Daily Book Excerpt: Adult fiction:
Ulysses – by James Joyce.
So here’s where we are at so far:
2. (The Odyssey)
Episode 4: The Calypso Episode
Episode 5: The Lotus Eaters Episode
Episode 6: The Hades Episode
Episode 7: The Aeolus Episode
Episode 8: The Lestrygonians Episode
Episode 9: The Scylla and Charybdis Episode
Episode 10: The Wandering Rocks Episode
Episode 11: The Sirens Episode
Episode 12: The Cyclops Episode
It’s now a couple of hours after the Cyclops episode. Mr. Bloom has gone to dinner with the Dignam family (who are grieving the loss of Paddy, buried just that day), and afterwards he goes for a walk on the beach. To clear his mind, to shake off the gloom of the Dignams as well as the bad memory of the run-in with The Citizen (the Cyclops). Not to mention the fact that he still is hesitant to go home to his wife. Molly had her rendesvous with Blazes Boylan a couple hours earlier … and Bloom just can’t face it, the obvious-ness of the adultery … He wanders around, avoiding the return home. He is on the same beach where Stephen went for a walk in The Proteus Episode. So there’s a mirror-image thing going on here … Bloom walking in Stephen’s footprints, basically. Which I think is important because it will be in the next episode – the encyclopedic and sometimes very confusing Oxen of the Sun episode – that Stephen and Bloom finally meet, and merge. After Oxen of the Sun, Bloom and Stephen are together for the rest of the night. But in this episode, the Nausicaa episode, Bloom is still isolated, alone.
As he walks on the beach, he sees a couple of young women – who have younger siblings with them, babies and toddlers. One of the women (she’s really just a girl – in her late teens) in particular catches his eye. Her name is Gerty. It’s now almost dusk, and Roman candles are fizzing through the air (kind of an orgasmic type of motion … which goes with the theme of the chapter – as a matter of fact, there’s all kinds of big arcs that show up in Nausicaa … meaning: the actual shape of arcs – have fun finding them all! There are a ton – those arcs are there to reflect what is going on physiologically with Bloom). So anyway, Bloom hangs back, and observes Gerty, drinking her in with his eyes. Gerty eventually realizes she is being watched, and begins to toy with him. Pulling her skirt up a bit to reveal her stocking, etc. She is an innocent Irish woman, a good girl … but wise in the ways of men. Up until now, Molly (unseen, and feared, and gossiped about everywhere) is really the only female of any import in the book. And we haven’t met her yet. But we judge her, we have feelings about her, we have preconceived notions, etc. Gerty, in her way, predicts the last episode – with Molly’s run-on sentence, as she lies in bed, thinking and waiting for her husband to return. We have been wrong, oh so wrong, about Molly … even though she is no saint. Joyce was not a typical madonna/whore type guy … and certainly quite untraditional in his relationship with Nora (his wife). His understanding of women came from Nora, and Nora alone (he admitted this himself). And Nora, like all women, like all people really – but we’re concerned with women here – is a mixed bag: sinner, saint, fallible, human. Not an IMAGE in a NICHE in a church – but a living breathing person with a will of her own. In Ulysses women are the unknowable “Other” – almost like a foreign race of beings to the men who want to fuck them … they are not real, they are not three-dimensional, they do not have thoughts and logic and reality – in the way men do. They are images. Let’s not forget that Ireland is a Catholic country, where Mary is revered often more than Christ is. All women become versions of the Virgin Mary (which happens at the end of the 4th chapter in Portrait as well). Joyce was very well aware of the contradictions women faced, which was one of the reasons why he couldn’t live in Ireland with Nora, where the rules were too strict. He didn’t care about housekeeping, gentility, the way things “should” be, traditional gender roles – any of that. But they couldn’t live that way in Ireland. After all, they lived together without getting married for – what – 20 years? They had 2 kids together. They eventually got married – but that was in the 1930s – long after the beginning of their relationship, in 1904. He could not accept the rules of the game, and Nora was a willing partner in this. A rough Galway girl, she said later in her life, “You can’t imagine what it was like for me to be thrown into the life of this man.” I want to be clear: Joyce was not particularly more enlightened than anybody else, and Nora – throughout their lives together – still remained a kind of mystery to him. There was something about women he could never understand, or get inside … who WAS Nora? He wrote a letter to her early on, something like, “I want to know your most secret thoughts …” He wanted to inhabit her. Not just because he loved her, which he obviously did – but because it was good for his art. He stole from her, repeatedly. She was the only woman he ever could write about. And because he did not keep her at arms length – because they did not have a “traditional” relationship (read their sexy letters and you’ll see what I mean. It’s an early 20th century version of phone sex) – Joyce had no illusions about women being a different species than men. He knew Nora masturbated, he knew she had times of the month when she was “in heat”, etc. etc. Women were still entirely mysterious … and Joyce was all about getting inside of other people’s heads, and experiences. But women were not on a pedestal … he did not judge their sex drives, their desires … It sometimes might have intimidated him … but he was more curious about it, than threatened.
