Happy Bloomsday! What am I talking about? Bloomsday is a worldwide celebration of Ulysses, James Joyce’s epic novel of everyday life which takes place on a single day: June 16, 1904. Ulysses, though set in 20th century Dublin, is loosely modeled on Homer’s Odyssey.
Around the world Joyce enthusiasts (and those willing to feign interest in order to get a free drink) attend readings, dramatizations, pub crawls, and other Ulysses-related events held around the world. Others stay at home to fix meals described in the book or simply read their favoite passages. The Bloomsday Project is my own small contribution to the celebration: every June 16th, one chapter per year (what was I thinking?!), I post an excerpt prefaced by some of my own observations in an attempt to share the pleasures of Ulysses with family, friends, and whoever else might find their way here.
Unlike the other episodes in Ulysses, Chapter 10 (The Wandering Rocks) finds Joyce diverging significantly from the pattern of correspondences to Homer’s Odyssey. The Homeric basis for the episode is merely this: Odysseus is warned to avoid the Wandering Rocks because they are impossible to navigate without divine assistance, so he does. The Wandering Rocks takes place between 3:00 – 4:00 PM and is comprised of nineteen overlapping sections that feature virtually every character in the book, with accounts of two authority figures crossing Dublin acting as a frame: Father Conmee, a high-ranking Church official opens the chapter, while the Viceroy (the embodiment of English authority in colonial Ireland) closes it.
The range of characters in these sections is broad and includes our protagonists, Leopold Bloom and Stephen Dedalus, but also minor characters such as, to name but a few, Blazes Boylan (Molly Bloom’s would-be lover), Boylan’s secretary Miss Dunne, Stephen’s musically named music teacher Almidano Artifoni, and the young son of Paddy Dignam, whose funeral provided the setting of chapter 6 (Hades). The Wandering Rocks is not, however, strictly linear. In each section the narrative circles back on itself, referencing previous sections and foreshadowing future ones to locate each scene in the overall chronology of the chapter. We repeatedly glimpse, for instance, the moment Molly Bloom’s arm appears from her bedroom window to toss a coin to a begging sailor, and trace the progress of five sandwich-board-men, each bearing a different letter as they advertise H.E.L.Y.’S stationary store by walking together through the streets.
What do we make of this odd jigsaw of a chapter? Most often the Wandering Rocks is described by critics as a labyrinth or maze. This image certainly speaks to the experience of reading the chapter, with all its twists and turns, but critics tend to use the terms “labyrinth” and “maze” interchangeably, when there is actually an essential difference between the two. A labyrinth leads only (and inevitably) towards its own center, while a maze is designed to disorient, confuse, and trap (or, at least, delay) those who navigate it with false leads and dead-ends. When we solve a maze we do not reach its center, we emerge on the other side.
So, what has Joyce created here, a labyrinth or a maze? While we know labyrinths are important to Joyce (Stephen takes his last name from Daedalus, the inventor of the labyrinth) and while the chapter’s placement (chapter 10 of 18) makes it a center of sorts, the content of the chapter suggests the less determined structure of a maze. After spending much of the first eight episodes making us intimately familiar with Bloom and Stephen, Joyce pulls back to remind us that they are actually of little or no significance in the world they occupy. Since fiction typically offers an ordered vision of life where the importance of each character is consistent and clear, this shift is jarring. At the same time, this mixed sense of scale should be familiar to most of us: it is the maze of modern life. “Why is it all so complicated?” Irish critic Declan Kiberd asks in his chapter on the Wandering Rocks in Ulysses & Us. Because, he answers, “Joyce seeks to capture not just the openness but also the randomness of life, something which is almost impossible to do in a neat narrative.”
In The Faraway Nearby, her extended meditation on the value of storytelling, essayist Rebecca Solnit compares books to labyrinths: “A labyrinth is an ancient device that compresses a journey into a small space, winds up a path like thread on a spool. It contains beginning, confusion, perseverance, arrival, and return.” In this sense all books are certainly labyrinths: constructs designed to distract us until we arrive where their designers want us to go. Yet Solnit’s description of mazes sounds more like Ulysses: “a maze . . . has not one convoluted way but many ways and often no center, so that wandering has no cease or at least no definitive conclusion. A maze is a conversation.” So, perhaps Ulysses is both labyrinth and maze. “The world,” wrote philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, “is everything that is the case.” Books are not so limited. Like the puns Joyce loved, a book can be two (or more) things at once. After all, aren’t the best books—the books we return to again and again—both labyrinths and mazes? For while, like a labyrinth, a great book can lead us somewhere new; a great book can also, like a maze, offer us the freedom to become lost.
