Episode 14: Oxen of the Sun
The “Oxen of the Sun” episode takes place between 10:00 and 11:00 pm at the Holles Street Maternity Hospital, where Stephen is continuing his bender with three medical students (Dixon, Lynch, and Madden) and a few other miscellaneous Dubliners (Lenehan, Punch Costello, and Crotthers). Mr. Bloom will soon join this group, having taken a tram to Merrion Square from Sandymount in order to check on Mrs. Purefoy, who has been in labor for three days.
In The Odyssey, after successfully navigating between Scylla and Charybdis, Odysseus and his crew approach the island of Trinacria where the sungod’s immortal sheep and longhorn cattle live. Both Circe and Tiresias have warned Odysseus to avoid this island entirely; at the very least, Helios’s sacred oxen - sacred symbols of fertility - must not be harmed by Odysseus and his men, lest the gods destroy them. Exhausted and craving a break from the journey, Odysseus’s crew convince a reluctant Odysseus to land on Trinacria. Odysseus makes his men swear an oath not to slaughter the sungod’s sacred cattle. They land on Trinacria, eat the food Circe had given them, and, still hungry, set out for a hunt. Odysseus hikes inland to find a good place to pray to the gods for help getting home. Odysseus falls asleep after his prayer. His men discover the sacred cattle, decide they’d rather die in a shipwreck at the hands of an angry god than of starvation, and feast themselves on the oxen of the sun. Soon upon their departure from Trinacria, Zeus attacks Odysseus’s ships with a lightning storm, and everyone perishes except for Odysseus, for he alone was innocent of the violation against sacred fertility.
Joyce’s schema lists “embryonic development” as his technique for the “Oxen of the Sun” episode; this concept manifests itself in a series of 32 parodies that chart the growth of literary style from preliterate pagan incantations into Middle English, then the Latinate styles of Milton and up to imitations of satirists such as Swift and eventually 19th century novelists such as Dickens. This episode, then, is the ultimate authorial powerflex; Joyce demonstrates his mastery of every form of writing that led to the birth of Ulysses. Demonstrating Joyce’s unparalleled literary dexterity and depth of knowledge, this episode is an impressive execution of an audacious idea; Joyce estimated that he spent 1,000 hours writing it. Yet, none of that makes it particularly fun to read.
Because these parodies of various styles dominate the surface of the narrative, “Oxen” is perhaps the most challenging episode to get through. Some might even call it tedious. Harriet Shaw Weaver, Joyce’s benefactor, wrote “I think this episode might also have been called Hades for the reading of it is like being taken the rounds of hell” (qtd. in Ellman, “James Joyce” 476). But, having come this far, you’ll go a little further, even if that means spending a few hours in hell. When you re-read the novel in a few years, you might skim or even skip it. For now, though, let’s do our best to get through it together, because there are certainly some clever moments to enjoy and many important details to gather. At the very least, we can appreciate the episode’s ingenuity.
“Oxen” abandons the elements of narrative style we’ve come to associate with Ulysses - inner monologue, realism, intimacy with the characters, free indirect discourse, dialogue, etc. - and instead presents the happenings of the 10 o’clock hour in a series of adopted prose styles. You might imagine the Arranger shoving the Narrator out of his desk chair and taking full control of the keyboard. Although there are a number of sophisticated resonances between the events and the parodied prose styles used in depicting them, the text operates at a remove from the characters and the plot, challenging the conventional aspirations of literature to represent a reality. “Oxen,” then, is largely text about text, literature about literature, and the plot operates somewhere beneath that lofty level of discourse.
Hugh Kenner has pointed out that the episode consists of forty paragraphs, corresponding to the forty weeks of gestation (Kenner 14). Joyce wrote “Oxen” with a medical diagram of embryonic development on his desk, and he drafted the episode in nine notebooks, each containing their own section of the chapter and corresponding to the nine months of gestation.