So Gerty’s purity (represented by the church bells ringing, and the almost spiritual nature of her beauty), on the one hand, is real. It’s not a put-on, or an act. But – and this is very important – Gerty’s wise-woman showing-her-stockings-to-Bloom is ALSO real. Both things – the madonna and the whore – can exist in the same person. Gerty pre-figures Molly, Gerty prepares us for Molly. There are men, to this day, who must separate out the madonna and the whore. Life can be a torment for them (and Joyce shows the torment of the men in his books who suffer from such a thing). Bloom does, in a way. Dedalus certainly does. In a country where a VIRGIN is the most revered woman in the land … you’re gonna have those problems.
The Nausicaa episode is in two parts, basically. The first part is Gerty’s alone. We are not even aware that Bloom is hiding behind a rock, spying on her. But we learn, later, that what we see – is Bloom’s perception of her. The first part is written in the florid over-emotional almost trembling on the verge of parody – prose of a sentimental novel. Maybe Bloom had peeked into Sweets of Sin, the book he was bringing home to Molly … and that was what inspired him. It’s a worked-up prose, it over-explains everything: the colors, Gerty’s outfit, the sights and sounds of the dusk .. all of it in an overwrought kind of writing. It’s hysterical – to see Joyce, big serious writer man, parody that type of fiction. Harlequin Romance stuff. But, as always, Joyce is onto something. When we are “in love” – or struck dumb by someone’s beauty … often our experience is exactly like a Harlequin. Bloom sees Gerty as a vision (again: the female is not quite real) … and when she lifts up her stocking? That is the equivalent of a girl showing her breasts to the crowd at Mardi Gras. It is shocking, and completely overt … takes Bloom totally by surprise (because we slowly become aware of him … as Gerty realizes she is being watched). Gerty sees a man over there … watching her … and he has his hands in his pockets, and she knows why. Instead of tittering with fright and coy pleasure, the way a female stereotype would – she instead, slowly lifts up her skirt to the knee … to show him her translucent calf. She knows what will happen next, and she stands there – like a statue – holding up her skirt, watching the Roman candles go off (I mean, come on, that’s as obvious as the train careening into the tunnel at the end of North by Northwest). What all of this signifies is that Bloom, peeking out from behind the dunes or whereever he is hiding – masturbates, finally. He had been holding it in all day, a day full of anxiety, and sexual worry. He stares at Gerty’s calf and masturbates. Gerty knows that that is what he is doing, even though she is a virgin, like all good Irish girls should be … and she is not grossed out, or freaked out. She stands there, in the pose, until she senses he is done. And then she – and her sister – and her younger siblings – move on. And out of our story forever.
Joyce thought Irish women were the most beautiful fascinating women in the world. He did not like sophistication, he did not like intellectuals (especially women) … he liked girls like Gerty. Like Nora. Like Molly. (all the same person, basically). He had many “dirty” thoughts, which – being who he was – tormented him. The old Catholic upbringing won’t disappear overnight. He had gone to prostitutes. He was disturbed, in general, by masturbation. He did it, but he didn’t feel GOOD about it. And he needed a woman who could understand that about him. Who could be kind and forgiving about his “dirtiness”. And, boy, did he find it in Nora, huh??
Second part of the episode has Mr. Bloom, post-orgasm, sitting in the sand on the beach, and we are inside his head … and follow his thoughts, here and there. He’s tired, spent … there’s obviously a correlation between “spilling his seed” and the fact that his son had died … should that seed be saved to perpetuate his race? Isn’t it a crime, then, to masturbate? A selfish act? Bloom finds his mind wandering. He thinks of women he has known … he remembers, yet again, making love to Molly on the hills at Howth, with the rhododendrons … he remembers the beauty of love fulfilled. Of man and woman together. But now, of course, his memories are tinged with sadness because all of that has changed, and it seems like he has lost it forever.
The episode ends with the church bell ringing across the water. The bell goes “Cuckoo! Cuckoo!” A mocking reminder of Bloom’s cuckolded state.
Oh, and parallels to The Odyssey: Odysseus’s ship is washed ashore in the kingdom of the Phaeacians – and Princess Nausicaa comes down to the shore with a gaggle of girlfriends, to wash their clothes – and comes across Odysseus sleeping there. She throws a ball at him, to wake him up. Nausicaa is a dream-type of woman: obviously domestic, because she’s a princess, but she’s doing her own laundry, basically … and she also treats Odysseus, who is naked, with kindness and friendliness – bringing him up to the palace (or whatever) to get food, clothes, etc. She’s HELPFUL.