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Excerpting Ulysses is never easy but excerpting a chapter that many see as a miniature of the novel as a whole is especially frustrating. How to capture its complex, overlapping interconnections? Ultimately, I settled on the final section (in its entirety) simply because it includes more characters than any other. Beginning with a straightforward account of the Viceroy and his wife (Earl and Lady Dudley) passing, king-like, across the chessboard that is Dublin, Joyce pointedly shows no interest in depicting the inner-life of these two figures. Instead, he gives us a litany of the ordinary people they pass in their carriage, each of whom reacts (or, mostly, doesn’t) to these high-ranking personages in different ways. As always, I encourage you to read along to the RTE full-cast performance of the excerpt provided below.
Until next year, then, when we look at the music-drenched Episode 10 (Sirens), I bid you adieu and wish you a happy Bloomsday!
William Humble, earl of Dudley, and lady Dudley, accompanied by lieutenantcolonel Heseltine, drove out after luncheon from the viceregal lodge. In the following carriage were the honourable Mrs Paget, Miss de Courcy and the honourable Gerald Ward A.D.C. in attendance.
The cavalcade passed out by the lower gate of Phoenix park saluted by obsequious policemen and proceeded past Kingsbridge along the northern quays. The viceroy was most cordially greeted on his way through the metropolis. At Bloody bridge Mr Thomas Kernan beyond the river greeted him vainly from afar Between Queen’s and Whitworth bridges lord Dudley’s viceregal carriages passed and were unsaluted by Mr Dudley White, B. L., M. A., who stood on Arran quay outside Mrs M. E. White’s, the pawnbroker’s, at the corner of Arran street west stroking his nose with his forefinger, undecided whether he should arrive at Phibsborough more quickly by a triple change of tram or by hailing a car or on foot through Smithfield, Constitution hill and Broadstone terminus. In the porch of Four Courts Richie Goulding with the costbag of Goulding, Collis and Ward saw him with surprise. Past Richmond bridge at the doorstep of the office of Reuben J Dodd, solicitor, agent for the Patriotic Insurance Company, an elderly female about to enter changed her plan and retracing her steps by King’s windows smiled credulously on the representative of His Majesty. From its sluice in Wood quay wall under Tom Devan’s office Poddle river hung out in fealty a tongue of liquid sewage. Above the crossblind of the Ormond hotel, gold by bronze, Miss Kennedy’s head by Miss Douce’s head watched and admired. On Ormond quay Mr Simon Dedalus, steering his way from the greenhouse for the subsheriff’s office, stood still in midstreet and brought his hat low. His Excellency graciously returned Mr Dedalus’ greeting. From Cahill’s corner the reverend Hugh C. Love, M.A., made obeisance unperceived, mindful of lords deputies whose hands benignant had held of yore rich advowsons. On Grattan bridge Lenehan and M’Coy, taking leave of each other, watched the carriages go by. Passing by Roger Greene’s office and Dollard’s big red printinghouse Gerty MacDowell, carrying the Catesby’s cork lino letters for her father who was laid up, knew by the style it was the lord and lady lieutenant but she couldn’t see what Her Excellency had on because the tram and Spring’s big yellow furniture van had to stop in front of her on account of its being the lord lieutenant. Beyond Lundy Foot’s from the shaded door of Kavanagh’s winerooms John Wyse Nolan smiled with unseen coldness towards the lord lieutenantgeneral and general governor of Ireland. The Right Honourable William Humble, earl of Dudley, G. C. V. O., passed Micky Anderson’s all times ticking watches and Henry and James’s wax smartsuited freshcheeked models, the gentleman Henry, dernier cri James. Over against Dame gate Tom Rochford and Nosey Flynn watched the approach of the cavalcade. Tom Rochford, seeing the eyes of lady Dudley fixed on him, took his thumbs quickly out of the pockets of his claret waistcoat