The Books: “Ulysses” – the Hades episode (James Joyce)

Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:

ulysses67.bmpUlysses- by James Joyce.

So here’s where we are at so far:

1. (TELEMACHIA)
Episode 1: The Telemachus Episode
Episode 2: The Nestor Episode
Episode 3: The Proteus episode

2. (The Odyssey)
Episode 4: The Calypso Episode
Episode 5: The Lotus Eaters Episode

It’s around 11 a.m. Local Dublin men gather in carriages, to go to Paddy Dignam’s funeral. They go to mass, and then to the gravesite. Or, in Odyssey terms: they enter Hades, and then leave it again. The stink of death permeates the entire chapter (so even if you DIDN’T know it was ‘the Hades episode’ – and none of the episodes are labeled) you probably would be able to figure it out. There’s so much going on here that I can’t even begin to break it all down – but here, off the top of my head – are some of the major themes and concepts:

— Bloom travels in a carriage with a group of other men – one of whom is Simon Dedalus (Stephen’s father). So the paths of Stephen and Leopold are ALMOST meeting here. Dedalus seems like a rather dry and … uninspiring sort of person.

— Joyce begins to really pound home Bloom’s isolation from the others here. Is it because he is a Jew? That’s part of it. It’s not so much open anti-Semitism that keeps the men from dealing with him as an equal. It’s more that … the entire culture and mindset is different … there is a gap that cannot be crossed. They make blunder after blunder – because they do not take him into consideration. LIke one of the guys makes a statement about suicide and how it is the worst thing to have in a family. It is only later that the guy realizes what a faux pas that was – Bloom’s father committed suicide. Bloom is, indeed, kind of a nonentity here (to the men, and also – we think – to his wife). He is ANTI-matter. It is easy to forget he is there. There are jokes made about Blazes Boylan – the guy Bloom suspects is having an affair with his wife. The Jewish thing is definitely a barrier – but there’s more going on than that. Joyce always felt that the culture/emotional makeup of the Jewish people and the Irish people were similar, nearly identical. But here – in this scene – it’s like they are different species.

— Bloom’s view of death is different from theirs. He makes a comment that Dignam’s type of death (sudden) can be seen as a blessing. All the other men – Catholics – are horrified, and barely understand what he’s saying. To die suddenly, if you are a Roman Catholic, when you do not have a chance to make your last confession – is the WORST possible kind of death. You could die in a state of unforgiven mortal sin!! What the hell is Bloom talking about??

— But let me also say: the men do not treat Bloom with suspicion, or anti-Semitism (like “the Citizen” does in the later Cyclops chapter – who makes no bones about it: You – JEW – do not belong here.) The men are kind, good-natured – they don’t MEAN to make blunders around Bloom … it’s just that it’s easy to forget he’s there, and it’s easy to forget that he is not, actually, one of them. Identity politics, and all that. They mutter to each other behind his back, “How could I have said that thing about suicide? I didn’t mean it!” They mean well. Ireland is (or was) a homogenous society. So stuff like that is bound to happen.

— Connections with Hades are everywhere. The carriages cross 4 rivers to get to the graveyard (Dodder, Grand Canal, Liffey, Royal Canal). A direct parallel to the four rivers of the Greek Hades. Oh, and the priest who does the funeral mass is compared to a dog – so, you know, Cerberus. I am sure there are more. Greek scholars would pick up on a reference every other sentence, I am sure – but I’m no expert. Those are just the major things that pop out. And when they leave the graveyard, in their carriages, the line is:

The gates glimmered in front: still open. Back to the world again. Enough of this place.

Time to return from the underworld.

There’s lots of conversation in this episode – the men in the carriage, chatting, on the trip to the graveyard. At the same time, we are also inside of Leopold Bloom, staring out the window … taking note of all the things he sees as they pass by. Like I said earlier, images of death abound in this chapter. Gloom, decay, etc. It’s death without resurrection, I can tell you that! Bloom thinks of the body as a series of organs. He references the heart as a “pump”, I think – somewhere in this chapter. He is part of the group – because he lives in Ireland and always has. But his sort of secular humanist mindset is something they do not understand. They treat him kindly, like I said … but he is definitely a different sort of animal, as far as they are concerned.

Here’s an excerpt. Watch how we’re inside Bloom here, taking note of everything that passes by.


EXCERPT FROM Ulysses- by James Joyce – the Hades episode

— Dunphy’s, Mr Power announced as the carriage turned right.

