiful tenor voice, and Bloom dreams of supporting him in a new career which could eventually benefit Molly’s. They walk on into the night, watched by a cab-driver…
Onward to Ithaca!
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)