Episode 11: Sirens
Whereas most of the episodes in Ulysses begin in medias res and at a remove (temporally, spatially, or both) from the previous episode’s conclusion, characters in Episode 11 pick up almost exactly where they left off in Episode 10. You’ll recall that the coda of the “Wandering Rocks” episode depicts the procession of the Viceregal cavalcade through the heart of the city and shows various Dubliners as they watch and react to the grandeur of this event. The “Sirens” episode opens its action by repeating nearly verbatim the description of two barmaids, Miss Douce (bronze) and Miss Kennedy (gold), peering through the windows of the Ormond Hotel bar to catch a glimpse as the procession rolls along the north bank of the Liffey at 3:38 pm.
The “Sirens” correspondence refers to two birdwomen whose beautiful singing tempts sailors off course, luring their ships to wreck on a craggy island. In The Odyssey, Odysseus plugs his crew’s ears with wax to prevent them from hearing the sirens’ song; Odysseus himself, clever enough to have his cake and eat it too, ties himself to his mast so that he can enjoy the sirens’ song while preventing himself from steering the ship toward the temptresses. Jackson I. Cope argues that Miss Douce and Miss Kennedy are the sirens, trying to tempt Boylan from his imminent adultery with Molly. Additionally, he suggests that Bloom’s “impulse to interfere in their affair is a siren-song that would destroy them all.”
With this episode’s depiction of singing performances along with its musical prose elements (such as onomatopoeia, linguistic refrains, and syncopated syntax), “Sirens” directly engages and seeks to replicate the qualities of music, which is the art listed on the Gilbert/Linati Schemas for this episode. In The Argument of Ulysses, Stanley Sultan describes the first 62 lines of the episode as an “overture,” introducing the major notes of the chapter’s language and plot. While Sultan’s label is apt, I also like to think of this section as an orchestra warming up prior to a performance; the reader is like an audience listening to musicians practicing trills and phrases of the composition to be performed. It is cacophony here, but it will all make sense when properly arranged and elaborated upon in the performance/chapter ahead.
The episode also borrows from the interpolation technique of “Wandering Rocks” as the narrative includes events that occur simultaneously but at a geographical remove from those taking place at the Ormond (such as Bloom purchasing paper, Blazes traveling to the Ormond in a “jingl[ing]” carriage, and, later, the blind stripling “tapping” his cane on the way to retrieve his tuning fork from the bar’s piano).
The episode begins with the barmaids watching the passing cavalcade and laughing at a man in one of the carriages craning his neck to admire them in the window. An interpolation shows Bloom carrying The Sweets of Sin (the erotic novel he just purchased for Molly). A barback, identified with the synecdoche of “the boots” (11.89), brings the barmaids their afternoon tea and loudly drops the tray on the counter. He gives Miss Douce some attitude, and she threatens to tell their boss about his rude behavior. The young man mocks her as he leaves, and Miss Kennedy advises Miss Douce to ignore him.
Miss Douce, recently returned from vacation, asks Miss Kennedy if she’s sunburned. They discuss home remedies and laugh about an old man druggist they both know. Another interpolation shows Bloom walking past shopfronts: first Figatner’s jewelers, then Lore’s hat store, then Bassi’s framing shop. He thinks again of goddesses and remarks that he “could not see” (11.153) whether the goddess statues in the National Museum were anatomically accurate - remember that he had wanted to examine their downbelows? He recalls leaving the National Library alongside Stephen about an hour earlier and reasons that Mulligan must have been the fellow exiting with him.
We return to the Ormond for about 25 lines, where the women are wrapping up their fit of laughter and resume drinking tea. Miss Douce strikes us as a bit indecorous.
In another interpolation, the narrative pops back to Bloom as he passes first Cantwell’s wine and whiskey merchants and then Ceppi & Sons framers and statuary manufacturers along Wellington Quay (across the river from the Ormond). His inner monologue here is fascinating: the wares displayed in the window of one of these shops reminds him of Nannetti’s father selling Catholic devotional statues, which leads him to think succinctly that “religion pays” (11.187), an echo of Bloom’s previous pragmatic deconstructions of faith. You’ll remember that Bloom is waiting on Nannetti’s go-ahead to finalize the sale of the Keyes ad, and he here again notes his need to “see him for that par” (11.187). Then other concerns return to his mind: he is hungry (that gorgonzola cheese sandwich around 1:30 was barely enough to tide him over on this busy day), and, oh yeah, his wife is going to have sex with Blazes Boylan “at four” (11.188), only about a quarter hour from now as the “clockhands turn” (11.188). Then, astoundingly, following immediately after this contemplation of the imminent affair, he thinks about his pipeline of advertisement business and his plans to buy Molly “violet silk petticoats” (11.190) for her birthday (look back to “Lestrygonians” (8.1059-61) for the first instance of this stream of thought). In accepting Molly’s infidelity and planning a gift for her birthday (nearly three months away), Bloom is exceedingly generous. (That said, he is planning on giving her undergarments, a particular fetish of his…and isn’t lingerie always also a gift to the giver?). Bloom then mentally alludes to the title of the book he has just bought for Molly to summarize his marital situation: “the sweets of sin” (11.190). Indeed.