Just like Gerty … is HELPFUL to Bloom in this episode.
It’s all wonderfully naughty. This chapter was probably one of the reasons why the book was banned for years. It’s fine if we see men being naughty. But to have a woman – who is, at times, compared to the Virgin Mary – be naughty … and be un-conflicted about it, un-worried … to show her understanding of sex, and how okay she is with it … Oh no no no, that totally breaks the rules. It’s always when we get to the topic of Womanhood that things get tricky. So thank you, Joyce. For shattering some of that nonsense. It is the WORLD who has put women in the position of Madonna or whore … and Joyce lets women be both. At the same time. Revolutionary.
Here’s an excerpt. This is when Gerty becomes aware that Bloom is staring at her. Notice the lush language, the over-explanation of everything … and also the mix of the sensual and the religious – they are side by side. Oh, and if you feel like it: look for the arc-shape. It shows up here, repeatedly.
EXCERPT FROM Ulysses- by James Joyce – the Nausicaa episode
Through the open window of the church the fragrant incense was wafted and with it the fragrant names of her who was conceived without stain of original sin, spiritual vessel, pray for us, honourable vessel, pray for us, vessel of singular devotion, pray for us, mystical rose. And careworn hearts were there and toilers for their daily bread and many who had erred and wandered, their eyes wet with contrition but for all that bright with hope for the reverend father Hughes had told them what the great saint Bernard said in his famous prayer of Mary, the most pious Virgin’s intercessory power that it was not recorded in any age that those who implored her powerful protection were ever abandoned by her.
The twins were now playing again right merrily for the troubles of childhood are but as fleeting summer showers. Cissy played with baby Boardman till he crowed with glee, clapping baby hands in air. Peep she cried behind the hood of the pushcar and Edy asked where was Cissy gone and then Cissy popped up her head and cried ah! and, my word, didn’t the little chap enjoy that! And then she told him to say papa.
— Say papa, baby. Say pa pa pa pa pa pa pa.
And baby did his level best to say it for he was very intelligent for eleven months everyone said and big for his age and the picture of health, a perfect little bunch of love, and he would certainly turn out to be something great, they said.
Cissy wiped his little mouth with the dribbling bib and wanted him to sit up properly, and say pa pa pa but when she undid the strap she cried out, holy saint Denis, that he was possing wet and to double the half blanket the other way under him. Of course his infant majesty was most obstreperous at such toilet formalities and he let everyone know it:
— Habaa baaaahabaaa baaaa.
And two great big lovely big tears coursing down his cheeks. It was all no use soothering him with no, nono, baby, no and telling him about the geegee and where was the puffpuff but Ciss, always readywitted, gave him in his mouth the teat of the suckingbottle and the young heathen was quickly appeased.
Gerty wished to goodness they would take their squalling baby home out of that and not get on her nerves no hour to be out and the little brats of twins. She gazed out towards the distant sea. It was like the paintings that man used to do on the pavement with all the coloured chalks and such a pity too leaving them there to be all blotted out, the evening and the clouds coming out and the Bailey light on Howth and to hear the music like that and the perfume of those incense they burned in the church like a kind of waft. And while she gazed her heart went pitapat. Yes, it was her he was looking at and there was meaning in his look. His eyes burned into her as though they would search her through and through, read her very soul. Wonderful eyes they were, superbly expressive, but could you trust them? People were so queer. She could see at once by his dark eyes and his pale intellectual face that he was a foreigner, the image of the photo she had of Martin Harvey, the matinÃ©e idol, only for the moustache which she preferred because she wasn’t stagestruck like Winny Rippingham that wanted they two to always dress the same on account of a play but she could not see whether he had an aquiline nose or a slightly retroussÃ© from where he was sitting. He was in deep mourning, she could see that, and the story of a haunting sorrow was written on his face. She would have given worlds to know what it was. He was looking up so intently, so still and he saw her kick the ball and perhaps he could see the bright steel buckles of her shoes if she swung them like that thoughtfully with the toes down. She was glad that something told her to put on the transparent stockings thinking Reggy Wylie might be out but that was far away. Here was that of which she had so often dreamed. It was he who mattered and there was joy on her face because she wanted him because she felt instinctively that he was like no-one else. The very heart of the girlwoman went out to him, her dreamhusband, because she knew on the instant it was him. If he had suffered, more sinned against than sinning, or even, even, if he had been himself a sinner, a wicked man, she cared not. Even if he was a protestant or methodist she could convert him easily if he truly loved her. There were wounds that wanted healing with heartbalm. She was a womanly woman not like other flighty girls, unfeminine, he had known, those cyclists showing off what they hadn’t got and she just yearned to know all, to forgive all if she could make him fall in love with her, make him forget the memory of the past. Then mayhap he would embrace her gently, like a real man, crushing her soft body to him, and love her, his ownest girlie, for herself alone.