Dunphy’s corner. Mourning coaches drawn up drowning their grief. A pause by the wayside. Tiptop position for a pub. Expect we’ll pull up here on the way back to drink his health. Pass round the consolation. Elixir of life.

But suppose now it did happen. Would he bleed if a nail say cut him in the knocking about? He would and he wouldn’t, I suppose. Depends on where. The circulation stops. Still some might ooze out of an artery. It would be better to bury them in red: a dark red.

In silence they drove along Phibsborough road. An empty hearse trotted by, coming from the cemetery: looks relieved.

Crossguns bridge: the royal canal.

Water rushed roaring through the sluices. A man stood on his dropping barge between clamps of turf. On the towpath by the lock a slacktethered horse. Aboard of the Bugabu.

Their eyes watched him. On the slow weedy waterway he had floated on his raft coastward over Ireland drawn by a haulage rope past beds of reeds, over slime, mud-choked bottles, carrion dogs. Athlone, Mullingar, Moyvalley, I could make a walking tour to see Milly by the canal. Or cycle down. Hire some old crock, safety. Wren had one the other day at the auction but a lady’s. Developing waterways. James M’Cann’s hobby to row me o’er the ferry. Cheaper transit. By easy stages. Houseboats. Camping out. Also hearses. To heaven by water. Perhaps I will without writing. Come as a surprise, Leixlip, Clonsilla. Dropping down, lock by lock to Dublin. With turf from the midland bogs. Salute. He lifted his brown strawhat, saluting Paddy Dignam.

They drove on past Brian Boroimhe house. Near it now.

— I wonder how is our friend Fogarty getting on, Mr Power said.

— Better ask Tom Kernan, Mr Dedalus said.

— How is that? Martin Cunningham said. Left him weeping I suppose.

— Though lost to sight, Mr Dedalus said, to memory dear.

The carriage steered left for Finglas road.

The stonecutter’s yard on the right. Last lap. Crowded on the spit of land silent shapes appeared, white, sorrowful, holding out calm hands, knelt in grief, pointing. Fragments of shapes, hewn. In white silence: appealing. The best obtainable. Thos. H. Dennany, monumental builder and sculptor.

Passed.

On the curbstone before Jimmy Geary the sexton’s an old tramp sat, grumbling, emptying the dirt and stones out of his huge dustbrown yawning boot. After life’s journey.

Gloomy gardens then went by, one by one: gloomy houses.

Mr Power pointed.

— That is where Childs was murdered, he said. The last house.

— So it is, Mr Dedalus said. A gruesome case. Seymour Bushe got him off. Murdered his brother. Or so they said.

— The crown had no evidence, Mr Power said.

— Only circumstantial, Martin Cunningham said. That’s the maxim of the law. Better for ninetynine guilty to escape than for one innocent person to be wrongfully condemned.

They looked. Murderer’s ground. It passed darkly. Shuttered, tenantless, unweeded garden. Whole place gone to hell. Wrongfully condemned. Murder. The murderer’s image in the eye of the murdered. They love reading about it. Man’s head found in a garden. Her clothing consisted of. How she met her death. Recent outrage. The weapon used. Murderer is still at large. Clues. A shoelace. The body to be exhumed. Murder will out.

Cramped in this carriage. She mightn’t like me to come that way without letting her know. Must be careful about women. Catch them once with their pants down. Never forgive you after. Fifteen.

The high railings of Prospects rippled past their gaze. Dark poplars, rare white forms. Forms more frequent, white shapes thronged amid the trees, white forms and fragments streaming by mutely, sustaining vain gestures on the air.

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9 Responses to The Books: “Ulysses” – the Hades episode (James Joyce)

  1. Sharon Ferguson says:

    I was taken with a description in your first Telemachus excerpt – Silently, in a dream she had come to him after her death, her wasted body within its loose brown grave-clothes giving off an odour of wax and rosewood, her breath, that had bent upon him, mute, reproachful, a faint odour of wetted ashes. – I could EXPERIENCE that because this is a rather poetic description of what happens to the body when it moulders in alkaline soil – adiopose tissue and saponification – stuff I learned about in forensic anthropology…have never EXPERIENCED that myself, but this brings home that people had much more contact with death and decay back then…we’ve become so anaesthetized to it – its a thing of TVs and movies these days.

  2. red says:

    //this brings home that people had much more contact with death and decay back then//

    A really insightful thought.

    Yes – it was much closer to people. People died at home, were laid out in the dining room for the wake, etc. etc.

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