The narrative returns to the Ormond, where Simon Dedalus enters the bar and welcomes Miss Douce back from her vacation in Rostrevor, a seaside town about 75 miles north of Dublin. Simon is clearly a regular here at the Ormond (and, one wonders, in how many other pubs across town). He flirts with Miss Douce and orders a “water and a half glass of whisky” (11.211). The word “Jingle” appears, our first interpolated note of Boylan’s approach to the Ormond in the jaunting car. Simon prepares his pipe for a smoke while Miss Douce pours his drink. Lenehan enters the bar, looking for Boylan.
In another interpolation, we hear all three of the novel’s primary modes of voice: first, narrator: “Mr Bloom reached Essex bridge.” Then, the mischievous Arranger echoes the narrator with stylish flair: “Yes, Mr Bloom crossed bridge of Yessex.” Next, we hear Bloom’s inner monologue: “To Martha I must write. Buy Paper. Daly’s. Girl there civil.” Finally, the Arranger pipes up again: “Bloom. Old Bloom. Blue bloom is on the rye.” (11.228-31)
Lenehan tries to flirt with Miss Kennedy, but she’s not giving him the time of day. He engages Simon in a conversation about Stephen, with whom Lenehan has just had a few drinks (you’ll remember Stephen, Lenehan, et al leaving the newspaper offices and heading to Mooney’s at the end of “Aeolus”).
Simon notices that the piano has been moved, and Miss Douce informs him that the piano tuner had just serviced the instrument. Remember at the end of “Lestrygonians” when Bloom helps the blind stripling cross the street? Same guy. The blind stripling is the piano tuner.
Bald Pat, the waiter working in the dining room adjoining the bar, comes in to order a lager for a diner. Simon tests the piano keys. An interpolation shows Bloom buying the paper and envelopes for his letter in reply to Martha Clifford. Through the window of the shop, Bloom spots Boylan in his distinctive bright straw hat riding the jaunting car toward the Ormond. Quite different from his panicked avoidance of Boylan at the end of “Lestrygonians,” here an emboldened Bloom decides to “Follow. Risk it. Go quick” (11.305); in fact, he goes too quick - as Bloom starts to leaves the stationer’s shop in pursuit of Boylan, the shopgirl has to call him back and remind him to pay for his paper. We can assume he pays with a tanner (a sixpence coin) because she gives him his change, saying “and four” (11.308), echoing his recognition three lines earlier that Molly had told him that morning that Boylan was coming to meet her “at four” that afternoon.
Back in the Ormond, Simon sounds the tuning fork that the blind stripling accidentally left behind. Pat takes a bottle to his table in the dining room, and Simon begins singing and playing the piano. The language here (and elsewhere in the episode) in replicating the experience and effect of music is nothing short of astonishingly beautiful. Lenehan again seeks to gain the favor of Miss Kennedy’s attention and is rebuffed. Boylan’s jaunting car arrives at the Ormond, and he enters the bar. Lenehan greets Boylan as “the conquering hero” (11.340), and the Arranger counters by giving Bloom the epitaph “unconquered hero” (11.342). In this way, Joyce presents Bloom as a new type of hero worthy of celebration in the modern world: assailed but enduring; not a conqueror, but himself unconquered.
Boylan unenthusiastically returns Lenehan’s greeting (“I heard you were round” doesn’t exactly ring with excitement, does it?) and tips his hat to Miss Kennedy, who offers him a smile only to be “outsmiled” (11.347) by Miss Douce. Boylan is popular. He orders a round of drinks for Lenehan and himself.
Meanwhile, as Bloom follows Boylan he meets Richie Goulding (Stephen’s maternal uncle, incidentally) on the street. We hear bits of Bloom’s conversation with Goulding as they decide to have dinner together in the Ormond dining room. This spot, Goulding says, is good to “see, not be seen” (11.358-59) - perfectly suited to Bloom’s interest in spying on Boylan.
Lenehan and Boylan flirt with Miss Douce as she prepares their drinks. We hear a snippet of her inner monologue as she notices that Boylan has a flower in his coat and jealously wonders who might have given it to him. We know from “Wandering Rocks” that, in fact, Boylan took the flower for himself at the shop where he bought the fruit basket for Molly. For readers keeping score between Boylan and Bloom: note that Henry Flower was given a flower by Martha Clifford. Point Bloom.
The men mention the Gold Cup, Boylan reveals that he has wagered some money (on Molly’s behalf), and Lenehan predicts that Sceptre will win. Miss Kennedy walks by and also wonders who gave Boylan the flower. The clock strikes 4:00. Bloom and Goulding enter the dining room, and Bloom wonders about why Boylan is here rather than keeping his appointment with Molly at 7 Eccles Street - “has he forgotten? Perhaps a trick. Not come: whet appetite” (11.392-93). Boylan plays games. Bloom couldn’t imagine himself doing the same.
Lenehan pleads with Miss Douce to “sonnez la cloche”; she abides, sexily bending, lifting her skirt, and pulling her elastic garter to smack her thigh. Lenehan erupts in glee, and Douce looks down on this vulgar idiot as she “smilesmirked supercilious” on him. However, “mild she smiled on Boylan” - she clearly seeks his favor. (11.412-20)
Boylan, resisting the temptation of this siren, declares “I’m off” (11.426) and moves to leave the bar for his rendezvous with Molly. As he departs, the bass singer Ben Dollard enters with Father Cowley; the two men are continuing their conversation from “Wandering Rocks” - remember that Reuben J. Dodd is aggressively seeking to collect a debt from Cowley, and Dollard is enlisting the subsheriff “long John” Fanning to intervene. Dollard asks Simon for a song. In the other room, Bloom and Goulding order drinks from Bald Pat the waiter. Bloom hears Boylan’s jaunting car jingle as it pulls from the curb and toward 7 Eccles Street. With mournful resignation, “light sob of breath Bloom sighed on the silent bluehued flowers” (11.457-58). Read that line again. My god, can Joyce write.
Miss Douce also mourns Boylan’s departure and is left to wonder why he left so soon after her little exhibition. Ben Dollard and Simon reminisce about a concert years ago when Dollard borrowed a tux from Bloom, who, with Molly, was running a second-hand clothing and costume business during the years (1894-96) when he was between jobs. The men discuss Molly while, in the next room, Bloom is served his dinner. An interpolation shows Boylan’s carriage has reached Bachelor’s Walk, about 4/10th of a mile east along the river.
Back in the Ormond, singing resumes, Bloom continues to eat and, like Simon and Ben Dollard two pages before, recalls the night Dollard borrowed a tuxedo. This is an instance of parallax, one of the novel’s recurring techniques whereby we see the same thing from a different perspective. Then, Mr. Lidwell enters the bar. The men implore Simon to sing “M’appari,” and Cowley offers to accompany him on the piano.
As Stanley Sultan explains, this song comes from Martha, an opera about a noblewoman, Lady Harriet, who gets bored with courtly life and escapes to the country, disguising herself as a commoner called Martha. She enjoys a day of romantic dalliance with a man, Lionel, at a fair, before returning to her real life. Lionel misses her terribly and sings a song, “M’appari,” longing for Martha’s return. Lionel later sees Martha in her actual, noble persona of Lady Harriet; he approaches her, she rejects him for being an unworthy commoner, but she feels bad about it because she actually liked Lionel. It turns out that Lionel is actually heir to an Earldom, so Lady Harriet changes her tune, but Lionel has gone insane of his broken heart. They find a way to snap him back to normal, and the two lovers end up together happily ever after.
Bloom mingles his memory of the opera Martha from which “M’appari” comes as he wrestles with Molly’s affair, landing with wise resignation on the linked thoughts, “Too late. She longed to go. That’s why. Woman. As easy stop the sea. Yes: all is lost” (11.640-41). An interpolation shows Boylan heading north, and Bloom acknowledges that Molly “longed to go” to another man, and it would be useless to try to prevent the affair: she is going to do what she wants one way or another, today or later, with Boylan or someone else…”as easy stop the sea.” Bloom’s heart, like Lionel’s in Martha, “bowed down” (11.659).
As Simon begins singing “M’appari,” the text again seeks to replicate the experience of music: “braintipped, cheek touched with flame, they listened feeling that flow endearing flow over skin limbs human heart soul spine” (11.668-69). I have included the song here, and I encourage you to listen to it as you follow along with Simon’s singing and the language between lines. In a triumph of ekphrasis, Joyce translates music into language. Pay particular attention to the paragraph describing the longest note in the song: “Come…! / It soared [...] endlessnessnessness …….” (11.743-49). Listen, read, and be dazzled.
While listening to the song, Bloom’s mind hops around from his own Martha (Clifford), to imagining Boylan’s arrival at 7 Eccles, to the tragedy of Simon’s wasted talent, to the first night he met Molly, and through to other memories of their relationship. At the song’s conclusion, everyone applauds Simon. Tom Kernan arrives in the bar. Richie speaks to Bloom a bit about Simon, his brother in-law, while Bloom unties his hands from the cat’s cradle in which he has bound himself (a correspondence to Odysseus tying himself to the mast). Bloom laments the cruelty of lost love as a ubiquitous aspect of the human condition - even as he is mourning his own lost love, he is thinking of humanity as a whole. He also reflects about the mathematical aspects of music, thinks a bit about Dignam (and mentions that he gave 5 shillings to the collection for the Dignam family...this will come up again later), and sets about to writing his letter to Martha Clifford. As he writes, his mind wanders to some mental accounting and a bit of negotiating over his guilt for this illicit correspondence. An interpolation shows Boylan arriving at Eccles Street.
Bloom, his mind briefly reprising so many notes from earlier in the novel, prepares to leave the Ormond - he has plans to meet Martin Cunningham in Barney Kiernan’s pub (the site of Episode 12, “Cyclops”) to discuss the Dignam’s insurance situation. In the bar, Miss Douce is showing off a seashell she brought back from her vacation. A new sound, “Tap” (11.933), appears on the page; this interpolated note represents the blind stripling tapping with his cane through the streets of Dublin as he returns to the Ormond to retrieve the tuning fork he left behind. We hear a bit of the music of normal conversations taking place in various groups hanging out in a bar. Boylan knocks on the door of 7 Eccles. The people in the bar request that Ben Dollard sing “The Croppy Boy,” an Irish ballad telling the story of a young man who, on his way to fight for Irish independence, stops into a church to confess his sins; the priest hearing his confession is actually a British soldier in disguise; consequently, the Croppy Boy is arrested and killed.
Bloom’s mind wanders (as does his eye...toward Miss Douce). He thinks of Molly all dressed up one night for a performance. He acknowledges the end of his family line due to not having a son, then briefly wonders “if still” (11.1067) he might have a son and heir. Dollard continues to sing “The Croppy Boy,” and Bloom’s inner monologue riffs off the song’s lyrics. Bloom walks past Miss Douce, her hand stroking the beer-pull suggestively, and exits the bar just as the song ends. As he walks away from the bar and toward a post office to mail his letter to Martha, Bloom contributes to the music of the episode (“Pwee!” (11.1203)) with gaseous excretions that will continue through the end of the episode (“Pprrpffrrppffff” (11.1293)).
Back in the bar, the men realize that Bloom just left and was in the dining room the whole time. Lidwell, who came in after the other men had discussed Molly, talks about her. Bloom seems to be principally identified around town as her husband. In an interpolation, the Arranger reveals that the blind stripling is the source of the tapping. Bloom humorously questions the intelligence of the Croppy Boy for not noticing that the priest was a British soldier and then wonders again about the man in the brown macintosh from the funeral.
A scruffy-looking whore approaches, and Bloom recognizes her; we might infer that this woman is Bridie Kelly, the prostitute to whom Bloom lost his virginity many year ago - Bloom worries that she might recognize him. He stops to look in a shop window so that she might pass. Back at the Ormond, the men toast Dollard’s performance, and the blind stripling arrives. Bridie Kelly has passed behind Bloom without incident. Bloom’s fart is the episode’s final note. “Done.”
Cope, Jackson I. “Sirens.” James Joyce’s Ulysses: Critical Essays. Ed. Hart and Hayman. University of
California Press, 1974. p. 220.
Gunn, Ian, and Hart, Clive. James Joyce's Dublin: a Topographical Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses.
Thames & Hudson, 2004. Pp. 58-59.
Sultan, Stanley. The Argument of Ulysses. Wesleyan University Press, 1988. pp. 221-22.