Refuge of sinners. Comfortress of the afflicted. Ora pro nobis. Well has it been said that whosoever prays to her with faith and constancy can never be lost or cast away: and fitly is she too a haven of refuge for the afflicted because of the seven dolours which transpierced her own heart. Gerty could picture the whole scene in the church, the stained glass windows lighted up, the candles, the flowers and the blue banners of the blessed Virgin’s sodality and Father Conroy was helping Canon O’Hanlon at the altar, carrying things in and out with his eyes cast down. He looked almost a saint and his confession-box was so quiet and clean and dark and his hands were just like white wax and if ever she became a Dominican nun in their white habit perhaps he might come to the convent for the novena of Saint Dominic. He told her that time when she told him about that in confession crimsoning up to the roots of her hair for fear he could see, not to be troubled because that was only the voice of nature and we were all subject to nature s laws, he said, in this life and that that was no sin because that came from the nature of woman instituted by God, he said, and that Our Blessed Lady herself said to the archangel Gabriel be it done unto me according to Thy Word. He was so kind and holy and often and often she thought and thought could she work a ruched teacosy with embroidered floral design for him as a present or a clock but they had a clock she noticed on the mantelpiece white and gold with a canary bird that came out of a little house to tell the time the day she went there about the flowers for the forty hours’ adoration because it was hard to know what sort of a present to give or perhaps an album of illuminated views of Dublin or some place.
The exasperating little brats of twins began to quarrel again and Jacky threw the ball out towards the sea and they both ran after it. Little monkeys common as ditchwater. Someone ought to take them and give them a good hiding for themselves to keep them in their places, the both of them. And Cissy and Edy shouted after them to come back because they were afraid the tide might come in on them and be drowned.
— Jacky! Tommy!
Not they! What a great notion they had! So Cissy said it was the very last time she’d ever bring them out. She jumped up and called them and she ran down the slope past him, tossing her hair behind her which had a good enough colour if there had been more of it but with all the thingamerry she was always rubbing into it she couldn’t get it to grow long because it wasn’t natural so she could just go and throw her hat at it. She ran with long gandery strides it was a wonder she didn’t rip up her skirt at the side that was too tight on her because there was a lot of the tomboy about Cissy Caffrey and she was a forward piece whenever she thought she had a good opportunity to show off and just because she was a good runner she ran like that so that he could see all the end of her petticoat running and her skinny shanks up as far as possible. It would have served her just right if she had tripped up over something accidentally on purpose with her high crooked French heels on her to make her look tall and got a fine tumble. Tableau! That would have been a very charming exposÃ© for a gentleman like that to witness.
Queen of angels, queen of patriarchs, queen of prophets, of all saints, they prayed, queen of the most holy rosary and then Father Conroy handed the thurible to Canon O’Hanlon and he put in the incense and censed the Blessed Sacrament and Cissy Caffrey caught the two twins and she was itching to give them a ringing good clip on the ear but she didn’t because she thought he might be watching but she never made a bigger mistake in all her life because Gerty could see without looking that he never took his eyes off of her and then Canon O’Hanlon handed the thurible back to Father Conroy and knelt down looking up at the Blessed Sacrament and the choir began to sing Tantum ergo and she just swung her foot in and out in time as the music rose and fell to the Tantumer gosa cramen tum. Three and eleven she paid for those stockings in Sparrow’s of George’s street on the Tuesday, no the Monday before Easter and there wasn’t a brack on them and that was what he was looking at, transparent, and not at her insignificant ones that had neither shape nor form (the cheek of her!) because he had eyes in his head to see the difference for himself.
Cissy came up along the strand with the two twins and their ball with her hat anyhow on her to one side after her run and she did look a streel tugging the two kids along with the flimsy blouse she bought only a fortnight before like a rag on her back and bit of her petticoat hanging like a caricature. Gerty just took off her hat for a moment to settle her hair and a prettier, a daintier head of nutbrown tresses was never seen on a girl’s shoulders, a radiant little vision, in sooth, almost maddening in its sweetness. You would have to travel many a long mile before you found a head of hair the like of that. She could almost see the swift answering flush of admiration in his eyes that set her tingling in every nerve. She put on her hat so that she could see from underneath the brim and swung her buckled shoe faster for her breath caught as she caught the expression in his eyes. He was eyeing her as a snake eyes its prey. Her woman’s instinct told her that she had raised the devil in him and at the thought a burning scarlet swept from throat to brow till the lovely colour of her face became a glorious rose.