Episode 8: Lestrygonians
The “Lestrygonians” episode returns to Mr. Bloom as our principle narrative perspective, and we join him at 1:00 pm as he moves south from the newspaper office on O’Connell Street toward the River Liffey, past Trinity College, and toward Grafton Street, the posh shopping district of Dublin’s City Center, where he will eventually eat a light lunch in Davy Byrne’s Pub.
We begin the episode with Bloom’s thoughts on candy as he walks past Graham Lemon’s Confectioner’s Hall. He then accepts an evangelical flyer from a young YMCA fellow, skims its contents (“Are you saved? … Elijah is coming” (8.10-13)), before dismissing this sort of proselytizing advertisement as a for-profit enterprise. As he approaches the River Liffey, he glances to his right down Bachelor’s Walk to see Dilly Dedalus, Stephen’s little sister, malnourished, wearing a tattered dress, waiting outside of Dillon’s auctionrooms. Bloom presumes that she is selling off furniture and reflects specifically on the collapse of the Dedalus household since the passing of Stephen’s mother and generally on the folly of enormous Catholic families.
Crossing O’Connell bridge, Bloom observes a barge carrying Guinness for export to England and considers with some measure of disgust the frequent occurrence of rats falling into the vats of beer, drinking themselves drunk, puking, and eventually drowning - “Imagine drinking that!” (8.47-49), he exclaims, but soberly reconciles himself to the inevitability of ingesting horrible stuff, saying “Well, of course, if we knew all the things” (8.50). In our own era of industrial food production, we probably would rather not know what we may be eating. He watches gulls flapping in hungry hope of food, and he tosses into the river the “Elijah is coming” flyer he has just received and crumpled up (remember this little vessel as it begins its voyage down the Liffey - we’ll see it again). He contemplates what makes for poetry, then buys two Banbury cakes to toss generously into the water for the gulls.
He sees an ad for trousers on a rowboat anchored in the river, admires the cleverness of that placement, and thinks of other smart ads he’s seen. In a moment of panic, he wonders whether Boylan has an STD but decides surely not and encourages himself to “think no more about that” (8.108) afternoon meeting between Boylan and Molly, which he knows will happen at 4:00. He looks at the clock on the Ballast Office across the river to see that it is just after 1:00. As the clock ticks toward his cuckolding, Bloom thinks of this morning’s conversation with Molly about metempsychosis and her “O rocks!” (8.112) rejection of pretentious vocabulary. Bloom then argues with himself over whether or not his wife is clever.
He sees men walking toward him wearing sandwichboards bearing the letters H-E-L-Y-S, for Wisdom Hely’s shop, where he previously worked, and criticises the ineffectiveness of this kind of ad while thinking of the advertising ideas he had suggested to Mr. Hely during his tenure in that job. We get a few memories from his professional and personal life, leading him to muse that he was “happier then” (8.170) than he is now. Sad.
His absorption in memories of Molly is interrupted by Mrs. Breen, formerly Josie Powell, a past girlfriend of young Poldy. They ask about one another’s families, and Bloom’s interior gives access to his smooth strategies in conversations with women (smoother, at least, than with men, it would seem). Mrs. Breen shares with Mr. Bloom the trouble she’s having with her slightly unhinged husband, who last night woke up from a nightmare, explaining that “the ace of spades was walking up the stairs” (8.253), and is currently meeting with John Henry Menton to research libel laws in regards to a postcard he received this morning that reads “U. p: up” (8.258).
Bloom shifts the topic of conversation to poor Mina Purefoy, a mutual friend, who has spent the past three days deep in the throes of childbirth at the Holles Street Hospital (remember this: Mr. Bloom will spend the 14th episode of Ulysses, called “Oxen of the Sun” at the hospital waiting for news of Mrs. Purefoy’s labor). Then, a Dublin eccentric named Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell passes by Bloom and Mrs. Breen, wearing a too tight hat, carrying a coat, a stick, and an umbrella, and walking outside the lampposts. Mrs. Breen then spots her husband and takes off after him.
Bloom resumes his walk southward, passing by the offices of the Irish Times and considers dropping in to collect any new responses to his wanted ad for a “smart lady typist to aid gentleman in literary work” (8.326-27). Out of the forty-four he has already read, he began his correspondence with Martha Clifford, the most recent missive of which we have already seen in the “Lotus-Eaters” episode.
He stops to consider his dining options, remembers that he needs to visit the National Library later and therefore opts for the Burton over Rowe’s due to its location on the way. He moves along. At this point, you might take notice of the stop-and-start nature of Bloom’s physical and mental passage through this episode; the schema for this episode lists the style of this chapter as “peristaltic,” referring to the contraction and relaxation of muscles in the digestive track, moving food along in waves.
Bloom thinks again of Mina Purefoy, laments the awful pain of childbirth, and proposes a social savings plan whereby the state would give everyone 5 pounds at birth to grow at interest over the lifespan to a “tidy sum” (8.386).
As he passes the Irish House of Parliament (now the Bank of Ireland), he sees a flock of pigeons and imagines them plotting out “who will we do it on?” (8.402) like a bombing squadron fixing its target. He continues through the heart of Dublin, crossing “under Tommy Moore’s roguish finger” (8.414), prominent on the statue of this Irish poet, singer/songwriter, and entertainer. He sees squads of policemen in formation, thinks about Irish revolutionary groups, and passes by Trinity College’s “surly front” (8.476). He enters a rather gloomy mental space, culminating in the thought that “No-one is anything” (8.493).