The identification of the specific source for each of the episode’s 32 parodies is worthwhile though perhaps ultimately unnecessary for the first time reader. Indeed, William Tindall warns against doing so because “there is danger that, attempting identification and distracted by surface, we may lose track of story and underlying idea” (Tindall 199). Still, I find it fun to note the stages of literature’s development as charted here by Joyce. So, while this episode guide will not dwell on identifying the individual styles Joyce imitates, I have included at the end of this page a list identifying each parody (per Gifford) with its first line number and an initial passage. If you are interested in how each style relates to the content it presents, John Gordon’s essay “The Multiple Journeys of ‘Oxen of the Sun’” is readable and insightful.
Enough about structure and style. Let’s try to establish the meaning lurking beneath these heavy layers of discourse. The theme of this episode might be the impropriety of waste - the waste of fertility through contraception and fornication, the waste of time and talent, and, as David Hayman writes, “youthful potential wasted through the labored wit of intellectuals” (Hayman 74). The young men gathered in the Maternity Hospital, through their raucous and bawdy behavior, commit a sacrilege against the women in labor upstairs; the novel holds these mothers aloft as sacred symbols of fertility, like the oxen of the sungod Helios.
Bringing together the episode’s form of replicating embryonic development and theme of violations against sacred fertility, Joyce may have been aiming this episode’s artistic creativity to celebrate, and perhaps rival, the awesome power of a mother’s creation of life. As Richard Ellmann writes in Ulysses on the Liffey, “the processes of nature and art are synonymous with each other; they imitate each other’s fecundity and will not be sterilized” (Ellmann, “Liffey” 140). Just as it is the sacred duty of the living to create life, it is the sacred duty of the artist to create art. To fail in fulfilling either duty, Joyce suggests, is an abomination.
Richard Ellmann explains that “Joyce’s scheme for the episode included minor as well as major imitations of the birth process. One of these was the idea, communicated in a letter to Budgen, that Bloom is the spermatozoon, the nurse the ovum, the hospital the womb, and Stephen the embryo” (Ellmann, “Liffey” 136). Tindall takes that notion one step further, claiming that “fertilized by Bloom, embryonic Stephen may develop to the point of rebirth” (Tindall 200). In other words, we have spent the first two thirds of this novel learning what Bloom has to offer and what Stephen needs; the last third of Ulysses will concern itself largely with the atonement of this lost son with this sonless father.
That feels like sufficient introduction; let’s get into the episode.
The episode opens with pagan incantations, which translates as “Let us go south to Holles Street,” followed by a prayer to the sungod/Dr. Horne (one of the two doctors at the Maternity Hospital), and ending with a midwife’s celebratory announcement that “It’s a boy!”.
The second paragraph is linguistic chaos, a direct translation of Latin without Anglicized diction or syntax. However, you might pull from this hodgepodge a few phrases that establish the central importance of procreation: “by no exterior splendour is the prosperity of a nation more efficaciously asserted than by the measure of how far forward may have progressed the tribute of its solicitude for that proliferent continuance” (14.12-15) and “that exalted of reiteratedly procreating function” (14.31-32). The following paragraph exalts the history of Irish medicine, gradually focusing on pregnancy and labor, “that allhardest of woman hour” (14.46). That focus continues until Mr. Bloom enters at line 71.
Introduced with tropes of the wandering Jew, Bloom enters the hospital. He has come out of pity and concern for Mina Purefoy: “Stark ruth of man his errand that him lone led till that house” (14.73). Standing in the hall holding his hat, Bloom is met by Nurse Callan, his former landlord. Nine years ago, when the Blooms were “on the rocks” financially, the family had sublet a room in Nurse Callan’s home on Holles Street. Seeing her here, Mr. Bloom apologizes for not tipping his hat in greeting to her when he last saw her in town. Nurse Callan “blushes” (14.91) at Bloom’s gentlemanly attention - in the “Ithaca” episode, she will be counted among the four women by whom Bloom’s “magnetic face, form, and address had been favorably received” (17.1844-45). In other words, he’s still got game.
Bloom asks Nurse Callan about a previous acquaintance, Dr. O’Hare, and is saddened to learn that he died three years ago of “bellycrab” (14.102) (some sort of stomach issue?). They share a moment “in wanhope sorrowing one with other” (14.106-07) over this loss. The text then echoes the opening of the Middle English morality play Everyman, warning of our mortality.