and doffed his cap to her. A charming soubrette, great Marie Kendall, with dauby cheeks and lifted skirt smiled daubily from her poster upon William Humble, earl of Dudley, and upon lieutenantcolonel H. G. Heseltine, and also upon the honourable Gerald Ward A. D. C. From the window of the D. B. C. Buck Mulligan gaily, and Haines gravely, gazed down on the viceregal equipage over the shoulders of eager guests, whose mass of forms darkened the chessboard whereon John Howard Parnell looked intently. In Fownes’s street Dilly Dedalus, straining her sight upward from Chardenal’s first French primer, saw sunshades spanned and wheelspokes spinning in the glare. John Henry Menton, filling the doorway of Commercial Buildings, stared from winebig oyster eyes, holding a fat gold hunter watch not looked at in his fat left hand not feeling it. Where the foreleg of King Billy’s horse pawed the air Mrs Breen plucked her hastening husband back from under the hoofs of the outriders. She shouted in his ear the tidings. Understanding, he shifted his tomes to his left breast and saluted the second carriage. The honourable Gerald Ward A.D.C., agreeably surprised, made haste to reply. At Ponsonby’s corner a jaded white flagon H. halted and four tallhatted white flagons halted behind him, E.L.Y’S, while outriders pranced past and carriages. Opposite Pigott’s music warerooms Mr Denis J Maginni, professor of dancing &c, gaily apparelled, gravely walked, outpassed by a viceroy and unobserved. By the provost’s wall came jauntily Blazes Boylan, stepping in tan shoes and socks with skyblue clocks to the refrain of My girl’s a Yorkshire girl.
Blazes Boylan presented to the leaders’ skyblue frontlets and high action a skyblue tie, a widebrimmed straw hat at a rakish angle and a suit of indigo serge. His hands in his jacket pockets forgot to salute but he offered to the three ladies the bold admiration of his eyes and the red flower between his lips. As they drove along Nassau street His Excellency drew the attention of his bowing consort to the programme of music which was being discoursed in College park. Unseen brazen highland laddies blared and drumthumped after the cortège:
But though she’s a factory lass And wears no fancy clothes. Baraabum. Yet I’ve a sort of a Yorkshire relish for My little Yorkshire rose. Baraabum.
Thither of the wall the quartermile flat handicappers, M. C. Green, H. Shrift, T. M. Patey, C. Scaife, J. B. Jeffs, G. N. Morphy, F. Stevenson, C. Adderly and W. C. Huggard, started in pursuit. Striding past Finn’s hotel Cashel Boyle O’Connor Fitzmaurice Tisdall Farrell stared through a fierce eyeglass across the carriages at the head of Mr M. E. Solomons in the window of the Austro-Hungarian viceconsulate. Deep in Leinster street by Trinity’s postern a loyal king’s man, Hornblower, touched his tallyho cap. As the glossy horses pranced by Merrion square Master Patrick Aloysius Dignam, waiting, saw salutes being given to the gent with the topper and raised also his new black cap with fingers greased by porksteak paper. His collar too sprang up. The viceroy, on his way to inaugurate the Mirus bazaar in aid of funds for Mercer’s hospital, drove with his following towards Lower Mount street. He passed a blind stripling opposite Broadbent’s. In Lower Mount street a pedestrian in a brown macintosh, eating dry bread, passed swiftly and unscathed across the viceroy’s path. At the Royal Canal bridge, from his hoarding, Mr Eugene Stratton, his blub lips agrin, bade all comers welcome to Pembroke township. At Haddington road corner two sanded women halted themselves, an umbrella and a bag in which eleven cockles rolled to view with wonder the lord mayor and lady mayoress without his golden chain. On Northumberland and Lansdowne roads His Excellency acknowledged punctually salutes from rare male walkers, the salute of two small schoolboys at the garden gate of the house said to have been admired by the late queen when visiting the Irish capital with her husband, the prince consort, in 1849 and the salute of Almidano Artifoni’s sturdy trousers swallowed by a closing door.