Skip to main content

Cookies on the DFA website

We use cookies to give the best experience on our site while also complying with Data Protection requirements. Continue without changing your settings, and you'll receive cookies, or change your cookie settings at any time.

Ulysses Blog by Ambassador Mulhall, Episode 4, Calypso

Ulysses: "an epoch-making report on the state of the human mind in the twentieth century" - Ezra Pound 

Episode 4 of Ulysses, known as Calypso, is a delightful piece of writing. It is one of the novel's early highlights and begins with one of Joyce's most memorable passages. 

"Mr. Leopold Bloom ate with relish the inner organs of beasts and fowls. He liked thick giblet soup, nutty gizzards, a stuffed roast heart, liver slices fried with crustcrumbs, fried hencod's roes. Most of all he liked grilled mutton kidneys which gave to his palate a fine tang of faintly scented urine."  

Over the years, I have organised Bloomsday celebrations at my various diplomatic postings, beginning in Edinburgh in 1999 and continuing in Kuala Lumpur, Berlin, London and last year in Washington. The first few pages of this Calypso episode have invariably featured among the readings. I especially recall the Irish actor, Adrian Dunbar, reading this passage quite beautifully at the Embassy in London.  

In this episode, we enter into the world - and inside the head - of Leopold Bloom, Joyce's 20th century Everyman. We are now a long way from the elaborately-stocked, literature-steeped mind of Stephen Dedalus that occupied us during the novel's first three episodes. Based on the evidence Joyce provides, it is hard to imagine Stephen relishing the kind of pungent repast favoured by Bloom! 

When these pages begin, it is 8 am (the same time frame as in Episode 1 when we are introduced to Stephen Dedalus at Sandycove’s Martello Tower) and Bloom is considering having a kidney for breakfast. Episode 4 ends with Bloom visiting his outhouse to which the reader accompanies him, a scene that discommoded even the unconventional Ezra Pound, who was a consistent champion of Joyce's work but thought he sometimes took realism a bit too far! In between, we deepen our acquaintance with Bloom and get a tantalising glimpse of his relationship with his wife, Molly.  

In June 1904, Leopold Bloom is 37 years old and works as an advertising salesman. His father, whose original surname was Virag, was a Hungarian Jew who moved to Ireland and whose son is at least nominally Catholic although, as we will see in subsequent chapters, not at all devout.  Leopold's wife Molly, who is 34 years old, was born in Gibraltar and is a concert singer just about to embark on a singing tour. The Blooms live at number 7 Eccles Street, just off Dorset Street.  

Joyce was clearly trying to make a point with his choice of Leopold and Molly as his main characters. Neither has a typical Dublin or Irish background. He evidently wanted to view early 20th century Dublin from their oblique angle as semi-outsiders.  

When we encounter Leopold Bloom, he is in his kitchen about to prepare breakfast for Molly who is asleep upstairs. He goes off to buy a pork kidney. As he walks to Dlugacz's butcher's shop, we get a first taste of the quirkiness of Bloom's mind. Unaccountably, he muses about the exotic east: 

"set off at dawn, travel round in front of the sun, steal a day's march on him. Keep it up forever never grow a day older technically. .. Getting on to sundown. The shadows of the mosques along the pillars. .. A mother watches from her doorway. She calls her children home in their dark language. High wall: beyond strings twanged. Night moon, violet, colour of Molly's new garters. Strings. Listen. A girl playing one of those instruments what do you call them: dulcimers. I pass." 

And then we encounter Bloom's realistic streak as he thinks, "Probably not a bit like it really". By the time we finish the novel, we will know Bloom's interior world better than that of any other character in literature.  

As he passes Larry O'Rourke's pub, we tap into Bloom's city dweller's resentful wonderment at the success of this import from rural Ireland. "Cute old codger". "Where do they get the money? Coming up red headed curates from the County Leitrim, rinsing empties and old man in the cellar. Then, lo and behold, they blossom as Adam Findlaters or Dan Tallons", who were both successful Dublin businessmen. Then we get a taste of Bloom's wry humour. "Good puzzle would be cross Dublin without passing a pub." 

And we are given a sample of the sharp repartee of Simon Dedalus, father of Stephen, a character based on Joyce's own father, John Stanislaus Joyce.  Dedalus senior will appear in person later in the novel when he will show off his acidic conversational skills. Bloom remembers Dedalus mimicking Larry O'Rourke's strong views on international issues. "Do you know what? The Russians, they'd only be an eight o'clock breakfast for the Japanese." This refers to the Russo-Japanese war, which was raging in June 1904. The Japanese did indeed put one over on their European adversary, a defeat that paved the way for the Russian political upheavals of 1905.  

In the butcher's shop, we get a good example of Joyce's descriptive powers. 