Bloom inquires into Mina Purefoy’s condition, and Nurse Callan tells him that she has “seen many births of women but never was none so hard as was that woman’s birth” (14.116-17). Empathetic Mr. Bloom “felt with wonder woman’s woe in the travail they have of motherhood” (14.119-20). He also admires Nurse Callan’s “fair face” (14.120) and wonders why she does not have children herself.
The door to the waiting room opens, emitting the noise of the young men carousing there. Bloom greets Dixon, a medical student, as he passes on his way into the waiting room; Dixon treated Bloom’s bee sting, fantastically described as “a spear wherewith a horrible and dreadful dragon was smitten him for which he did do make a salve of volatile salt and chrism” (14.129-31). Dixon invites Bloom to join the gathering in the waiting room, Bloom politely declines, Dixon insists, and Bloom eventually accepts the opportunity to rest his legs after the day’s “many marches” (14.139).
Entering the waiting room, the large central table, cutlery, glasses, and a tin of sardines are described in fantastical terms. The twisting vines of hops, for instance, are described as entwined serpents, from which scales are plucked to brew mead (14.159). Dixon pours Bloom a beer, and cautiously sober Bloom takes a polite sip and then stealthily empties most of his glass into the cup beside his. The young men are getting rowdy, and a nurse comes to the door of the waiting room and “begged them [...] to leave their wassailing for there was one quick with child, a gentle dame, whose time hied fast” (14.167-69). Their raucous behavior is inappropriate for this sacred place and time; these young men are being warned not to violate the sanctity of childbirth, just as Odysseus’s crew were warned not to slaughter the sacred oxen. Also like Odysseus’s crew, these young men will ignore this warning.
Bloom hears a cry in one of the delivery rooms and wonders whether it was from a mother or a baby. Recognizing Lenehan as the other older man at the table, Bloom addresses to him his hopes that Mina Purefoy won’t be too much longer in labor. Lenehan replies with a twisted quotation (whether out of drunkenness or cheek, we can only guess): “expecting each moment to be her next” (14.178), a perversion of “expecting each moment to be her last.” Regardless, Lenehan takes the opportunity to drink to Mrs. Purefoy’s and the baby’s health. The text celebrates Bloom’s favorable qualities (good, meek, kind, and true) as he again pities Mina Purefoy and all mothers: “woman’s woe with wonder pondering” (14.186).
We get a roll call of who, besides Bloom, is at the table - Dixon, Lynch, Madden, Lenehan, Crotthers, Stephen, and Punch Costello. Stephen is the drunkest of the bunch. They are waiting on Buck Mulligan to arrive (he is at A.E.’s gathering of young poets from which Stephen was excluded). The text exaggerates Bloom’s “fast friendship” (14.198) with Simon Dedalus, using that as a pretext for his concern over Stephen’s drunkenness.
The men debate the question of whether to save the life of the mother or the baby in a dangerous childbirth. The Catholic Church says to save the baby, but the law offers no guidance. Stephen blasphemes. They ask Bloom his opinion, and he cleverly ducks the question by pointing out that the Church makes money in both a funeral and a baptism.
Bloom’s mind returns to Molly and Rudy, who was buried in “a fair corselet of lamb’s wool” (14.269) knitted by Molly. He mourns his lack of a son and “so grieved he also in no less measure for young Stephen for that he lived riotously with those wastrels and murdered his goods with whores” (14.275-6). Over the course of the episode, Bloom’s pity and concern for Mina Purefoy will pivot toward Stephen. Stephen fills everyone’s glass and parodies the eucharist. He shows the other men that he has £2.19s, claiming it is payment for a poem (a lie). Stephen has already spent 13 shillings since being paid by Mr. Deasy.
