Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 6, 2010

Ulysses, by James Joyce (Disordered thoughts of an amateur) #16

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)

  • Responses

    1. Lisa,
      I must first confess that you have made me pretty jealous. I read Ulysses for the first time during the final 2 months of last year (completing the final Yes on New Year’s Day) and am currently planning on writing a chapter-by-chapter walkthrough of the great epic on my newly-minted blog ( with my notes from the reading. Because Google didn’t bring up much of anything, I was under the impression that few if any bloggers were writing about much Joyce at all but I see now that you’ve got me on both fronts.

      If you would be so willing, I hope that you can take a peak at my blog and offer me your thoughts as I am brand new to it and don’t want to make a fool of myself when I attempt to discuss a great piece of literature at great length. You’ve done it excellently and I hope I can put together something that garners at least some attention as well.

      Thank you,


      • Hello Peter, how lovely to meet another Joyce enthusiast!
        My first piece of advice would be to forget about making a fool of yourself! If I worried about that with Ulysses (or anything else I write about) I wouldn’t have written a word. What I mean is, there are heaps of scholars out there who are experts, and anybody who wants to read the experts can find them easily. However I think that there are a lot of people out there – who are not scholars or even university students studying it as a set text – who would love to read Ulysses but feel intimidated by it, and if they do have a go, they worry that they haven’t interpreted it ‘correctly’. What they find in my ‘disordered thoughts’ is the adventures of someone just like them – muddling through, raiding the resources on the web, getting a buzz out of discovering that an expert interpreted something the same way, being brave (or foolish) enough to quarrel with those expert interpretations sometimes, confessing to being mystified or fed up every now and again – and through it all, really enjoying reading the book. Which is what it’s all about, and James Joyce himself said that he wanted ordinary people like me to read it.
        However, having had a look at your very stylish blog, I think it is highly unlikely that you will make a fool of youself, because you’ve read heaps of background material about The Great Book and are probably well on the way to becoming a Joycean scholar yourself! And that’s great, because the more there is out there to help readers of Ulysses enjoy themselves, the better IMO.
        I’ll RSS your blog and keep an eye on your progress:)
        All the best, Lisa
        PS (Just a note to all my friends out there who know that I am not interested in sport LOL) I’ll be skipping Peter’s posts that are not about books!


    2. Thank you for your kind response, Lisa! One of the things I’m striving for in my Joyce posts is to ignite some little flicker of interest in the minds of anybody who may come across my blog, whether they came to read about hockey and baseball or literature. But, yes, I have pursued a study of Joyce with great passion the past couple of years and when I read Ulysses last year I accompanied my reading with “satellite” books to shed light on it. When I begin my own chapter-by-chapter study on the blog I will incorporate all of the information from those but try to make it all easy and understandable.

      I’m still trying to figure out how exactly I should approach the blog-writing because of my perceived audience. It’s clear to me that most Joyceans do not also listen to hip hop music but I am going to have posts that combine the two. And I’m a sports geek so that will always pop into my writings but I, of course, don’t want to deflect anyone who has NO interest (or a strong dislike) in such matters.

      It’s all just the outpouring of a complex young person’s passions right now and perhaps I should rename it “Work in Progress”…

      Thanks again! PQ


      • One of the things I love about blogging is that it is idiosyncratic: it always reflects the personality and preoccupations of the blogger. The best ones make you feel that you know the blogger as a human being with a variety of interests even though you’ve never met. Many book bloggers also include posts about film and music (see Whispering Gums in my blogroll); others include art and crafts (see Ms Textual and Dove Grey Reader); poetry and reprints of archival materials (see Matilda) and so on. My own enthusiasm is for Australian literary tourism and festivals – which probably doesn’t interest my international readers who have little prospect of visiting this far away land! My advice would be to clearly signal in the subject line what you are on about: this is good blogging practice anyway. I always write the name of the book and the author, so that the posts are captured by search engines, some book bloggers add the word review too. This also makes it easy for anyone who has subscribed using email or RSS to know whether to open up the site or to skip that particular post. Fans of JJ will open anything with his name, or Ulysses, or Finnegan’s Wake in it; your sports fans will respond to subject lines that name the sport (as well as the team). There is a book blogger out there who writes really, really good stuff that I loved reading (I won’t name the blog) but he often blogs about other stuff as well that doesn’t interest me at all. He persistently used what he thought were funny subject lines that gave no clue to the content of the post and in the end I got sick of always having to open up his site to find out what it was (often to my disappointment) and in the end I unsubscribed and removed him from my blog roll. A simpler alternative, of course, is to have separate blogs for separate interests. I have a professional blog for my school stuff (which is widely read within the profession) and another one for my travels (which is really just meant for family and personal friends). (Links to these are on the Lisa’s Other Life Blogroll). If you blog with WordPress, you can have as many as you like – all for free – and all accessible from the same dashboard with the same settings so you don’t have to log in and out of them to switch between them. The main advantage of this is that anyone who stumbles onto your home page or has found it through a search engine will know what it’s about from that front page, i.e. if a search engine led me to your blog when I was looking for Finnegan’s Wake, and I saw posts about hockey instead on the home page, I’d assume that the search engine had made a mistake. And this works both ways – my son loves sports of all kinds and would enjoy your sports posts, but (even though he’s read Ulysses) would probably not be interested in the posts about James Joyce! (If you do want to try having separate blogs and find that your current blog host won’t let you do it, you can easily import your existing blog into a new WordPress blog called e.g. James Joyce Jottings with all your posts and comments intact, and then you could make another copy of it with a new name e.g. Pete’s Passion for Sport. Then you’d delete all the sport posts from the new James Joyce one and all the JJ posts from the new sport one.) Whatever you do, I’ll be watching with interest! Cheers Lisa


    Please share your thoughts and join the conversation!

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Google photo

    You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.


    %d bloggers like this: