Episode 13: Nausicaa


The “Nausicaa” episode takes place at sunset on the strand, where Mr. Bloom is having a rest from a rather busy and draining day.  After escaping the citizen by carriage at the end of the "Cyclops" episode, Bloom and Martin Cunningham visited Mrs. Dignam to review her late husband’s insurance policy.  In The Odyssey, a shipwrecked, storm-tossed, and exhausted Odysseus washes ashore in Phaeacia, where Princess Nausicaa finds him naked and brackish.  Other women run away from him in a mix of disgust and fear, but Nausicaa, perceiving the nobility beneath Odysseus’s ragged surface, stays and helps him, providing respite from his arduous journey.

 As Ulysses ventures into ever stranger and more disparate literary territories, its styles and voices will continue to shift, shaping our experience of the plot.  The first half of the “Nausicaa” episode is written outside of Bloom’s normal voice of consciousness (although Joyce himself claimed that the whole episode takes place in Bloom’s imagination...more on that later).  We begin the episode in the style of a cheap romance novel, and we don’t shift to a more recognizable Bloom inner monologue until 13.771, after the fireworks.

Sandymount Strand

Sandymount Strand

 So, again, the “Nausicaa” episode opens on the beach at around 8:00 pm with three young women (Edy Bordman, Cissy Caffrey, and Gerty MacDowell), two toddler boys (Tommy and Jacky Caffrey), and a baby in a stroller.  Within this group, Gerty quickly becomes the narrative’s central figure; the text focuses on her physique, her feelings, and her desires. Her characterization is heavily adorned with references to beauty products, fashion, and efforts at physical self-improvement (almost like an amalgamation of ads from a beauty magazine).  In a nearby church and simultaneous to the events on the strand, a service for the Virgin Mary takes place; in this way, the “Nausicaa” episode presents many of the patriarchy’s ideals of femininity: a beautiful object, a pure virgin, and refuge “to the stormtossed heart of man” (13.7-8).  

 The first half of the episode, with its focalization on Gerty, is a linguistic confluence of social conventions imposed on women, all of which are constructed by men, for men.  Just as the soaring, epic language of the interruptions in the “Cyclops” episode puffs up the commonplace events at Barney Kiernan’s into gigantic scale, the language of “Nausicaa” trickles sweet syrup on a sordid encounter.  

The three little boys are introduced, and we might read their squabble over a sandcastle as a retelling of “headstrong” Buck and “selfwilled” Stephen’s quarrel for dominance at the Martello Tower in the “Telemachus” episode (13.45-46).  Cissy Caffrey referees her little brothers’ behavior before the text trains its attention on Gerty.  

The initial description of Gerty MacDowell is dominated by physical features: “her figure was slight and graceful,” “the waxen pallor of her face was almost spiritual in its ivorylike purity,” “her rosebud mouth was a genuine Cupid’s bow,” her hands were of finely veined alabaster with tapering fingers,” she has a “higharched instep” on her petite size five foot with “wellturned ankles,” her eyes are “bluest Irish blue,” her hair is “dark brown with a natural wave in it,” and so on (13.83-168).  Moreover, these physical descriptions are augmented with references to a catalogue of beauty products and practices: take “iron jelloids” rather “than the Widow Welch’s female pills,” use “lemonjuice and queen of ointments,” “wear kid gloves in bed,” take a “milk footbath,” apply “eyebrowleine” (13.84-111)...and that’s not to mention the exhaustive description of her attire: “a neat blouse of electric blue,” “a navy threequarter skirt,” “a coquettish little love of a hat,” shoes “the newest thing in footwear,” “finespun hose,” even down to her blue undies with “awfully pretty stitchery” (13.150-179).  

Now, we should interrogate the gender dynamics of a male author (Joyce), whose record includes some misogynistic statements, writing about the attitudes, perspectives, and proclivities of women.  Or, if we are to take the term “projected mirage” - listed as the schema’s “meaning” for this episode - and believe Joyce’s statement that the whole of the “Nausicaa” episode occurs in Bloom’s imagination, then we must realize that Gerty is the fantasy of a male advertising agent: a woman whose deepest desires are linked to the products he aims to sell her.  While that idea resonates with the notion that “Nausicaa” is all in Bloom’s imagination, that explanation does not, for me, hold up in the episode’s entirety. 

It may be useful to recall that we have already met Gerty back in the coda of the “Wandering Rocks” episode, where she is running an errand for her sick father and, as the cavalcade passes, wonders “what Her Excellency had on” (10.1209), suggesting a consistent insterest in women’s fashion.  So, then, we must accept the explanation that Joyce created a female character - the novel’s first with a sustained focalization - who is obsessed with beauty products and fashion and who yearns for love and marriage, which might be discomfiting. If you are interested in feminist readings of Ulysses, tons of fascinating scholarship has been done in this area.  Jeri Johnson’s essay “‘Beyond the Veil’: Ulysses, Feminism, and the Figure of Woman” offers an insightful and comprehensive overview of the debates this novel has incited in both Joycean and Feminist circles.  It is important to note that, while Gerty is the novel’s first female character with a sustained voice, she is not its last. Molly Bloom’s voice and perspective, which likewise has elicited fierce debate, will have the final word.

Turning from gender politics back to literary style, remembering the Uncle Charles Principle might assist your understanding of the voices in “Nausicaa.”  This concept that the text’s narration assumes the tone and style of the focalized character’s mind would support that the first half of this episode is shaded by the sort of language that the character of Gerty MacDowell would most naturally employ. 

But, back to “Nausicaa.”  After her physical description, Gerty is characterized by her sorrow over her faltering romance with Reggy Wylie and her daydreams about an ideal husband - a devoted, mature gentleman.  

Tommy Caffrey finishes peeing and a conflict arises between the boys over the ball, which Cissy Caffrey solves through the path of least resistance.  Edy Boardman thinks Tommy too often gets his way. Cissy Caffrey says a mildly inappropriate word (she is a bit of a pepper pot, as my British grandmother would say), and the other women worry that “the gentleman opposite” has heard her.  This man is Bloom, having left the Dignam home at nearby 9 Newbridge Avenue. While his work for the day is done, he is not yet ready to go home and see Molly after her act of infidelity, so he has walked to the strand for a quiet rest.  

St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church

St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church

The sound of praying voices and a church organ fills the air.  A men’s temperance retreat (like a Catholic mass/AA meeting) has convened at the St. Mary’s Star of the Sea church nearby just off the strand.  Gerty blames her father’s alcoholism for thwarting her marriage to a proper gentleman, for bringing violence into her childhood home, and for the death of Mr. Dignam, who happens to be a friend of her father’s.  We learn here that her dad is suffering from the gout, which has him laid up at the moment, preventing him from attending Paddy Dignam’s funeral this morning and necessitating that Gerty pick up the letters and papers from the city (which, again, we saw her doing in “Wandering Rocks”).  It becomes clear that Gerty is a lovely, good daughter.

Jacky Caffrey kicks the ball down the beach, and Bloom retrieves it.  In a moment that always makes me laugh, Bloom “aimed the ball once or twice and then threw it up the strand towards Cissy Caffrey but it rolled down the slope” (13.353-54).  A quarterback Bloom is not. The ball, having missed its target, sweeps down to Gerty, who tries to kick it. She misses on first try, embarrassing her, but makes solid contact on her second effort.  Speaking of making contact, Gerty and Bloom lock eyes, and Bloom’s face “seemed to her the saddest she had ever seen” (13.369-70).

The girls work on teaching the baby the word “papa” before realizing he has a wet diaper; the baby fusses about getting changed but is pacified by sucking on the teat of an empty bottle.  Gerty silently expresses her frustration that the little ones are out too late and spoiling an otherwise serene evening. She looks back toward Bloom and welcomes the intensity of his gaze, idealizing him as her “dreamhusband” (13.431) whom she loves unconditionally and whose wounds she seeks to heal.  Gerty is the sympathetic Nausicaa to Bloom’s shipwrecked Odysseus.

St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church, view from the strand

St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church, view from the strand

She hears a snippet of the mass being said in the church and imagines the scene inside the sanctuary.  The twins start squabbling again, and Gerty angrily calls them in her mind “little monkeys common as ditchwater” (13.467-68) - whoa!  She then turns her ire toward Cissy: as Cissy flaunts her running skills, Gerty wishes she would fall down and embarrass herself in front of the gentleman/Bloom.  But Bloom isn’t watching Cissy; he only has eyes for Gerty.

The text dips back into the interpolation technique and shows us a glimpse of the church service.  Then Gerty bobs her foot up and down and thinks about her stockings, when and where she bought them, and notices that Bloom is eying them with appreciation for their, ahem, quality.  She takes off her hat to show off her lustrous hair and resets it at an angle whereby she can surreptitiously see from under the brim. She knows that she is arousing Bloom, and she likes it: “a burning scarlet swept from throat to brow till the lovely colour of her face became a glorious rose” (13.518-20).

Edy Boardman picks up on some of what is going on here and asks what’s on Gerty’s mind.  Gerty deflects, saying she was wondering what time it was. Cissy volunteers to go ask Bloom if he has the time.  At her approach, Bloom nervously takes his hand out of his pocket (eeeh). The text celebrates his “selfcontrol” (13.542), which is hilarious (just wait) and, indeed, one of those moments that starts to persuade me that this narration has to be in Bloom’s mind.  

Bloom’s watch has died, he tells Cissy, but he guesses that it is after 8:00 pm.  An interpolation shows the goings-on in the church. Bloom winds his watch and returns his gaze to Gerty, “worshipping at her shrine” (13.564).  It is worth noting the echoes between the Bloom/Gerty encounter and the birdgirl scene at the end of Book IV in A Portrait: Stephen is walking along the beach alone, resolving to pursue a life of artistic creation when he comes across a young woman standing in the water.

She was alone and still, gazing out to sea; and when she felt his presence and the 

worship of his gaze her eyes turned to him in quiet suffrance of his gaze, without 

shame or wantonness [...] and a faint flame trembled on her cheek. (Portrait 186)

At the risk of belaboring the point, both Stephen and Bloom stare worshipfully at girls on the beach, both Gerty and the birdgirl blush and allow them to stare; both women are described in terms of delicacy and “ivorylike purity;” they both wear blue; in both scenes the “lightclad figures of children and girls and voices childish and girlish in the air” (P 185); and, in echoes yet to come in “Nausicaa”, the words “hither, thither” appear and skirts are “bared almost to the hips.”  Joyce here seems to be ironically mocking Stephen as well as his younger self as an author as well as drawing parallels in order to highlight the differences between the two protagonists’ reactions to these similar encounters.

As Cissy and Edy depart, the latter woman gratuitously jabs at Gerty over Reggy Wylie’s fleeting affections, and Gerty is stung to the brink of tears before parrying.  The women and boys leave, a bell rings, and a bat flies through the air. We get an inventory list of Gerty’s private drawer (we will get a similar inventory of Bloom’s private drawer in the “Ithaca” episode).  She wonders about Bloom - is he a widower? She wrestles with social pressures for women in romantic relationships.  


After another interpolation in the church, fireworks begin to explode in the sky.  The girls call for Gerty to join them in running down the beach for a better view, but she can see well enough from her current spot - and she wants to stay close to Bloom, especially now that they will be alone.  She leans back under the pretense of seeing the fireworks, revealing her legs to Bloom. In a long, streaming sentence that foreshadows Molly’s voice in “Penelope,” she justifies her behavior. She leans further back, revealing more of herself, and Bloom, whose hand has been in his pocket, ejaculates.  Yeah. I know.

Setting aside the gross inappropriateness of Bloom’s behavior, the text’s conflating of the fireworks with Bloom’s climax is remarkable in its metaphorical and punny effects.  Despite this scene’s literary merits, it was cited by the New York Society for the Suppression of Vice as evidence of the novel’s obscenity in the court case that led Ulysses to be banned in all English-speaking countries, making its publication illegal.  For more on these issues, see my page on the publication of Ulysses under the “Other Resources” tab on this site.

As listed in the schema as the technique for this episode, the “tumescence” is now complete, and the “detumescence” begins.  Gerty eyes Bloom with “shy reproach” (13.743), but she silently forgives him and pledges to keep this encounter their secret.  She smiles at him sweetly as she gets up to join her group. As she walks away, we get the big reveal: Gerty MacDowell is lame and walks slowly with a limp.  At this revelation, the voice and focalization of the episode shifts to Bloom, who maintains his attraction to Gerty and is perhaps even further aroused by the taboo of this “defect” (13.774).  He does not seem to feel guilty or ashamed at all.

He contemplates the nature of menstruation, recalls the events from “Lotus-Eaters,” thinks about attire and attraction, and parodies what he considers to be women’s false kindness to one another.  He examines his own attractiveness (perhaps betraying some body image issues? He notes that he “didn’t let [Gerty] see me in profile” (13.836)) and decides he must be at least fairly handsome to have married Molly.  He poses a question of Molly’s value: “suppose [Boylan] gave [Molly] money. Why not? All a prejudice. She’s worth ten, fifteen, more, a pound. What? I think so. All that for nothing. Bold hand: Mrs. Marion” (13.841-43).  While assigning a price to your spouse’s sexual favors is certainly cringe-worthy, he seems to be also trying to place a cost on her infidelity. When he checked his watch for Cissy, he noticed that it had stopped at 4:30, which makes him wonder if that was the moment in time when Boylan and Molly consummated the affair.

He deals with the mess on his clothes, offers some further ideas and observations about women (misguided, insightful, and otherwise), and recalls an experience with a prostitute.  In a moment that exemplifies Bloom’s conflicting characteristics - his admirable empathy and problematic quirks - he feels badly for prostitutes who solicit and don’t sell.  

Exhausted from a long day and drowsy from his ejaculation, Bloom’s sentences fade without completion; his ideas ebb and flow and mingle together in the rocking sea of his mind.  It is also worth noting that these pages offer the novel’s most uninterrupted stream of Bloom’s consciousness - there is minimal external stimuli, no other characters for dialogue or interaction, and he is stationary, not moving through the world and mentally reacting to what he encounters.  Here, we are privy to his thoughts when his guard is down and his mind is tired but relaxed.

His thoughts return to Gerty and he assumes she knew what he was doing to himself.  He thinks of Milly, her maturation, and her reference to a “young student” (13.928) [Bannon] who is flirting with her.  He shifts his thinking back to Gerty and admires her stockings. A firework goes off, and he sees Gerty, far down the beach, look back at him one last time.  Quoting from the first scene of Hamlet (“for this relief much thanks” (13.940), he feels better for his encounter with Gerty, rejuvenated after the darkness of the Dignam situation and his conflict with The Citizen.  He notes the unspoken connection that formed between himself and Gerty and wonders whether she might be his erotic penpal - perhaps Gerty is using Martha Clifford as a pen name in the same way that Bloom is using Henry Flower...it’s a long shot, but you can’t blame him for wishful thinking.

He thinks about his poor throwing arm, criticizes Cissy for giving the baby an empty bottle to suck as a pacifier (because it makes the baby gassy - which is true...a babysitter did exactly this to my first son at 4 months old and he was miserable for the rest of the day), then thinks of Mina Purefoy (13.959) and plans to visit her in the Holles Street Maternity Hospital (which foreshadows the location of the next episode, “Oxen of the Sun”).  He thinks about drunk husbands, romantic destiny, and marriages between unlikely pairs. He also continues to deal with the mess he made in his pants. He again thinks about the coincidence of his watch stopping at what he imagines was the exact time Boylan and Molly had sex and engages in some shaky scientific conjecture regarding magnetism. 

He catches a whiff of Gerty’s perfume and begins contemplating olfactory matters and the bodily origins of human scent.  He takes a sample of his own smell, which is at this moment dominated by the lemon scent of the bar of soap in his pocket.  Thinking of the lemon soap makes him remember that he’s forgotten to circle back to Sweny’s to pick up Molly’s lotion (13.1044).  Because he was planning to return later, he did not pay for the soap, which bothers him. He contemplates the psychology of credit and business - how much of a bill should a business owner allow a customer to build before calling it due?  Ironically, if you give too much credit, you’ll lose the customer (they will avoid returning and being asked to pay down the debt). He also thinks again of the three shillings Hynes owes him but is willing to forgive the debt if Hynes can assist him in finalizing the Keyes ad, as they discussed in the “Cyclops” episode.

A man walking on the beach passes by, and Bloom wonders who he is, thinks of writing a story about this “mystery man” (13.1060) for the paper, a reference back to a thought at the end of the “Calypso” episode.  He then reprises the mystery of the man in the brown macintosh and anticipates rain. As the sun sets, Bloom notices the Bailey lighthouse at Howth and thinks about light and optical effects.

The Bailey Lighthouse on Howth promontory

The Bailey Lighthouse on Howth promontory

After worrying about Gerty getting “fluxions” (a type of skin irritation, from what I can tell) and himself getting “piles” (hemorrhoids) from sitting on the chilly, cold beach for a prolonged period of time, he recognizes that he finds himself attracted to younger women these days, which brings him back to memories of Molly and the early days of their relationship.  He looks again toward Howth, remembering his picnic proposal to Molly there and seems to question his strategy of yielding to Boylan, thinking “I am a fool perhaps. He gets the plums, and I the plumstones” (13.1098-1099).  

He sees a bat that he suspects left the belfry of the St. Mary’s Star of the Sea Church when the bells rang and notices that the mass must have ended; he identifies similarities between the use of repetition in the liturgy and in advertisements - just another of his observations regarding the practicalities of religion.  He ponders various animals.

In a wonderful moment that replicates the way our minds work, Bloom fills in a gap from his thinking back in the “Lotus-Eaters” episode, where he half-remembers Archimedes Principle, which states that a solid body immersed in a liquid undergoes an apparent loss of weight equal to the weight of the liquid displaced.  There, Bloom thinks, “Couldn’t sink if you tried: so thick with salt. Because the weight of the water, no, the weight of the body in the water is equal to the weight of the what? Or is it the volume is equal to the weight? It’s a law somthing like that” (5.39-42). Here, nearly 12 hours later, Bloom has a moment of recall: “Archimedes.  I have it! My memory’s not so bad” (13.1142). Good job, Bloom! After some thoughts regarding birds and insects (and a reference to the bee sting he suffered), he ponders the life of sailors and superstitions.  

Bloom’s inner monologue, which has been going strong with minimal interruptions by the narrator, cedes a full paragraph to the narrator’s description of the end of the fireworks and interpolations of other events taking place in Sandymount.  We also get a fanciful image of Howth anthropomorphized, nestling into bed for sleep and winking at Mr. Bloom.

Bloom’s inner monologue returns, and he’s still thinking about sailors and the sea.  He then thinks of children generally and then Milly specifically. He recalls different stages of her maturation.  He recalls Molly telling him she chose him because he was “so foreign from the others” (13.1210).

As the 9:00 hour approaches, Bloom decides to get moving, realizes he has missed the performance of Leah at the Gaiety Theater, then considers going home but decides not to because he is not ready to face Molly yet.  He decides to visit the Maternity Hospital in Holles Street to check on Mina Purefoy, hoping she has finally delivered the baby.  He recaps Bloomsday’s main events with some commentary. He reminds himself to fulfill his promise to Mrs. Dignam regarding her insurance policy with Scottish Widows, which makes him think of widows generally.  He half-recalls a dream from the night before involving Molly, red slippers, and pants. He plots success for the Keyes ad and plans to use the income to buy Molly’s birthday present.


At the end of “Proteus,” which also takes place on Sandymount strand, Stephen tears off the blank part of the paper on which Deasy’s letter was written in order to compose some poetry.  Bloom here finds “a piece of paper on the strand” (13.1246). Same one? Bloom can’t make out what is written on it. Just as Gerty plans to return to this same place tomorrow in hopes of seeing Bloom again, he wonders “will she come back here tomorrow” (13.1253-54) and picks up a stick to write a message for her in the sand.  He writes “I. AM. A.” and then runs out of space for the final word(s), and we are left to guess: cuckold? Jew? How does Bloom define himself?

He thinks about Molly’s upcoming concerts in Belfast and Liverpool and reconfirms that he will not accompany Molly and Boylan on the tour.  He closes his eyes and, to close Bloom’s inner monologue, we have a paragraph of subconscious that hops from topic to topic. The close reader of the novel can follow each jump and discern the references.

The narrator closes the episode with the bat flying to and fro, bells chiming 9:00, an interpolation of the priests having dinner after the mass, and an interpolation of Gerty MacDowell thinking of Bloom.  Just as the “Telemachus” and “Calypso” episodes supplied language for the bell chimes at 8:45 am, the text offers nine “Cuckoo”s here. As we’ve seen, Mr. Bloom is many things - benevolent, physical, charitable, Jewish, a freemason, a husband, a father, an ad man, a child of an immigrant - but the novel here seems to insist that he is now a cuckold and will be forever more.