Stephen claims that the artist rivals the creative act of motherhood, saying “in woman’s womb word is made flesh but in the spirit of the maker all flesh that passes becomes the word that shall not pass away” (14.292-4). He goes on to argue that either Mary did not know that her son Jesus was God, which makes her a denier alongside Peter, or else Mary knew that her son was God, therefore making her “creature of her creature” (14.302) - as a child of God, she is child of her child; she is the creation of God, who she in turn created. This paradox echoes Stephen’s Hamlet theory that Shakespeare “felt himself the father of all his race, the father of his own grandfather” (9.868-69).
All of this seems a bit above the heads of the other men at the table, and Punch Costello begins to sing a bawdy song. Nurse Quigley, an older woman, enters the room and angrily rebukes the men for their shameful behavior. This is their second warning against the slaughter of sacred fertility (Odysseus also had two warnings - from Circe and from Tiresias). Nurse Quigley leaves and Costello curses her. Bloom advises the men to calm down, citing “the time’s occasion as most sacred” (14.331-32).
While Bloom is upright in rejecting the violation of sacred fertility and procreation, Stanley Sultan points out that, among the men carousing inappropriately in a maternity hospital,
[Bloom] is the cardinal sinner among them. Not only has he just come from his ‘spilling,’ but it is more significant than any mere sexual escapade of some of the others: it represents surrender of his responsibility to maintain ‘that proliferant continuance,’ of his identity as husband and potential father. [...] He sins while exalting maternity and fecundity. Odysseus regards the sacred cattle of the sun with the proper reverence and is innocent of their slaughter. Bloom shares Odysseus’ reverent attitude, but acts like the Achaean’s sinful, and, consequently, destroyed, crew. (Sultan 288)
Ouch. Bloom’s hypocrisy brutally exposed.
Dixon teasingly asks Stephen why he didn’t become a priest. Stephen offers a witty retort, but Lenehan twists the knife, voicing a rumor he heard about Stephen’s dalliances. The men discuss outlandish sexual wedding ceremonies performed in Madagascar. Stephen recites a sexual poem and offers a long monologue filled with bawdy puns and blasphemies. Punch Costello tops it off with more loud, improper singing.
At this, “a black crack of noise in the street here, alack, bawled back. Loud on left Thor thundered: in anger the hammerhurler. Came now the storm that hist his heart” (14.408-9). In The Odyssey, Odysseus’s crew and ship are destroyed by a thunderstorm at sea - Zeus’s punishment for their sacrilege. Lynch explains that “the god self was angered for [Stephen’s] hellprate and paganry” (14.411). Nobody is destroyed here, but Stephen (like Joyce) is scared of thunder, and he cowers. Mr. Bloom seeks to console him with “calming words to slumber his great fear,” explaining that thunder was simply a “natural phenomenon” (14.425, 428). Stephen, however, is disconsolate; he wrestles with his mortality, questions of heaven, and his sinful whoring. He recognizes in the thunderclap “the voice of the god that was in a very grievous rage that he would presently lift his arm up and spill their souls for their abuses and their spillings done” (14.471-72). The “spillings” here referenced are these men’s wasteful acts of fornication that violate the sacred duty to procreate legitimately.
The text records the thunderstorm in the manner of a 17th century English diarist, shifting the focus outside of the hospital, where we find Buck Mulligan making his way through the downpour. He bumps into Alec Bannon, who has just arrived in town from Mullingar. Bannon agrees to accompany Buck to the hospital for a drink, eager to share that he has a new romantic/sexual interest (Milly Bloom), described as a “skittish heifer, big of her age and beef to the heel” (14.502-03). The episode includes a plethora of offensive comments featuring cows, emphasizing the link between these men’s impiety and the allusion to The Odyssey.
Lenehan, who is framed as something of a lowlife, raises the topic of Foot and Mouth disease; he read Deasy’s letter in the evening newspaper. Bloom worries that all of the cattle he saw on the carriage ride to Glasnevin Cemetery must be slaughtered, but Stephen allays his concerns, explaining that Dr. Rinderpest is coming over from Russia to cure the beasts. The men then launch into a telling of “The Parable of the Bulls,” an elaborate, Swiftian history of Ireland that depicts the Irish people as pawns in a power struggle between the Roman Catholic Church (farmer Nicholas) and the English Monarchy (lord Harry), culminating in the Irish emigration to America.
Mulligan and Bannon arrive at the hospital. Buck boldly takes center stage of the gathering in the waiting room; Stephen recedes into the background for the remainder of the episode. He hands around mock business cards that he has had printed; they read: “Mr Malachi Mulligan. Fertiliser and Incubator. Lambay Island” (14.660). Overwhelmed with sadness that so many attractive women are not pregnant, he plans to solve this problem by setting up a “national fertilising farm” and “to offer his dutiful yeoman services for the fecundation of any female” (14.684-7). A true humanitarian.
Bannon begins to tell the person sitting beside him (Crotthers) all about Milly.
Buck notices Bloom and asks if he is in need of medical assistance. Bloom, prudently “preserving his proper distance” (14.723), explains that he has come only to check on Mrs. Purefoy. (Minor question: just why exactly is Mr. Bloom checking on Mina Purefoy? Are they good enough friends for him to be in the waiting room at the hospital while she is in labor? It seems more likely that Bloom is using this detour as a way of killing a little more time, ensuring that Molly will be asleep when he gets home. He’s simply not up for seeing her yet).
Using medical terminology, Dixon teases Buck about being fat - is he pregnant? Buck laughs it off and offers a witty reply, mimicking Mother Grogan, sending the room into “violent agitations of delight” (14.735).
The focus returns to Crotthers, “the listener” (14.738) to Bannon’s stories about Milly. He congratulates Bannon and gets some beer passed their way so that they can toast his good fortune; Bannon thanks him, saying “et mille compliments,” the near-homonym hinting toward Milly. Bannon pulls out a photo of Milly, and the text gets dewy with sentimentality. He mentions her “new coquette cap” (14.758), which we know was a birthday present from Bloom (remember Milly’s letter to her Papli: “Thanks ever so much for the lovely birthday present. It suits me splendid. Everyone says I am quite the belle in my new tam” (4.398-9)). In coded language, the men discuss the procurement of a condom - “as snug a cloak of the French fashion as ever kept a lady from wetting” (14.777-78). Lynch reveals that he was with Kitty this afternoon - more on that in a bit.
A bell rings and Miss Callan enters, calling Dixon over for a private word. When she leaves, Punch Costello spews unpleasant remarks about Nurse Callan, calling her “a monstrous fine bit of cowflesh!” (14.807) and insinuating that Dixon has practiced his “bedside manner” (14.809) with her. Before rebuking Costello, Dixon informs the room that he is needed in the delivery ward - Mina Purefoy has “given birth to a bouncing boy” (14.822-23). Hoopsa boyaboy hoopsa!
We “revert to Mr Bloom” (14.845) and gather that he has quietly endured the misbehavior of these young men, attributing most of their indecency to the immaturity of “overgrown children” (14.848-49); however, the text unloads his low opinion of Punch Costello. Bloom is “nauseated” by this grotesque “creature,” this “missing link” between ape and man (14.854, 858). He asserts that “those who create themselves wits at the cost of feminine delicacy” are beneath “proper breeding” (14.865-68). Indeed.
The young men have a laugh at the expense of Mina Purefoy’s husband, “the old bucko that could still knock another child out of her” (14.892-93) - this is Mina’s 9th living child, 12th overall. Then, in the style of the 18th century satirist Junius, the text claps back at Bloom after his rebuke of Costello: on what grounds can this immigrant judge an Irishman? He should be grateful for all the benefits and blessings he has received in this country! And, what about hypocritical Bloom’s own misbehaviors? Didn’t he “attempt illicit intercourse with a female domestic” (14.922-23) (this is a reference to Molly Driscoll, who we will see in the “Circe” episode). Didn’t he get fired by Mr. Cuffe for his “peevish asperity” (14.926) toward a rancher? Is he not failing in his most basic duty as a husband? Has he not as recently as this very evening committed the reprehensible act of onanism? Sheesh. Quite a piling on.
Various topics related to pregnancy are engaged (in rather dull fashion), and Mulligan breaks the dullness with his statement that “the supremest object of desire” is “a nice clean old man” (14.999-1000). Buck is absurd, but he is funny. His statement here also promotes sterility, even if ironically, thus further contributing to the mounting violations against fertility. An argument arises about the “theological dilemma created in the event of one Siamese twin predeceasing the other” (14.1002-03), and the question is put to Bloom, who defers to Stephen, who we realize has been “hitherto silent” (14.1005) - the text hasn’t recorded him speaking since Mulligan arrived. Stephen’s response to the Siamese twin debate repeats a line from his Hamlet lecture in the library - what God has joined, let no man put asunder.
The next parody is surely among the funniest parts of the episode, perhaps even of the entire novel. In the style of a gothic novel, Buck Mulligan “freeze[s] them with horror” (14.1010) as he speaks about Haines, who appears from behind a hidden sliding panel holding a book of Celtic literature and a vial of poison. The other men receive this apparition (Haines is not actually there) as a villain, and he confesses to the murder of Samuel Childs (the Childs murder case has been a recurrent topic throughout the novel). Haines vanishes...and then his head pops back in to tell Buck to meet him at Westland Row station at ten past eleven (they plan to take the last train to Sandycove together; Stephen is not included in this plan).
The tone shifts to nostalgia in the next paragraph as Bloom remembers himself at various stages of his own growth and development: as an 18 year old high school student, as a door-to-door salesman for his father’s jewelry business, then as a 20-something having his first sexual experience with a prostitute named Bridie Kelly. Within this paragraph, we also have the most explicit unveiling of the way the novel works: “a retrospective arrangement, a mirror within a mirror (hey, presto!)” (14.1044-45). As explained in my Voices in the Text resource on this site, the phrase “retrospective arrangement” appears seven times in Ulysses and hints at the way the Arranger knows the entire book and retrospectively arranges details and themes. The “mirror within a mirror” might present the device of the Arranger as a mirror that can look back on the novel, which itself is a mirror into the essence of human life, thought, and feeling.
But yeah, Bloom lost his virginity to a whore. Reread the novel with that fact in mind for some retrospective arrangement.
A note of melancholy, beginning with the reminder of Bloom’s sonlessness, sustains itself through the next few paragraphs.
Francis “Punch” Costello reminisces with Stephen about their time together in school. Stephen, in a moment of rejuvenated spirit and confidence in his ability to create art, claims to be “lord and giver of their life” (14.1115-16) and gestures the placement of laurels on his head. Costello questions Stephen’s self-identification as an artist, saying that he will deserve that title “when something more, and greatly more, than a capful of light odes can call your genius father” (14.1118-19). Simply and harshly put, Stephen hasn’t created enough yet. Costello softens the blow somewhat, affirming that his friends are rooting for him: “all desire to see you bring forth the work you meditate” (14.1120-21). Stung by this questioning of his identity as an artist, Stephen then suffers a gut-punch when Lenehan references his mother. These are stinging moments for Stephen, who has already been brooding in Buck Mulligan’s charismatic shadow, and he is on the verge of leaving.
However, discussion of the Gold Cup distracts attention away from Stephen, so he stays. Lenehan recaps the race. Lynch then recaps his afternoon hook-up with Kitty and their ensuing encounter with Father Conmee. In yet another instance of parallax, we saw this scene from Father Conmee’s perspective in the first section of “Wandering Rocks,” so we can now identify Lynch as the “flushed young man” and Kitty as the “young woman [who] abruptly bent and with slow care detached from her light skirt a clinging twig” as they emerged from the field through a hedge (10.199-202). Cheered by this story, Lynch and Lenehan reach for a bottle of beer, but Buck silently halts them from disturbing Bloom, who is lost in thought, mesmerized by the red triangle logo on the Bass Ale bottle. “During the past four minutes or thereabouts he had been staring hard at a certain amount of number one Bass” (14.1181-82), thinking first about his younger days (which we saw three pages earlier) and now about “two or three private transactions” (14.1189). Bloom realizes that the others are watching him stare, picks up the bottle, and fills their glasses.
We get a somewhat confusing description of the seating arrangement around the table; Hart and Gunn sort out the confusion and produce a diagram of the table and chairs in their book James Joyce’s Dublin.
The men enter a discussion of science and its limitations, particularly in predetermining the gender of a baby. Topics related to the health and wellness of a pregnant mother and her child are covered. The phenomenon of seemingly healthy babies born of healthy parents dying in early childhood confounds scientific explanation, but we must assume this mystery is related to “the survival of the fittest” (14.1285). Bloom, quirky as ever, describes the relationship between sex, pregnancy, and delivery: “once a woman has let the cat into the bag [...] she must let it out again or give it life [...] to save her own” (14.1304-07). Spot on.
The parody of Charles Dickens focuses on Mina Purefoy, lauding her strength of spirit and depicting her bliss at cuddling her new baby boy. Happy and thankful, Mina only wishes for her husband, called Doady here, to be present to “share her joy” (14.1321). (I guess when you have 8 other kids at home, you can’t come to the hospital for the birth of your 9th?) She praises his dignified responsibility and faithfulness to their 12 babies. Her gracious sharing of the credit with him, after she has just endured three days of excruciating, exhausting labor, might feel a bit over the top, but remember that this episode holds procreation as sacred, and old Doady has certainly “played loyally [the] man’s part” (14.1342).
A parody of Cardinal Newman offers a sermon on sins buried deep in the subconscious, warning that they will eventually emerge to confront the sinner; this foreshadows the upcoming “Circe” episode.
Bloom, looking at Stephen, recalls his first encounter with the young man at one of Matthew Dillon’s garden parties some 17 years ago. Young Stephen, a frowning lad of five years old, is standing on an urn, surrounded by four adoring young women, and glances to his mother for reassurance. We will revisit this scene in the “Ithaca” episode and will learn that shy Stephen was “reluctant to give his hand in salutation” (17.469-70) to Mr. Bloom that day.
A parody of the art critic Ruskin provides imagery of the thunderstorm that just passed through.
Stephen rallies, setting Burke’s pub a block north as their next destination. In a pandemonious flurry of activity, the men gather their belongings and, in keeping with the fertility theme, they ejaculate themselves out of the hospital and into the street. Bloom lingers behind to say goodbye to Nurse Callan, asking her to please “send a kind word” (14.1401) to Mrs. Purefoy for him. Then, endearingly awkward, “he whispers close in going: Madam, when comes the storkbird for thee?” (14.1405-06).
In the next paragraph, Mr. Purefoy gets a pep-talk from the novel.
Then, in the closing 150 lines of the episode, the prose disintegrates into muddled snatches of slang and drunken dialect as the men move through the street, enter Burke’s pub ten minutes before closing, order two rounds of drinks (Stephen sets the pace), and get booted back into the street at 11:00. Notice that the episode begins and ends in different types of disorganized prose. David Hayman explains that this final style represents “a challenge to remove the screens imposed on action by presentation,” leaving the reader with only “the engagement with the text as experience” (Hayman 133).
Within this final scrum, there are a few highlights: Stephen is mistaken in his Latin quarter hat for a “drunken minister” (14.1444-45), Buck Mulligan says his aunt is going to write to Simon Dedalus because “baddybad Stephen lead astray goodygood Malachi” (14.1487-88) - a reversal of Simon’s threat to write Buck’s aunt back in the “Hades” episode. Bannon finally realizes that Bloom is “Photo’s papli, by all that’s gorgeous” (14.1535-36), we see the man in the brown macintosh and pick up a few ineffectual clues related to his identity, and somebody pukes his guts out. As Joyce himself summarized this episode, “how’s that for high?” (Ellmann “Selected Letters” 252)
List of Parodies with Opening Passages and line numbers (per Gifford):
Roman incantatory prayer to fertility goddess: “Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus. Deshil Holles Eamus.” (1)
Latin prose style of historians Sallust and Tacitus: “Universally that person’s acumen is esteemed very little perceptive” (7).
Medieval Latin prose: “It is not why therefore we shall wonder if, as the best historians relate” (33).
Anglo-Saxon alliterative prose of Aelfric: “Before born babe bliss had. Within womb won he worship.” (60)
Middle English: “Therefore, everyman, look to that last end that is thy death” (107).
Medieval travel stories from the 1400s: “And whiles they spake the door of the castle was opened” (123).
Arthurian legend from the 1400s: “This meanwhile this good sister stood by the door and begged them” (167).
Elizabethan history chronicles: “About that present time young Stephen filled all cups that stood empty” (277).
Miltonian Latinate prose from the 1600s: “To be short this passage was scarce by when Master Dixon” (334).
Religious Allegorical prose of John Bunyan: “But was Boasthard’s fear vanquished by Calmer’s words?” (429)
17th century English diarists such as Pepys: “So Thursday sixteenth June Patk. Dignam laid in clay” (474).
English journalist Daniel Defoe: “With this came up Lenehan to the feet of the table” (529).
Irish satirist Jonathan Swift: “an Irish bull in an English chinashop” (581).
Early 1700s periodical essays in Tatler and Spectator: “Our worthy acquaintance Mr Malachi Mulligan now appeared” (651).
18th century Irish novelist and clergyman Laurence Sterne: “Here the listener who was none other than the Scotch student” (738).
18th century Irish novelist, poet, and playwright Oliver Goldsmith: “Amid the general vacant hilarity of the assembly” (799).
18th century Ango-Irish philosopher Edmund Burke: “To revert to Mr Bloom” (845).
Dublin-born politician and playwright Richard Brinsley Sheridan: “Accordingly he broke his mind to his neighbor” (880).
18th century satirist Junius: “But with what fitness, lest it be asked of the noble lord” (905).
Philosophical historian Edward Gibbon: “The news was imparted with a circumspection recalling the ceremonial usage” (942).
Gothic novelist Walpole: “But Malachias’ tale began to freeze them with horror.” (1010)
Nostalgic essayist Charles Lamb: “What is the age of the soul of man?” (1038)
19th century English Romantic Thomas Dequincey: “The voices blend and fuse in clouded silence” (1078).
Landor’s “Imaginary Conversations” essays: “Francis was reminding Stephen of years before when they had been at school” (1110).
English essayist and historian Macaulay: “However, as a matter of fact though, the preposterous surmise” (1174).
19th century English naturalist and evolutionist Huxley: “It had better be stated here and now” (1223).
English novelist Charles Dickens: “Meanwhile the skill and patience of the physician had brought about” (1310).
English convert to Catholicism Cardinal Newman: “There are sins or (let us call them as the world calls them)” (1344).
English essayist Pater: “The stranger still regarded on the face before him a slow recession” (1356).
Art critic Ruskin: “Mark this farther and remember. The end comes suddenly.” (1379)
19th century Scottish essayist and satirist Thomas Carlyle: “Burke’s! outflings my lord Stephen” (1391).
The prose disintegrates into dialect and slang: “All off for a buster, armstrong, hollering down the street.” (1440)
Ellmann, Richard. James Joyce. Suhrkamp, 2004.
Ellmann, Richard. Ulysses on the Liffey. Oxford University Press, 1978.
Gifford, Don, et al. Ulysses Annotated: Notes for James Joyce's Ulysses. University of California Press, 2008.
Gordon, John. “The Multiple Journeys of ‘Oxen of the Sun.’” Elh, vol. 46, no. 1, 1979, p. 158., doi:10.2307/2872608.
Gunn, Ian, et al. James Joyce's Dublin: a Topographical Guide to the Dublin of Ulysses. Thames & Hudson, 2004.
Hayman, David. Ulysses, the Mechanics of Meaning. Wis., 1983.
Joyce, James, and Richard Ellmann. Selected Letters. Faber and Faber, 1992.
Kenner, Hugh. Dublin's Joyce. Columbia University Press, 1987.
Sultan, Stanley. The Argument of Ulysses. Wesleyan Univ. Pr., 1988.
Tindall, William York. A Reader's Guide to James Joyce. Syracuse Univ. Press.