He thinks of John Howard Parnell, brother to the late Charles Stewart Parnell, the Irish political leader, and then coincidentally sees him right there on the street. A.E. (the poet George Russell) along with his associate in poetry Lizzie Twigg then pass by on bicycles, and we catch a snippet of their conversation. Mr. Bloom, having thought about these two a few minutes earlier, is astounded by this second coincidence, and muses about the taste and style of aesthetes.
Bloom pauses for an optical trick of “blotting out the sun” (8.566) with his finger, and continues down this avenue of thought as his mind returns to curiosity about the notion of parallax.
Molly’s impending affair returns to the forefront of Bloom’s thoughts as he remembers an evening not long ago when Molly and Boylan flirted and made clear to one another each’s intentions and interests toward the other. Bloom is simply tortured in this episode. He spies Bob Doran bobbing through the street on a bender, then returns to his thought that he was “happier then” (8.608), hearkening back to a decade earlier, before the loss of Rudy, and before that loss so deeply wounded his marriage.
He reaches Grafton Street and window-shops outside Brown Thomas, a fancy store, thinking of what to get Molly for her birthday, still nearly three months away. Even in the midst this hour’s gloominess over what is to come later in the afternoon, Mr. Bloom thinks of Molly. He turns onto Duke Street and pops into The Burton, witnesses a disgusting display of table manners from the lunchtime rush of men eating there, pretends that he doesn’t see who he was meeting for lunch as an excuse to leave, then dips out and heads instead to Davy Byrne’s “moral pub” (8.732) for a light lunch.
Once inside Davy Byrne's, Mr. Bloom is greeted by Nosey Flynn, a rather greasy, somewhat unpleasant man perched in a corner of the pub, and orders a glass of burgundy and a gorgonzola cheese sandwich. Nosey Flynn asks about Molly’s upcoming performances and rather unkindly but subtly twists the Blazes Boylan knife into Bloom, who needs a drink: “He smellsipped the cordial juice and, bidding his throat strongly to speed it, set his wineglass delicately down” (8.796-96).
Nosey Flynn scratches his crotch and praises Blazes Boylan as a winner in gambling. They discuss the Gold Cup horse race to be run today, and Bloom considers telling Nosey Flynn about Lenehan’s tip but decides against it. Bloom, not a gambler, doesn’t want to encourage another’s bad habit. He enjoys his wine and mentally makes a plan to go home around six o’clock, by which time he expects Molly will be done with Boylan.
Bloom thinks about how we know what foods are safe and tasty and which are poisonous, oysters for instance. He imagines himself as a waiter in a swish restaurant and notices two flies stuck together, perhaps copulating, which leads him to the memory of his picnic date with Molly high on Howth Head, a lovely hilly peninsula overlooking Dublin Bay from north of the city. This is a beautiful, romantic passage, and it leads Bloom to compare “Me. And me now” (8.917) - himself in that afternoon of passionate young love, and himself this afternoon of despondence and immenent cuckoldry.
Bloom’s attention shifts to the beautiful curve of the oak of the bar, then to the curves of the statues of goddesses in the National Library Museum and then to his curiousity as to the anatomical realism of those statues...he resolves to subtly check whether they have holes in their undercarrriage when visiting the museum later today. Funny fellow.
Bloom steps out to use the restroom, and Davy Byrne in his absence inquires into Bloom’s profession. Nosey Flynn explains that he works as an ad canvasser for the Freeman, but he goes on to claim that Bloom is a Freemason, a member of the secretive “ancient free and accepted order” (8.962), and that they “give him a leg up” (8.963) beyond what he makes in advertising. The two men go on alternatively to praise Mr. Bloom for his moderation and kindness and cast aspersions on his rumoured aversion as a Jew to swearing an oath or signing a contract.
Paddy Leonard, Tom Rochford, and Bantam Lyons, who we met earlier in the morning at the end of the “Lotus Eaters” episode, come into Davy Byrne’s Pub. Paddy Leonard offers to buy a round and is flabberghasted to hear that both men are passing up a drink - Rochford is dealing with indigestion and Bantam Lyons orders a ginger ale. These men, plus Nosey Flynn, discuss their wagers on the Gold Cup, and Bantam Lyons, just as Bloom walks out of the pub, tells the others that Bloom has given him a tip. Paddy Leonard is incredulous.
The narrative perspective returns to Mr. Bloom, and we are with him as he begins making his way toward the library to get the art for the Keyes ad he’s working on. His mood has improved after drinking the glass of burgundy, and he does a bit of mental accounting to tally up his accounts receivable and projected income and decides he’s in good financial shape. He considers using these funds to buy for Molly a new silk underskirt, prompting his mind to turn again to what is to happen later this afternoon. He tries to escape those thoughts by considering organizing his own singing tour with Molly, taking her to the south coast of England.
He passes another sweetshop and a bookstore before coming to an intersection where a young blind man appears tentative about crossing the street. Charitable Mr. Bloom helps him cross and wonders about the senses and how a blind person experiences the world - do different colors have different feels? He experiments on himself, feeling his own dark hair and light skin, and then wonders how blind people dream, having never seen.
As Mr. Bloom approaches the library, he glimpses a man in a stawhat, wearing tan shoes and cuffed trousers - Blazes Boylan. His heart and breath betray his panic as he moves swiftly toward the museum, hoping to evade his rival. He pretends to be fascinated by the architecture of the museum, then pretends to search his pockets for the lemon soap. He reaches the gate of the museum and safety.