"The ferreteyed porkbutcher folded the sausages he had snipped off with blotchy fingers, sausagepink. Sound meat there like a stallfed heifer."  

Bloom, who is busy admiring the "vigorous hips" of a girl who was ahead of him in the butcher's buying sausages, sees an advertisement for a Zionist venture in Palestine which is being organised by a Berlin-based organisation with an address at Bleibtreustrasse, 34. 

When I was posted in Berlin, I visited Bleibtreustrasse and wrote about it in the German newspaper, Der Tagesspiegel ('James Joyce in Deutschland: ein Meinherr aus Teutschland', 14th June 2013where I surmised that Joyce liked the meaning of the street's name, remain true, and thought it appropriate for a novel with fidelity and infidelity as one of its themes.  

This Berlin street was named after a 19th century German painter, Georg Bleibtreu. The painter's son, Karl Bleibtreu, whom Joyce met in Zurich, developed a theory about the authorship of Shakespeare's plays which captured Joyce's attention. Bleibtreu's Shakespearean theory will feature in a later episode of Ulysses.  

When Bloom returns he puts Molly's breakfast on a tray and deposits the kidney on the frying pan.  As he enters the bedroom, Molly is rousing herself and we discover that Blazes Boylan is organising a concert tour for Molly during which she will sing La ci darem from Mozart's Don Giovanni, and Love's Old Sweet Song by the Irish composer, James Lynam Molloy, which serves as a kind of theme song for this music-infused novel.  Boylan will make multiple appearances in subsequent chapters as Bloom obsesses about Molly's infidelity and Boylan's cuckolding of him, which Bloom feels powerless to prevent.  

We see the Blooms' relationship from Leopold's angle. He is fussy and solicitous while Molly is earthy and impatient. He yearns to be near "her ample bedwarmed flesh" and delights in the fact that "The warmth of her couched body rose on the air, mingling with the fragrance of the tea she poured".  

She is more casual about him and when he tries to explain the meaning of metempsychosis as the transmigration of souls, she is dismissive. "O, rocks! she said. Tell us in plain words". Her reading habits are certainly quite different from Stephen Dedalus's. Her preferred author is the popular 19th century French novelist, Paul de Kock, "Nice name he has".  

When Bloom leaves her bedroom to rescue the kidney burning on the frying pan downstairs, this is the last we will hear from Molly until she reappears to tell her own story inimitably in the novel's final episode.  She will, however, come into Bloom's thoughts repeatedly throughout the day.  

Back in his kitchen, Bloom enjoys his fried kidney, "chewing with discernment the toothsome, pliant meat" and reads a letter from his daughter, Milly, who is away working in a photographer's shop in Mullingar in the Irish midlands. Bloom frets about her ripening womanhood (‘a wild piece of goods’) and thinks about paying her a visit. Milly has already been mentioned in Episode 1, as "a sweet young thing", "photo girl" who had attracted the attention of a young man named Bannon. 

Milly's letter reveals a carefree personality (more like her mother than her father in that respect), enjoying the freedom of living away from home for the first time, attending a concert and going to "a scrap picnic". In her letter, Milly mentions Blazes Boylan and the song Those Lovely Seaside Girls, which she mistakenly thinks was written by someone named Boylan. 

'All dimpled cheeks and curls,

Your head it simply swirls

Those girls, those girls,

Those lovely seaside girls'. 

We also learn about the death of the Bloom's son, Rudy, who would have been 11 in 1904. This contributes to the father/son theme that runs through the novel - Simon and Stephen Dedalus, Leopold and Rudy Bloom, and Leopold and Stephen who eventually develop a father/son bond.  

The episode ends with Bloom's visit to the outhouse where Joyce describes his bowel movements and his reading material, 'Matcham's Masterstroke' in Titbits, which gives him the fleeting idea of writing a story in this undemanding but lucrative genre. This echoes Stephen's act of writing some lines of poetry on Sandymount Strand in Episode 3, the difference being that Stephen actually wrote his verse. Bloom will probably never write his story, except through the pen of James Joyce and over the next 850 pages of the novel.  

The Homeric parallels in this episode are less compelling than before. In Homer, the nymph Calypso keeps Odysseus under her control on her island home for 7 years. Bloom is clearly under Molly's spell, but does this make Molly Calypso? She also parallels the Homeric hero's wife, Penelope. Is she both wife and goddess?  Or does Calypso relate to the picture, the Bath of the Nymph, which hangs over Molly's bed, part of Bloom’s fantasy world (‘Naked nymphs: Greece: and for instance all the people that lived then”)? 

This episode ends as the bells of George's church toll for 8:45 am and Bloom leaves his home to begin his wanderings around Dublin that will occupy most of the rest of the book. 

 

Daniel Mulhall is Ireland's Ambassador to the United States

 

 

 

« Previous Item | Next Item »